Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Supervisors were right to reject ranch’s events

We commend The Tribune for its thorough land use coverage but wish it reflected a deeper understanding of land use rules and policy.

Case in point is the article “SLO County cuts off ranch owner’s special events”(Dec. 20) that reports on the Board of Supervisors’ decision to deny a request for temporary events on a small, rural parcel in North County. The article disappoints in three very important respects.

First, the article clearly implied that existing rights were taken away, when in fact, none were. Throughout the enforcement process, the applicant was holding commercial events and renting accommodations — including camping — without the necessary permits and was therefore subject to ongoing enforcement action. The applicant applied to make these illegal uses legal and the board simply denied this request, deeming the uses inappropriate for the location.

So, to repeat, the board took nothing away; the applicant had no right to these uses in the first place.

Second, understanding the basic ground rules for a discretionary permit (the type of permit required for events and lodging) is essential to understanding what the board was required to consider.

Although temporary events and lodging are allowed uses on rural parcels, there is no automatic entitlement. The applicant must demonstrate that the proposed use will meet county standards (site requirements and rules of operation) and that the use is consistent with public safety, compatible with the neighborhood and compatible with local agricultural operations.

In this case, the applicant’s proposed events could not meet the tests for public safety due to road and access problems or for neighborhood compatibility and would have impacted prime soils and soils of statewide importance. Thus the required findings could not be made.

Finally, although the article was very confused on this point, our Ag Policy 6 requires that visitor serving uses (events, lodging, restaurants, retail, etc.) on agricultural land be secondary to some primary agricultural use. The purpose of this policy is to preserve our irreplaceable ag resources and protect local agriculture and neighbors from the burdens of unfettered commercial activity. Furthermore, the board recently reaffirmed the importance of Ag Policy 6.

The applicant had no primary agriculture. She testified that her events and lodging were the primary use of the site. Thus, the application did not meet the requirements of Ag Policy 6 and the temporary events had to be denied.

In sum, the applicant’s vision for a retreat site is inconsistent with the requirements of our Land Use Ordinance. The board made it clear that the rules will be applied to the facts of each individual application, but in a way that supports our ag goals and policies. We commend them.

Susan Harvey is president of North County Watch, a California nonprofit public benefit corporation.