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By Joe Naiman
Village News Correspondent 

Permit fee waivers to aid Ag tourism industry


Last updated 11/30/2018 at 6:46am

Options to reduce the regulatory burden for those who provide goods or services at community events on commercial agricultural properties were considered by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors at the supervisors' Nov. 14 meeting, and the county supervisors adopted two of the recommendations involving permit fee waivers for pilot programs while sending the other recommendations to county staff for development and environmental review.

"I really believe that these options represent a continued effort toward bolstering San Diego County's Ag tourism industry," said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

Separate 4-0 votes, with Kristin Gaspar absent, provided direction to county staff on food and goods vendors, small agriculture stores, and participating food trucks while a fourth 4-0 vote found that the permit fee waivers and the decision to develop other options were exempt from California Environmental Quality Act review although the options themselves will undergo the CEQA process.

Under current state law and county code, agricultural producers may host a vendor to sell locally-produced food through a temporary food facility permit which is administered by the county's Department of Environmental Health (DEH) under the California Retail Food Code.

"This process can be cumbersome and very costly," Jacob said.

A 3-0 Board of Supervisors vote May 16, with Greg Cox and Gaspar absent, directed the county's chief administrative officer to explore options to ease the ability of local small-scale businesses to provide food and goods at community-based events on agriculture-producing properties, to add to the county's legislative program support for state legislative efforts to reduce or ease regulations for local small-scale businesses seeking to provide food and goods at community-based events on agricultural property and/or direct marketing of agricultural products, and to return to the Board of Supervisors within 120 days.

The options the chief administrative officer was to explore included a permit fee waiver program, a pilot program, and revisions to the county's Agriculture Promotion Program, including Zoning Ordinance revisions. (The county's Agriculture Promotion Program was approved by the Board of Supervisors in March 2017 and allows commercial accessory uses on properties where agriculture is the primary use.)

Five different county departments worked on options. The Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures has regulatory and permitting authority for certified farmers' markets and certified agriculture producers, DEH has regulatory and permitting authority for food operations, the Department of Planning and Development Services (PDS) has expertise in county code and zoning, the Sheriff's Department has a Licensing Division which licenses vendors, and County Counsel reviewed the proposed options for conformance with the California Retail Food Code, county code and the county's Zoning Ordinance, and current business processes.

The options were grouped into four categories: allowing food or goods vendors at community events on agriculture-producing land, expanding opportunities for commercial agriculture operations to build small agriculture stores, holding certified farmers' markets on agriculture-producing land, and providing incentives to encourage food truck participation at agricultural tourism events.

Each potential option included a summary of what changes would be needed for implementation, the anticipated level of environmental review, the estimated cost for environmental review and for permit fee waiver pilot programs, and the anticipated timeframe for implementation to occur.

The four options provided for food and goods vendors consisted of limiting events to one temporary food facility vendor, allowing for multiple food vendors without limitations to the number of food vendors, allowing for food and goods vendors with a requirement that at least 51 percent of sales be agriculture-related, and allowing multiple food or goods vendors without limits.

The county supervisors chose the option of multiple food and goods vendors with a majority of sales being agriculture-related. An amendment to the county's Zoning Ordinance will be required to define and authorize agriculture tourism community events. The proposed zoning amendment would limit events to 350 people, which is consistent with the existing county code for Sheriff's Department licensing of for-profit events, while also limiting the hours of operation, prohibiting outdoor amplified sound, and specifically excluding carnivals, swap meets and weddings.

The estimated cost for CEQA review is between $50,000 and $100,000 while the DEH and Sheriff's Licensing Division permit waiver costs for the pilot program are estimated to be between $5,630 and $85,775. A Board of Supervisors vote on implementation is expected to occur between August 2019 and November 2019.

Staff proposed two small agriculture stores options, and the county supervisors directed that a waiver of the zoning verification permit fee be adopted immediately and that allowing small agriculture stores by right (which does not require a discretionary permit but requires compliance with a checklist) undergo CEQA review.

A small agriculture store is a structure with no more than 1,500 square feet of building area for the display and sale of agricultural and horticultural products raised on the premises, and up to 200 square feet is allowed for other retail sales including the sale of prepackaged food. Although temporary food facilities can operate for no more than 25 days of any 90-day period, a permitted small agriculture store may operate on a year-round basis.

The permit fee waiver has an estimated cost between $10,765 and $53,825 which includes a fee waiver of both the DEH permit and the PDS zoning verification permit. If the zoning verification permit requirement is replaced by a by-right checklist the cost of waiving the DEH fee is between $4,390 and $21,950 and the CEQA cost estimate is between $50,000 and $100,000. A Zoning Ordinance amendment would be needed to replace the zoning verification permit with a by-right checklist, and the changes will likely return to the Board of Supervisors for implementation between August 2019 and November 2019.

Currently certified farmers' markets are allowed only on public property or commercially-zoned parcels. The options reviewed included one to allow certified farmers' markets on agriculturally-zoned land for only certified agriculture producers and one which would also allow ancillary sales. The CEQA process for both would cost between $320,000 and $400,000 (primarily due to traffic-related impacts). County staff did not recommend adoption of either option, and no Board of Supervisors motion was made for that category.

Food trucks are currently allowed at boutique wineries, small wineries, large breweries or distilleries, or agricultural production land associated with agricultural tourism. Food truck operators prefer at least $500 in sales for a three-hour service window and such trucks are less common at agricultural tourism events. The option adopted by the county supervisors provides a rebate on the annual DEH food truck permit fee for the following year if food trucks participate in four or more agricultural tourism events at different locations. The supervisors placed a $16,175 cap on the rebates.


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