Two Ramonans weigh in on county plan to boost agriculture

by Joe Naiman

Two Ramona residents — Dave Harbour and Beth Edwards — weighed in at the county meeting where planning commissioners recommended moving ahead with a plan to promote more agriculture in the region.

The county proposes streamlining regulations for small agricultural operations in unincorporated areas such as Ramona. If approved by county supervisors, changes likely won’t take effect for two to three years.

Zoning Ordinance amendments and an environmental impact report could take 24 to 30 months. Once they review the documents, planning commissioners will send their recommendation to the supervisors.

“We really appreciate the county moving forward with this,” San Diego County Farm Bureau Executive Director Eric Larson said at the commissioners’ March meeting.

Commission recommendations for the supervisors are to find that the development of the program is exempt from California Environmental Quality Act review, to direct county staff to develop the program within 30 months, to appropriate $525,000 of 2014-15 general fund money to develop the program, and to amend the tiered winery ordinance to add land with S92 General Rural zoning to properties eligible for on-site wine sales and tasting rooms.

The program likely will utilize a tiered ordinance as occurred with two previous county initiatives: a four-tiered winery ordinance and a tiered equine ordinance.

Microbreweries, cheesemaking, beekeeping, bed and breakfasts, host homes, agricultural homestays, packing and processing for market, horticultural sales, animal number limits, roadside sales of agricultural products, agricultural tourism, farm-to-table, and educational agricultural activities are among enterprises considered for change.

“Agriculture is an important industry,” said Carl Stiehl, project manager for the county Department of Planning and Development Services. “The agriculture promotion program is intended to expand opportunities for agricultural operation.”

Unincorporated San Diego County had one winery tasting room before the adoption of the tiered winery ordinance in 2010 and now has more than 20.

“It is really turning out to be an exciting thing,” said Commissioner Peder Norby, noting that availability of tasting rooms helps local vineyards and reduces travel for the general public. “We do not have to go to Temecula or Paso (Robles). We’re very excited to see the success of that.”

Harbour, who owns 20 acres and a you-pick farm in Ramona, hopes to add craft distilling to the options.

“It’s an offering that I’d like to offer at my farm,” he said. “Currently there’s no administrative process that allows it.”

Harbour noted that he is allowed to distill fuel and brandy but not other types of spirits.

“I have the ability to grow most of the items I need to do it,” he said.

The tiered winery ordinance only applies to properties with A70 Limited Agriculture or A72 General Agriculture zoning and not to properties with S92 zoning. Approximately 27 percent of land under the county’s jurisdiction has S92 zoning.

“That would expand the footprint down south,” Planning Commissioner Bryan Woods said of making S92 land eligible for the tiered winery ordinance.

An S92 zone is a residential and agricultural zone intended to provide controls for land constrained by rugged terrain, desert, watersheds, fire or erosion risk, dependency on groundwater for a water supply, or other environmental constraints.

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