Ordinance amendments to regulate agricultural hoop structures were approved Tuesday by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors after splitting the difference on a change for one requirement and deleting some text from another.
The result is hoop houses will be exempt from permit requirements provided they are 20 feet or less in height, have no lighting, plumbing or other permanent elements, are located on land cultivated in one of the last three years and are on slopes averaging 25% or less.
If they’re located in the Santa Ynez Valley Design Control Overlay or the Gaviota Coast Critical Viewshed Corridor Overlay, they also must have an area of 4,000 square feet or less.
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If they don’t meet those exemption criteria, structures less than 20,000 square feet will require a zoning clearance, and those of 20,000 or more square feet will require a land use permit.
Getting to the 4-1 vote to approve the ordinance was a struggle, with two conceptual motions failing because supervisors couldn’t muster a majority to change the slope requirement or the required creek setback.
Both the board and staff were concerned that making too many major changes could require recirculating the environmental impact report.
Supervisors didn’t have much of a problem with the Grower and Shipper Association’s request to delete language that defined land where a crop had been grown in one of the last three years as “historically intensively cultivated agricultural land.”
But they couldn’t agree to reverse the increased creek setback they asked for — from 50 to 100 feet — in a March 12 hearing on the ordinance the Planning Commission had recommended.
Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart, who previously supported the change to a 30% slope, wanted to go back to 20 percent but couldn’t get the majority to agree.
In the end, he moved to make it 25%, which all but Adam supported.
However, the biggest wrench thrown into the process seemed to be the use of hoop houses for cannabis cultivation.
A number of public speakers complained about marijuana growers violating existing grading, oak tree removal and other ordinances as well as cannabis regulations on hoop houses.
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Other speakers objected to the visual impact of hoops, particularly in the Santa Ynez Valley, which relies on its landscape to attract the tourists that drive the area’s economy.
“We didn’t start on this (regulation) with cannabis, but it got hijacked by cannabis,” said 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam, who voted “no” on adopting the ordinance. “Far and away the largest amount (of hoop structures) are used by berry growers.
“In normal farming parlance, 100 feet is absolutely ridiculous,” he added about the creek setback.
“People just get crucified financially by this kind of stuff,” Adam continued. “I suggest we reject this whole thing. … This is just an epic mess.”
Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann agreed about cannabis.
“For me, I think cannabis has muddied the water very much on the hoop ordinance,” she said, adding she could support the revised ordinance for hoop house use on food and fiber crops but not cannabis.
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First District Supervisor Das Williams took exception with complaints about the visual impacts, referring to expert opinions that crops grown without hoop house protection would require additional use of pesticides that could be harmful to endangered species and the environment in general.
“I think this is just really wrong to care more about visual impacts than to care about the impact of pesticides on the environment,” he said.
Fifth District Supervisor and Board Chairman Steve Lavagnino also voiced some concern about visual impact complaints and did not want the EIR recirculated.
“We live with hoops,” Lavagnino said. “We’ve had hoops for decades, and suddenly we have all these impacts. … If you recirculate that EIR, you’re going to go through this all again. And this is an existing use.”