Ventura County Planning answers reader’s question: Is local government shutting down businesses with regulation?

Editor’s Note: Last month we had a query from a reader stating that local government, and especially the County of Ventura, has fostered a hostile environment for area businesses.  We passed on the reader’s concerns to Kim Prillhart, who is Planning Director at the County.  Mr. Winston Wright, the Permit Coordinator was tasked with addressing the matter.  Here is the County’s response to whether or not our government is forcing local businesses to close with over-regulation.

To start, I would like to highlight the type of agriculture uses and structures that are either exempt from Planning permits or that simply require ventura.county.logoministerial approval in order to confirm things like maximum height and required setbacks (this is not an exhaustive list, but is provided for illustrative proposes):

• In the Open Space (OS), Agricultural Exclusive (AE) and Rural Residential (Rural Agricultural [RA], Rural Exclusive [RE], Single-Family Estate [RO]) Zones, or any zone district, the Planning Division does not regulate agricultural operations involved in crop or orchard production or the packing, storage, or preliminary processing of those products (involving no structures).
• As a branch agricultural, animal husbandry is also exempt if it is conducted in a manner outlined in Article 7 of the Non-Coastal Zoning Ordinance. Article 7 discusses the number of domestic animals one can keep on certain sized lots and how they should be contained. As a general rule, if one has 10 acres or more the number of animals kept for animal husbandry is based on a property owners ability to care for the animals and the Planning Division is not involved.
• Ministerial (over-the-counter) Zoning Clearances are issued for principal structures related to agriculture up to 20,000 sq. ft. in the OS and AE Zones and Zoning Clearances for principal structures related to agriculture up to 1,000 sq. ft. in the RA and RE Zones. Typically these are greenhouses, preliminary packaging facilities, and similar facilities.
• Zoning Clearances are issued for wineries (including processing, bottling, and storage) up to 2,000 sq. ft. in the OS, AE, and RA Zones. The growing of the grapes is exempt as it is crop production.
• Zoning Clearances are issued for structures that are accessory to agriculture and animal keeping up to 20,000 sq. ft. in the OS and AE Zone and up to 2,000 sq. ft. in the RA and RE Zones. These are typically barns, stables, storage buildings and similar structures.
• Unless a property is in the Coastal Zone or in the Scenic Resource Protection (SRP) Overlay area (near prominent ridgelines or around scenic lakes), Zoning Clearances are issued for principal dwellings, second dwellings (size based on the lot area and whether the property is in a Groundwater Quality or Traffic Impact Area), and other residential accessory buildings like storage buildings or detached workshops (up to 2,000 sq. ft.). Even in the SRP a good percentage of development can be permitted with a Zoning Clearance.
• Zoning Clearances are issued for up to 4 Farmworker Dwellings (1 FWD for every 40 acres in crop production).

As mentioned above, this is not an exhaustive list but is provided to highlight the fact that the County of Ventura Planning Division promotes agricultural activities by exempting operations from our regulations and by keeping our review of most structures (related to these uses) to a straight forward Zoning Clearance. Where there is a cross over in many people’s minds, that there is a difficult permitting environment, is where certain uses or activities are either restricted with discretionary permit conditions or are prohibited.

Certain uses that invite the general public on to private agricultural or rural properties such as retail sales, temporary outdoor events (such as weddings venues or festivals), or equestrian centers have heightened permitting requirements or are prohibited. If allowed, these uses are usually permitted through a Conditional Use Permit. Such uses are subject to site plan review and may be conditioned in order to assure compliance with the general purpose of the applicable zone. The findings to approve these types of uses include: ‘the proposed development is compatible with the character of the surrounding, legally established development; the proposed development would not be obnoxious or harmful, or impair the utility of neighboring property or uses; and the proposed development is compatible with existing and potential land uses in the general area where the development is to be located.’ The intent of requiring this type of review/permitting is to prevent, in part, the initiation of a use that might conflict with commercial agricultural operations in these zones and to prevent uses that may be incompatible with rural nature of the area. Read about Tropical Paradise

Tropical Paradise closed in the Santa Rosa Valley

Tropical Paradise closed in the Santa Rosa Valley

The biggest exception to these heightened permitting requirements, is the Small Agricultural Sales Facility (or fruit/produce stand) and the Wholesale Nurseries for Propagation with a small display/sales area. These stands/sales areas can be permitted with a Zoning Clearance and are allowed if they support the agricultural operation on the same property (they sell the produce grown on the same lot and/or produce customarily grown in Ventura County). Wholesale nurseries that have this type of permit have a small display area with priced items, however the public can roam the entire property.

Large Agricultural Sales Facilities allow larger sales areas and permit a more diverse inventory of non-agricultural items. This type of agricultural sales facility allows the sale items of processed agricultural commodities (e.g. jams, processed honey, dried fruits, beef jerky, etc.), items that serve to advance the sale of agricultural products (e.g. ceramic pots, potting soil, shovels, etc.), or that serve to educate the public about the agricultural industry in general (e.g. gardening books, maps, guide books, etc.). Large Agricultural Sales Facilities are permitted with a Conditional Use Permit. A more thorough description of Agricultural Sales Facilities and how they are permitted is here: Produce-Stand-Information-Sheet

The one nursery that I am aware of that closed down recently in the Santa Rosa area was a violation case. The facility had both Planning violations and Building and Safety health and safety code violations. The business had retail sales that exceeded the allowances for a Small Agricultural Sales Facility and we had numerous meetings with them to try to abate the violations. My understanding is that the business was leasing the property and the owner decided to sell. The new owners had other objectives for the property and did not renew the lease with the operator of the business. I am not aware of any wineries that have closed down, though one in the Ojai Valley also recently sold. I do not know what the new owners plans are for that property.

The regulations in place for the Open Space, Agricultural, and Rural Residential Zones have been in place for over a decade. The manner in which retail sales are permitted in these zones has not changed, that I am aware of, since 2000 when the regulations regarding agricultural sales facilities was amended. I would appreciate the opportunity to comment on specific facilities, however there has been no recent re-interpretation of our codes related to the matter. Please let me know if you would like to discuss this further.

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3 Responses to Ventura County Planning answers reader’s question: Is local government shutting down businesses with regulation?

  1. Bob Barbabella March 21, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    Well, according to Hillary Clinton businesses and corporations do not create jobs, so what difference does it make. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. On a serious note, as a former business owner in Ventura County I can attest that city, county, state, and Federal government regulations, taxes, fees and penalties are overwhelming and create a tremendous burden on businesses and additional expenses for consumers. It is all about more money and power for our lords.

    Reply
  2. jay March 21, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    As an addendum, at least in Los Angeles County, the County is pretty forthcoming with issuing permits, but the financial and time costs are astronomical. The end result is that many small businesses never even get off the ground that or go under due to the uncertainty and cost of compliance with nebulous and arbitrary regulations. This of course doesn’t matter if you are a major developer as the municipality will have no problem bending the rules for you.

    The unintended consequences of policies like this result in Regulatory Capture for the powerful and well connected and manifold barriers to entry for the little guy. If cities, counties, and states want to give more than lip service to helping out small businesses then they need to stop engaging in practices that are by definition discriminatory.

    Reply
  3. jay March 21, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    Thanks, this is very insightful. The Tropical Paradise Camarillo story should give any sane entrepreneur pause before considering opening up a business in Ventura. Mr. Wright’s comments seem to indicate there is some positive light at the County especially in regard to getting zoning allowances and that the hurdles seem to be at the Planning Commission level or at public hearings, a real question is how forth coming is the County on issuing Conditional Use Permits and what the time frame is. For instance I know in the County of Los Angeles CUPS for zoning exemptions take 1-2 years to process and cost piles of money.

    As far as Santa Rosa Valley, my gut feeling is that some residents have the ear of the County more than others.

    Reply

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