Santa Monica Mountains land use plan OKd with ban on new vineyards

L.A. County supervisors approve Santa Monica Mountains land use plan that bans new vineyards

Los Angeles County supervisors approved a far-reaching land use plan for the Santa Monica Mountains on Tuesday over the objections of a group of vineyard owners but with support from a broad coalition of environmentalists, equestrians and homeowners.

The passage of the plan, known as a local coastal program, consolidates land use authority with the county and sets rules for future development in an 81-square-mile area near Malibu. The plan prohibits building on ridgelines and in areas identified as sensitive habitat, limits the size of buildings and sets rules on agriculture and horse-keeping to minimize environmental effects.

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FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this post said the local coastal program covers an 81-acre area near Malibu.

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In a letter to the California Coastal Commission, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents the area, called the plan a "historic achievement."

But one provision of the document raised controversy — its ban on new vineyards. Permitted, existing vineyards would be allowed to remain, but vineyard owners complained that the prohibition on new facilities unfairly singles out their crop from other forms of agriculture.

Don Schmitz, owner of the Malibu Solstice vineyard, argued that grapes use less water than many other crops and would have to be grown organically under the coastal plan in any case. He pointed out that the region just became a federally recognized American Viticultural Area.

"It is an ironic tragedy that you are contemplating destroying this at this very moment," he said.

Yaroslavsky, whose office was heavily involved in developing the coastal plan, said the vineyard ban is a tiny piece of a document that had been carefully negotiated with a wide range of stakeholders.

During Tuesday's meeting, the supervisor held up an aerial picture of a large, clear cut and graded vineyard on Kanan Road in Malibu, as an example of what the plans seeks to avoid.

"These are among the most beautiful mountains anywhere," he said. "...Nobody's ripping out anybody's vineyards, but going forward we don't want the chaparral and the canyons and the ridgelines and the majesty of those mountains to be replaced with this."

Dozens of other property owners urged the supervisors to approve the plan. For decades, residents of the area had to seek approval from both the county and the Coastal Commission to build on their land, and many said the rules were poorly defined.

The Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation, representing about 10,000 homeowners in the mountains, wrote to board members that passage of the plan would mean "our homeowners will no longer be compelled to go to the Coastal Commission every time they want to make a home addition, renovate, or build a horse corral. Finally, we will be able to work with our local county representatives instead of a far-off bureaucracy."

Environmental groups praised the plan's protections for sensitive habitat and waterways.

The two candidates vying to replace Yaroslavsky, who is being forced out by term limits this year, chimed in as well. Former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl sent a representative to read a statement saying the plan "will ensure that the Santa Monica Mountains will be protected now and for generations to come."

Her opponent, former Santa Monica City Councilman Bobby Shriver, praised both the plan and the democratic process: "This is a thing that doesn't happen anywhere else in the world, where people have a chance to go through the process that's been described here — opposing views, fight a little bit with each other, reconcile a little bit with each other and find common ground," he said. "This is really America."

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich voted against the plan, arguing that the vineyard ban infringes on private property rights. Supervisors Gloria Molina and Don Knabe joined Yaroslavsky in voting for it, with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas absent.

The plan was approved by the Coastal Commission in July.

Follow @sewella for more news about county government.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

8:57 p.m.: This post has been corrected to give the correct size of the protected area.

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