L.A. County supervisors compromise on Santa Monica Mountains vineyard ban

After hearing from grape growers upset by a drought-inspired ban against new or expanded vineyards in the north Santa Monica Mountains, Los Angeles County supervisors compromised Tuesday, voting to extend the ban four months instead of 10 and letting existing permit applications proceed.

The proposed 10-month extension was prompted by an influx of vineyard applications over the last year and concerns about water use and the environmental effects from such a potential rapid expansion of grape-growing operations.

Last year, the supervisors approved a land-use plan for an 81-square-mile coastal portion of the Santa Monica Mountains that will ban new vineyards in that area. The more recent ban covers a 32-square-mile area north of the coastal zone.

The supervisors initially voted to put a temporary ban in place last month and agreed to revisit it. During the four months in which the ban will be extended, the county will study the potential effect of an influx of new vineyards and what new regulations on them might be warranted.

The vintners who lobbied against the proposed ban cited the long history of grape growing in Los Angeles County and said that vineyards use less water than other crops.

“Vines are very drought-resistant, and it's actually better for us to stress the vine to produce better fruit,” said Greg Barnett, a Woodland Hills resident and wine producer.

Steven Gilbard, the owner of Triunfo Canyon Vineyards, said the plan “basically is discriminating against the homeowners and farmers without scientific fact.”

Gilbard said his application for a permit to expand his small vineyard by a little more than an acre — bringing it to two acres total — had been held up because of the temporary ban.

The vintners also said that the apparent sudden influx of applications had been the result of a meeting with county planners last year, when landowners were encouraged to get their applications in.

But environmentalists and some residents of the Santa Monica Mountains favored the ban, saying an expansion of wine operations could ruin views and disrupt native plants and wildlife.

“It is smart planning to be cautious.... The Santa Monica Mountains are a spectacular world-renowned natural resource,” said Leah Culberg of the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who represents the area, proposed the compromise, which will allow 28 pending permit applications to go forward with some restrictions. Vineyards must get their water from a municipal water district rather than pump it from the ground, have an approved erosion-control plan, use only drip irrigation and not plant on slopes with a grade of 50% or greater.

Kuehl said she had been concerned by the cumulative effect of all the new vineyard applications, even if the operations use little water individually.

“If you plant so many vineyards and draw water, no matter what you've said, in 15 years you may find that you've impacted your neighbors,” she said.

Dan Fredman a spokesman for the Malibu Coast Vintners & Grape Growers Alliance, said the compromise “addresses many of our immediate concerns” and he was hopeful of working out a long-term deal over the next four months.

“The history and legacy of grapevines in Los Angeles County is too important to let something like this get in the way,” he said.

Follow Abby Sewell on Twitter at @sewella for more county news.

 

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