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L.A. County supervisors OK compromise plan on vineyards in Santa Monica Mountains

L.A. County supervisors OK compromise plan on vineyards in Santa Monica Mountains
Vineyards can be seen in Malibu at the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains.L.A. County supervisors voted Tuesday to approve a plan that will allow the continued creation of new vineyards in the northern portion of the mountains with stricter regulations. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Drought-wary Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to approve a plan that will allow the continued creation of new vineyards in the northern portion of the Santa Monica Mountains with stricter regulations.

The proposal, presented as a compromise in the long-running debate over the water use of vineyards in the area and their impacts on the environment and on neighbors' views and property values, did not succeed in appeasing either side.

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Vintners called the proposal ill-conceived and overly restrictive, while environmentalists and homeowners concerned about proliferation of vineyards in sensitive habitat called for an outright ban on commercial grape operations.

Supervisors banned new vineyards last year as part of a land-use plan for an 81-square-mile coastal portion of the Santa Monica Mountains. They also placed a temporary moratorium on new vineyards in the 32-square-mile area north of the coastal zone in June.

The plan approved Tuesday will allow new vineyards in that northern area, but limit the size to two acres per parcel, prohibit them on steep slopes and "significant ridgelines" and within 100 feet of streams.

Vintners will be required to put water conservation measures in place and submit plans to protect water quality and prevent erosion. They will also be required to design fencing that does not restrict wildlife movement.

Toby Keeler of the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation urged the supervisors to say "no to creating a patchwork of vineyard plantation blight that horribly fragments our Santa Monica Mountains" and ban commercial vineyards altogether in the northern region.

Snowdy Dodson of the California Native Plant Society argued that the northern area should be subject to the same regulations as the coastal area.

"I fear that if we go forward with this, the camel's nose is in the door, and then we will allow vineyards in the coastal area, too," Dodson said.

Don Schmitz, a Malibu vineyard owner and land use consultant, told the supervisors that vineyards were being scapegoated over other crops and called the plan "not well thought-out."

"How is it that you, as a government agency, can take away the economic use of someone's property unless you have a very compelling and documented reason for it?" he said.

Sheila Kuehl, the supervisor representing the Santa Monica Mountains area, said county officials had worked to strike the best balance possible on the issue.

"I don't think it will ever be just right as far as my consituents are concerned, because they have disparate interests" she said. "I believe this is a good compromise."

The supervisors voted 3 to 0 in favor of the measure, with supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Don Knabe abstaining.

Twitter: @sewella

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