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San Joaquin County supervisors order moratorium on certain winery marketing events

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Posted: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 12:00 am

On Tuesday, San Joaquin County’s Board of Supervisors instructed the Community Development Department to devise a 12-month moratorium on certain marketing events, and in the meantime begin revising the county’s current winery ordinance.

The moratorium, which would include weddings and concerts, would only apply to new applications, not applications that have already been approved or are currently in the review process. The Community Development Department will discuss further details of the moratorium, such as other events and approval of new wineries, before sending it back to the Board of Supervisors for a vote.

Supervisor Steve Bestolarides, who unexpectedly proposed the moratorium during the afternoon session of Tuesday’s meeting, said it would allow the Community Development Department to focus on revising the ordinance without the distraction of wineries asking to host new marketing events.

“We need to do this comprehensively and in a way that empowers staff to not be processing new applications as the politics are flying out here, and to focus on the work we need to do to get the (ordinance) that we really want,” Bestolarides said.

There is no deadline for the Community Development Department to bring a scripted moratorium back to the Board of Supervisors. However, supervisors who supported the idea made it clear that they’d like it done as soon as possible.

Originally, supervisors were only supposed to determine whether the Community Development Department should begin revising the existing winery ordinance or wait until the conclusion of the county’s General Plan update.

While discussing the ordinance, Bestolarides proposed the moratorium, which passed with a 3-1 vote. Chairman Ken Vogel voted against the motion. Supervisor Bob Elliott was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

The moratorium would only last for one year, but Bestolarides said he would only support a revised ordinance if it included a moratorium.

“We have to protect the industry that exists and that has to be done through a moratorium,” Bestolarides said. “I know that’s a bad word because it has a negative connotation. But I want to protect the existing wineries and event centers, and I want to improve the rules of how they can operate and exist. And then, as new wineries and event centers come, there will be the same rules that apply, and it’s not going to adversely impact the people who are there.”

A moratorium is not unprecedented.

A year ago, it was included in a proposed winery ordinance that was ultimately nixed by the San Joaquin County Planning Commission, after the commission received droves of backlash from winery owners and their supporters.

But during Tuesday’s meeting, Community Development Department Director Kerry Sullivan said that at the time, the moratorium was misunderstood. She said it didn’t include industrywide events, such as wine club parties, only events such as weddings and concerts.

“There was so much hyperbole as to what people thought it said, and there was so much fear and distrust, that people actually lost sight of what the original ordinance said,” she said. “It wouldn’t impact any existing operations that were operating legally.”

Members of the winery community addressed the supervisors during Tuesday’s meeting, including Vern Vierra, owner of St. Jorge Winery in Lodi, who said his business has thrived largely because of marketing events.

“Tomorrow we will load our sixth container to Hong Kong,” he said. “We would not have been able to do that unless we would have had the public visit our winery and support from our customers ...” he said.

Nancy Beckman, executive director of Visit Lodi! Conference & Visitors Bureau, asked supervisors and members of the Community Development Department to review issues addressed in a report conducted by San Joaquin County planners within the last year, including rules on the size of the wineries and the number of events they can hold.

When revising the existing winery ordinance, the Community Development Department will examine several concerns, including the minimum parcel size for a winery, number of events relative to winery production, amplified music, parking and traffic, enforcement and monitoring, cumulative effects, on-site vineyards and more.

The department will also look at the existing process to revoke or modify a winery’s existing land use permit. Sullivan said a new ordinance would take at least a year to devise.

“I would like this (ordinance) to be more forward-thinking, rather than looking in the rearview mirror about what hasn’t been working,” Bestolarides said.

Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at krisa@lodinews.com.

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