Insisting on reason for county winery regulations

Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman has delivered – to an extent – on a campaign promise. A group of winery owners, who are understandably wary and jaded from years of trying to work with an unreasonable county staff, is meeting to work through issues that constantly come up.
Let’s start with a definition of success for the Winery Working Group: A set of common sense regulations for operation and expansion that are applied consistently with the intent to foster a burgeoning and valuable industry in Santa Clara County.
There has been some progress recently in one arena, the relaxing of draconian demands by the county fire marshall for water storage tanks.
Imagine shelling out $250,000 for a fire suppression system that included a 100,000-gallon water tank. That’s what Bill Holt, the owner of Sycamore Creek Vineyards, had to do two years ago. The fire marshall has since agreed to cut the required holding tanks to 7,500 gallons.
It’s one example of the absurdities which plague the county staff, a seemingly endless parade of bureaucrats who have discarded common sense at the public employment door. Why is it that county staff members have such a hard time understanding that regulations are there to make sense, not create chaos and missed economic opportunity?
Supervisor Wasserman’s greatest challenge is to change the culture through persistence, persuasiveness and, if it becomes necessary, through confrontation and an assertive commitment to doing the right thing. The wineries, like other agricultural operations, have a right to farm that should be spelled out clearly.
If ludicrous proposals like requiring wineries to get $1,000 permits for special events which attract more than 50 people really come forward, the process is doomed. Imagine a 50-person anniversary party at the lovely and cozy La Vigna center at Hecker Pass Winery and Carlo Fortino talking to a prospective client about adding $1,000 to the bottom line price.
That will kill business, obviously, and in turn, the dollars created in our community which partially fund our county government will wither. Why don’t county staff members understand the basic equation?
If the county staff is simply looking under wine barrels to find operational cash via new regulations, that’s blinder than a bat at high noon thinking. Killing industries doesn’t create jobs or tax revenues.
The wine industry in South County has a huge upside, and it has just started to flex its economic muscle. New investors, more skilled winemakers and owners who are committed to recasting the region’s persona are making headway with a public that increasingly views the area as up-and-coming, not to mention being a far shorter drive than north to Napa.
It’s Wasserman’s responsibility to make it clear to county staff that ridiculous regulations aren’t going to fly.
Winery owners are worried about what regulations will spring from the meetings. Well, perhaps they ought to write their own set of regulations, circulate those to all the winery owners and present the set to Wasserman. That way, it’s clear what the owners believe would be reasonable.
Dan Martin, who co-owns Martin Ranch Winery on Redwood Retreat Road, expressed a prevailing sentiment well. The bottom line is that wineries want to expand and improve, he said. It would be nice if the process were less nightmarish “so we can look forward to it, instead of dreading it.”
It’s Supervisor Wasserman’s job to turn that nightmare into a working set of rules that do not unduly hinder area wineries.

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