Huge improvements for SC Valley wineries after county passes new ordinance

Dear Editor,
Agri-tourism in Santa Clara County got a big boost this month when improved winery regulations were unanimously accepted by the Board of Supervisors. The new ordinance simplifies the process, and reduces costs for businesses. It also allows wineries to continue to hold concerts and substantially reduces permit fees in many cases.
I am very proud and grateful for the hard work of the Winery Working Group, Farm Bureau, Winery Association, county staff and the public for their year-long involvement in this process. Changing public policy is rarely fast or easy, and is often misunderstood as was the case initially with the winery ordinance. But when you get results like this, it is definitely worth it!
Obviously, permits are required in order to insure adequate emergency vehicle access, parking, sanitation, food safety, etc. Under the improved ordinance, a Use Permit for many events is now replaced by a Special Permit, reducing fees from $14,000 to $2,000! These Special Permits are valid for many years – not just for each event.  In addition, small family-owned wineries that previously needed a Use Permit are now able to have small events “by right” which means that no Planning Office permit is required. In order to protect surrounding neighbors, outdoor amplified music still requires a permit and the existing noise ordinance remains in place.   
Streamlining the permitting process and reducing fees took a lot of public and private effort. In August 2011, stakeholders formed a Wineries Working Group. The group met and discussed at nine public meetings and developed policy recommendations for the County Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation Committee in January 2012. From February to May 2012, the Planning Commission held five workshops and public hearings.
Silicon Valley is thought of as being purely tech-centric. The reality is that our local wineries hold a very special place in California history: The Santa Clara Valley is California’s very first premium wine production region, dating back to 1798 when grapes were grown at the Santa Clara Mission.  The Native Americans named it “the Valley of the Heart’s Delight” and today boasts nearly 60 wineries.
Directional signage along the state highways is needed for the Santa Clara Valley wine region. Due to the improved regulations, Santa Clara County is now among the most business-friendly for wineries in California. The improved ordinance streamlines the permitting process, reduces costs and balances neighborhood concerns about noise. It will also help grow the local winery industry and agri-tourism in the long run.
Cheers and thanks to all involved!
Supervisor Mike Wasserman, Santa Clara County

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