THE END (on this one) Politics of Wine: San Diego County, Wineries & Wine Lovers FINALLY WIN the Tiered Winery Ordinance Battle

by admin on October 20, 2013

Wineries and County prevail – tasting rooms STAY OPEN for wine lovers! The “final” word is out on this multi-year legal threat to legitimate business in San Diego County with the removal of this “legal cloud” over area  wineries.

The appeal window for the petitioner (winery opponent San Diego Citizenry Group) closed with the appellate Court posting “Case Closed” to their website on Oct 3, 2013. The winery tasting rooms stay open and Citizenry members learns that as the findings state – that “freedom isn’t free” (see end of this post) and must pay their substantial Court ordered document preparation judgement.

San Diego County prevailed on July 30th 2013 for a second time in court, over winery opponents San Diego Citizenry and their environmental law firm Coast Law. If you’re interested or a “legal beagle,” you can read the details of this 38-page Opinion at 4th Appellate District Div 1 link http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/nonpub/D059962.PDF

This long, divisive, regulatory, and legal tale began back in 2006 when the County began exploring ways to promote the growth of wine grape farming and the related winery industry. The Board of Supervisors directed the planning staff to “investigate options that would allow boutique wineries to expand and operate successfully by right without burdensome regulations.”

At that time, all visitor-serving/retail wineries in the unincorporated areas zoned A70 (Limited Agriculture) and A72 (General Agriculture) required a quarter-million dollar discretionary Major Use Permit  – basically a monetary and regulatory shake-down of small businesses. Additionally, the permitting process was untenable with a long, costly, and perilous hearing and review process that basically prohibited tastings rooms at County wineries. These requirements strangled a growing California wine region “yearning to breath/live free. ” These bureaucratic demands basically annihilated family dreams and thoughtful business plans.

The Tiered Winery Ordinance of 2010 was immediately challenged in Court – the challenge was subsequently lost in court (see reasoning below)  but then was appealed which today, was also denied minus a portion of the $16,444 in County legal documentation prep fees assigned the plaintiff (Citizenry). Both parties otherwise covered their respective legal costs. Historical blog information is  available at these links: http://www.winetastingsandiego.com/2010/09/politics-of-wine-tasting-rooms-delayed-again-in-san-diego-wine-country/  and  http://www.winetastingsandiego.com/2013/05/update-4-0-politics-of-wine-next-hearing-june-14-2013-san-diego-wine-country-the-tiered-winery-ordinance-of-2010/ Unless Citizenry appeals this ruling to the California Supreme Court, the Tiered Winery Ordinance stands as there is no requirement to revisit the underlying EIR.

Not surprisingly,  conflict between neighbors and wineries in the Ramona area, so typical of economic and land use efforts nearly everywhere (Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, Temecula, you name it) divided both winery owners and neighbors for what, in the end, was NO problem at all. The conflicts also disappointingly, brought out the worst in human character, where parties not bound by ethics were willing to throw selected wineries “under the proverbial bus” in an embarrassing Neville Chamberlain-like appeasement effort – willing to violate the equal protection clause (see the 14th Amendment) of the U.S. Constitution.

In the ensuing nearly three years years since the September 2010 permissions for tasting rooms By Right of Land Ownership,  there have been NO winery guest related incidents – DUI, behavioral, or otherwise.  This mirrors the experience in Placer County near Sacramento, a budding wine region much like San Diego County. One official from another California County – with a sense of humor – stated “There are no dead bodies in any ditches up here” and suggested calling the California Highway Patrol (CHP) field offices there to validate that there were NO winery incidents there since enactment of that County’s Winery ordinance.

Time is money. Placer County under the guidance of visionary Ag Commissioner Christine Turner, enacted their Winery Ordinance back in the fall of 2008, in a process that paralleled San Diego County’s efforts. Without threat of a lawsuit, their effort was more successful and timely – Placer County’s Ordinance was enacted minus the significant cost ($250,000) and also a two-year delay (time is money)  in developing a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) – a requirement forced upon San Diego County by threat of lawsuit by the aforementioned SD Citizenry group. The 2008 ordinance gave the Placer wine region a two-year head start over San Diego County wineries – that is real money, tourism, and life-years lost – folks – time and money that will never be recovered. As an end note, ironically Christine Turner, now retired, left the San Diego County Ag Department years ago for a promotion to Placer County Ag Commissioner, in retrospect, a notable loss to San Diego leadership.

Despite it all, Eagles Nest Winery has set the highest grape growing and wine making standards for itself. An on-site tasting room is a critical business capability for a Boutique winery.  The economics of scale that exist (well actually there are none) at a premium Boutique winery require on-site retail sales to maximize profits to  sustain operations. Small wineries cannot sustain the costs and staffing requirements of an off-site tasting room. Furthermore an off site tasting room denies guests the premium experience of seeing healthy well-maintained sustainable, organic method vineyards, and seeing and touching the wine making equipment. Premium wines require tastings to appreciate their uniqueness and quality.  For example, 100% of Eagles Nest 2007-2008 wines and Ports have won medals gold-silver-bronze – a total of 30  in the 2009-2010 competition year.

So there you have it wine lovers – another installment (hopefully, eventually, THE LAST) in San Diego County’s “Politics of Wine.”

What you can do: San Diego County residents supporting wineries are urged to remain aware and involved politically and voice their support for legislation supporting the local wine industry. No problem ever got better without the participation of an educated committed constituency. Thank your Supervisors for their past  efforts on this ordinance and offer your patronage to tasting rooms at local wineries!

If you are interested in more information about Eagles Nest Winery you can see: San Diego Reader magazine at http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2010/sep/15/crush-winery-ramona/ . or simply visit the many blog posts on this public blog.

Our Web 1.0 website is http://eaglesnestwinery.com and our private blog for customers and wine club is http://eaglesnestwinery.ning.com . We’re a leading winery on Twitter at http://twitter.com/eaglesnestwine and we have a Facebook presence at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Eagles-Nest-Winery/254543170053 and http://www.facebook.com/julie.grimes.391

Authors note: We apologize for the less-than-stellar appearance of this post. Word Press in its infinite wisdom upgraded their application and dropped backward compatibility with older themes, plug-ins, and software versions, and some content features. As such, java script enabling necessary graphics and other formatting options are not presently available to us. We are working to correct this.

 Legal note:

For those readers who appreciate thoughtful legal reasoning/legal discourse, the following is the opinion of the Court following the first Citizenry challenge – as cited in today’s appeal findings.

“On April 15, 2011,the court issued its ruling in favor of the County, denying the writ petition and ordering SDCG to reimburse the County for the costs of record preparation. In doing so, the court found the FEIR [Final Environmental Impact Report] suffices as an informational document. The [BOS] was, by the EIR, adequately informed about the consequences of its decisions. The public (including petitioner) was provided with adequate information regarding the decisions of their elected leaders. That is where the judicial inquiry under CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] ends; any further remedy for petitioner (or those who share its views regarding wineries in the backcountry of San Diego County) lies at the ballot box when the Supervisors stand for re-election.
. . . It is not within the province of a judicial officer to second guess the policy decisions of the members of the [BOS], so long as there was substantial evidence to support their decisions. The court finds that there was.” With regard to the order directing SDCG to pay the cost of preparation of the administrative record, the court found that “petitioner had the option of preparing the record itself; and . . . there is no well-heeled real party in interest (such as a developer) to bear the expense associated with that exercise. Groups like petitioner are free to exercise their petition rights, but as has been often said in other contexts, freedom is not free.”

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