Getting our permit for some of the activities we want to do at the ranch has been slightly frustrating…ok, it’s been a pain in the rear. HOWEVER, we’ve made some excellent progress with San Bernardino county officials and it looks like we’re finally going to get our permit to go through. I had the sense of mind to join the Lucerne Valley Economic Development Association-I figured what helped Lucerne helped me and if our business did better it would help Lucerne. There, I met the formidable Beverly Lowry-our field representative and community liaison. James Ramos, county supervisor, said about her:
“Beverly Lowry has been a strong advocate for the communities in the High Desert for many years. I believe she is well-equipped to serve Barstow and Lucerne Valley as the Community Liaison. We look forward to the work we have ahead of us and are happy to have Beverly working with us to serve the Third District.”
And after working with her through LVEDA, I knew this was true. I told her our woes with the permitting process and, she took up a sword and went straight to the top. She pulled Chris Carillo, the Deputy Chief of Staff, out to our ranch and we had a wonderful visit. They told us that small businesses were a top priority for James Ramos, the county supervisor. Promising to do everything they could to help, we waited.
After only a week or so, we got a phone call from Tom Hudson who is the head of Land Use Services and is pretty much in charge of the permitting process. What a wonderful guy! We couldn’t be more relieved when we found out he was a third generation farmer. He completely understood agritourism and the small family farm concept. Instead of the mega-expensive minor use permit, we are going to do the not-quite-as-mega-expensive site plan permit. And the county is even helping us write the application so that the process goes smoother. What a relief!
We have been pleasantly surprised with the county’s response. Sure it’s taken a little prodding, but it looks like it will be smooth sailing from here on out. More updates sure to follow!
Since we’re Irish, I am going to complain just a little though. We still feel like the process is a little paperwork heavy (and money heavy) for low-impact agritourism activities. If I just wanted to open up my half acre orchard for my neighbors to pick for a small fee, for example, I’d have to do the same exact permit. I wouldn’t be able to recoup the expense of the permit for years, if ever. Obviously small farms run their businesses anyways-illegally. I know of many farms running illegal operations in our area and a gazillion in san bernardino county. Agritourism is all over the place, but the permitting process is so difficult (I have a doctorate and I had a hard time with even understanding the application) and so expensive that these small operations don’t even try.
And this is really sad.
Besides the fact that the county could benefit financially from application fees, these businesses have to be careful about advertising. They don’t want to catch the county’s attention and be shut down. Therefore, these small farms can’t get as many customers and can’t make enough money to survive let alone expand. And the lack of profits equates to lack of taxes and again the county and community suffer.
Other counties such as Butte and Sacramento county have made certain agritourism activities (such as everything we’re doing) part of the allowed use of agriculture zoning (AG) just like how a roadside produce stand is automatically allowed without getting a permit. Take a look at UC Davis’ agritourism page for more info on permitting agritourism in these and other counties http://sfp.ucdavis.edu/agritourism/planners/. Below are Butte County’s allowed uses in Ag zoning. In other words, what you can do without a permit.
Anyhow, that’s my complaint. But to give the county credit, they haven’t dealt much with agritourism activities. You can’t really blame them for not having a streamlined, cutting edge process for permitting businesses they haven’t had to permit before. Hopefully we can lead the way for similar businesses and encourage more people to get into farming.