If you want to build a patio cover onto your house, you have to get a permit, as our government wants to ensure the patio meets certain building standards. A much cheaper and easier way to go is to simply use an umbrella as a shade device. No permit is needed because the device is temporary and no building standards apply. Accordingly, requiring a permit for a patio umbrella would be as ridiculous as requiring a permit to erect an umbrella or pop-up tent at the beach.
This patio/umbrella allegory perfectly explains the big battle brewing in the North County over the subject of berry hoops. Unlike a greenhouse — a building that has a foundation, walls, a roof, doors, electricity and heating — berry hoops are a temporary tent erected to cover a crop at certain times of the year. Berry hoops come and go with the weather. They have been used in the North County for more than a decade, and never once has the county required a permit for their use.
Farmers consider the hoops a tool or implement necessary to raise a crop, similar to stakes in the ground that are used to grow grapes. Moreover, the first time the question was raised as to whether a permit should be required for the use of hoops, the Planning and Development director issued a decision that no permit was required.
That didn’t stop somebody from appealing that decision. What has followed since is a classic tale of government bureaucracy and obfuscation run amuck. The county Board of Supervisors agreed with the judgment of the planning director; however, they were informed by staff that they would have to change the language in the land-use code to make it perfectly clear that the hoops were in fact exempt, including a provision relating to adjusting the height of the hoop devices in our current ordinance governing the same. Subsequently, this simple task disappeared in the county’s infamous black hole of environmental review.
A well-respected land-use attorney, Chip Wullbrandt, showed up at the Planning Commission hearing and proved without a doubt that according to the county’s own definition of agriculture, berry hoops meet the definition of “improvement” in the land-use and development code and therefore should not be treated as “development.” The point here is that agriculture is not development and therefore not subject to development review and all the obfuscation that comes along with it in this county. Even though the county’s own attorney publicly validated Mr. Wullbrandt’s interpretation and application of the land-use code to berry hoops, the Planning Commission was nonetheless undeterred in their errant recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to subject hoops to the same time-consuming, expensive and uncertain land-use permit process as if the farmers were building a building.
Our county has a right-to-farm ordinance, and our policies state that we support intensive uses of farm ground. These words have helped to ensure that agriculture is the top land use in our county and the leading sector of our economy. Let’s keep it that way.