Board approves tighter control over ag-tourism

Yolo County Supervisors lean toward agriculture over event centers.

Support Local Journalism


The Yolo County Board of Supervisors decided that the potential downsides of allocating land and infrastructure to any non-agriculture industry overpowered the possible benefit that increased tourism might bring to the county at the Tuesday, Dec. 12, meeting.

This decision was forged slowly and painfully over the past two years while residents, farmers, ranchers and event center/lodging owners argued over how to best preserve and elevate the landscape of the county.

Farmers urged the board to keep all resources dedicated to agriculture at the expense of the economic boost from more tourism. Event center and lodging owners pleaded that their enterprise would only raise awareness about the fragile nature of California farming and help ensure its place in the future.

Many of these issues were framed by the fact that most of the county’s agriculturally zoned land is protected by the Williamson Act, which was put in place to protect open space from urban development. According to county principal planner Eric Parfrey, who developed the new zoning regulations along with county community services director Taro Echiburu, three quarters of agricultural land in the county is under Williamson act contract.

According to the act, proposed development on contracted land must be both “compatible with” and “incidental to” the documented agricultural use of the property.”

While the state legislature makes this definition loose, part of the supervisors’ decision was to solidify it in favor of allowing less potential for tourism.

When the final zoning ordinance was first up for approval on Tuesday, Sept. 12, Supervisor Matt Rexroad bore to the central issue of the contentious debate.

“What would be the harm? If somebody was in an ag property and they decided to be all ag tourism so their place is entirely reduced to bringing people to look at their ag facilities or whatever it is that they have or those that are in the neighborhood, what’s wrong with that?”

Later at that meeting, rural bed and breakfast Park Winters co-owner Rafael Galiano argued there was no harm — to the contrary, the harm lies in killing the aspirations of those who wish to make their living through tourism.

“I want to create a platform to motivate people to open businesses like me, to keep the door open for the people who are coming behind me and not shame them and put them out because everyone is scared to death to do what we’re doing because they’ve seen the bullying. We can all coexist. Let’s not let all the newspapers find out that we want to keep us in the dark ages.”

Dahvie James, co-owner of the rural Winters event center, Field & Pond, argued that the tourism industry is best left to the professionals of the industry, and the tourism in Yolo County should not rely on farmers to maintain that activity.

“We are, as hospitality people, entrusted with the safety and security of the public; what’s being proposed is that if you want to have a viable event center or a viable bed and breakfast, you need to be a farmer… it feels, to me, fundamentally discriminatory,” said James.

The main answer to these qualms lies in the county’s commitment to preserving agriculture as a running economic engine. If the county were to become so successful in its tourism enterprises that they overtook the profit from growing food and fiber, the county might view this a failure, concerned that more land would begin to be allocated to the more economically rewarding enterprise.

The zoning code changes defined the word “incidental” in the Williamson Act to be: “a use or activity that is accompanying but not a major part of a primary use.”

The changes also say that agricultural uses have to be established before any other incidental activity takes place.

“Would the outcomes have been any different in terms of the way your staff would have treated them with this in place five years ago?” asked Rexroad.

“Some of them would have probably not been approved,” answered Echiburu.

“It has to be legitimate agriculture,” said Echiburu, “You can’t just put three sticks in the ground and say, ‘ok now I have an agricultural operation.’”

“I think these changes will actually help promote ag tourism. I think it will help agriculture in Yolo County,” said Winters farmer Bruce Rominger.

“The intent was to keep farmers farming and ranchers ranching. I’m very grateful that we’re taking the needed time to do this well because so much is riding on the outcome,” said Winters farmer Patty Rominger.

Continuing to speak to the county’s goals, Supervisor Jim Provenza recommended many of the changes echoed in these statements.

“We need to do as much as possible to benefit our famers and their ability to continue to farm. You could do things that promote development, but we have always favored agriculture and our ability to grow food,” he said.

“The conversations are all centered around how does Yolo County continue to promote agriculture,” agreed Supervisor Oscar Villegas.

The board moved forward with the zoning code changes in a 4-1 vote; Provenza voted against the changes at the end of the meeting because he felt that the requirements for points of access to ensure public safety were not well enough defined.

None of the supervisors voted against the motion on the general principals behind them.

The Farmland Protection Alliance, which represents more than 100 farmers and rural landowners in western Yolo County issues a statement on Monday, Dec. 18 applauding the decision.

“(The decision) agrees with the original intent of aritourism: to provide working farms and ranches the ability to supplement agricultural income with tourism-related activities. The new language is a win-win for farmers and citizens. It ensures that farmland will be protected from future development and used for food production.”

Both sides of the issue were concerned about the future of the county, but ultimately the board decided to act to preserve ag directly, through it’s own industry rather than entertaining potential for mutual growth with another.

Yolo County has a “Right to Farm” ordinance; the development of a “Right to Hotel” ordinance appears unlikely.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Previous Article

Don’t blow while you eat

Next Article

Boys, girls soccer teams tie Williams

Related Posts