With questions still floating in the ether about wineries, backyard camping and notices to neighbors, Nevada County supervisors on Tuesday adopted a controversial outside events ordinance by a 3-2 vote.
The new law, which goes into effect Dec. 1, requires unincorporated Nevada County residents planning a commercial outdoor event on residential property — such as a wedding — to apply for a temporary mini-permit, limited to four per year.
“Families in rural areas need protection,” said Supervisor Chair Nate Beason, bristling at recent public criticism. “The idea that this is a constitutional issue and that we’re creating a police state is ludicrous.”
He said county staff will clear up questions in the accompanying guidelines about overnight camping restrictions and the process for notifying neighbors after a mini-permit application has been filed.
As currently written, the ordinance requires the permit application to be filed 60 days in advance, and that neighbors be notified, but gives no specific word on how that will be accomplished. County Counsel Alison Barratt-Green said she will create a process over the next few months.
Also at issue is a section that prohibits overnight camping, but does not specify whether it applies to families whose kids want to camp out in their backyards.
“You ended up with something that literally controls any outdoor event in the entire unincorporated area,” said Doug Coursey of Alta Sierra, one of about a half-dozen speakers on Tuesday during the public comment section. “And it makes me a criminal if I’m camping in the backyard with my kids.”
Barratt-Green said the camping language would be clarified to exempt Boy Scouts-type and family camping events.
Beason and supervisors Hank Weston and Richard Anderson, who all voted in favor of the ordinance, said they were trying to balance the needs of rural residents for peace and quiet with the weddings and event planners who make their living offering celebrations.
“The neighbors in the subcommittee (doing the revisions) felt that limiting permits to four per year was not unreasonable,” said Anderson, who served on the subcommittee with Weston. “It’s not perfect — if we need to, we can change it.”
They had the support of a handful of residents who spoke Tuesday.
“I’m not against wine tasting, and I’m not against parties,” said Susan Whichard, who lives near a winery. “And I think the harvest festival is wonderful. It’s just what’s acceptable for health and safety.”
But Supervisor Ed Scofield, who, with Supervisor Terry Lamphier, voted no, said it went too far.
“I think this thing has gotten totally out of control, and is much too bureaucratic from what it should be,” Scofield said. “It was supposed to address a large multi-day festival with overnight camping and environmental health issues — not weddings or smaller events.”
Scofield said the ordinance was still fuzzy on how it affected area wineries, and was trying to deal with too many things in one piece of regulation.
“This isn’t clear — does it affect wineries or not?” Scofield said. “That could have been clarified with a separate ordinance.”
He said he was in favor of giving more enforcement tools to Sheriff Keith Royal for disruptive and noisy events, but “this is way too confusing.”
Nevada County Community Development Director Steve DeCamp said the winery events where “there is a promotional nexus that can be drawn between the event and the wine brand made by the winery” would be exempt from the ordinance requirements. The same would apply for other ag venues, such as farm dinners or grass-fed beef barbecues on ranches, he said.
However, if the wineries leased out their space for a wedding or other non-wine-promoting event, those activities would require a mini-permit.
What was not clear was whether an event that charged admission at a winery could still be considered promotional, or if no admission were charged but attendees paid for food and drinks.
Several people argued the math as to how much of a financial hit the weddings industry would take as a result of the ordinance.
“I question the methodology of the surveys,” said Andy Wilson, a lawyer representing a client on American Ranch Court Road who is suing a neighbor who allegedly runs a commercial wedding venue in his back yard.
“It’s all misinformation,” said Bonnie Beyer, another American Ranch Court Road neighbor, of the dozens of letters to the editor and op-ed pieces about the ordinance in recent months. “It’s the same drivel over and over.”
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.