Vinters Challenge County Ban On New Vineyards In Santa Monica Mountains

Panoramic view of the Southern California Wine Country

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A coalition of vinters is taking legal action against Los Angeles County and the Board of Supervisors, challenging a ban on new vineyards in the Santa Monica Mountains as unsupported by law or science.

The Malibu Coast Vintners and Grape Growers Alliance Inc. and one of its members and officers, John Gooden, brought the petition Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, asking a judge to set aside the ordinance behind the ban, direct public hearings be held and order the county's action be brought into full compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act.

“The outright ban on new vineyards is legally flawed, scientifically unsupportable and arbitrary and capricious,'' the petition states.

A representative for the county could not be immediately reached.

The petition challenges the board's May 4 update to the Santa Monica Mountains North Area Plan and the related adoption of a zoning ordinance to repeal and replace the Santa Monica Mountains North Area Community Standards District to provide greater protection of biological resources.

In its draft form, the ordinance maintained the stringent restrictions and development standards on vineyards that were already in place through a 2015 vineyard regulation ordinance and extended them by a year in response to the coronavirus, the petition states.

“Much to the petitioners' surprise ... the board moved to indicate its intent to adopt the draft ordinance with a so-called modification to prohibit new vineyards of any size, among other changes,'' the petition states. “This outright ban on new vineyards was never proposed or even hinted at during the administrative proceedings.''

Whereas the draft ordinance maintained the 2015 vineyard regulations, which permitted new vineyards and expansions of existing vineyards with a conditional use permit, the final ordinance prohibits all new vineyards and is silent on the rights to expand existing vineyards, according to the petition.

With no further hearing or opportunity to comment on the change to the draft ordinance, the board then adopted the vineyard ban as a consent calendar item with no further hearing or deliberation, according to the petition.

When it adopted the ordinance, the board ignored the direction of CEQA to weigh and evaluate the project's impacts across a broad spectrum of impact categories while accomplishing the basic objectives of the project, the petition states.

“In fact, the county did not perform any environmental review of an outright ban on vineyards because the prohibition was added ... after the administrative proceedings had already concluded,'' the petition states.

Rather than taking the required time to study the issues and generate an ordinance that would actually address the objectives of the county to protect the Santa Monica Mountains, the county instead “snuck into its ordinance a post-hoc ban on vineyards in a manner contrary to law and that does not even accomplish its desired objectives,'' the petition alleges.

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