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The Board of Supervisors at a November 2018 meeting.

Supervisors Update Contracts, Approve Farmstay Rules

Jan 8, 2019
by Will Carruthers

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The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors swore in newly-elected and reelected officials, altered two contracts with consultants and updated rules around temporary rentals on agricultural lands at the board's first meeting of the year.

Officials Sworn In

Newly-elected and re-elected officials were sworn into office at the beginning of the meeting.

Supervisors James Gore and David Rabbitt, who both ran unopposed for reelection in November, were both sworn in before the board voted on its new leaders for the coming year.

Rabbitt will chair the board, Susan Gorin will serve as vice-chair and Lynda Hopkins will serve aschair pro-tempore, the third in line position of power.

Other officials who were sworn in include:

  • District Attorney Jill Ravitch, who first took office in 2011, was reelected in June 2018.
  • Sheriff Mark Essick, previously a captain in the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, was elected in a three-way runoff for the job in June.
  • Erick Roeser was sworn in as the county's Auditor-Controller-Treasurer-Tax Collector. Roeser was first appointed to the job in 2017.
  • Clerk-Recorder-Assessor and Registrar of Voters Deva Proto was also sworn in.

Sonoma Springs Specific Plan Contract Extended

The Supervisors extended a contract with a consultant hired to complete a planning process outlining possible housing and business development goals for the Sonoma Springs region.

The Springs Specific Plan is intended to “create the foundation for a sustainable community with a vibrant, pedestrian-oriented main street and increased opportunities for walking, bicycling, and active living. A primary objective of the plan is to increase pedestrian and bicycle safety, and thereby promote active transportation and community health.”

A map of the area covered by the Springs Specific Plan

The planning document will also study the environmental impacts of different plans. The process has been delayed, in part because of the Sonoma Complex Fires, according to a staff report.

“A number of factors have slowed the progress of the specific plan project,” the report states. “More in-depth analysis than originally anticipated is needed in the area of water supply and wastewater capacity.”

The county plans to hire a separate consultant to complete the water study, according to the staff report.

The Board of Supervisors authorized the original contract in November 2015. On Tuesday, the supervisors extended the contract until Dec. 31, 2019, citing delays in the process and uncertainty about the scope of the project.

“With this contract extension, we can get this done,” District 1 Supervisor Susan Gorin said. “It’s going to be very important for the Springs to have that direction and to move forward.”

The consultant, De Novo Planning Group, is based in El Dorado Hills, near Sacramento.

Resiliency Permit Center Contract Altered

The supervisors voted to transfer a $14 million contract to manage the county's Resiliency Permit Center for the next two years, from one company to another.

After two employees managing the county’s contract for West Coast Code Consultants (WC3) – Michael Renner and Marcus Johnson – informed the county that they were leaving WC3, the county decided to follow the consultants to their new employer.

The new consultant, 4leaf, a Pasadena-based engineering and consulting company, has administered similar contracts in over 100 jurisdictions, according to the firm's website.

WC3 was originally contracted with the county in February 2018 to administer the county’sResiliency Permit Center, a new department which has been tasked with issuing permits to residents intending to rebuild or repair some of the approximately 3,000 buildings and structures damaged in the Sonoma Complex Fires.

In an effort to avoid “disruption of services” that would come with training new employees, the county opted to switch contractors, according to a  staff report.

“Any other personnel would require significant training, expense, and time to obtain a similar level of productivity and efficiency as currently demonstrated by these two key personnel,” a staff report states.

WC3 was ranked as the second most qualified applicant to fulfill the contract with county during the initial contract purchasing process last year, according to the staff report.

In its first eleven months of operation, the Resiliency Permit Center has issued more than 750 permits.

Farmstay Rules Approved

The supervisors relaxed rules regulating several kinds of temporary rentals located on agricultural lands in the unincorporated county in an attempt to balance farmers' financial needs with county land use regulations.

Although allowing homeowners on agricultural land to rent rooms or extra structures could allow farmers to supplement their income, the practice has been restricted because of pre-existing regulations and concerns that land zoned for agriculture should not be used primarily for vacation rentals. 

When the Board of Supervisors first passed rules regulating the permitting process for vacation rentals in the unincorporated county, the rentals were not allowed on parcels zoned forLand Intensive Agriculture (LIA) uses because of land use restrictions in the county's General Plan, according to astaff report

In 2012, the Board approved a two-year program outlining the permitting process for farmstays, a temporary rental on a property zoned for agriculture. The program was extended and revised in 2014 and 2016. 

While there are 2,955 parcels with Land Intensive Agriculture parcels in the county, only 62 permits have been awarded since the Board of Supervisors began allowing property owners to apply for vacation rental permits in 2012. 

LIA parcels by district

The majority of the LIA parcels and the permits issued so far – 52 of 62 – are located in District 4, represented by Supervisor James Gore, according to a staff report.

Temporary rentals on agricultural lands are more restricted because of concerns including the possible loss of farmworker housing, the continued use of land for agriculture and pre-existing code restrictions in the county's General Plan.

For instance, under the 2012 rules, farmstays, were only allowed if visitors stay in the primary residence in which the farm operator resides. 

The amended rules passed on Tuesday will allow agricultural property owners to apply for four kinds of temporary uses - hosted rentals, marketing accommodations, farmstays and vacation rentals - with a variety of requirements for each use.

Farmstay owners will now be able to rent a room in a building that is not their primary residence and will be required to prepare an Agricultural Promotion Plan as part of the permit application process. 

The supervisors approved the staff-suggested rule changes with two alterations. They eliminated an income restriction on the vacation rentals, citing concern over how the county would enforce the rule, and asked staff to discuss rules requiring property owners to educate guests about the property's agricultural uses with a variety of local farming groups. 

“I also don’t want to this to be like, you leave a bottle of Sonoma County wine out on the bed and that’s checking the box," Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said. "...you’re going to [have to] go out and take a tour of the vineyard. You’re going to do something active and participatory [to qualify for an Agricultural Promotion Plan]. "

The rules change passed with a 3-0 vote. Supervisors Gore and Zane were not present for the vote.   

The full agenda for the meeting is available online.

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