Caught in the middle are Santa Barbara County Planning Commission members and county planning staff, who continue to be at odds over how much and what kinds of regulations are needed for the local wine industry.

They’ve been at this for years, trying to reach a reasonable middle ground upon which to bring the county’s obsolete wineries ordinance into the 21st century, while seeking to take into account regulating an industry that has gone through phenomenal growth since the first wineries regulations were written.

County planning staff thought they had it nailed, creating a three-tiered system based on the size of a winery’s operation.

But as written, the proposed, updated ordinance tipped the scales very much in favor of the larger wineries, at the expense of smaller operations. 

At least that was the opinion expressed by a majority of speakers at last week’s Planning Commission hearing, at which 32 citizens spoke and just four of them seemed to favor the revised ordinance as proposed. The others were quite vocal about potential impacts of the proposed rules.

For example, one winery operator stated without equivocation that if the ordinance were approved as proposed, his business would disappear faster than a tapped-out slots player leaving a casino.

Similar opinions were repeated by other, mostly smaller winery operators. The problem for them would be the recommendation to prohibit tasting rooms in those smaller wineries, because tasting rooms are what keep some of them in business.

That’s the view from one of the aforementioned opposite corners, in one of which were mostly private citizens concerned about some of the negative impacts the wine industry is having on the Santa Ynez Valley. Specifically they're concerned about tipsy drivers leaving wineries and trying navigate the region’s narrow, twisting, back-country roads. Proponents of the tougher rules also mentioned noise and traffic from big events staged at wineries.

Those issues seem to be more enforcement-related than specific to the creation of commonsense public policy acknowledging the realities of a growing industry that helps supports this region’s overall economy.We all know local folk can be a contentious bunch, on a variety of issues. That is not unlike other communities in which there is a constant push and pull between growth and respect for personal space.

Unrestricted growth and development are not necessarily givens, but some growth is a naturally-occurring by-product of a society’s normal development. Mankind simply was not meant to sit still for more than a few minutes.

The trick for local governments is to ensure that the growth and development that does take place is reasonable and orderly, and that no single group be unduly penalized.

In that context, we have to agree that the Planning Commission made the correct decision last week to send the proposed wineries ordinance back to planners for yet more revisions. Instructions from the commission include making better provisions for the wine industry’s smaller players. The revision is due back to the Planning Commission in mid-September.

Some may view the commission’s indecision as wishy-washy. In fact, this is how sound public policy is made, when both sides are given an opportunity to state their case.

The county and its wine industry don’t need a revised ordinance that misses the mark, perhaps endangering the regional economy.