SLO County adds restrictions on the tourism industry

By KAREN VELIE

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is looking to restrict the ability for residents to allow overnight RV stays at their properties through Harvest Host and for event venues to host weddings and other functions.

Multiple local farms and wineries work with Harvest Host, which sets up visitors for overnight parking at businesses at no charge. Unlike RV parks, the sites do not offer amenities like water, power, waste disposal or campfires.

It is suggested, but not mandatory, that the overnight guest support the business, generally through eating at their establishments or purchasing produce or wine.

Four Sisters Vineyards and Winery has worked with Harvest Host for two and a half years. Amid the downturn in the economy, the income brought in through Harvest Host helped her stay afloat, said the winery’s co-owner Dr. Serena Friedman.

However, earlier this year, code enforcement began lodging large fines on some hosts while leaving others alone. SLO County Code Enforcement’s Building Division Supervisor Cynthia Alm has voiced concerns that unregulated camping creates a fire risk and RV’s create pollution.

The hosts argue that they do not allow camping or fires.

The Board of Supervisors asked staff to bring back an opinion on the program. Instead, staff came back last weeks and said they need three to four months to develop a framework. Supervisor Bruce Gibson then suggested they restrict Harvest Host to only commercial parking lots, which would allow very few local hosts to continue, and bring the issue back in the next 60 days.

San Luis Obispo County thrives through a vibrant travel industry. In 2021, travel related spending in SLO County exceeded $1.75 billion.

It is estimated that 4,000 people visit SLO County each week to attend weddings and other events, but that could soon change as county code enforcement staff is cracking down on venues they say do not meet state requirements.

A decade ago, SLO County staff told those seeking to operate event venues that they could get approvals as vacation rentals without having to get a minor use permit from the county. Staff then approved needed construction and improvements.

However, the county now says that those projects, many of which were constructed in the past 15 years, do not meet current state guidelines. Staff sent letters to 33 venues wanting them to quit operating until they make costly changes, with some estimated at more than $250,000.

Supervisor Debbie Arnold argued earlier this month that venues that followed the rules 10 years ago should be permitted to continue operating while they make any required changes. The Board of Supervisors voted to bring the issue back in January to create a new policy regarding venues.