By Ruarri Serpa.
The struggle to preserve a community’s heritage as it undergoes suburbanization is playing out in the coastal town of Encinitas.
Green-thumbed residents and city leaders say that Encinitas has become unfriendly to agriculture. At the same time, though, that same group wants people to connect to their food sources, including making it easier for people to raise goats and chickens at home.
A multi-year effort to update Encinitas’ agricultural regulations took a turn recently, when a City Council subcommittee backed off two major provisions to make that happen.
Councilman Tony Kranz and Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear comprise the Council subcommittee and say they’re trying to promote localized agriculture and balance the city’s pastime with its suburban values.
Critics of the update say their proposals will create traffic that will overrun residential neighborhoods, and cause public safety problems.
Here’s a guide to the fight over agriculture in the sometimes posh, sometimes provincial North County community.
State of the Farm
Current rules were taken from the county’s ordinance when Encinitas was incorporated in 1986 and on the verge of becoming a high-demand coastal city.
The rules allow a homeowner in a single-family area to have up to 10 chickens and 10 goats, and require coops and pens to be more than 35 feet from neighboring homes.
Additionally, homeowner associations can put their own rules in place to further restrict agriculture.
Residents are also allowed to have two bee hives in rural residential areas – places that are one house on one acre – 600 feet from the nearest property line. The county passed new rules in September lowering the setback distance significantly – only 35 feet from neighboring homes and 25 feet from roads. The Council will take up the question of accepting those lower standards at a later date.
Larger setbacks for livestock remain in place and often mean that only residents in Encinitas’ least dense areas can legally own chickens and goats – and those places are only becoming fewer in number.
The city has an agricultural heritage, including the largest poinsettia farm in the world, but a lot has changed in 30 years. Encinitas covers 20 square miles and has added roughly 100 housing units per square mile since 2000, according to census figures, most of those as single-family homes.
Kranz said there was no doubt urbanization has been limiting small livestock and agriculture in the city.
City Meets the Farm
In 2014, neighbors of an Encinitas farm filed complaints with the city, saying the farm caused too much traffic in a residential area. The situation with the two-acre farm quickly became a public exercise in melding suburban values with an agricultural history.
The neighbors in an adjacent cul-de-sac said cars sometimes entered driveways and parked near their homes to get to Coral Tree Farm’s fruit stand, educational tours – and yoga lessons.
While Coral Tree sufficiently proved to the City Council that it should be allowed to continue farming, the idea of yoga classes left the Council sore.
They said to use the farm for ancillary purposes (and not-so-ancillary purposes) requires a conditional use permit, which costs $1,600 and can take months to have approved.
Blakespear, who represented the farm pro-bono shortly before being elected, said this week that the environment in Encinitas has been against agriculture, even as people are connecting more with their food.
“I knew there was a problem when city staff received a letter that said, ‘We support healthy food – we shop at Whole Foods,’” she said.
What the (Sub)Urban Farmers Want
According to Kranz, the broad goal of a new ordinance is to promote localized agriculture as much as possible.
A draft ordinance prepared by Kranz and Blakespear that went before the Planning Commission in Augustincluded proposals to allow up to 25 chickens, based on the distance from the coop to the nearest residence and two goats, 35 feet from surrounding properties. The Planning Commission didn’t reach a decision at that meeting, and has yet to make a recommendation, citing the need for more information.
However, that whole draft ordinance may have bought the farm. On Nov. 12, Kranz and Blakespear dropped their support for provisions to reduce setback requirements and increase livestock limits, because the whole effort was drawing unwarranted criticism.
Kranz said opponents were spinning the situation in robo-calls to make it sound like agriculture wasn’t already allowed, which was creating a fuss over the setbacks.
The subcommittee has winnowed its plans and will now focus replacing the $1,600 conditional-use permit with a $250 agriculture permit, and allowing more uses “by right.”
Kranz said those uses should include up to 12 tours, classes or “pick your own” events per year, and having a farm stand that sells crops and products that are grown and processed on site, like jam or honey.
The not-so-ancillary uses, like yoga classes, would still require a conditional-use permit.
Blakespear and Kranz also said there are other measures they want to take to make Encinitas more agriculture-friendly, like allowing community gardens and fruit trees in public right-of-ways.
What Do Opponents Say?
Opponents, like Councilman Mark Muir, say applying one rule to a city as diverse as Encinitas is going to have unintended consequences.
Muir said different neighborhoods will experience different impacts– what may work in a rural area isn’t going to work in a dense urban zone.
He also opposes new regulations that pose a public safety hazard.
“For example; if a small child is allergic to bees (may trigger anaphylactic shock), there should be a permitting process that takes this into consideration. We all like animals and gardens and the currently policy allows for it under realistic situations,” Muir said in an email.
Residents have also voiced concerns at Planning Commission and Council meetings that making it easier for people to hold events and have livestock is going to put more burden on Code Enforcement – and the roads near their homes.
The Planning Commission initially heard the draft ordinance in August, but wanted more information before making a recommendation. If the Planning Commission makes a recommendation to adopt the ordinance, the Council could still take up a vote on lowering setbacks and increasing livestock numbers.
In the meantime, Kranz and Blakespear said they will continue to pursue a new agriculture permit, without the additional provisions.