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Letter: Over-regulation threatens small businesses

Bureaucratic strangulation is the biggest threat facing small businesses in Encinitas today.

The Planning Department recently decided that a 2-acre, heritage avocado orchard, Coral Tree Farm, can grow crops but can’t offer low-impact community farm visits, vegetable boxes or small classes without a costly, time-consuming minor use permit. This decision is unreasonable, arbitrary, ill-defined and offers no guidelines for application to future activities.

As the pro bono attorney for Coral Tree Farm and a candidate for Encinitas City Council this fall, I am appealing this decision to the City Council.

We need city guidelines, and interpretations of those guidelines by city staff, that help small businesses to thrive and adapt instead of regulating them out of existence.

Encinitas’ over-arching legal document, the General Plan, clearly supports the business of farming. It states in section 11.10 that the city should “provide an economic advantage, where possible, to agriculture in competing with the forces of urbanization to minimize pressures to redevelop to urban land uses.”

Does requiring costly permits, prohibiting outright small Farm-to-Fork dinners and “suggesting” that Coral Tree Farm may have to construct a permanent ADA accessible bathroom, when an existing ADA accessible port-a-potty is already on site, further this goal? We should support building a community around our locally-grown food sources. It’s the natural evolution of our city’s agricultural heritage.

There is a lesson to be learned from the sad experience of “Food Truck Fridays,” where gourmet food trucks would come together downtown, on private property, to offer a wide sampling of inventive, locally produced food. After a complaint, the city staff directed the food trucks into the exact same permitting process now being asked of Coral Tree Farm. The result: No more food trucks, no more “Foodie Friday” and the loss of that creative element of our business community. They were vibrant tax-paying businesses creating a cultural event at no cost to the city who disappeared from our community.

Other types of home occupations, piano teachers for instance, can fill out a one-page form and pay $36. In contrast, the minor use permit process is so onerous and expensive (at least $1,600) it requires hiring professionals to complete it.

The City Planning staff is doing their job very effectively. And their job is to regulate. Whether businesses come or go is not their concern. But it is the concern of the City Council. Without clear direction from them, small businesses trying to farm will suffer the same suffocation by bureaucracy as the food trucks. This is not an acceptable outcome in a city with such a deep and strong agricultural history.

-Catherine Blakespeare, an Encinitas attorney who can be reached at catherine@blakespear4encinitas.com


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