New rules encourage urban agriculture


New rules designed to encourage small-scale urban agriculture in Encinitas received final approval by the City Council at its meeting on Wednesday, May 25.

The changes still must be approved by the California Coastal Commission, because they involve amendments to the city’s local coastal program, according to a city staff report.

But once they take effect, they are designed to make it easier and less costly to get a permit to grow produce for sale, to keep beehives and to set up a temporary farm stand to sell locally grown produce.

The new rules should also make it easier to start a community garden, such as a popular growing patch on Quail Gardens Drive.

“It’s a big milestone and I’m thrilled,” said Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear, who helped craft the ordinance as a member of the council’s urban agriculture subcommittee, along with Councilman Tony Kranz. “This is a regulatory path forward so we can have as much agriculture as possible in Encinitas.”

The council approved the urban agriculture ordinance on its second reading at the May 25 meeting. The ordinance was introduced at a meeting on May 11, when it was approved on a 3-2 vote of the council, with Blakespear, Kranz and Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer in support, and Mayor Kristin Gaspar and Councilman Mark Muir opposed. Gaspar and Muir also voted against the ordinance at its second reading on May 25.

Also at the May 25 meeting, the council approved without discussion relaxed permitting requirements for grading related to agricultural operations. Those changes also must be approved by the Coastal Commission, according to the staff report.

The urban agriculture ordinance allows those who want to grow and sell produce to obtain an agriculture permit for $250, rather than the $1,600 for a minor use permit that is currently required. No permit is needed to set up a farm stand that is open 12 or fewer hours per week, and that takes up less than 120 square feet.

Laurel Mehl, owner of the Coral Tree Farm and Nursery, which offers locally produced fruits, vegetables and eggs, said she is not sure the ordinance will lead to more agriculture in Encinitas, which has lost many farms due to upward pressure on land values. But she believes the new rules are a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s a nice thing the city has done to encourage local food production, which is important for lowering our carbon footprint and having nutritious food for the community,” she said. “I’m grateful to all of them for working so diligently on it.”

The ordinance has been in the works for more than two years. Along with the rules on permits and farm stands, the ordinance will allow people in residential zones to keep up to two bee hives, as long as they are at least 35 feet from neighboring homes.

That provision proved to be a sticking point for Mayor Gaspar and Councilman Muir, who said at the May 11 hearing that they were concerned about the safety risks posed by the hives, especially for those allergic to bee stings. Gaspar also said the farm stands could be a source of neighborhood conflict and aesthetic issues. (Attempts to reach Gaspar for comment for this story by press-time were unsuccessful.)

But their council colleagues said wild bees are already present in the community, so the ordinance doesn’t necessarily increase the risk.

And Blakespear said it is impossible to eliminate all risks, such as those related to driving, swimming or neighborhood dogs.

“You could also be at risk with a pit bull next door, the government doesn’t forbid that, and pit bulls don’t pollinate food sources,” she said.

Blakespear said she hopes people will come forward with plans for agricultural ventures, whether small farms to replace those that have moved away, or another community garden. The existing community garden on Quail Gardens Drive took about six years to get up and running, in large measure because of bureaucratic hurdles imposed by the city, she said.

The urban agriculture ordinance places Encinitas in the “vanguard” of a movement toward locally grown food, Blakespear said. “It’s right in line with the personality of Encinitas and the direction we want to go in the future.”