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Vineyards = Ugly Environmental Disasters Says L.A. County


The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set to steamroll through a plan that would prohibit new vineyards in the Santa Monica Mountains. This comes just weeks after the federal government established the Malibu Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA). Vineyards are the only current agricultural use being banned.

Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge.

The vineyard prohibition is included in a new Land Use Plan (LUP) and Local Implementation Program (LIP), for the Santa Monica Mountains Local Coastal Program.  It is scheduled for a public hearing at 9:30 a.m., Aug. 26 at the Hall of Administration in L.A.

The LUP and its implementation have been approved by the California Coastal Commission (CCC) which, after passage, will allow L.A. County to administer the lands .


The prohibition against vineyards has been included despite the approval of every other existing agriculture use and a  staggering variety of residential and commercial uses (Click here for a complete list). A small sampling of that list of approved uses includes:

  • Wineries
  • Tasting rooms
  • Fraternity and Sorority Houses
  • Nightclubs
  • Tobacco shops
  • Hospitals
  • Juvenile halls
  • Automobile service stations,
  • Automobile supply stores
  • Single-family residences
  • Historic vehicle collections
  • Gas stations
  • Department stores
  • apartment buildings
  • Arboretums and horticultural gardens
  • Colleges and universities, including appurtenant facilities giving advanced academic instruction approved by the State Board of Education or other recognized accrediting agency, but excluding trade schools
  • Disability rehabilitation and training centers where sheltered employment or industrial-type training is conducted
  • Hospitals
  • Juvenile halls
  • Libraries
  • Medical clinics, including laboratories
  • Probation camps
  • Road construction maintenance yards

Those who support banning vineyards in the Santa Monica mountains find these approved uses more aesthetic than a vineyard and environmentally more acceptable. The complete list with zoning and permitting information is here: (Click here for a complete list).


It’s widely acknowledged that the new L.A County LUP is the brain child and passionate pet project of County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky who represents the area and who retires at the end of 2014.

“When I first took office in 1994, this was one of the things that I said I wanted to accomplish…,” Yaroslovsky told Southern California Public Radio (SCPR). ” [T]his is the last piece of business that I will be able to accomplish, and it’s maybe the most important one.”

Yaroslovsky has made no secret of the fact that he thinks vineyards are ugly and dangerous.

In an April 8, 2014 letter to the CCC, Yaroslovsky stressed that the new LUP would

“firmly and without compromise protect coastal resources, including by prohibiting new vineyards that frequently lead to soil erosion, stream and beach pollution, the spread of invasive species, the removal of large swaths of natural habitat and the introduction of highly visible changes to landforms and natural landscape of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Yaroslovsky has said that existing vineyards would be allowed to continue. However, LUP opponents, who have gathered under the banner of the Coastal Coalition of Family Farmers (CCFF), say that clever wording in the plan will mandate that some vineyards be ripped out.


Numerous letters of support for the LUP have been filed by those who echo Yariskovsky’s sentiment.   One from a Calabasas resident (page 57 of the CCC’s addendum to the April 10, 2014 meeting):

“[H]ikers and recreational users of the mountains want to have the rugged and native landscapes for vistas, not hillsides stripped of native plants for the sake of ugly vineyards.

“Most people do not know about the Local Coastal Plan, but they do know they don’t want more vineyards in the mountains.

“No one wants the Santa Monica Mountains to become Napa Valley. No one wants wine tasting off Kanan and Las Virgenes with typsy drivers adding to the menace of “these already crowded mountain roads.”

The Coastal Commission staff has firmly sided with Yaroslovsky stating in their April 10 addendum that clearing land for agriculture:

“requires native vegetation removal, soil disturbance, irrigation, and often chemical and fertilizer inputs.

“The areas between rows of plantings are often bare, and when a deciduous crop such as grapes replace the evergreen cover of native chaparral vegetation, even more bare ground is exposed in the winter months.

“In combination with the relatively steep mountain topography in the plan area, vegetation removal, increased soil exposure, and chemical/fertilizer and irrigation requirements from crop-based agriculture can result in significant impacts to biological resources and water quality from increased erosion, sedimentation of streams, pollution, slope instability, and loss of habitat.

“New or expanded crop-based agriculture also raises significant concerns about water availability and use, including protection of coastal groundwater basins and coastal streams, as well as pesticide use and landform alteration.”


Both sides have failed to produce credible, third-party data from disinterested experts. Neither has contacted credible experts at U.C. Davis, Cal Poly SLO or Fresno State to gather actual data about low-impact, organic vineyard techniques.

Clearly, there are vineyard development and management techniques that destroy views and wreak havoc on the environment. Few people in Sonoma County have forgotten the way that Gallo virtually strip-mined hillsides near the Dry Creek Valley. Or the now-defeated plans to clear-cut 2,000 acres of redwoods for a vineyard (A tale of grape versus redwood).

But those nightmares can be avoided without prohibiting vineyards entirely.

This is why is is unfortunate that neither side in this bitter battle has made any mention of the well-established methods for organic, low-impact vineyards that do not require terracing a hillside, scraping away native plants, dousing with chemicals or  filling streams with sediment.

Drip-irrigated, head-pruned vines can be planted and maintained with less disturbance to the environment than a fig tree or tomato plant.

The CCC and Supervisor Yaroslovsky should educate themselves and hold grapevines to the same standards as other fruit plants and allowable agriculture and equestrian activities.

The CCFF should do likewise and recognize that responsible viticulture in an environment such as the Santa Monica Mountains requires a different form of agriculture.


Thousands of  words have been expended in the various use permit drafts and staff reports concerning stream sedimentation, pesticides and pollution.

All parties are flying blind here with family gardeners, equestrians, vineyard owners, hikers, mountain bikers and others claiming true innocence for their vested interest.

Hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders disturb trail soil tremendously. Runoff produces stream sedimentation. The same goes for poor agricultural practices and dressage rings.


Scientific methods exist to measure sedimentation.

Before any development begins on any approved use, sedimentation in run-off should be measured in an adequate number of places along the downhill at the boundary of the property. Not miles downhill.

Sedimentation should then be measured after completion of any improvement. A standard should be established for any increase, if any is merited. Code violations should be assessed for failure to meet the standard.

In addition to sediment, the same before-and-after assessments should be made for chemicals, bacteria (e-coli) and the presence of pharmaceuticals and Chemicals of Emerging Concern that may come from vineyards and other ag use as well as equestrian facilities, corrals, homes, residential gardens and irrigation with recycled water.

“Equal protection under the law” demands that a supportable, objective standard be established. That standard should be applied equally against every allowed use (including grapes). And whatever cannot meet the standard comes out, down or goes away or gets replaced.


People with a resistance to falling asleep and infinite patience with badly constructed public documents may access available documents in this process here: Board – Santa Monica Mountains


Hi Lewis,
I disagree about your recommending organic grape farming for the Santa Monica Mountains as having less environmental impact.
Fungi (mildew) is a big problem for grape farming and is a huge problem for organic farmers because they have only two pesticide options, neither of them very good. For example the available organic pesticides require a 24 hour reentry period. The synthetic alternatives have much shorter reentry periods- anywhere from a 4 hour to 12 hour reentry period. Most people have no idea this is the case. They think organic pesticides are benign. 
Organic pesticides for mildew, copper sulfate and sulfur, have much higher EPA LD50 than synthetic alternatives. Copper sulfate is 465 whereas Flint, a synthetic alternative, requires a much higher dose of 5,050 to do harm. In addition, the Environmental Impact Quotients established by Cornell for these organic pesticides, Copper sulfate and sulfur, are very high: 65 and 45. Synthetic alternatives have EIQs in the 25-35 range. (EIQs address how pesticides impact bees, birds, groundwater, runoff, applicator exposure, manufacturing etc. and provide a way to compare the impact of different pesticides). The situation is actually much worse in practice because organic pesticides are applied much more frequency and at higher doses creating a huge difference to the environment.
Synthetic protective mildew products are applied on a 14 to 17 day interval whereas Organic products must be applied on a 5 to 7 day interval when the mildew pressure is high. In the worst situations, I have had to apply organic fungicides on a 3 day interval. (I used to farm my grapes organically). Sometimes organic farmers might apply 6-34 pounds of organic pesticides per acre and can be some of the largest users of pesticides in the state of California. Add to this the increased tractor noise and fossil fuel use to run the tractors much more often scaring wildlife. Organic grape growing can mean larger doses of pesticides, more frequent application and more toxic pesticides. 


John Hilliard

Hilliard Bruce Vineyards