Several San Luis Obispo County businesses have received violation notifications for allowing RVs to stay overnight on their properties through an online platform called Harvest Hosts.
Four Sisters Vineyards and Winery has been a member of Harvest Hosts for two and a half years.
“It’s a wonderful program that allows recreational vehicles to park overnight at farms and enjoy farm produce at wineries and olive groves for free,” said Serena Friedman, co-owner of Four Sisters Ranch.
There are over 4,500 options. One of them is Dark Star Cellars.
“They don’t pay anything to the host, but they’re encouraged to buy something from the store, so that’s how it works,” said winemaker and Dark Star Cellars chief executive officer Michael Emling. “We started doing this at the end of 2018.”
Additional income for wineries and farms.
“I think by early December there were 380 campers here and they spent about $33,000 or so,” Emling added. “That’s probably 4% of our annual turnover, but that’s enough to pay property taxes. ”
However, some have been forced to cease operations.
According to the San Luis Obispo County Department of Planning and Building, 15 to 20 businesses and residences received violators’ notices last quarter for allegedly advertising their properties as commercial campgrounds.
“What’s really worrying us isn’t the commercial activity, the exchange of goods,” said Cynthia Alm, director of construction for the SLO County Code Enforcement. “What worries us is the health and safety of our neighbors’ unregulated camping, vehicles on private property, where we face potential pollution and vegetation fires.”
Four Sisters and Dark Star Cellars said their businesses do not fit into this code enforcement category.
“We have no tents, no campfires,” Friedman said.
Emling describes it as “just parking”.
“If you went to the RV site, you would be somewhere with a fresh water source, you would have a power source, it would probably have a sewage connection so you can empty your tanks, we don’t have any of that,” Emling added.
The letters warn that an investigation into the code’s enforcement is underway. It also states that “an investigation of this nature may result in enforcement action, which may include fines of up to $1,000.00 per day and criminal prosecution.”
“We are not currently in the process of punishing anyone. For the most part, the owner is responsible for allowing people to camp on their property without the proper permits and supervision, many of whom have ceased use,” explained Alm. “I would say a handful have approached the planning and construction department contacted to apply for the relevant permit.”
The issue was brought before the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.
“It seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do with minimal to no impact and we will be in touch with our planning department to see if we can find an easy way to fix this,” said Bruce Gibson, District 2 supervisor. At the moment, the Harvest Hosts concept doesn’t fit into any of the land use categories that we have. ”
There is hope at Four Sisters that Harvest Hosts will be allowed to operate without a permit for RV parks and commercial campgrounds.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to be the heroes in this situation and to rectify what happened from the beginning, which can now be a win, a win,” Friedman said.
KSBY News has reached out to Harvest Hosts, but we have received no response.
The topic will be discussed at the Supervisory Board meeting on Tuesday.