Sonoma County Department of Agriculture Update

Written By: Andrew Smith, Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer of Weights & Measures
Published: June 3, 2020

Essential Services Provided During the Shelter in Place Order

The Department of Agriculture/Weights & Measures has a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) in place to respond to an emergency.  The COOP was developed to identify those essential services and programs performed by our Department should an emergency be declared.  The COOP that was developed and in place in March prior to the Shelter in Place Order was designed to respond to an emergency lasting up to a week.  As we worked through this emergency, we were forced to look at our COOP and evaluate our services and programs.  

All of our program work is essential, as we are here to protect agriculture, the agriculture community, the environment, and to ensure equity in commerce.  When the Shelter in Place Order began in March, our Department was performing essentials programs and services such as pesticide use complaints, phytosanitary certificates, quarantine shipment inspections, wildlife services, fuel complaints, and land use permitting.  As of May, we are pleased to announce that in addition to the aforementioned programs and services, we will also be performing pesticide use surveillance, European Grapevine Moth trapping, Glassy-winged Sharpshooter trapping, pest detection trapping, petroleum inspection work, and meter and scale testing.

While our office remains closed to the public, our staff can be reached by leaving a voicemail at (707) 565-2371 or via email at SonomaAg@sonoma-county.org.  Our office is a buzz with activity as we ramp up operations.  We excitedly look forward to getting back to what we do best! 

Land Use Permitting

On March 17, 2020, the Department of Agriculture/Weights & Measures closed its door to the public and sent employees home in accordance with the Sonoma County Shelter in Place Order.  As Department management assessed our essential functions, land use permitting was deemed essential.  With agriculture being such a vital part of Sonoma County, vineyard/orchard and cannabis development project permitting needed to continue throughout the pandemic and the ever-evolving sheltering rules put out by the County and the State. 

The Land Stewardship Division, which manages the VESCO program and reviews cannabis permitting, went to work to figure out how to continue offering services efficiently with limited resources in the office.  Tasks such as receiving project application packets and permit fees, conducting site visits, sending and receiving large project files and project comments between our consultant engineers and project developers, and issuance of permits were retooled.  Some of the processes that had been in use needed a bit of an update, but the Shelter in Place Order required the fast evolution of these processes and they needed to work ASAP. 

After about a week of working with vineyard managers and developers, their consultants, and our consulting engineering group, the Land Stewardship Division was able to work out a system for land use permitting.  Project applications packets could be submitted electronically, mailed to our office, or placed in the drop box outside the office doors.  Site visits could be conducted individually to avoid unnecessary potential COVID-19 exposure between parties.  Large electronic project files could be shared between parties via the County’s file sharing program SoCoCloud.  When review is complete, project final approved plans could be stamped electronically and sent out to applicants. 

The recently finalized public facing GIS portal has been an important tool in this process as well.  Located at www.sonomacounty.ca.gov/awm-map, this tool allows users to assess their own property and create project maps that can be submitted with their VESCO or cannabis application packets.  The use of this tool has led to much more accurate project applications and quicker project review times. 

We are happy to announce that the updated process appears to be working.  Since the beginning of the Shelter in Place Order through mid-May, roughly 50 VESCO permits and seven cannabis zoning permits have been issued.  Also, many of the processes that have been developed during this time of need will likely continue once the Shelter in Place order have been lifted.  They say, “Adversity is the mother of invention,” and it appears to be true.  The Department of Agriculture/Weights & Measures recognizes and appreciates the importance of agriculture in Sonoma County and will work tirelessly to support the agriculture community through droughts, fires, floods, and even pandemics.  

REMINDER: VESCO Pilot Program Permit Exemption Expired

As a reminder, the VESCO pilot program permit exemption for low-impact replanting in the Santa Rosa Plain subbasin expired on December 31, 2019.  A VESCO permit is required for all replanting projects in the Santa Rosa Plain regardless of the replanting process employed. 

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