Chris Turkovich caused Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, to do a double-take when he spoke before a recent agritourism panel on which she sat.
Turkovich described that it took 24 agencies to construct a simple 4,800 square-foot winemaking building in the county.
“Can you please list those agencies,” Yamada asked.
Turkovich’s list went on and on — permits from county and state entities ranging from conservation, utilities, fire and sheriff’s departments, waste management, mosquito control, planning and so forth, which all had to be managed while trying to run his business.
“It’s incredible what you need permission to do and what that takes in time and fees,” said Turkovich, of Turkovich Family Wines, in Winters. “There’s no real common sense in that process.”
Turkovich wanted to put modern, energy-efficient LED lighting in his facility that would also keep the temperature down for his wines, but there was no certification process in place for the more efficient LEDs he wanted.
When asked to build a retention pond to store water that the building deflects from the land, Turkovich complied, only to find another state agency wanted the walls of the pond to be shaped differently, which would require it to be rebuilt.
To reach a compromise between these agencies, Turkovich said he had to set up a conference call himself for the agencies to agree on a retention pond shape. And to move that water to irrigate his fields, a different, lengthy form would be needed for each field, he said.
Yolo and Solano County Farmbudsman Michelle Stephens was hired last year — after Turkovich’s building was completed — to help farmers in the county to navigate through the process.
“If we were going to be redoing Chris’ project with me in place, I would be working to do the back and forth to free up the business person’s time,” Stephens said. “The farmer talks to me about their plan and I do the research to find out the permitting process.
“As far as the county is concerned, the projects I’ve worked on since I started … I haven’t had any trouble getting them to meet in the same room,” Stephens added.
But often the county has no choice but to comply with state and federal regulations, said both Stephens and David Morrison, assistant director for the department of planning and public works for Yolo County.
“I understand people’s frustration with the time and cost,” he said. “We serve as a clearing house. We get everyone together and say ‘Here’s what’s being proposed.’ We can’t get everyone on the same page because we don’t all operate on the same page.”
Morrison said often regulations aren’t consistent, which is more of a state issue.
For any county development project, the Planning and Public Works Department meets to discuss the regulations for many federal, state and county regulators to resolve conflicts “for the benefit of the applicant, who is otherwise going to get caught between two agencies — a rock and a hard place.”
Morrison said the process has been streamlined in the county in a few areas including fewer inspections for re-roofing, no longer inspecting water heaters in some cases, and no longer inspecting insulation — “that won’t affect health and safety but will reduce costs and time.”
Other improvements will help small wineries with fewer than 200,000 cases, which will no longer require a use permit that could take months of public hearings, as well as eliminating use permits for bed and breakfasts with six or fewer rooms, he added.
“(We’ve) made a lot of strides in the last few years to reduce the number of inspections and red tape, but we can’t eliminate it altogether or override state laws and requirements that will continue to be enforced,” he said. “We want to preserve ag and open space. If you relax too many rules, you’ll see McDonald’s and subdivisions, and that’s not what people want.”
For Turkovich, navigating the permitting process has “a compounding effect. A lot of the agencies involved say, ‘Tell us the one regulation that’s suffocating and we’ll try to address it.’ It’s not one specific one. It’s all of them at once.”
Turkovich said he is glad to have Stephens in the farmbudsman position.
“Ideally, we don’t need a farmbudsman. Our goal should be a system that is streamlined,” he said. “Since we don’t have that system, we definitely need that position. If she were around (at the time), our project would have gone a lot smoother and saved us money.”
— Reach Jason McAlister at [email protected]