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SLO County wedding venues: County too harsh with enforcement, hurting business

Posted at 8:45 AM, Dec 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-02 11:45:02-05

San Luis Obispo County thrives in the wedding business; beautiful vineyard and ocean views, but some venues are saying the county is being too harsh with their enforcement, forcing some spaces to no longer host weddings and special events because of recent change. KSBY Daybreak Anchor Neil Hebert took an in-depth look into what’s happening to venues throughout SLO County.

“It makes you look at it in a whole different aspect, whether or not you can afford to do the changes to continue operating,” said Thom Jespersen, who has co-managed Spanish Oaks Ranch, an event venue in Santa Margarita, with his wife, Jamie Jespersen, for over a decade.

Around 2012, the venue, along with many others in the county, were consulted to operate as residential vacation rentals in order to host events such as weddings; a venue in SLO County needs to have a vacation rental in order to allow guests staying on the property to host private events without having a minor use permit from the county.

Since 2018, San Luis Obispo County code enforcement officials have sent letters to 33 venues, including Spanish Oaks Ranch, stating that at least one complaint was filed against their venue regarding issues including hosting weddings and large events. The county says venues can’t host weddings as residential vacation rentals; they would need a minor use permit to be compliant as commercial wedding spaces.

“Code enforcement: the only reason that these are coming across our desk is because we're receiving complaints,” said Jill Coomer, the code enforcement supervisor for the County of San Luis Obispo Planning and Building Department. “We want to see these venues safe for the people that are attending, and that is a huge factor in sending out these violation letters.”

The county says of the 33 venues that received letters, several have applied for and received a minor use permit, but 18 have stopped hosting events completely, including The Groves on 41 in Templeton.

“We're not a commercial operation. We're a private farm. We're allowing private events the way we were advised was allowable,” said Karen Tallent, owner of The Groves on 41. “And now I guess they've changed.”

Karen Tallent poured thousands of dollars into the makeup of her olive tree farm to be under the residential vacation rental umbrella. Operating under it since 2013, The Groves on 41 hosted more than 130 events, including 42 for nonprofit organizations.

She received her letter in January of 2020 from the county and has since stopped hosting and taking reservations for events because of the price tag associated with the minor use permit and changes that would need to be made to comply as a commercial venue.

“I'm afraid we'll stick to farming,” said Tallent. “We don't like having our hands tied on our property, I don't imagine many people do.”

The Jespersens say their property was built to the highest standard with a high-end sprinkler system, but they say they would need a new one that could cost upwards of $100,000, along with other upgrades, to comply as a commercial wedding venue.

“When my dad built the place in 2005, he went above and beyond. I don't know what's wrong with it,” said Jamie Jespersen. “I mean it could be $350,000-400,000. We don't really know. I mean, it could be more.”

Bob Stock, a local DJ and president of Central Coast Wedding Professionals, says shutting down venues will have a ripple effect for the economy and businesses that rely on weddings to make a living. Stock thinks the county is going after the most well-known and established venues.

“They're going after the venues that appear to be able to spend money more than the other venues, even on the scale that they're not going to do it,” said Stock.

Spanish Oaks has hosted 71 weddings since the start of 2021, but the county’s letter they received in April stated the venue had to stop taking additional reservations to host events. Dani Jespersen, the on-site venue coordinator with Spanish Oaks Ranch, says the crackdown has already affected the Central Coast as a wedding destination, and it will continue to hurt business.

“They are compromising our county's position as one of the best spots for destination weddings and events in California,” said Dani Jespersen. “Instead of helping us build jobs to meet the demand for weddings in the area, they are weakening our venues.”

KSBY filed a public records request with the county to access the complaints filed against several venues, but as of Friday, December 2nd, we have not received those complaints. The Board of Supervisors will meet next Tuesday, December 6th at 9:00a.m. This issue is on the agenda as a consent item.