Cheers erupted at last week’s Riverside County Board of Supervisors meeting after the board unanimously approved the long-awaited ranchos ordinance.

“We have worked so hard for three years to keep our ranchos open for our dreams, for our quinceañeras, for our families,” Claudia Lua Alvarado, a rancho owner who spearheaded the effort, said. “This is not just about money, this is more. This is about our culture, our heritage.”

Work on the ordinance began in 2021 with a request from small business owners with agricultural farms in the Coachella Valley to consider a third type of permitted event facility in the region so they could continue to host private events on their property.

“We tried to look at this opportunity to do this, but also ensure that as we crafted this ordinance, we took into account the community that lives there and tried to strike a balance with all of this,” John Hildebrand, planning director, said. “We are in support of the unique culture, agricultural production of the area, local economy, all while trying to balance the public health and safety welfare for everybody that’s out there.”

In order to be eligible for a permit, properties must be located within either the Eastern Coachella Valley Area Plan or Western Coachella Valley Area Plan; utilize at least 40% of the total acreage for agricultural crops, including 20% specifically for date palms; and not be located within a conservation easement.

Permitted facilities cannot operate for more than 12 hours per day, including set-up and clean-up; cannot have live music or amplified sound after 10 p.m.; cannot host events or have lights on the property between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m.; and must conform with the county’s existing noise ordinance.

“These regulations are based on our current and existing noise ordinance,” Hildebrand said, noting that there is an ongoing effort to update the county’s noise ordinance that will be brought before the board at a later date.

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The facilities must also have onsite parking and management during the event, set-up and clean-up. When it comes to how many guests can be hosted on the property, it depends on both the zoning and the acreage.

“We spent a lot of time analyzing the right size, the right property size, the right number of people based upon the community itself,” Hildebrand said.

Hildebrand said the planning department has created a dedicated email address for community outreach and support, posted flyers on social media, held seven community meetings, prepared a standardized entitlement checklist, assigned a dedicated planner for processing applications and applicant guidance and has a public workshop planned after the ordinance is adopted to help people with their applications.

“We do encourage that all the rancho operators be good neighbors,” he said. “We’ve talked to them extensively about their outreach, their engagement to the existing community, making sure that they’re good operators, and that they’re good neighbors to everybody else that is out there.”

Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, who represents the Coachella Valley, thanked his colleagues for the support, the owners of the ranchos for their commitment and county staff for its work in getting the ordinance to this point.

“This is a proud moment for all of us,” he said. “We have to do what we can to save our agricultural community.”

The ordinance will go into effect 30 days after its final adoption, which is expected to happen at the July 30 meeting of the board. After the ordinance goes into effect, existing ranchos will have 90 days to submit their permit applications.

In other board action: The Riverside County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the budget for the 2024-2025 fiscal year which begins July 1.

A full recording of the meeting can be found here on the county’s website.

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Alicia Ramirez is the publisher of TN News and the founder and CEO of its parent company TN News.

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