Yolo County says it‘s doing all that it can to increase tourism.
On Aug. 4 the Yolo Board of Supervisors adopted a new food facility policy from the Health Department‘s Division of Environmental Health.
The California Retail Food Code establishes exemptions from some of its portions for “restricted“ food service facilities, like bed and breakfast services and agricultural homestays. These exemptions allow specified food service facilities to operate from modified residential kitchens using residential equipment rather than meeting the construction and equipment standards required of other food facilities.
These facilities are “restricted“ in the number of meals prepared daily. The policy addresses food protection in a more relaxed environment of a residential-style kitchen.
According to a press release on the policy, exemptions allowed by the policy include, floor construction standards, janitorial storage, separation from living quarters, a separate hand-washing sink, restroom signs, dressing room and locker requirements.
Equipment exemptions allow for the use of non-commercial equipment for ventilation, refrigeration, storage equipment and dishwashers.
The policy was developed in cooperation with the Yolo County Departments of Agriculture, Planning and Public Works and the Economic Development division of the County Administrator‘s Office.
Elizabeth Campbell, owner of Capay Valley Inn – Yolo‘s only bed and breakfast – is skeptical about the timing of the policy. Campbell is confused as to why the county waited nine years to adopt an ordinance that the state established in 2000.
“My biggest concern is why now?” Campbell said. “That‘s the elephant in the room. Is everyone just going to say, ‘great?‘ I want to know the story behind the story.“
While updating Yolo County General Plan the need for this type of policy was recognized. Environmental Health searched state law for potential waivers or exemptions, which led to this policy, said Davis Yolo County Public Information Officer Beth Gabor.
“This makes the permitting [process] more user-friendly,“ Gabor said. “This allows small operators to operate.“
Bruce Sarazin, director of Yolo County Environmental Health, says there are currently no permitted agricultural homestays in Davis. The Davis Bed and Breakfast Inn closed down last year.
Sarazin said the permitting process for setting up such an establishment involves finding a site, determining the necessary renovations and obtaining a permit from the planning department. Designs and inspections then follow.
The whole procedure depends on the zone, but could take between two to four weeks.
“Over the last couple of years we‘ve been searching for a way to develop agricultural tourism,“ Sarazin said. “Yolo hasn‘t been a tourist destination place, and that‘s what we‘re trying to build and promote.“
Campbell is unsure that the policy will be business friendly. She said she first applied for a permit for the facility in August 2001, but didn‘t open the bed and breakfast until February of 2003.
“The problem with this ordinance is that there aren‘t enough details,“ Campbell said. “I don‘t understand why this is being presented by the health department when they are the ones who are supposed to be regulating the businesses. I think there needs to be an oversight committee.“
Edmund Lis, owner and manager of the Abbey House Inn in Winters, which used to be a bed and breakfast, said that the permitting process is a little ridiculous, although he believes the new policy will help tourism. Lis is also the executive director at the Yolo Chamber of Commerce.
“This will help people to come out and stay at homestays,“ Lis said. “Farmers can sell different products other than just the fruit they grow.“
Homestays, functioning farms where guests stay and experience life
working on the farm, are relatively new.
Yolo County economic development manager Wes Ervin said that as long as the facility is certified with safety features and trained people in food service it will help Yolo overall, as it will be easier and cheaper to start one of these businesses.
Lis‘s wife Diane Lis does agree that facility safety is a top priority, but that it is also nice the permitting process won‘t be as stringent.
Sarazin said there is talk of a bed and breakfast in Clarksburg, near some wineries. Knights Landing and Brooks have also been discussed.
“I hope that people will take advantage of the policy,“ Sarazin said. “We encourage people to come out, learn about, and see Yolo‘s agriculture.“
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached email@example.com.