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Workshops for commercial social events, ranch weddings taking place

The third in a series of workshops on permitting commercial social events including wedding venues in agricultural zones is planned Thursday, March 19, at 10 a.m., in the Plumas County Planning Department in Quincy.

The second workshop in the series included four Plumas County department heads and a representative of the University of California Cooperative Extension program. Representatives from two ranches interested in the wedding business were also present Thursday, March 5.

Social events

Before the bride can stroll through a meadow, or the groom can wait patiently on horseback for the bride, Plumas County Planning Commissioners, staff and departments with anything to do with agricultural lands (zone Agricultural Preserve AP) and commercial venues, are charged by the Board of Supervisors with producing an ordinance for holding commercial social events on AP lands.

Attempting to speed up the process following the February workshop, Plumas County Planning Director Tracey Ferguson and Assistant Planning Director Becky Herrin wrote a draft ordinance.

Together with other department heads from Environmental Health, the Building Department, the Agriculture Commissioner and others, commissioners began a more than two-hour process of evaluating that draft.

According to the draft ordinance, which was available for review by the commissioners and members of the audience, Herrin and Ferguson spelled out proposals.

Prior to the issuance of an administrative use permit, the use or activity is subject to submittal of proposed use or activity description and site plans for review by county departments and state agencies as to compliance with applicable laws, policies, codes, and regulations, according to some of the draft ordinance.

Applications must be submitted 90 days prior to the first event in a calendar year for an administrative use permit. For a special use permit plans must be submitted 60 days prior to the first event.

Staff agreed to work with potential permit holders because the wedding season is quickly approaching for the first year. Another workshop is scheduled and the proposal still must go before the Board of Supervisors for final approval.

Number of venues

What drew most attention was the number of events a permittee could hold during traditional wedding months. Discussions also included the shoulder months around June, July and August, as well as the type of permit a business might need.

In the draft ordinance, Ferguson and Herrin chose the number 12 for commercial social events that could be held during the season under an administrative use permit. Events were also capped at 250 guests per event. “I have a slight problem limiting the number of events,” said Commissioner Larry Williams.

Commissioner John Olofson agreed asking what the logic is behind setting the number at 12 events.

Ferguson explained that they chose that number because of the impact on property. This is agriculturally zoned land that is permitted for temporary commercial uses. Use, numbers of people, days of use and other considerations all affect the land removing it temporarily from zoned uses.

They arrived at 12 because of the number of weekends during June, July and August, Ferguson explained. Twelve would mean holding one wedding per weekend.

Ferguson said that any vendor could apply for a special use permit beyond the proposed 12 days.

There is a different process with more conditions for a special use permit from the county.

Mike and Denise Geissiger, owners of the Kinship Ranch in Cromberg, were at their second workshop. Denise said that they include May through October as the months with the most wedding activity. They also plan to host two weddings per weekend.

Environment Health Director Jerry Sipe said that with a longer season, more weddings and the possible number of guests increasing, there are implications of permanent structures. Smaller and fewer events are more easily served with temporary structures, including tents, portable hand washing and toilet facilities. The amount of free drinking water, other water needs and wastewater are also impacted.

Mike Geissiger asked about how events are planned at the corner barn (corner of Highways 70 and 89) in Blairsden and 20-mile House in Cromberg?

Herrin explained that the corner barn isn’t on AP land. The 20-mile House has very strict regulations that are grandfathered in because of its age and history.

Denise Geissiger pointed out that every location would be a little different.

Sipe said that it was good to keep the number to the lowest tier and that they also wanted to keep it low for those who didn’t want to have that many weddings.

Under the draft ordinance, events couldn’t be held longer than three days.

Among other things they will need to consider are California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) processes. Ferguson said CEQA reviews would be included in the third workshop.

Vehicles and signs

Caltrans District 2 weighed in on criteria for wedding venues on agricultural land.

The response included parking, highway access and signage regulations. Caltrans controls all highways, while the Plumas County Public Works Department controls all county roads.

Parking is not allowed in the state’s right-of-way along highways. This would be along the shoulders of a highway near the wedding venue. “Which is certainly understandable,” Herrin said.

Traffic management might be needed in some instances. The CHP provides traffic control at music festivals in Belden, it was indicated. In this case, the organizer is responsible for paying the CHP for its services.

In some cases event plans might be subject to review by Caltrans. “Do we have any idea how long the approval process takes?” Williams asked.

“Caltrans is pretty good about getting back to us,” Herrin explained about timeliness.

Caltrans also doesn’t want signage along the shoulders of the highways. This could be a permanent sign or little ones for a single event. “You can put something on your property, you can put something on the fence,” Herrin said. But signs can’t be posted on the right-of-way.

As an example, Herrin said that Caltrans tears down campaign signs that are put in the right-of-way.

“It’s simpler to say no signage,” Herrin said about the whole process.

Williams then asked about encroachments where Caltrans is concerned. Herrin said she wasn’t family with their standards and would have to research it.

Olofson thought it would be a good idea to have permit holders work directly with Caltrans. Herrin said that would happen if they needed a permit.

The draft ordinance also explains access routes that are appropriate for existing traffic and proposed commercial social event traffic. This includes the driveway and turnaround standards.

Fire safety and fire prevention plans are also included in the draft ordinance. Permit holders are responsible for a plan that includes fire safety and prevention, and for emergency services response team access. The fire department representative within the AP area is responsible for reviewing the plans and signing off on it.

This brought up a concern from Chris Spencer of Lost Marbles Ranch in Sierra Valley. Spencer pointed out that the ranch falls into the mutual aid category for fire departments. Therefore, like the Roberti Ranch and others they have no specific fire department coverage. She said because of this it would be difficult to have a department sign off on their fire plan.

“We have to get some sort of sign off from a fire district,” Herrin said. Although she realizes the problem she added that it would have to be addressed for the special use permit. “It’s a problem,” Herrin said.

Sipe suggested discussing the situation with Sue McCourt who is with Plumas County’s FireSafe organization. He pointed out that McCourt is a liaison and would not necessarily solve the problem, but might have some ideas.

The draft ordinance continues to state that if the proposed parcel is not within the boundaries of a structural fire protection district, then the property owner could go to the nearest district fire department.

Concerning parking, the draft states that at least one off-street parking area be available for every two wedding guests.

Reading from the draft, Californian Cooperative Extension representative Tracy Schohr said she had problems with requirements that the parking areas be surfaced with gravel, asphalt or asphaltic concrete to reduce dust. Schohr said that it’s difficult to mow areas with gravel. This would present a need to use herbicides to keep the grass and weeds down in a graveled area.

Schohr suggested that rather than doing something permanent that took the area out of active production, water could be used to reduce dust.

The ordinance does suggest that areas with grass or pasture could be used for parking provided that the grass is trimmed to a height of no more than 3 inches.

As partly discussed, traffic management plans must be approved by Plumas County Public Works. Director Bob Perreault did not have a representative at the planning workshop.

The plan calls for safe ingress and egress without causing substantial congestion on roadways. Traffic management plans must be submitted to Plumas County Public Works. A representative from this department was not present.

There are also noise restrictions within the plans. AP is zoned for 80 decibels. Residential property is zoned for 60 decibels.

Hours for venues are between 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., excluding set up and clean up. If the property is not located adjacent 2-R through R-20 or located more than 300 feet away from specific property or is held inside, the hours are not restricted.

It is noted that the noise level is not to exceed 60 dB Leq from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 50 dB Leq from 7 a.m.  to 2 a.m.


A drinking water plan is required as part of the permit application process. Environmental Health is responsible for approving the drinking water plan. At least one drinking fountain or equivalent for providing free water to every 100 guests is required. As the number of guests increase so does the number of drinking fountains or other accommodations.

The Geissigers said their experience is that wedding guests don’t want to deal with drinking fountains. So bottled water is made available.

Sewage disposal is also required and under the approval of Environmental Health. “If new or existing onsite wastewater treatment and disposal systems facilities are proposed, the applicant must demonstrate that they are designed, sited and constructed adequately and safely serve anticipated wastewater flows generated at the commercial social event venue,” according to county code and the draft ordinance.

If portable toilets are proposed they must be serviced by a sanitation vendor. This vendor must be permitted in the county.

For every 200 males there must be at least one water closet and one urinal at the event. One water closet for every 100 females is required.

And regulations are not done. There are provisions for lighting, power cords, temporary stages or tents and the kind, food and alcoholic beverage use.

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