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New rules could squeeze Malibu wine growers

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POSTED August 26, 2014 8:20 p.m.



LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Malibu region’s growing wine industry, made up of some 50 commercial vineyards, could be squeezed by proposed regulations that would prohibit new grape growing in a large swath of the Santa Monica Mountains.

The ban, which would apply to 50,000 acres adjacent to, but not including, the city of Malibu, is part of a much bigger coastal resource protection plan that would limit the size of new homes and prevent any development on most ridgelines. In the works for more than a decade, it would give the county autonomy in the area instead of having to defer to the California Coastal Commission.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors was slated to vote on the new rules Tuesday.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the regulations would ensure that the coastal mountains don’t become suburbanized, like those to the north in Calabasas or Agoura Hills.

“This plan makes sure that development doesn’t dictate the land,” he told the newspaper.

Those who oppose more vineyards cite the use of pesticides, the unnatural, linear look of trellises on slopes, and the potential for erosion if hillsides are cleared of their natural chaparral.

They also say a ban would help save water during California’s historic drought.

Wine growers say avocado trees wouldn’t be banned, and they need more water than grapevines.

Mark Persson, Malibu Chamber of Commerce executive director, said he supports much of the proposed plan — except the vineyard regulation. He suspects it will have a negative effect on the local economy.

Don Schmitz, the owner of Malibu Solstice vineyard, believes officials should be supporting wine growing as a money-maker for the region.

“To destroy this in its infancy... is as sad as it is ironic,” Schmitz said.

In recent years, the Malibu coast has branded itself as wine country. The Malibu Chamber of Commerce advertises a wine trail on its website, and buses ferry tourists through the hills for vineyard visits.

This month, the region became a federally recognized American Viticultural Area, which means next year’s wine labels will be able to boast “Malibu Coast” as where the grapes came from, instead of the more generic description of “Los Angeles County.”

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