PASO ROBLES — Supervisor for the 1st District, John Peschong, said Tuesday that the local farm stand that has been the centerpiece of a huge grassroots rescue effort has been given until Oct. 1, the end of the growing season, to find a new and lawful location.
“I have talked to Chan probably three times so far and we are working with him, getting him through the grow season,” Peschong said. “I know by now planning, the folks at code enforcement, has sent him a letter... detailing some things….There is a property across the street and when I talked to [Chan] yesterday he was looking at that property and that is in the city of Paso. Steve Martin, the mayor, has contacted me so he’s aware of it.”
While the resolution to the situation is fairly straightforward and simple, the process to reach that resolution was anything but.
Only one week ago, on the corner of Charlois and River Road, beside baskets of freshly picked strawberries were stacks of petitions and a large whiteboard with today’s prices stating a plea for customers to sign a petition to allow the farm stand to stay open “until the end of the growing season.”
Meui Saele and husband Chan have been successfully running this local favorite farm stand for more than four years. With hundreds of repeat customers being their mainstay they were completely taken aback when two weeks ago, Nick Buckley, a code enforcement officer with the County of San Luis Obispo, after receiving an anonymous complaint, stopped by the stand and informed the Saeles “that we were breaking a county code by not actually growing a portion of the items we are selling on the property and had to vacate the very next Monday,” Saele said.
With only days to find a new location the Chan’s were devastated and the locals went into an uproar. A few days later, Buckley informed them they had until May 31, Saele said.
“We come here a couple times a week and this is just tragic to us,” said Paso Robles resident Megan Macha, visiting the stand with her son Corbin, ”We try and teach him about supporting local business and to know where your food comes from and then this happens.”
The flurry started with an open letter to the San Luis Obispo County Health Department published on the website Paso Robles Daily News. But, the letter was actually directed at the wrong department. The Health Department was barraged with phone calls and when asked if they had any intentions of shutting down any farm stands within the county of San Luis Obispo, Laurie Salo, supervisor of the food program stated emphatically, “Absolutely not - This is a zoning and code enforcement issue I believe,” Saele said.
And indeed it was. The county zoning department had already been bombarded with phone calls as well, as Nick Buckley advised this publication that he was no longer allowed to comment on the subject and all questions were to be referred to the Supervisor of Code Enforcement, Art Trinidad.
Upon hearing the news, customer and local neighbor, Nancy Peck, ran home and typed up a petition and returned with a thick stack on a clipboard for her fellow neighbors to sign. Then, Greg Baker, another neighbor that just moved to the area from Chicago four months ago got involved.
“They needed a minor use permit but you have to send that in writing to the director,” Baker said - “I sent a letter and copied the owners on the farm stand saying we would like to get them a minor use permit. They got back to me right away. Nick said that minor use permit was not allowed in the Spanish Oaks district. So they are more restrictive. He said he checked with other planners and without a general plan amendment, then they are not likely to make any exceptions. Well I said, how about an exception just through the growing season? He said no. So, I said to him, you get one person who makes a complaint and 99.5 percent of the people are happy - and now you throw them out?”
However, in an interview with the Paso Robles Press, Trinidad said,“We recommended that we find him another location where it would be a happy situation for him. We are giving them until the end of the growing season to find somewhere.”
But when Mrs. Saele was informed by this reporter that Trinidad had stated only hours before, on the record, that indeed the county was going to give them until the end of the growing season, Saele’s eyes opened wide with surprise and confusion.
“I have not heard that,” Saele said. “At first we were told we needed to be out by the end of the week, then it was changed until May 31 but I have not heard anything else. I wonder if Mr. Trinidad thinks May 31 is the end of the growing season because it is not until first frost, which is in October. Growing season has only just started and this is my family’s income for the entire year.”
The only thing the Saeles had in writing was a forwarded text from the landowners, whom they are leasing the property from, that stated, “received another certified letter from the county. Chan must be out and all buildings removed on or before May 31 or we will pay a fine of $886 - to $1799. Any additional inspections will be $156 per hour.”
Trinidad was repeatedly asked to clarify the dates and clear up the confusion but multiple calls were not returned. At noon today, Nancy Peck said, “I went to the board of supervisors meeting this morning in the public forum area where I had my three minutes [sic} where I physically presented my petition with 903 names. I just thought I needed to make that step. And after, Vicky Janssen, John Peschong’s assistant came running down the stairs to catch me and said yes, they have until Oct 1. So I think we’re good. My only complaint to Vicky was, ‘can they get this in writing because they are getting mixed messages. Just as a common courtesy.” Other than that in regards to the community effort that finally accomplished its goal, “it was a beautiful thing to observe,” said Peck.