The wedding business is booming in San Luis Obispo County; beautiful vineyards and ocean views, but some venues say the county’s enforcement is too harsh, forcing some venues to no longer host weddings and special events due to recent changes. KSBY Dawn anchor Neil Herbert gives an in-depth look at what’s going on at venues in Slo County.
“It makes you look at it from a completely different perspective, whether or not you have the ability to make changes to continue operating,” said Thom Jespersen, who co-manages Spanish Oaks Ranch, an events venue in Santa Margarita, with His wife, Jamie Jespersen, has been married for more than ten years.
Around 2012, the venue, along with many others in the county, was asked to operate it as a residential vacation rental for events such as weddings; SLO County venues were required to have vacation rentals so that guests staying at the property could host Private event without a small use permit from the county.
Since 2018, San Luis Obispo County law enforcement officials have sent letters to 33 venues, including Spanish Oaks Ranch, saying at least one complaint has been made to their venues about hosting weddings and large events, among other issues. The county says wedding venues cannot be used as residential vacation rentals; they need to obtain a small-use permit to qualify as a commercial wedding venue.
“Code Enforcement: The only reason these are on our desks is because we get complaints,” said Jill Cuomo, director of code enforcement for the San Luis Obispo County Department of Planning and Building. “We want to see that these venues are safe for attendees and that was a big factor in sending out these breach letters.”
Of the 33 venues that received the letter, several have applied for and received small-use permits, but 18 venues have stopped hosting events entirely, including The Groves on 41 in Templeton, the county said.
“We are not a commercial operation. We are a private farm. We allow private events the way we are told,” said Karen Tallent, owner of The Groves on 41. Now I guess they have changed. “
Karen Tallent poured thousands of dollars into her olive tree farm to make it a residential vacation rental umbrella. Operating under The Groves on 41 since 2013, it has hosted more than 130 events, 42 of which were for nonprofits.
She received a letter from the county in January 2020 and has since stopped hosting and booking events because of the price tag associated with small-use permits and the changes required as a commercial venue.
“I’m afraid we’ll stick with farming,” Tarrant said. “We don’t like having our hands tied on our property, and I don’t think a lot of people do.”
The Jespersens said their property was built to the highest standards with a high-end sprinkler system, but said they would need a new sprinkler system, which can cost more than $100,000, among other upgrades, to qualify as a commercial wedding venue.
“When my dad built this place in 2005, he went above and beyond. I didn’t know what was wrong with it,” says Jamie Jespersen. “I mean it could be $350,000-$400,000. We really don’t know. I mean, it could be more.”
Bob Stock, a local DJ and president of Central Coast Wedding Professionals, said the closure of venues will have knock-on effects on the economy and businesses that depend on weddings for their livelihoods. Stoke believes the county is going after the most famous and established venues.
“They’re going after venues that look like they can spend more money than others, even on a scale they don’t intend to do,” Stock said.
Spanish Oaks has hosted 71 weddings since the beginning of 2021, but they received a letter from the county in April saying the venue must stop accepting additional bookings for events. Dani Jespersen, on-site venue coordinator at Spanish Oaks Ranch, said the crackdown has affected the Central Coast as a wedding destination and will continue to hurt business.
“They’re damaging our county’s status as one of the best places in California for weddings and events,” Dani Jespersen said. “Instead of helping us create jobs to meet the demand for weddings in the area, they’re crippling our venues.”
KSBY filed a public records request with the county for complaints filed against multiple venues, but as of Friday, December 2date, we have not received these complaints.The Supervisory Board will meet next Tuesday, December 6day 9:00 AM This issue is on the agenda as a consent item.