The Santa Barbara County Vintners Association has abandoned its two-year effort to establish the world’s first wine business improvement district, or BID, as an answer to its longstanding problem of lagging behind other wine regions in marketing spending.
Vintners Association Executive Director Alison Laslett said in an Oct. 29 letter to members, co-signed by the Board of Directors, that the proposal to impose a 1 percent fee on all winery sales directly to California consumers proved too divisive. The proceeds would have gone to a new entity called the Santa Barbara County Wine Preserve to fund promotion of the region.
“In recent weeks, it has become apparent, most notably through a threatened lawsuit, that this process is dividing our community,” the letter said. “This was never our intent; therefore, the Santa Barbara Vintners will no longer lead the charge to form the Wine Preserve.”
The move came after more than 80 wineries recently formed the Santa Barbara County Wine Coalition to oppose the BID. The opposition persuaded the Lompoc City Council to opt out of any BID, even if it were to be approved in a weighted vote of the approximately 300 wineries in the county and a separate vote by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
“We know that many of you will be disappointed by this news, as you have been supporting this effort from the beginning,” Laslett said in the letter. ‘Others will be relieved to hear the initiative has been dropped. Regardless, now more than ever is a time to support each other.”
The Vintners Association began formulating the BID proposal in 2018 because it said it needed more money to spend marketing the region as a wine destination. The association said its operating budget for 2017 was $552,000, compared to $1.5 million for a similar association in Paso Robles, $1.6 million for Sonoma and a whopping $7.2 million for Napa Valley.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sent a letter to Santa Barbara County officials on Sept. 30 stating its opposition to the BID proposal, saying any sales-based assessment is a sales tax and would have to be approved by voters.
If the BID proposal had been successful, all wineries in Santa Barbara County would have become members of the Wine Preserve and would have had to collect the 1 percent fee, unless, as in the case of Lompoc, their city government opted out.
“We have listened through this whole process and will maintain the Santa Barbara County Vintners as a voluntary, membership organization,” the letter from Laslett and the board said. “We invite all to join the organization, as working together will be the key to success and unity.”