Editor's note: This is a corrected version of the earlier story. The case was settled out of court in mediation.
Growing pumpkins on vines is not an easy business, but attracting “agritourists” to the patch could make money grow on trees for Arata Pumpkin Farm in Half Moon Bay.
Last year, the aunt and nephew went to court over a disagreement about how the land was being used. Gary Arata supported the agritourism component of the farm, while Lillian, whose family has farmed there for decades, complained that it was inconsistent with the property’s zoning and created a traffic headache. They have since settled that dispute through mediation.
As part of the settlement, Gary Arata agreed to purchase the remaining 50 percent of his aunt’s share of the parcel.
He has leased the land to tenant Chris Gounalakis for about a decade. Gounalakis has attracted tourists to the property in the fall with a variety of novelties including bouncy houses, kitschy Godzilla and King Kong statues, haunted barns, hay mazes and sword fights. Gounalakis now applies for seasonal permits to offer his colorful attractions, but for many years he did not.
San Mateo County Board Supervisor Don Horsley commented that he wasn’t fond of the idea of a farm being run like a carnival but that some agritourism was appropriate.
“A haunted house? There’s no relationship to ‘ag’ — unless you’re talking about a scarecrow. Sword fights? That has absolutely nothing to do with agriculture,” said Horsley. “I don’t want a carnival on agriculture lands, and that’s what I thought the applicant was doing in the past. But I recognize it’s a small parcel, and it’s hard to make a go of it financially without agritourism.”
Horsley tried to convince the Board of Supervisors to re-examine and modify the Williamson Act as it relates to Arata Farm.
The act offers tax breaks to farmers who keep agricultural land in production and could benefit the farm, as Gounalakis currently grows pumpkin and corn and raises some goats. The seasonal attractions, he said, help increase his produce sales. The board ultimately decided to table it until next month’s meeting.
However, the county is looking at modifying the Williamson Act contract for some Midpeninsula Regional Open Space property. These changes would essentially free the district from having to keep prime agricultural land in production. Horsley said that wasn’t fair.
“If you’re going to run around and say we’ll modify the contract for Midpen, then how can you say you won’t modify it for (Arata’s farm)?” said Horsley. “That’s discriminatory.”