Friday, February 3, 2023


Harvest Hosts locations cited for operating illegal campgrounds

Harvest Hosts is a program that needs no introduction in the RV community. For many travelers, these free campsites on farms, ranches, wineries, and other privately owned places are a fun and interesting way to meet new people and support local businesses. The subscription service has grown increasingly popular in recent years, and local communities are taking notice.

In San Luis Obispo (SLO) County, California, numerous Harvest Hosts locations have received code violations for operating illegal commercial campgrounds. In the last three months alone, up to 20 different hosts received notices detailing their violations. The county currently has ordinances put in place regulating rural camping, and Harvest Hosts lies in a gray area.

In response, many of these hosts and community members are appealing to SLO’s Board of Supervisors to draft new regulations concerning these unique campsites. Their opinions will be heard in February 2023.

San Luis Obispo County’s current ordinances

Technically, Harvest Hosts camping sites are in violation of the current codes enforced by SLO County. The county has a variety of rural camping ordinances in place, and most Harvest Hosts locations have declined to follow them. Most of the RV camping that takes place with Harvest Hosts falls under the “incidental camping” section of SLO’s Planning Department regulations. Under this section, camping must meet the following requirements:

  1. Permit Requirements—A site plan review is necessary for properties with 10 or fewer camping units, and a discretionary land use permit is required for properties with more than 10.
  2. Site Requirements—Various landscape requirements must be met for larger-scale camping to be allowed. These include setbacks, density, and minimum site areas.

In all fairness, most businesses and private landowners are not considering local ordinances when they establish themselves as a Harvest Hosts destination. The site makes it incredibly easy to become a host. Unfortunately, it can be more complicated than just signing up, as seen with hosts in SLO County.

What are the county and community’s concerns?

Most of the violations were due to conflict between property owners, the county, and neighboring residents. In the county’s eyes, hosts are not paying the appropriate transient occupancy taxes. At the same time, they still benefit from the county’s tourism advertising.

Most of the problems are due to negative reactions from community members. The coming and going of RVs bothers many neighbors. They also want to see the proper setback regulations adhered to. In addition, campfires are a large concern, especially in the historically dry climate of California.

Harvest Hosts locations express frustration

For many Harvest Hosts businesses, overnight stays are a significant percentage of their business. This is especially the case with wineries and farm stores. Most visiting RVers choose to purchase something during their stay.

According to Serena Friedman, co-owner of Four Sisters Ranch Vineyards and Winery, many of these small businesses would go under without the support of visiting Harvest Hosts RVers.

SLO’s future plans for Harvest Hosts

San Luis Obispo County recognizes that something needs to change. The current ordinances were not drafted with Harvest Hosts in mind, and it’s obvious that the trend is here to stay.

On October 4th of this year, the SLO County Board of Supervisors instructed its staff to start designing a Harvest Hosts-specific ordinance. Initially a Tier 1 issue, it has since been lessened to a Tier 2. Official hearings will begin in February 2023.

Currently, the county has zero intention of retracting its issued violations. According to Code Enforcement Supervisor Cynthia Alm, “No extensions or permission to disregard County ordinances, State and or Federal Laws have been provided to property owners regarding active violations of County Code.”

We will have a follow up article on this in our next Sunday newsletter.

What do you think? Please leave a comment.



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Mary Phelps
1 month ago

We have neighbors of a newly opened Harvest Host location. We have discussed with them the increased traffic and the “view” of RV’s from my bathroom window, we also have neighbors on the other side who have expressed the same discomfort. While they agreed to cut back, it is still uncomfortable having strangers coming into our rural and private neighborhood. Our property is in full view of theirs, and theirs is in full view of ours. The dogs are on edge, we are too . And it is against county code. We have our RV stored on our property. It requires a Special Use Permit if we want to have a guest stay there. That is limited to 2x a year for only 27 days each.

We are trying to be understanding and what was once a good relationship with them is now strained. Harvest Host had a poor response when questioned- said because they are “guests” they are allowed. That is why codes exist to protect areas not suitable for this activity

Rena M.
1 month ago

Some clarifications about Harvest Hosts (HH) from a California Host site familiar with SLO County: At NO charge self contained RVs park overnight in designated parking areas with N O: hookups/services/water/toilets/campsites/tents/fires/stoves/campfires on beautiful AgriTourism sites with NO obligation to purchase anything, – but such purchases help support family owned businesses like farms, ranches, vineyards/wineries, olive groves, golf courses & more which in this economy in rural locations with NO advertising budgets depend often on attracting new & repeat customers.There can be tremendous tax support to the County, from restaurant purchases to groceries-gas-shops-event attendance-& an attraction to come to the area. No garbage-needles-fires-theft-feces like homeless encampments! Instead we promote affordable tourism.HH is NOT commercial camping nor a rural campground as in current ordinances. There is no County code for the inappropriate violations charged.

1 month ago

I belong to harvest host and have only used it once. A quaint winery up northern ca. they only had a few areas and no “sites”. They only allow you to stay 1or 2 nights and 1or 2 rv’s. We paid 0.00 but we did buy a bottle of wine. To say that this winery should pay taxes is ludicrous. There should be guidelines and rules but making them pay extra taxes is greed.

Robert Wilson
1 month ago

I suppose it all depends what, if any, service they provide, such as concrete pads, electric and water hookups, those would qualify as taxable entities, competing with registered campgrounds
But since most provide ” free” parking, in exchange you would be smart to purchase some of their products or services, I would consider those non taxable.
But when I read that some of these HHs are depending on these campers to sustain their excistence; now they are definitely competing with taxable campgrounds, who also need campers to sustain their excistence.

Rena M.
1 month ago
Reply to  Robert Wilson

Dear Robert, Harvest Hosts sites do not compete with the RV commercial campgrounds of San Luis Obispo County- that not only are generally already full but provide the services at a fee that we do NOT provide and do not charge for. HH sites are ONE night parking on designated parking areas with no services whatsoever for self contained RVs. They are often located in rural out of the way locations that -yes-benefit from attracting visitors who otherwise would go to the more highly advertised businesses. How can this low impact overnight parking possibly harm the County that in cities allow extended street parking for the homeless? There are no neighbors out in the farms, ranches, vineyards to disturb as visitors take a walk to watch the sunset, light no fires, use no services, but learn about agricultural businesses that support the County & produce noteworthy products. HH sites violate no EXISTING codes: they are NOT campgrounds. There is no occupancy charge to tax. It is win-win.

John Duke
1 month ago

Why is the name “Harvest Hosts” even coming into the discussion? Bottom line is that there are specific businesses that’s are (allegedly) violating specific local ordinances. Whether or not they are members of Harvest Hosts is beside the point.

1 month ago
1 month ago

I always find the California bashing hilarious! I guess it makes folks feel better about where they live, poor devils

1 month ago

Just a point of reference… it’s about money… Meaning the camping RESORTS in the county are not receiving what they consider their revenue from the cost of the overnight stays but at most parks along the California hwy1 and 101, camping fees run in excess of $100. Per night! Just sayin…

1 month ago

Spent my formative years in N. California. Yes, I do occasionally reflect wistfully upon the picturesque locales and mild climate. Having lived in Georgia since, I much prefer it. The cost of living here is FAR less, and the politics haven’t (yet) become Uber-radicalized.

There is far less business-stifling regulation and generally, a higher moral code of cultural behavior. I don’t see homeless ‘tent-city’ encampments, stray animals, drug-addled souls dumpster diving, pan handling or breaking into cars. I’ve never seen drug paraphernalia & feces in public areas here.

Close to a decade ago, a high school reunion visit to the state confirmed my perspective. I barely recognized ‘my home town’, the ‘family enrichment social service freebies’ had drawn a massive influx of under privileged, that hopefully found life sustaining employment.

HH owners should visibly align themselves with a protected class. Post a multi-colored flag and ‘certain lives matter’ banner.

1 month ago
Reply to  Dave

Amen, Dave. Today, the State of California apparently cares more about $$ than about people – increasingly obvious to objective observers. During a 30 year career in CA working for the Federal Govt, it’s been saddening to see a once beautiful place become ridiculously bureaucratic (i.e., costly) and increasingly ugly. I’m looking forward to leaving for lovelier places (like GA 🙂 and HH are helping me … in multiple ways. Thank you HH! Wake up California, before it’s too late.

1 month ago
Reply to  Jim


My remarks likely seem embittered, but I hope folks will please consider that my twenty-something years of residency in the ‘golden state’, confers a measure of credibility to this first-hand perspective.

I can still objectively identify the regions compelling attractions despite my noted displeasure regarding the transformation of tourist draws, into unsafe degenerate urban wastelands. I treasure the memories that photographs inspire of my trips to Mendocino, Trinity Alps, Sequoia, Half moon bay, Napa Valley and Venice beach.

Hyper-environmental government intrusion strangled and imperiled drought stricken farms over an allegedly endangered fish species in an ongoing saga of the California ‘Water rights Wars.’

Wine producing was once the proud cache of regional industry within the Ukiah valley I called home. A short-sighted ‘easy money’ taxploitation grift by legislators, has since made illegally grown marijuana …the #1 cash crop now, and (predictably) brought organized crime with it.

Cost of housing too high? Here’s a solution …FORCE all new residential construction projects to meet expensive ‘Net-Zero’ energy consumption design requirements that incorporate arrays of roof mounted solar panels and a hardwire connection to the grid. (THAT should help the homebuyer!)

Ban the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035 (While FAILING to possess sufficient electrical grid infrastructure to support overnight charging). Brilliant!

Jokes about California, essentially write themselves!

The charms of this seductive state could be likened to a whirlwind infatuation with a beautiful, high-maintenance supermodel you soon discover has a penchant for cocaine …as well as caviar. The one night stand (or short term tourism visit) is glorious and unforgetable …but illogical and unsustainable as a relationship.

I’m realistic and will readily concur that Georgia has its fair share of short-comings …but I can live with them.

1 month ago

Another case of Govt GREED and Govt sticking it’s nose where it does not belong. I think the Host sites should agree to pay the Transient Tax, even if it’s 15% of the nightly rate. So let’s see, what is 15% of ZERO?

1 month ago

So are the County officials saying my family can’t visit me in their MH (if I lived in SLO)?

1 month ago

It’s all about the money.

1 month ago

Hold on… “transient occupancy taxes”?!? What the heck does that mean? To be “transient” is to be temporary, and in the case of HH, that usually means only one night. Why would you have to pay a tax staying somewhere for a night? What if I just pass through a town… are you going to tax me then? And yes, the motorhome owner gets the tax because the HH location will have to raise prices on their goods or cancel pay raises or bonuses to their workers just to offset this expense.
There are already incredibly high taxes on hotel rooms, both from the state and local districts. But they at least provide food services, designated rooms, hot/cold running water, power, and a list of other amenities. RVers bringing their OWN amenities, so why do they get taxed? Maybe we should tax the city/county/state when we bring in our RVs since we are providing our own rooms!

Sheri Ken
1 month ago

It’s California! The State of Many Restrictions for everything and even more to make-up for any reason nowadays!
Get Real, please. Wineries and Farms aren’t they truly All by themselves surrounded by Plentiful land? I don’t remember seeing any private home(s) that are close to these places of Private (open to the public) well-run businesses.
Next thing will happen is when visiting your family and friends with your RV, someone will be called out for having them on your private property. How about storing your own RV at your home on your property!
So glad I grew up in California and EXTREMELY PLEASED we left when we Retired. BTW, We try to avoid CA when we travel, but there are days when we can’t.

Debra G
1 month ago

How do you collect bed taxes when people are not required to pay for a spot, no amenities offered, and are only parking their own vehicles at the invitation of their hosts? Crazy to me that this is even an issue.

Denise Gray
1 month ago

I would have expected that running generators would be the primary complaint from the community. Campfires? Really? I consider HH and BW to both be overnight stays. We don’t set up a campsite. We definately do not have a campfire and we take our trash with us. Just like at Walmarts, some people spoil it for the rest of us, even though this is not the primary reason for these ordinences. I really hope that the county sets up rules that RV’ers and the businesses can live and thrive with….

Tom Piper
1 month ago

Glancing at the article I surmised that it sounded like something from California. Yep. Sure enough, another way for them to get into someone’s wallet. Never mind the tax revenue lost from sales at the winery or farm store, the important thing here is to get the up-front fee. Not surprised.

Mitzi Agnew Giles and Ed Giles
1 month ago

Without reading other responses, my vote is on Follow The Money! Lo & behold, the SLO is concerned about “not recieving the Transient Occupancy Taxes”. SLO is killing the goose laying golden eggs. I’ll bet that HH is not the only beneficiary of the visitors. Food, various tourist sites, gasoline, perhaps local laundromats, all benefit.

1 month ago

It’s just overnight RV parking and Harvest Host members let people know through a paid organized convenient directory from Harvest Host. Interpreting the SLO rules, Walmart, Cracker Barrel, truck stops or any establishment permitting, friends and family driveways and property would also have to abide.

1 month ago
Reply to  Davydd

careful…you might give the governing officials ideas. This is just about 2 possible things, 1st, the $$ and second, Not In My Backyard.

M Harding
1 month ago

This article clearly has done little research on the matter – there are less than 14 Harvest Hosts sites in SLO county – not sure where they got the numbers cited. Since HH campers require zero utilities and don’t pay for a stay, they do not fall under the (very recently passed) rural camping ordinance. The small business owners cited are being accused of operating illegally as commercial RV sites – the county wants them to pay $100k to be permitted, which is entirely unnecessary as a HH site. To park and stay on a vineyard or lavender field is not very different than parking at Walmart or a rest area, except you are supporting the community and small business.
Note: as a Harvest Host member, you are staying for free on a host property – they do not get anything from HH for being a host, only your business. If you would prefer not to be “shamed” into buying the product in exchange for a free night stay, there are plenty of Walmart parking lots or rest areas you can stay for free.

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