David Morrsison, Director
Napa County Planning, Building & Environmental Services Dept.
1195 Third Street, Suite 210,
RE: SUPPORTING APPEAL OF NAPA COUNTY PLANNING COMMISSION ACTION APPROVING MOUNTAIN PEAK WINERY-USE PERMIT #P13-00320-UP
Dear Napa County Board of Supervisors,
My name is Steve Chilton and I own property on Soda Canyon Road, Napa, CA 94558.
My wife and I constructed our home on a small acreage that has been in her family for nearly 100 years. While designing the house we worked around the 100+ year old oaks and Soda Creek. No oaks were removed for the house nor was the creek impacted. We practice positive environmental stewardship and expect the County and others on Soda Canyon Road to do the same. I recently retired from a career of 35 years with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I strongly support the Appeal of the Napa County Planning Commission approval of the Mountain Peak project and request that you uphold the appeal.
The Planning Commission demonstrated an arbitrary decision making process when they considered the Mountain Peak Project and other projects such as the Flynnville Winery Project. The Flynnville Project was a smaller winery (60,000 gallons a year versus 100,000 gallons per year for the Mountain Peak winery), that was bordered on four sides by roads, including Highway 29 and was essentially a redevelopment that was opposed by several neighbors (I believe four neighbors testified in opposition to the project). Mountain Peak is larger, is six plus miles up a narrow, steep dead end road, will have numerous impacts upon the environment and is opposed by over 900 citizens. At the urging of the Planning Commission, the Flynnville applicants reduced the winery to 40,000 gallons per year and the Commission approved it.
What did those four opponents bring to the Commission that caused them to require this reduction in gallons per year that hundreds of opponents to Mountain Peak did not? Or was it merely a matter of clout or personal influence?
Additionally, the Commission abused their discretion when it found that the Mountain Peak Project will not have a significant effect upon the environment and adopted a Negative Declaration. The Board of Supervisors must reverse the decision of the Planning Commission and deny the project or remand it for further consideration.
The size, scope and lack of environmental documentation of the project dictates that an Environmental Impact Report following the requirements of CEQA is mandatory. A negative declaration for a project this large and with its concurrent impacts upon water quality and quantity, wildlife, traffic, public safety, noise and vegetation cannot be supported by the facts. The Initial Study Checklist includes the finding that the proposed project could not have a significant effect on the environment. Section IV. A) of the checklist shows that the project will have a less than significant effect (not a no impact determination) upon unnamed species. The Rector Creek Watershed contains yellow-legged frogs and California giant salamanders, both listed species of special concern, but the negative declaration checklist mentions neither. Either county staff did not conduct a thorough survey of the area or they relied on consultants hired by the project proponents who apparently limited their survey to present a report that supported their client and not the facts. Also the California Red-Legged Frog is a federally listed threatened species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and populations have been identified in Wragg Creek near Capell Valley Road. Similar, if not higher quality habitat occurs in the Rector Creek watershed.
Did county staff conduct or request a survey of possible special concern or threatened populations within the watershed? What is the basis for the statement that the project will have a less than significant effect rather than no impact?
CEQA regulations require that counties acting as lead agencies circulate CEQA documents to all Responsible/Trustee Agencies for comment. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDF&W) is one of those responsible agencies. Apparently the County did not follow that regulation prior to the Planning Commission approving the Mountain Peak Project. The CDF&W was not informed and therefore did not comment on the CEQA document. It is unknown what they would have commented or informed the County of and just maybe would have averted the need for this hearing and additional costs to the County and its citizens.
This apparent violation of CEQA regulations and state law on its own is reason enough for the Board of Supervisors to reverse the Planning Commission decision, require an EIR and rehear the entire project. Continuing to support this project without knowing the full impacts could open the county to challenges from wildlife advocates such as the Center for Biological Diversity and others.