As usual with wine industry reporting (much like governmental reviewing), there is no use of the word "tourism" or mention of the impact of tourism on the residential farming and small-town communities of wine country. "I came here to farm", Steven Reh says, as if this were about a "right to farm." This isn't about farming: the property has been a farm since 1992. The resistance to the project is about the invasive nature of tourism and the rural, small-town character of the communities it is in the process of destroying.
The appellants opposing the approval of the Mountain Peak Winery project contend that county Supervisors, in upholding the Planning Commission decision to approve the project without an Environmental Impact Report, have abused their discretion. The case is made here.
The project was given a negative declaration by staff, supported by consultant's paid for by the developer, indicating that the project would generate less-than-significant environmental impacts. However, there are impacts: noise impacts, light impacts, impacts due to the remoteness and condition of the road, impacts to the water supply of the Rector Reservoir, impacts to the character of a remote uncommercialized community. Corresponding reports from the appellant's equally qualified consultants concluded that the impacts would be significant. Those conclusions were ignored. Also ignored were the signatures of over 150 residents on the sparsely populated road and over 800 residents of Napa County opposing the project.
Since 2010, over 120 new wineries and winery expansions have been approved adding over 4 million gallons of winemaking capacity, more than 1.5 million visitor slots, more than 1 million sf of building area, hundreds of new employees, and perhaps 100's of thousands of vehicle trips on Napa's roads each year, all approved under negative declarations indicating that such increases will cause less-than-significant environmental impacts to life in Napa County. One new winery is being approved each month. Many residents, stuck in traffic or losing a favorite wooded hillside or favorite local shop, or unable to find an affordable place to live, know that the impacts of tourism development are not less-than-significant and that winery development is an inherent part of that urban development trend.
Wineries, at the top of Napa's tourism food chain, should be analyzed to a higher standard of review than just the opinions of wine industry developers and the county staff that they interact with on a daily basis. It is important to ensure that the cumulative urbanizing impacts of the many projects being proposed not destroy an environment not only treasured by residents, but that they not destroy the agricultural heritage at the base of the wine industry as well.
The appellants of the Mountain Peak project are not alone in recognizing the lack of appropriate environmental vetting that winery projects should receive. In a recent letter to the County Supervisors, the attorneys for a new organization have laid out the legal case that the impacts of winery tourism were not adequately analyzed in the EIR for the 2008 General Plan and that the expansion of the tourism industry and its impacts on the quality of life throughout the county are at least partly the result.
The probability is that were it not for the use of the Mountain Peak winery as a tourism center, it is unlikely that the project would have been proposed. It is unquestionably a remote, rural location. The costs of building and staffing the winery are significant. The developer is currently making wine from the property's grapes and is currently selling it in a prominent tasting room in the center of downtown Napa. Like most new wineries and winery expansions being approved, the principal intention is the increase of tourism visitation to boost the more moderate profits to be made in wine sales. The cumulative impact of the County's approval of such projects is to promote a further shift from an economy based the production of an agriculture product to an economy based on tourism. It is an impact that needs more serious vetting than it has heretofore received. With court intervention if necessary.
Napa Vision 2050 and Protect Rural Napa have sent out a mailer urging your help in insuring that the impacts of the Mountain Peak project are properly vetted and in further protecting Napa's rural heritage. A copy of it is here.