SodaCanyonRoad | Tired of being ignored by Napa County officials

Tired of being ignored by Napa County officials

Lisa Hirayama | Jun 11, 2018 on: Measure C

Once, I was naive enough to believe that Napa County was concerned about its residents, but my eyes have been glaringly pried wide open. I have attended many Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings and realized that rarely have the boards met a winery development they didn't like.

Former Supervisor Keith Caldwell said at one meeting that Napa County's policy is not to punish violators but to bring them into compliance. That certainly explains why so many permit violators barely get a slap on the hand, i.e. The Caves, Reynolds Family Winery, Reverie, and Summers to name a few.

However, that opens another can of worms because there is little enforcement for code violators, so why shouldn't wineries get away with as much as possible.

I learned that in 2008, Napa County changed the definition of agriculture to include "wine marketing and sales," which, in effect, became a zoning change from agricultural to commercial use. That opened the floodgates and "farming" now includes everything from selling a winery's souvenirs (plates, cups, hats, etc) to hosting a wedding for 300 people.

The "No" side states that if Measure C passes, it will be the end of agriculture and farming. Since they are making so much more money on the new Napa definition of "agriculture," no wonder they aren't interested in protecting the trees and water quality. I admit, I wasn't paying attention to the change being made to zoning because I wasn't personally seeing the effects, but I now realize how detrimental that revision has been.

In October 2016, Supervisor Diane Dillon visited Circle Oaks and I asked what would happen if our wells went dry and we had to truck in water because of the Walt Ranch development (in watershed). She said I'd have to pay for it.

Given what has happened in the Carneros area, I have every reason to believe that it could happen to me. The same consulting firm that said there was plenty of groundwater to support the Carneros Resort and Spa development also said there's plenty of water for Walt Ranch.

The Carneros residents told the county supervisors back then that there wasn't enough groundwater in that area, yet the county approved it. Now, 10-plus years later, the city has been trucking in water to that area and just voted to start the process to connect the resort to city water pipes. Once again, another example of fixing a problem that should never have been given the green light in the first place.

I no longer trust Napa County to protect my property and water supply because I have seen how extremely solicitous they are to the wine industry. Supervisor Belia Ramos said at the Feb. 27 meeting when the supervisors voted to place Measure C on the ballot, that she felt this was the wrong way to initiate change and that the citizens should have come to the government to work out their issues.

I've had a front-row seat for the last four years and the commissioners and supervisors consistently ignore residents' concerns about every new winery and event center that keeps getting approved. The initiative route was the only way citizens felt they could have their voices heard.

Many people believe that the complex matters of protecting the watersheds and oak trees should be left to the county supervisors. With all due respect, have any of these people actually attended a county meeting when winery projects and appeals are being discussed?

I think not, because they would see that the commissioners and supervisors continuously approve every project and appeal before them in favor of the winery. Every concern by residents is mitigated away to a less than significant impact, always by the same environmental consulting service that the county uses for every environmental impact report.

This has been going on for years, which is why citizens have worked hard collecting signatures, not once but twice, to get Measure C on the ballot. They're tired of being ignored by the supervisors and planning commissioners.

Water is a limited resource, and climate change will make droughts more extreme and water sources more scarce. Napa County lost tens, if not hundreds. of thousands of trees in the Atlas Fire, yet Napa County will still allow remaining healthy trees to be cut down in the name of wine.

The effects of losing trees and not protecting the watersheds won't occur overnight---it will takes years or decades, but it will happen. San Francisco is planting 2,000 trees over the next two years to curtail global warming because they absorb carbon dioxide. Napa County will cut down trees instead.

If there was ever a time that a citizen initiative was sorely needed, this is the time. If you're unhappy with the direction that Napa County is heading, vote 'yes' on C.

NVR version 5/28/18: Tired of being ignored by Napa County officials in which Sean Scully adds this editorial note:

Editor's Note: The Register asked Diane Dillon about the comments attributed to her by the author and she sent this response:

"Thanks for the opportunity to respond. I am not known for short conversations - especially on complex issues like the Walt Ranch - so I’m quite sure there was a larger dialogue than that one statement. My family lived in a rural area, and we relied on a well for our drinking water – so I understand and have compassion for those concerned about how a neighboring property owner’s new well might affect an existing water source.

"I distinctly remember discussing with Circle Oaks residents the challenge of proving that one or more new wells - whether installed by Walt Ranch or anyone else - whether for a vineyard - or a home/landscaping or other allowed use - could be attributed to a reduction in productivity of the Circle Oaks water supply - and the limitations of state water law on holding the new well owner responsible for that reduction. Indeed, if that happens overnight, and water is immediately needed, any property owner in that situation has to pay the cost for trucking water.

"But those conversations with residents informed and reinforced the decision to adopt for the Walt Ranch project mitigation measures that require extensive groundwater monitoring. Groundwater extraction is limited and checked monthly. If the monitoring program produces evidence that the project is having an impact on the groundwater basin, the county retains the authority to impose new conditions of approval. Further, if necessary to protect the basin, the county can revoke the project permit. The county has all the tools required to prevent the Walt Ranch from having an adverse impact on neighboring wells."

Bill Hocker - May 30, 2018 11:28AM

Lisa Hirayama responds to Diane Dillon's comments:


Regarding Supervisor Diane Dillon’s response to my letter, “Tired of Being Ignored by Napa County Officials”, I believe her remarks are short-sighted and do not factually comport with the concerns raised in the Writ of Mandate that Circle Oaks’ litigated against Napa County and recently concluded in the Napa Superior Court. The mitigations that Supervisor Dillon is referring to are vague and not enforceable, and they are the subject of a pending appeal before the California Court of Appeals. The extensive monitoring she’s referring to is to be done by Walt Ranch, not by an impartial third party (which Circle Oaks asked for). That is the equivalent of having the fox guarding the henhouse. There will be no one checking to see that the monthly monitoring is being done. The County wouldn’t even put in a baseline level at which pumping would cease should water levels drop. Circle Oaks will only have the word of Walt Ranch that the water levels are fine. Circle Oaks did not receive any actionable safeguards for their water supply as a result of the County's approval of Walt Ranch. Napa County did not provide the same water protection guarantee for Circle Oaks’ residents that they did provide for neighbors of Circle S on Atlas Peak Road.

Yes, Supervisor Dillon had more than a short sentence response to my question, but the bottom line was that I will have to pay for water to be trucked in if the Circle Oaks County Water District’s wells go dry. She states that “if necessary to protect the basin, the county can revoke the project permit. The county has all the tools required to prevent the Walt Ranch from having an adverse impact on neighboring wells.” Please show me an example of where the County has EVER taken that action. And tell me, how well has that protection worked out for the neighbors of Carneros Resort and Spa? So, after all the trees have been cut down and the aquifer drained on Walt Ranch, then Napa County will revoke the project permit? None of that damage could ever be undone. None of what Supervisor Dillon says is enforceable, and even if it were, Napa County’s Code Enforcement Department is terribly understaffed. They provide no assurance that they will be able to respond in a timely manner to any of Circle Oaks’ concerns should our wells go dry while we await County action, if any. The key here is that Circle Oaks must first PROVE that Walt Ranch is the reason our wells went dry before any sort of review/assistance will be undertaken by the County. The onus will be on us, not on Walt Ranch, which is why I don’t trust Napa County to protect my property or water supply.

Lisa Hirayama

NVR LTE version 6/11/18: County offered no guarantees to Circle Oaks

Backup info for response


Below are Circle Oaks' contentions concerning groundwater, which in and of themselves, demonstrate that Circle Oaks did not receive any actionable safeguards for their water supply as a result of the County's approval of Walt Ranch. This section is to verify to you my source for my comments:
(GWMMP = Groundwater Monitoring and Mitigation Plan)

1. In its Opening Brief, Circle Oaks demonstrated that while mitigation measure
4.6-4 “refers” to the GWMMP set forth at Appendix R of the Final EIR, it does not incorporate it or require compliance with it. (Opening Brief at 24.) As a result, the GWMMP is just an appendix to the EIR. The County argues the GWMMP is an enforceable mitigation measure but points to no language in the Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program (MMRP) that would make it so. And as stated, regardless of whether the measures are incorporated into the MMRP, neither the MMRP or the GWMMP contain specific performance standards that would prompt the implementation of mitigation measures

2. The County claims that the Conditions of Approval and the GWWMP ensure
that monitoring and implementation of mitigation will take place. (Opp. at 37-38.) The last sentence of this section is telling. The County states “MM 4.6-4 spells out in detail the data to be collected, requires that Walt provide that information to the County, and empowers the County to take corrective action if the County and the hydrologist find it necessary.” (Opp. at 38.) The County does not explain what would prompt the implementation of mitigation, only that the County and Walt would do something if they found it necessary, and only if it is found that Walt Ranch caused the depletion.

3. Mitigation 4.6-4, in and of itself, fails to specify objective performance standards that the Project is required to meet, other than an undefined reference to “County standards” in the column for “Performance Criteria.” (Opening Brief at 26-28.) And as noted, the GWMMP provides for mitigation to occur when the level of drawdown “would not support existing land uses or planned uses for which permits have been granted” and only if it is later determined that Walt caused the drawdown. The County fails to explain what these provisions mean and how that would establish adequate performance standards. These unarticulated performance standards are insufficient to satisfy CEQA’s requirement to set identifiable performance standards at the time of project approval. [see page 12 of Reply Brief attached]

The above issues, and more, are the subject of an Appeal by the Circle Oaks community which is currently pending before the California Court of Appeals.

Lisa Hirayama