SodaCanyonRoad | A developer joins the Planning Commission

A developer joins the Planning Commission

Bill Hocker | Oct 17, 2018 on: Growth Issues

Update 10/17/18
In the first example of applying his expertise as a developer to the affairs of the Planning Commission, Comm. Mazotti created a bit of a surprise. At the end of the 10/17/18 Planning Commission meeting the discussion turned to a recent article in the Register, which described a winery able to serve meals because of a "loophole" in the WDO. That, of course, led the commissioners to wade in again to the issue of "food" service versus "meal" service at wineries and whether the serving of food at wineries was causing the recently reported demise of numerous in-town restaurants.

At the BOS meeting the previous day, in which the same issue came up, wine industry lobbyist Debra Dommen, claiming inside knowledge, assured the Supes that the reason for some closures was not due to winery competition as reported. But Comm. Mazotti gave a fairly definitive and contrary answer to the Planning Commission: from the urban development community's standpoint, the creation of new restaurants is a "net zero" condition - for each new winery restaurant the loss of one in-town restaurant might be expected.

I have been quick to pigeonhole those officials coming from a development background (Sup. Gregory included) as being supportive of continued urban development of the county in which tourism wineries play a significant part. I still feel that way, but this is a small indication that the reality may a little more nuanced.

NVR 10/11/18: Real estate developer Mazotti joins Napa County Planning Commission, Scott leaves
Proclamation given to Mr. Scott by the BOS on 10/16/18

At the Oct 3, 2018 County Planning Commission meeting it was a bit of a shock at the end of the meeting to hear Commissioners begin to laud Commissioner Scott's service to the county over these last 19 years. The news that he would be leaving was news indeed to this avid follower of Planning Commission affairs, as it apparently was to Sup. Wagenkenecht as well. Despite being on the email list for BPES announcements this was a total surprise. Maybe I just missed some announcement of potential vacancy in a previous hearing. The actual happenings in the Planning Commission and BOS meetings are often buried in obscure asides during previous meetings. Acting CEO Minh Tran's avowal that established procedures had been followed in the appointment leads one to believe that established procedures are a bit opaque from a community oversight perspective.

Commissioner Scott, in keeping with his position as the longest serving commissioner, was the most courtly of members, appearing to be genuinely anguished over the residents concerns as their neighborhoods were commercialized by his decisions. While at one time I saw him as a truly independent thinker on the commission, and commended his courageous decision to deny Yountville Hill amid enormous pressure to approve, ever since his service under Supervisor Pedroza he has been a reliable vote for every development up before the Commission. He expressed a true love for the job, even, I think, making it worth the anguish to follow the wishes of his Supervisor when he might have made another choice.

With the selection of Mr. Mazotti to replace Comm. Scott, Sup. Pedroza has obviously chosen someone who shares his vision for the future of Napa County. Mr. Mazotti's direct financial stake in the continued urban development of the county is unique in the recent history of the commission. There was always concern that Comm. Basayne's connection to a limo company meant that each approval he made had the potential to increase the business of his company. Comm. Hansen, until recently a reliable pro-development vote, heads an organization that promotes the adoption of green principles in development projects and as such has a real connection to the development community. Other Commissioners, like Mr. Scott, have had less direct connections to business interests that wish to profit off of more building development.

Mr. Mazotti will now have a very direct role in the development of more tourism 'experiences" in the County. The continued development of winery venues for tourism and the increase in visitation slots are at the base of the Napa's ongoing urban development, creating the need for ever more hotel and tourist-serving commercial development, and increasing the demand for housing and commercial development needed for the in-town and winery workforce. It is a legitimate question to ask if it is appropriate to have a developer on the Commission or, as one activist put it, a wolf guarding the hen house. Developers have lawyers and consultants and fixers and county staff who work together on a daily basis in order to massage their projects and prepare them for presentation at the Commission. Having one of their own on the Commission really seems like a leg up too far and raises the question of a conflict of loyalties in making objective decisions.

Comm. Mazotti will also be at the forefront of any agreements between the municipalities and the county regarding annexation agreements (think Napa Pipe) that aim to give up county land for urban projects. While the County in the past has been loth to surrender its land, based on its 50 year role as protector of the rural heritage and economy of the county, the winds of change, first set in motion by Bill Dodd's tenure as Supervisor and now no doubt pushed by Sup. Pedroza, are now becoming apparent. In a little noticed action at the Sep 25, 2018 BOS meeting, the Supes considered a change to county policies to establish "a prudent and responsible fiscal approach to annexation agreements". The intent: to insure that the county gets an appropriate cut of all taxes that come from development on the annexations into the future. The county will now have a more realistic financial stake in the urban development of county land than it has had in the past.

Placing a developer on the Planning Commission may change little in the short term. Comm. Scott has been a pretty consistent pro-development vote. But it is a clear statement from Sup. Pedroza where his interests lie. And the protections of the rural character that many residents treasure in the county have become a bit more tenuous.