SodaCanyonRoad | Response to the Bloodlines DEIR

Response to the Bloodlines DEIR

Bill Hocker | Jan 30, 2019 on: The Rector Watershed

Response letter sent regarding the Bloodlines Vineyards Draft EIR

30 Jan, 2019

Mr. Bordona, Ms. Whiteford, Mr. Phinney,

Many thanks of the opportunity to respond to the Bloodlines Draft EIR. After Mr. Phinney's initial presentation of the project to neighbors, I was impressed with the stated commitment to conservation easements, worker van-pooling, urban tasting rooms, a winery in Vallejo, alternative marketing and branding techniques, a​ desire to reach out to residents and to develop a charitable purpose to the business model - all which point to an approach that is looking for success that is sustainable and beneficial with a minimal impact to the agricultural land and open space that is our home.

The personal encouragement to neighbors to participate in commenting on the Draft EIR, and the extension in time to do so, was also welcome (even though I have procrastinated to the last minute to comment and find the mind-numbing detail of the EIR impenetrable.)

I was interested to see the map in the EIR showing the ECP's within a 3 mile radius of the project. Most all of the purple blocks within the Rector Watershed, and more, have been created around us since we moved here in 1993. It was the undeveloped remoteness of this place that made it a desirable place to be. That remoteness shrank one block at a time over the years, and, as the vineyards replaced the chaparral (and some woodlands), we took it as one beautiful landscape replacing another with the small comfort of knowing that vineyards are better than housing tracts.

It is late now to get worked up over another vineyard infilling the remaining natural landscape on the Rector plateau, and the knowledge that the grapes are exceptional here lets us accept that vineyards are probably the highest and best use of this particular land at this particular time. Cumulatively, the impacts of the extensive development of the Rector watershed, affecting water availability and quality, wildlife habitat destruction, flora and woodland loss, or road maintenance, may be scrutinized at some point down the line with conclusions drawn and actions taken, but it doesn't seem like it's within the applicant's ability to rectify those problems with mitigations on this one project alone at this point. (Although I might have some concerns about water availability were I a neighbor with a well near a new project well.)

There are some issues that I would ask you to considered however:

The first is traffic. As traffic reports invariably show, the additional traffic will always be less than significant, and an additional 6-12 cars a day may indeed be insignificant. But the traffic begins to add up, and we now can have a caravan of 50 or 60 cars on the one lane gravel road which then speeds down the paved road. My request to you is to make a good faith effort to reduce the traffic by beginning to talk to the other growers on the plateau with the aim of creating some sort of van-pooling arrangement. I'm not sure that one van is better than several cars in terms of damage to the roads or the danger to residents driving on the road, but the County is looking for ways to reduce vehicle miles travelled, and worker transport is one solution often discussed. The confined dead end destination of the Rector plateau seems like one place where van-pooling might be successful. I can only guess that the major vineyard operators on the Rector watershed occasionally get together to talk over common interests and that this is a subject that might be brought up. Even if Bloodlines had a van for its 12 workers, it might show the viability of the concept to others. I recognize that it might also require some commitment on the part of the county to insure that there are parking lots that the vans can work out of.

The second concern is the development that may take place after the vineyards are in. The Mountain Peak project has brought home to all of us living here that the County's definition of agriculture allows for the construction of public entertainment venues in what are residential farm communities. Such commercial development is an immediate degradation in the rural quality of life that most residents have sought out in living here, particularly on such a remote dead end road. Again, I was impressed by Mr. Phinney's commitment, in his presentation to the community, to process grapes and to retain marketing activities in Vallejo.

But Mr. Phinney may not always be the owner of the land, and this is an opportunity to insure that future owners are as committed to protecting the rural and natural character of Napa County as he is. In the EIR a commendable commitment has been made to an 8.2 acre conservation easement. But with 103 gross acres of vineyard development on the 287 [278] acres of property, there remains 176 acres of land that can be developed. It is, of course, a big ask, but one that I feel should be made in the context of this application: Could the owner not place the entire extent of the property into a conservation easement, one that would allow vineyard development where appropriate, but would prevent the development of future building projects that would further urbanize the Rector plateau? If I'm not mistaken, the northern properties abut the Sutro Ranc, and the ridge above the Bloodline vineyards would be a significant addition to the Land Trust holdings. Protecting this area from further urbanization is the greatest mitigation that could be given to neighbors and to the county as a whole in its effort to maintain Napa County as a rural enclave into the future.

I have one other niggling question. In the map of previous ECP's, a definite break line has been established between the existing vineyards and the undeveloped ridgeline on the northern boundary of vineyard development in the Rector watershed. The majority of the Bloodlines vineyard follows that break line but a few of the vineyard blocks, 1A,1B,4,5A,5B extend well beyond that line and involve bridges and steep slopes. I ask for some clarification on the reason for their creation because those small expansions of the historic development line may only encourage future extension of vineyard development further up the ridge for all properties along the line. [Added 3/6/19: These comments seem to coincide with some proposals in the "Multiple Resource Protection Alternative" and I would strongly support that alternative to reduce tree removal and stream crossings.]

Again thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Rd
Napa, CA 94558

Bill Hocker - Feb 4, 2019 9:35AM

Amy Whiteford sent this email in response to my comments ( including a somewhat clairvoyant response by Mr. Phinney) :

Hello Mr. Hocker,

Thank you very much for taking the time to offer your thoughtful, thorough, and respectful comments on our vineyard application. We share many of your concerns, and have proactively listed some solutions for issues including traffic and water usage in Dave Phinney's and PPI Engineering's public comment letters. In the engineer's letter, we propose to remove Block 4 from our application. Please find Dave Phinney's comment below, and the engineer's comment is uploaded (along with all of the submitted public comments) here:

As you suggested, Dave and I will discuss the possibility of an even greater conservation easement. I hope to continue to work together throughout this process. We are waiting for the proposal from RSA+ Civil Engineers regarding traffic improvements, and I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss these suggestions with you. Again, thank you for your interest and input on the design of this project.

Amy Whiteford

January 29, 2019

Brian Bordona
Napa County Planning, Building & Environmental Services
1195 Third Street, Room 210
Napa, CA 94559

Dear Brian,

I am writing in regard to our proposed Bloodlines LLC Soda Canyon Vineyard Development (Project P16-00323). As you know, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) includes scientific evaluations to determine that this project has less than significant, or less than significant with mitigation measures, impacts on the environment. I appreciate the expertise of the scientists that conducted these studies, and respect and strictly followed the regulatory process in place to apply for a vineyard development permit set by Napa County. I will leave the technical analysis to the scientists, but I would like to present a more personal outreach of how our project could contribute to the well-being of our community.

From day one, we have met with neighbors and asked what issues are most important to them regarding development on Soda Canyon Road. We heard loud and clear that traffic, water, and more recently climate change are top priorities for local residents. We share the same priorities.

Traffic is an issue on Soda Canyon Road. I personalize this by imagining my children driving this road to our family vineyard, and that image has led me to a few ideas of how to minimize our impact on and improve the safety of the road.

  • One measure included in the EIR project description to address travel hazard is to provide pilot cars before heavy equipment is moved up the road. A neighbor had requested this, so I am glad that it was incorporated into the EIR.
  • To reiterate, we are not applying for a winery nor a tasting room permit that would lead to additional tourist traffic on the road.
  • Our employees will meet offsite and travel together in a van rather than in individual cars. This will result in fewer cars traveling the road, as well as decreased emissions.
  • We will reach out to neighboring vineyards and invite them to participate in a similar program, with the hope of starting an employer-funded network of Vanpools.
  • We have consulted with the Department of Public Works and RSA+ Civil Engineers to determine how to increase the safety of the travel and infrastructure of the road. How can we slow down traffic? One idea is to install, at our cost, a blinking sign or signs that show each driver the speed at which they are travelling. According to the Department of Public Works, these signs do effectively slow drivers down. Another idea is to install, at our cost, reflective signs to warn of upcoming hazardous curves.
  • A suggestion that was offered by a concerned neighbor was the installation of a guard rail or rails at especially dangerous parts of the road. We of course would hope that these would never have to be used, but if it increases the potential for safety, we are for it and will pay for the design and installation.

One neighbor asked if our well water usage might impact his well water availability. According to our Water Availability Analysis included in the EIR, we will not impact neighbors' water supply as with our deficit irrigation strategy we will use less water than is annually recharged. However, as detailed in the EIR we will monitor neighboring well levels and adjust our well use if we cause impacts to neighbors' wells. The EIR actually determined that water quality will be improved after our project is developed, as we will take engineered measures to prevent sediment runoff. Please reference Section 4.6 Hydrology and Water Quality in the EIR to read details of our mitigation measures to ensure that there are no significant effects on water quality or neighboring water quantity.

The EIR has declared that our Project has a less-than-significant impact to climate change. My team and I agree that climate change is something that we all need to actively work to halt if not reverse.

  • The calculations used to determine our impact were based on pre-Atlas Fire conditions. Since then, most of the property and its ground cover burned. Planting vineyard and covercrops should greatly increase the carbon sequestration from current conditions.
  • We support the inclusion of the oak stand in Block 3G in the Multiple Resources Protection Alternative to ensure that the mature oak trees are avoided.
  • Although the mitigation measure calls for an 8.2-acre area of oak woodland outside of the proposed clearing limits be preserved through a conservation easement, we commit to preserving at least ten times that acreage.
  • Mitigation measures request 0.24 acres of Ceanothus purpureus (CEPU) be transplanted at a 1:1 ratio outside of the clearing limits. We are willing to plant an additional 0.24 acres of CEPU outside of the clearing limits to bring the ratio up to 2:1.
  • Although as currently written the EIR does not require any planting of oak trees, we will be voluntarily replanting oaks on our property outside of the clearing limits in the appropriate habitats. We will consult with a qualified biologist to determine placement and species.

As we were all reminded of in 2017, fire is threat to our families, properties, and livelihoods.

My brother-in-law was a volunteer firefighter for 13 years, and I can't thank him enough. My team worked with the Fire Chief of the Soda Canyon Volunteer Fire Department and we provided much needed upgrades to their fire station, including repairing dry rot, replacing the garage doors, repainting the firehouse, and repaving the driveway. If the Department decides that it would benefit from a well and a water storage tank on site, we will set up a timeline to pay for these improvements. We commit to maintaining the building as needed, it is the least that we can do in return for their service.

From the beginning of this application process we have engaged our neighbors, listened to their concerns, and incorporated these into the design of our project wherever possible. We will continue to do so from this day forward and look forward to contributing to the Soda Canyon neighborhood.


Dave S. Phinney