The Scarlett Winery, a new 30,000 gal/y facility, came up for review at the Planning Commission on Oct 2, 2109. While the Ellman Winery approval at the same hearing was a loveliest, there was considerable community pushback against Scarlett including 175+ pages of documentation, letters and public comments from most of the roads residents, and a complete CEQA challenge from the Shute, Mihaly, Weinberger law firm representing one resident. Public comment was taken and the project was continued to give staff and commissioners time to digest the document submittal.
It is on the narrow Ponti Road, a road not meeting the county's road and street standards for winery access, which should be enough to deny the project. The property backs up onto the Trail, and residents of Ponti Road argued that access off the Trail was much more logical. There is a modest grade differential from the trail, but less than many of the other wineries along this section of the highway. That change should be a no-brainer.
The neighbors complaints about water drawdown, increased traffic and noise from a event center were backed up with expert witness reports contradicting the usual less-than-significant-impact claims of the applicant's consultants. Unfortunately, as we know from every contested project, the County gives short shrift to the opinions of outside consultants.
I was pleased to see that that Ellison Folk in the Shute Mihaly argument brought up the much broader issue of the cumulative impacts that are changing the character of life in Napa Valley as more and more tourism generating projects are approved.
From the SMW letter:
1. There Is a Fair Argument that the Project-Specific and Cumulative Traffic Impacts Would Be Significant.
The County repeatedly evades its legal obligation under CEQA to look at the cumulative impacts of its multiple project approvals in favor of relying on the EIR supporting the 2008 General Plan. However, the 2008 General Plan EIR’s cumulative traffic impact analysis did not adequately address the impacts of winery-related traffic. ...
In addition, the County has experienced an explosion in expanded winery marketing and increased events in recent years. From just 2013 to the present, the County approved more than 90 permit applications with 40 permit modifications for existing wineries, many of which involve significant increases in marketing and hospitality activities. See, attached spreadsheet of recent County winery approvals, included as Attachment E. The General Plan EIR did not analyze winery expansions, and the County has failed to consider the additional Project-specific and cumulative traffic and other impacts of these approvals.
Environmental Impact Reports were done for the two major documents that underlie landuse policies in Napa County: the Winery Definition Ordinance EIR done in 1989 and the Update of the General Plan EIR done in 2007. The continued reliance on negative declarations in approving wineries is conditioned on the projections of vineyard and winery development made in those 2 EIR's.
The 1989 WDO EIR did, in fact, consider the impacts of increased tourism at wineries. In doing so it presented an extensive list of mitigations that would be required to create less-than-significant impacts from the creation of the ordinance. The list is long, and it should be noted that the vast majority of the mitigations were not mentioned in the WDO and have never been realized.
While the 2007 General Plan EIR posits a rate of new winery creation, it is silent on the impacts of winery expansions and even more silent on the expanded use of wineries as tourism venues. There is no analysis of the direct-to-consumer trend in wine marketing that has exploded since its writing, a trend that is at the heart of most requests for new and expanded wineries taking place. 2010 changes to the WDO codified this expansion of tourism uses to help the industry move from 3-tier to d-t-c marketing, but no EIR was done to analyze what environmental impacts those changes would create.
The impacts of the direct-to-consumer event-center business model are far different than the impacts of wineries as production facilities. The increase in visitors and the employees needed to cater to them create a demand for road and utility expansions, restaurants, shops, hotels, employee housing and services, i.e. a level of urbanization that is at odds with the General Plans stated desire to maintain an agricultural economy and a rural way of life.
In the last 12 years the number of producing vineyard acres in Napa County has not increased. Yet in that time the county has approved over 150 new and expanded wineries, not to process a nonexistent new supply of grapes, but to process an ever increasing supply of visitors. Unfortunately the environmental impacts of that expanding visitor population were not subjected to an analysis on a county-wide basis. The increased traffic, the demand for affordable housing for the growing workforce, the loss of existing housing and resident-serving shops to more profitable tourism uses are all impacts of prioritizing tourism over an interest in maintaining a rural, small-town quality of life.
The battle by residents to defend the rural character in Napa County, as the residents of Ponti Road are doing, has been repeated over and over as wineries have come up for approval in the last 5 years. In the face of an exploding tourism industry and the flood of goodlife entrepreneurs, and of a County government that has embraced the "fairy tale of eternal economic growth" residents are losing the battle.