SodaCanyonRoad | Time for a moratorium

Time for a moratorium

Bill Hocker | Jun 2, 2014 on: The WDO

This letter is in response to Peter Jensen’s recent article “Debate continues on proposed wine industry moratorium”. It was not published.

As the member of a concerned citizen (ie NIMBY) group opposing a tourism facility on our watershed at the top of Soda Canyon Road, I was somewhat taken aback by being the only representatives to be mentioned by name as supporting a moratorium of similar projects now being proposed throughout the county. However, since I know that Mr. Jensen has covered these development-government-neighborhood issues on a daily basis for some time now, his reference to “among others ” does carry some weight and that I need not consider ourselves alone.

Indeed, on June 10th the BOS will be hearing the appeal of the Woolls Ranch project on Mt. Veeder road, which, like the project being proposed in my backyard, would represent the onset of tourism in a watershed area of the county. I suspect that a moratorium applied to their project might be as welcome to the Mt Veeder residents as it would be to us.

Likewise, on June 18th the Planning Commission will be hearing the Yountville Hill project proposed to cover the prominent knoll just north of the town, becoming a beacon of tourism along that heavily traveled stretch of Hwy 29. Those opponents, who include vintners as well as NIMBY’s, might also appreciate a moratorium as well.

And some residents of Zinfandel Lane, confronting, at short notice, a tourism facility in their backyard might be longing for a moratorium to forestall the pain of appeals and litigation.

I suspect that the issue of a moratorium is more complicated than I, as a complete novice and outsider to the wine industry, can appreciate. Mr. Beckstoffer, who has in the past voiced concerns that the WDO is not being used to adequately protect the interests of growers and by extension the intent of the Ag Preserve, and who now faces another WDO sanctioned winery expansion on his road, still is not ready to use the “m” word. A moratorium would obviously affect the many developers, consultants, and tourism interests who wish to further the conversion of agricultural land into more profitable use. But I don’t see how it would hurt the responsible vintners and growers whose interest is in protecting the agricultural base of their industry, the principal upon which the Napa General Plan is founded.

I have now heard two metaphors applied to this complexity: in Mr. Jensen’s article former commissioner Davis Graves refers to it as sweater that would disintegrate at the pull of a strand of yarn. And at the joint BOS/Planning Commission meeting of May 20th, Mr. Rob Mondavi compared it to a bus whose wheels might come off should it encounter the speed bump of a moratorium. I would welcome a less oblique explanation.

Mr. Jensen mentions Commissioner Fiddaman’s comment that a moratorium is more akin to a butcher knife when a scalpel is required. Had that scalpel been judiciously used in the last 2 years, perhaps a butcher knife might not be needed now. As it is, the patient has been lying on the operating table as the cancer spreads with the County intoning a blessing over each new lesion. Enough metaphors, already!

My personal interest in a moratorium is not, per se, to halt the creation of new wineries in the County, although I do think that the permitted capacity of new wineries each year should bear a direct connection to new vineyard acreage coming online. My interest is specifically to halt the creation of new tourist facilities, including that proposed in my backyard, until the long term affects of increased tourism on the land and water resources of the County can be understood and planned for. Let applications for new wineries go ahead – as long as a tourism component is not part of the proposal. I suspect that applications might fall off a bit, giving the county planners the time they need to gauge the impacts of already approved, but not yet built, tourism facilities. And some time to determine a tourism strategy for the future that does not jeopardize the agricultural land resource that is the hallmark of this successful 46 year experiment.