SodaCanyonRoad | The murky waters of visitation

The murky waters of visitation

Bill Hocker | Sep 2, 2015 on: Tourism Issues

NVR 9/2/15: Planners say winery visitation plan nearly at hand
9/2/15 Agenda letter regarding visitiation

Regarding the visitation presentation at the Sep 2nd PC meeting, one didn't get the impression that a plan was at hand as the commissioners peppered Dir. Morrison with more questions and requests for guidance and number crunching, more information, that could help them make better decisions. It seemed by the end of the hour that they wanted him to include all of the metrics and charts that have been used in the past plus more metrics and criteria (from the Jun 17th PC agenda letter) that have come out of his quest to find a more rational basis for winery approvals over the last months. All of the numbers have given little guidance in the past - it seems unlikely that more numbers heaped on top will make the decisions easier. The idea of comps (like this one from Girard), a list of comparatively sized wineries and a list of neighborhood wineries seems guaranteed to move the new numbers and applications steadily upward. Winery proliferation continues. The list of criteria might be applied to increase or decrease numbers doesn't help if you don't have some fixed number to start from. As he said at the outset of his presentation, the issue of visitation does indeed seem to be getting into ever murkier waters. In the agenda letter for this meeting Dir. Morrison did present other methods to limit visitation beyond just numbers.

Dir. Morrison did not talk about Framework X, the proposal that he submitted to APAC which was a ray of clarity in the proceedings and was unanamously approved until the Vintners started fretting that it might apply to them. Then it was dumped. It had visitation and production numbers proposed that actually might slow winery proliferation. It was the only concrete proposal (given that the redefinition of agriculture was a non-starter) that might have protected ag lands from the ravages of tourism going forward.

Dir. Morrison seemed to be experiencing a bit of staff-response fatigue and frustration (after months of non-stop number crunching and proposals for both the commission and APAC) as he tried to get at what more the commission wanted from him. Particularly when Chair Phillips asked him for a staff report on APAC in addition to the individual reports made for each meeting and the final report that the APAC committee will be presenting. His agenda letter makes clear his frustration with continued commission requests for more information - and that was written before this meeting's new requests for slicing and dicing of the data.

The somewhat tense staff presentation and commission response, perhaps reflecting the failure of APAC to come to grips with the problems confronting the planning commission, were lightened when Alex Ryan of Duckhorn took to the mike. His outspoken rhetoric had bullet points for each side. What I liked (to paraphrase): "I don't really want visitors, especially those in stretch limos - vintners have responsibilities to their neighbors - visitation at crux of neighborhood impacts - visitors come from 10 to 2 - there are wineries, like Screaming Eagle and Harlan with no visitation". The other side probably took heart from other points.

Ginna Beharry, fearless in confronting the wine barons, took him to task for lauding overflow parking lots. The last part of her extemporaneous response:

    "And this whole idea of a parking lot? You want a busy parking lot? Right, but where - not in a residential neighborhood. This whole idea of comparing it to a bar is the issue. The recent changes to the WDO and the current trends in hospitality and visitation are changing wineries into bars and restaurants. Under ordinary zoning that would not be allowed in a residential area, too close to private homes or schools. But because they're wineries they get use permits and are not subject to those zoning regulations. Don Giovanni's had to get a ballot measure to put a patio on their restaurant. Wineries don't have to do anything like that, but they have a much bigger impact than the patio at Don Giovanni's has. We really need to think about that imbalance. Is that fair? Is that consistant?

    I never heard Mr. Ryan - I love you, Mr. Ryan, I'm not picking on you - mention the words sustainable and cumulative impact. Those are the words and thoughts that have to underlie this entire discussion. Sustainability doesn't mean we can have more and more wineries and they can be Napa Green. We can have a thousand Napa Green wineries and it will still be too much.... There is a limit to the space; there is a limit to be able to deal with these restauran... wineries and impacts. So that's all - sustainability and cumulative impact."

To which Mr. Ryan got up to claim that he agreed with every point she had made.

Earlier, Mr. Ryan humbly volunteered to be a "lifeline" to the staff any time industry input was needed. I think that Mr. Ryan and Ms. Beharry might better be taken on by the planning department as a point-counterpoint advisory body to help hash out the consistant, fair and sustainable winery policy called for in the department agenda letter. As Dep. Planning Dir. John McDowell quipped late in the meeting, he, for one, was certainly in need of a lifeline at this point.

This was Commissioner Pope's last day on the commission. Chair Phillips lauded his eloquence and in particular his framing of the issue that has driven events since the May 20th 2015 joint PC/BOS meeting: "Do we want to maintain an agricultural economy that benefits from tourism, or do we want to transfer into a tourism economy that capitalizes on agriculture? But it was his more simple question at a later meeting that ought to be emblazoned above the dais of the Supervisor's chamber: "What is this valley going to look like in 30 to 50 years?" It is a vision that every commissioner and supervisor should be required to make, in writing, and have in their minds as each new project comes before them for approval.