|Mar 13, 2014|
Tourism is a very destructive thing, I mean, anybody who thinks otherwise is just not thinking it through very clearly. - Mel Varrelman 2008 (Supervisor 1983-2002) (JLDAgFund interview beginning page 272 here)
“Everyone wants an increasingly larger piece of the tourist income. If we ever reach the point where tourism, not agriculture, drives the economy we've lost the ball game”. - Planing Director James Hickey 2008(?)
... I think the challenge for Napa County is to regulate tourism, curtail it and make sure that you don't create a situation where tourism competes for resources with the wine industry. That is the real challenge. If I get the rich guys to bring me money for my wine that's wonderful, but somehow if the 30,000 tourists ruin all the highways and then I have to pay in extra fees for fixing the highways, the usefulness of the direct purchase is diminished, shall we say. - Volker Eisele 2009 (JLDAgFund interview beginning page 76 here)
“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?” - Planning Commissioner Matt Pope 2014
This is not Disneyland. I think it’s just agriculture in the 21st century. - Sup. Alfredo Pedroza 2017
The Tourism Event-Center Winery
In a trend codified in the 2008 changes to the Napa General Plan equating marketing and processing in the definition of agriculture, and in approval of State Bill AB2004
, the "Evans Bill", in 2008 which allows the purchase and consumption of bottles of alcohol in picnic areas on winery property, and in the 2010 approval
of changes to the 1990 Winery Definition Ordinance
allowing expansion of food service and "marketing events" at wineries, tourism marketing on winery properties has become an increasingly important aspect of wine makers profitability and is now leading to the proposal and approval of what one wag referred to as an invasion of "crush-n-party pads" (otherwise called event centers) throughout the county.
The thing that made the property in this ad worth $280,000 per acre in 2014 is the imagined return on the 25% of the vineyard that can be removed for the winery, tasting rooms and parking lots of a tourist facility. In my mind, the fact that a very prime piece of vineyard land is advertised as a "building site" indicates that something has gone wrong with land use policies nominally designed to protect agriculture. (In fact, the county application for a new or modified use permit does not ask about the number of acres permanently removed from the agricultural preserve to accomodate these new facilities.)
New wineries are being proposed to the Planning Commission
at the rate of almost 1 per month and many established wineries are asking for changes to their use permits to allow increased marketing plans. The County has so far approved almost every marketing plan proposed. They have done so without looking at the long term cumulative effects that radically increased tourism would have in maintaining the county's landmark 1968 Agricultural Preserve.
In the knowledge that small scale agriculture cannot compete profitably with almost any other capitalist endeavor, the Ag Preserve was set up to drastically limit what uses Napa County land could be used for beyond agriculture. Developers have always been pressing against the dykes of the Preserve trying to find a way to turn Napa land to more profitable use.
The Winery Definition Ordinance of 1990 was a response to the development pressure, a compromise between growers concerned about unregulated development of vineyard land and vintners concerned about their profitablility. Wineries and wine tourism, industrial and commercial activities in any other part of the world, were redefined as part of the agricultural process. For vintners, a limited level of winery tourism was codified. For the growers, grapes to fill new winery capacity were required to come from Napa vineyards. It was a balance of interests that slowed (somewhat) development for 20 years. In 2008, the General Plan was updated to integrate marketing into the definition of agriculture. In 2010, in response to the great recession's effect on the high-end wine industry, a growing desire to increase profits by some vintners and the increasing clout of the tourism industry, tourism restrictions were eased in the WDO, and the county officially became more supportive of tourism and the production-vs-marketing scale began to teeter.
Just enough so that, apparently, investors saw a reasonable profit to be made in wine tourism, and they have been jumping in since. The map and lists of projects approved or still in planning dept since 2010 are here
2016 Visit Napa Valley Quick Facts
2016 Visit Napa Valley Visitor Profile
2016 Visit Napa Valley Economic Impact Report
2016 Visit Napa Valley Fiscal Annual Report
2016 Direct-to-consumer wine shipping report
Planning Dept's 7/1/15 statistical analysis of permitted visitation and capacity
Comparison of winery regs in other Calif counties
Excel County winery database
2015 Dir. Morrison's Mar 10th 2015 Data analysis of the county
Wineries (in pink) Under Review by Planning Department as of 8/1/14
2014 Visit Napa Valley Economic Impact Report
2014 Visit Napa Valley Visitor Profile
2013 County Winery Audit Visitation Results
2012 County Winery Audit Visitation Results
2012 Winery marketing event comparisons
by the planning dept for Raymond hearing
2012 Visit Napa Valley 2 Economic Impact Report
2012 Visit Napa Valley Visitor Profile
2012 Economic Impacts of Napa Wine and Grapes
Stonebridge for NV Vintners
PBES Interpretive Guidance on 2010 WDO changes
2008 Economic Impact of the Napa Valley Wine Industry
Stonebridge for NV Vintners
2005 Economic Impacts of and Vineyards in Napa County
MKF for DALF and NV Vintners
2005 Napa County Visitor Profile & Economic Impact Study
, Purdue University
Napa County Planning Commission Agendas
Geoff Ellsworth's map of potential winery/event center sites in the county
Save Yountville Hill table of recent winery approvals
St. Helena Window Tourism Page
including the Butler Report Synopsis
NVR 8/14/17: Winery appeals stacking up before Napa County Board of Supervisors
NVR 2/17/17: Opponents fear expanded Yountville restaurant would overwhelm neighborhood
NVR 2/5/17: At Napa Valley wineries, the visitor is king
NVR 8/8/16: Conference asks: How does Napa Valley cope with success?
NBBJ 8/5/16: Tourism drives Napa Valley economy amid growing pains
Bizjournals 4/22/16: Napa's wine crush: Putting a cork in wineries’ growth
NBBJ 5/12/15: Counties grapple with winery outreach directly to consumers
Most of the articles on our resource page deal with Winery tourism
NVR 1/16/16: Sizzling Napa lodging industry posts 14.8 percent revenue gain
NVR 12/26/15: Napa rings up another busy tourism year
NVR 2/14/15: Napa County to explore the price of wine success
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|Bill Hocker - Dec 27, 2017 5:06PM Share
NVR 12/22/17: James H. Hickey 1927-2017
In his 2008 "Oral Histories of Napa County's Agricultural Preserve"
interview with Rue Ziegler, James Hickey fretted about the direction the "wine Industry" was headed:
"Tourism is becoming the big driver in the local economy. The wine industry is [now] here to accommodate tourism; tourism doesn't create the winery business. You look at San Francisco, Fisherman's Wharf, you've got everything there but fishermen. The fishermen can't afford to dock there any more because the motels, the shopping...
"The more the rest of the Bay Area develops, the more pressure there will be to locate some development in Napa County, because it has that appeal and the open land. It has that attraction. When you have people touring, they like to have all the accommodations they had at home. They want to have all the different food facilities, they want to have all kinds of overnight accommodations available to them and there are always people happy to provide them. And that's urban development in the urban areas. If it stays in the urban areas, that's good but if it starts spreading into the unincorporated area, that could be the end of the Agricultural Preserve. The Preserve exists by three votes and 30 days. That's three supervisors voting yes on any change and 30 days for the ordinance to become effective. And you don't have to take elimination the Ag Preserve head-on. You can just undermine it by changing the definition of what a winery is, or reducing the standards." (page 146 here
He is extolled in his obituary as a "celebrated county and regional planner" as he should be. But he was, in fact, pushed out of the position of Planning Director in 1990 over the winery definition ordinance, a victim in the battle between his own preservation and conservation efforts and a wine industry then, as now, looking to increase profits through the tourist trade and with a Board of Supervisors then, as perhaps now, split 3 to 2 between developers and preservationists. In his words:
"The question that had to be answered was, 'What's a winery?' It had to be defined, and it had to be defined in a fashion that made it clear that what was happening there wasn't an oversight but it was by design. And so, I raised the question in a series of discussions and reports to the Planning Commission, 'What is a winery?'
It was not popular with the wine industry, because they felt that they had the opportunity to decide what was going to be done at their wineries, particularly some of the bigger ones. And so it became very, very contentious and the board who had authorized the release of the reports that I had prepared, found themselves cousght in a crossfire. And, to resolve the problem, they said to the industry, 'Why don't you write a definition and give it to us, and we'll take a look at it and we'll see if we like it?' and I said, 'Well that's one way to answer the question.' So the industry did a very good job. They wrote a definition and Board of Supervisors adopted it and it was fine. And shortly thereafter, it was suggested that I retire. I was removed as the Planning Director and appointed the Executive Director of Special Projects, and I was moved to an office up on the third floor of the County building.... It was kind of lonely up there because I was the only one in the office."
It is well worth reading James Conaway's telling of the firing here
. (As is his entire book.)
More tourists please
|Bill Hocker - Dec 21, 2017 12:34PM Share
NVR 12/27/17: B Cellars wins Napa County permission for more visitors
On Dec 20th, the County Planning Commission approved the visitation expansion of the B Cellars winery on Oakville Road. No change in wine output, just 79% more tourists and 87% more traffic, and 6 more employees in need of affordable housing. 3 similar requests for visitation-only increases were approved in 2017, and 2 more are on the calendar for the first commission hearing on January 17th
. Is it a trend? As I have mentioned before, producing vineyard acreage has barely budged in the last decade, but winery tourism requests have increased by at least 2.4 million visitors slots
. (Side note: average visitation slot requests each year more than doubled after 2010 changes to the WDO allowing food to be served at tastings.)
There is an argument to be made that the transition from a wine producing economy to a tourism economy is the easiest direction for "growth" in Napa county. The amount of plantable acres of vines has become limited by a variety of constraints. The number of tourism venues that can be built is only limited by the number of wealthy individuals seeking a winery-of-their-own and the willingness of politicians in need of campaign contributions to allow their construction.
One difficulty is that such tourism development was never really considered in the impacts presented in the EIR for the 2008 County General Plan
. And tourism has impacts: an increased daily population, increased burden on the utility infrastructure, increased work force needing housing and services, increased traffic, increased need for lodging, dining, and shopping venues for the transient population. And there's the loss of community character as towns and rural neighborhoods go from resident-centric to tourist-centric: the loss of small town life as density increases; the loss of the rural landscape as more wine-tourism venues occupy once-unobstructed vineyards and wooded hillsides.
, the Napa County Planning Director at the heart of the General Plan that grew out of the Ag Preserve ordinance, has just died. I met him only once, at Volker Eisele's memorial
. The two together had much to do with the preservation of a rural economy in Napa County for the last 50 years, and their skills, unfortunately, have never been more needed than they are now. A new era of urban development is under way in the county and the clear foresight and political skill that they brought to the table are sorely missed. Housing development was their bogeyman. And they managed to thwart it better than every other community in the bay area. Tourism is now the prime urban development threat in the county (along with south-county industrial development). Tourism development, of course, ramps up the demand for more housing development, and every other kind of urban expansion. Yet in an era of developer's dominance in governmental affairs, local to national, it is difficult to make the case that maintaining a rural-small town place in an urban world is a worthwhile endeavor.
Many of the stories making the news this year have revolved around the pushback of residents to increasing urban development in the county. Our own battle over the Mountain Peak winery, and the commercialization of the remote rural parts of the county, began at the first Planning Commission meeting of 2017. The Woodland Initiative petition garnered 6000 plus signatures for the second time. Some see it as anti-wine-industry. I see it as preserving the natural landscape from vineyard estate development. The helicopter initiative, spawned by the visceral reaction to the Palmaz proposal and the prospect of helicopters flying to all those vineyard estates, is headed for the ballot. Unfortunately the Raymond Winery decision represented the clearest transfer from agriculture to tourism urbanization. And concern was continually voiced over the pace of hotel development and its impact on the character of small town life in the City of Napa. The Napa Oaks project was one of the few actual victories, probably only temporary, for those lamenting the loss of Napa's natural landscape.
In 2015 the Board of Supervisors recognized the concern of residents about the proliferation of tourism development and they created APAC. But the process seemed to harden the resolve of the "wine industry" in their push to seek more profits from tourism than from wine. The recommendations to curtail winery proliferation were at first watered down by the committee and then ignored altogether by the Board. Recommendations to rectify abuse of use permits have been placed on a slow track process to legalize all abuses. The concerns about tourism urbanization were un-addressed.
Back to B Cellars: Several tour operators spoke in favor of the project - It was just the kind of high quality wine pairing experience they want to bring their customers to. (My previous rant about the food-centricity of B Cellars is here
.) One person, a neighbor, spoke about the undesirable impacts that a tourism facility has on the quiet enjoyment of their property. Ironically it was Paul Woolls, whose own Woolls Ranch project
has threatened to destroy the quiet enjoyment of the property owners on Mt. Veeder Road since it was proposed in 2011.
Human nature, not hypocrisy, may be the best expression for the behavior of many in the "wine industry" who turn a blind eye to the rising impacts of tourism until it's the peaceful enjoyment of their own properties that is being invaded. Such was the case on Yountville Hill, on Raymond, on Girard, on Flynnville, on Melka and on B Cellars. My guess is that most vintners want to live and make their living in a beautiful slow-paced rural place. Yet their concern fades when it's someone else's backyard that is being despoiled. Without the support of the wine industry, any effort to curb the urbanization of Napa County will be impossible to achieve. Pretending that winery event-centers are "agriculture" isn't good enough. Unfortunately, beginning with two projects at the Planning Commission that are only about tourism expansion, and under a Board of Supervisors that seems determined to approve any construction project that comes before them, this year does not bode well for our rural character.
A Learning Experience
|Bill Hocker - Nov 15, 2017 2:04PM Share
Michael Bernick LTE 11/14/17: Beyond the fires: what the Napa Valley economy can teach us
I have tried not to get worked up about this puff piece in support of the head of the Napa tourism industry's lobbying organization, Visit Napa Valley. It is a yeoman effort at boosting tourism after the fire by a credible author, who, as someone uninterested in drinking wine, at a time when the landscape is a mess, encourages tourism just to appreciate the hand-craft nuts-and-bolts involved in winemaking. It is an extension of the dubious "educational" mission of winery visitation, enshrined in the WDO, that allows wineries to become very profitable restaurants and party venues in all respects but their code definition, and legitimizes a proliferation of wineries and inducement of visitation despite little actual increase in wine production.
As Clay Gregory is probably happy to tell you, the percentage of revenues from tourism vs wine is increasing each year. It will not be long before tourism (an inherently more profitable enterprise than wine making) will be the dominant economic engine with wine production less and less important as an actual industry. Boutique, hand-crafted wines will still be necessary to give a reason for the tourism trade, but the production of Napa wine will come under increasing stress as land is developed to return higher profits than wine making alone can sustain.
The problem is not that Napa will become a tourism economy rather than a wine making economy. It is what a tourism economy does to a place. If successful, it will become, as Las Vegas has become, an urban tourist trap, filled with high rise hotels and glitzy event centers referred to as wineries rather than casinos. And more and more entrepreneurs will continue to arrive to try to cash into the success. Napa may not look like Las Vegas in my lifetime. But the trajectory is already upon us, in the many hotel projects in the works and the monthly stream of new winery venues and winery visitation expansion being approved.
"Venice has become a victim of its own success" - Sound familiar?
The so-called wine industry
Napa's tourism revenue - the other side
|George Caloyannidis - Aug 28, 2016 9:41PM Share
Earlier this year, I visited Florence - generally regarded as one for the most beautiful cities in the world - for the third time since 1965. Its hotels, restaurants and stores are packed with tourists - 14 million of them. Its metropolitan area has a population of 1.4 million but all tourists descend only on its historic core where 380,000 make it their home.
One would think that with all its revenue, the city would be thriving, but the lawns and landscaping of the Boboli Gardens of the Pitti Palace ($16 entry fee) are brown, the giant 150-year old cypresses in the Santa Maria Novella court yard are dying because, though the Arno river runs through it, Florence is running out of water. Many of its narrow streets smell of raw sewage, indicating that its sewer treatment capacity has exceeded its limits. And the ability of its roads to carry its traffic was compromised decades ago.
Obviously, the massive revenue created by tourism is not enough to maintain its magnificent buildings and monuments, its slowly decaying sandstone columns, widow surrounds and railings of its historic bridges. Yet these are the assets that make Florence the attractive city that it is. The fiscal equation, while sufficient for providing immediately needed services to 10 times the people who live there, falls short in the long term capital costs they create.
Florence is not alone. The same fate is evident in all of the most attractive places in Europe including Ibiza - part of the Balearic islands - which professor Mendlinger had touted as one of the few successful models of a tourist economy at last April's Napa Valley forum on the tourist economy. But as Spain's minister of tourism recently reported, Ibiza has reached the limit of a variety of resources, including water.
If you ask the people who live in Florence, Ibiza, Santorini or Bruge whether they like it, they answer: "No, but this is where we make our living"!
Switching to the Napa Valley; if we are not there yet, we are awfully close. The percentage of tourist revenue the cities and county receive is somewhat in the order of a paltry 10 percent. All additional costs to maintain and expand the infrastructure its 3.5 million visitors require (25 per resident), in roads, sewer capacity, water treatment, administration, police, emergency services, cleanup, trash disposal etc. fall on the general population in the form of taxes, bonds and never ending funding measures. Despite the $50 million in Transit Occupancy Taxes, and more in sales taxes, we keep falling behind.
Calistoga and St. Helena are under orders to update their sewer plants, water is diverted from streams having to be defended in lawsuits, water and sewer rates are getting higher and everyone is aware of the sad condition of our roads, sidewalks and some 80 intersections at service level C or worse.
The reality is that the major winners of the tourist economy are the very few international corporations who have discovered the Napa Valley golden goose with their multi-million-dollar hotels and resorts but take their profits elsewhere, leaving behind the associated costs of services, the staggering long-term costs of infrastructure maintenance and expansion, the lowest paying jobs ($22,000 median for a single person) which create commuters and subsidized services - including grants for affordable housing - all spread among the wider population.
This is an unfair equation that satisfies mostly self-created immediate needs and ignores long-term costs. It is an ingenious cost-shifting vortex impossible to escape from.
There is no question that tourism is highly beneficial on many levels up to a certain point, but over-reliance on it has devastating fiscal, environmental and social impacts.
Because reliance on a tourism-based economy can never be scaled back until it reaches the point of collapse, I once again urge the county and the cities to commission a joint study before we get there.
NVR 8/28/16: Napa's tourism revenue - the other side
The NBBJ Golden Goose conference
Aug 17th Planning Commission Review
Caymus Development Agreement (updated)
|Bill Hocker - May 27, 2016 11:48AM Share
Caymus Greenhouse - just an "agricultural" building
NVR 5/26/16: Camus compliance case wraps up, vintner warns of threat to industry
The Supervisors unanimously approved both the use permit and development agreement. Mr. Wagner complained about the impact that a vocal minority of residents might have if their concerns hobble the continued growth of the wine industry.
This is a good opportunity to say that the vocal minority speaks for residents all over the county suffering the negative impacts not of grape growing and wine production but of the tourism development that the wine industry has embraced as its new global marketing strategy. County residents have always supported the wine industry for the character of the environment and economy it has produced. But that support is eroding as tourism and events have moved from an incidental and subordinate aspect of the wine industry to its reason for being. As the county shifts from resident-based agriculture to corporate/plutocrat-based tourism the impacts are no longer palatable, and the pushback of residents hoping to maintain the rural, small-town character that they grew up with or found here should be expected. Until the industry finds a less destructive way of marketing their goods (and the internet age offers other ways in addition to traditional legwork), until it recognizes the enormous difference in community impacts between grape processing and tourist processing, the industry should expect condemnation from a vocal minority representing those more concerned about the quality of their lives and their environment than the quality of tourism experiences occurring next door.
Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards and the county have worked out a perhaps trend-setting approach to the relationship between wineries and their regulators: the creation of a development agreement with the county that codifies assumed, but never really documented, pre-WDO vested rights for marketing while at the same time recognizing and allowing many of its previous abuses of its use permit, and adding on a whole new development of the site.
Caymus is one of the iconic brands of the Napa Valley. But (perhaps from founding winegrower hubris) it has run afoul of the county in continuing to produce up to 20 times as much wine as the 100,000 gal/yr permitted in their 1988 use permit. In addition it has continued to illegally build and make other improvements on the property without changes in the use permit. In a 2013 settlement
it paid the county $1 million in fines for its excess production. This use permit modification and development agreement are an attempt to clarify its vested rights as a pre-WDO winery and agree what its development conditions will be allowed in the future.
I attended the Planning Commission meeting (3/23/16) devoted to the project. Option 1 in the staff report
was approved 4-0 (Comm. Phillips absent) and sent on to the Board for review of the development agreement.
I hadn't taken a careful look at the project and now regret not doing so (although the opinions of weekender NIMBY's or Farm Bureau stakeholders alike seem to have little impact in these proceedings.) In addition to recognizing and allowing production capacity and visitation in a 2 phase process, much of the winery site is to be rebuilt with 5 buildings being torn down and a new "Greenhouse" erected.
While the complex history of the use permit and its rectification are a bit beyond me (a Napa Farm Bureau letter
addressed to those issues is here), the significance of the "Greenhouse" and the development around it were quite clear, and not really discussed in the planning commission meeting. The greenhouse is referred in the application as an "agricultural building" which in WDO language means it is not considered as production or hospitality in calculating the production/ hospitality ratios. It is presented as an agricultural building in the way that a tractor shed might be. But one look at the size and architecture of the greenhouse and its position at the center of dining patios and event lawns and it is obvious that this is not an agricultural building. It is, in fact, a distinctive tourist attraction, little different in purpose than the Castelo Di Amoroso, or Stirling's arial tram or the Hall's Bunny Foo Foo - just another monumental edifice shouting "Here I am!" to attract more tourist traffic.
The project will now come up before the Board of Supervisors on May 24th. In addition to the trend-setting nature of such a development agreement, it may be trend setting in another way as well. Chuck Wagner has been a substantial campaign contributor
to Supervisor Pedroza. It is the first test in a series of decisions that the Supervisors will have to make regarding the projects of their major campaign contributors. Walt Ranch, the Syar Expansion, the Palmaz heliport will all be before the board in the next few months and their owners are big doners. Will Supervisor Pedroza begin a healthy trend in governance by recusing himself from the Caymus decision? We shall know shortly.
NVR 5/27/16: Camus compliance case wraps up, vintner warns of threat to industry
NVR 3/23/16: Caymus Vineyards, Napa County close to settlement
NVR 2/10/16: County wrestles with Caymus Vineyards issues
NVR 8/2/13: Caymus pays $1 million for exceeding wine limit
Napa Farm Bureau Letter
1990 WDO letter referenced in FB letter
3/23/16 Agenda and documents
3/23/16 Agenda Letter
County's Caymus U-P page
Golden eggs or fois gras.
|Bill Hocker - May 4, 2016 3:11PM Share
"While other Bay Area counties have experienced unprecedented development and urban infrastructure expansion over the last four decades, Napa County’s citizens have conscientiously preserved the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure."
- from the Vision Statement of the Napa County General Plan
Napa's resident-based agricultural economy is dying. It is quickly being replaced by a corporate-based tourism economy. What does that mean for the residents, the government, the physical environment and the soul of the county?
There seems to be agreement that the Napa of today is successful, referred to often as a "golden goose" at many of the planning commission and supervisor hearings over the past year; a state of balanced interests that has allowed an agricultural-based industry to survive and thrive and allowed a rural small town quality-of-life to remain in an urban world.
Unfortunately, such a blissful combination of commerce and community doesn't fit with the "growth-is-good" ethos harbored by the corporate barons and plutocrats now dominating the culture of the valley who know how to monitize a good thing when the see it. The goose has been getting some forced feeding to see if it can't produce more golden eggs.
We already have 120 new or expanded wineries in the development pipeline with over 3,000,000 new visitor slots, 2000 new hotel rooms, a few resorts, several million square feet of new industrial and commercial development all on the verge of being built. They will happen. And even before they are built, many more projects are likely to be approved if the development trend continues. The installation of 3 pro-development supervisors next year will greatly hasten the trend.
The development binge means a lot of jobs coming into the county. According to Cal DOT
, job creation has been increasing at 2% per year: tourist development in the valley, vineyard development in the watersheds, wine-related industrial development in the south country. Job growth in the county is forecast at 1.3% for the next few years, mostly in the "leisure and hospitality" sector.
Developers often argue that population growth is inevitable and we need constantly growing economic activity to create jobs for all those people that are coming. But the reality is that the county has been averaging only .7% population growth in the past and is forecast to grow at only a .4% per year increase in the next few years. (Compared to 1% statewide.) The unincorporated county is actually loosing population (perhaps as homes, like the one next to me, are leveled for event centers), as is the city of St. Helena (where homes become short term rentals). This means that job growth in the next few years is forecast to be 3 times the rate of population growth. Meaning also, of course, a whole lot more commuter traffic than we currently enjoy.
No one likes the amount of traffic in the county at present. So, what to do about the housing-jobs imbalance that is a major contributor to it?
One approach is to do nothing, continue winery, vineyard and industrial development and hope to relieve symptoms by building more traffic lanes, a flyover, a light rail system, a worker and tourist shuttle bus system - or maybe staggering employee hours to even out the traffic jams!. The Napa Valley Vintners have suggested this approach. The problem is that these paliatives, given the difficulty in their realization, or the cost, are very unlikely to catch up to existing conditions, much less accommodate the increases in traffic that continued job creation will be generating. It will be a losing battle. The jams will just get longer, the citizens more frustrated and Caltrans will eventually be forced to build the freeways. The politicians will feign helplessness saying they tried their best to protect rural napa.
A second approach is to build more housing, i.e. increase the rate of population growth to match the rate of job growth, the race of housing and jobs resulting in the urban Bay Area we know today. In Napa, of course, most of the new leisure and hostility workers couldn't afford the homes even if they were built. So everyone is talking about building affordable housing. The Napa Valley Vintners have also suggested this approach. But affordable housing is difficult to achieve. When it happens, it usually happens because of fees or taxes generated from other urban development, and it takes a lot of urban development to subsidize a few affordable houses. The 180 affordible units at Napa Pipe, supposedly aimed at existing housing shortages, are subsidized by huge development project that will generate some 900 new, mostly low-paying, jobs. Where will they live? How does this approach solve the housing jobs imbalance?
A third approach, which no one seems to be suggesting but which is quite suited to a county that wishes to limit its urban growth, might be to adjust job creation to match the inevitable population increase. If the projected population increase in the county is .04%/yr why is it not reasonable to propose a .04% allowed increase in job growth/yr to bring potential job and housing growth into some sort of parity. Pushing this reasoning a bit further, perhaps job growth should be reduced slightly to begin slowly, over time, to address the current imbalance in jobs and housing.
Limit job growth!? some may sputter. Job growth is, of course, the holy grail of governments and developers everywhere. It's where the money is and, you know, for some there can never be too much money. But Napan's decided some time ago that money isn't everything. The Ag Preserve was a commitment to a less profitable land use in order to sustain an industry and an environment, and a way of life that provided wealth for the soul at a cost in profits. It was a commitment that has produced a balance of economic activity and quality of life envied everywhere. It is an economy that seems to be working fine. But as the job creators keep descending, and the wine industry continues to morph from resident-based agriculture to corporate/plutocrat-based tourism, that sacrifice of profit for a better community life - at the heart of Napa's history - seems to have been forgotten.
It is beyond time that Napa makes a recommitment to keep urban growth at bay in the county and to reaffirm that Napa wishes to remain a rural, agricultural-based county for the next 50 years - a good place to live and a sustainable place to make a living. The promotion of tourism as an "agricultural" process in the general plan, and the promotion of imported grape industrial development both diminish the probability that the Napa grape crop will continue to be a significant portion of the county's economy in the next 50 years. Once Napa grapes become a minor portion of county's economy, the incentive to convert to more profitable uses will begin to dominate land use. The current conversion of vineyard acres into tourism event centers is just the beginning of that process.
It is time to stop worrying about the ever increasing profits of the major campaign contributors, and the impacts that the pursuit of those profits bring, and to concentrate on a sustainable and livable community with agriculture at its base. We can begin by reducing future development to a point that accommodates the gradually increasing population, and no more. It is a level of development that insures the entire Napa community a steady diet of golden eggs in the future, rather than the current path - just one helping of fois gras for the wealthy, and a dead goose.
Event centers or McMansions - the resident's dilemma.
|Bill Hocker - May 3, 2016 1:58PM Share
SF Business Times 4/22/16: Napa's wine crush: Putting a cork in wineries’ growth
Geoff Ellsworth has done an excellent job of defining the issues facing county residents interested in preserving the rural character of the county. Wineries have been the focus of citizen pushback because the wine industry, by embracing a growth model dependent on an ever expanding tourist population, and an ever expanding urban workforce and infrastructure to cater to it, is causing resident support for such an invasive a "definition of agriculture" to evaporate. The wine-tourism industry always poses the argument as either wineries or houses. The wine industry has been successful in preventing housing development in the county, a fact that all who live here appreciate. But if one now has to choose between an a McMansion or an event center open each night to 10:00pm next door, supporting the wine industry over the housing industry becomes an increasingly difficult choice.
Small wineries, big impacts
|Bill Hocker - Feb 19, 2016 12:47PM Share
NVR 2/18/16: Direct sales key to small winery survival, Planning Commission told
As they did a little over a year ago
, 3 members of the wine tourism lobby made a presentation to the planning commission to reinforce the narrative (a much-used word these days) that the wine industry is changing and if the wine industry is going to survive in Napa county tourists are necessary.
There are lots of comments to the NVR article and well worth reading. Rob McMillan, calm and reasonable as always, proposes some concrete steps to alleviate the existing traffic that even he (along with arch-tourism proponent Rob Mondavi) now finds unbearable. Those ideas are well worth pursuing but they are really just symptomatic relief that can never keep up with the real problem: the development trajectory (a word used by NativeSonNapa in the comments) that the county is currently on. The real solution to the problems we face here is a commitment to slow or stop future tourism and industrial development (and dare I add vineyard conversion) through the same level of regulation that has been used to slow housing development. Once urban growth as a whole is slowed then we have a chance of dealing with the traffic or affordable housing problems that are its symptom.
The DTC trajectory
|Bill Hocker - Feb 15, 2016 5:24PM Share
NVR 2/1/16: Napa wineries ship $1 billion in wine to consumers in 2015
The Napa Valley Vintners have just touted this report
to bolster their contention that increased tourism is necessary for the survival of the Napa wine industry. At $1 billion that probably represents 10% to 20% of the total of Napa appellation wines produced (depending on which numbers you use in this 2012 study
But there are two facets to the Direct-to-consumer market which are often conflated in reporting on the trend and not analyzed in this report which just covers shipped goods: wine bought and ordered at wineries (including wine club commitments) and wine ordered directly from the winery from non-visitors. The important thing to know is how much of a winery's sales are a direct result of a winery visit vs hearing about the wine from a friend, a web or magazine article or review, an ad, a restaurant meal, or a remote tasting and then going to the winery's website to buy the wine or join the club. Even more important is knowing the value of these at-winery sales compared to the totality of Napa appellation wine sales.
For those of us who live in the Napa Valley the ratios are important - the winery visit may or may not be having a significant impact on the winery's bottom line (the cost of building a winery and running a tasting room aren't reflected in revenue figures) or on Napa wine industry revenues in general, but, as an excuse to bring in more tourists, it is surely having a urbanizing impact on the rural county that the General Plan claims to protect and that residents really do treasure.
DTC shipments will increasingly be the future of all businesses including wine. But just as I don't feel the need to travel to Cupertino (or Shenzhen) to form an emotional bond to my iPad, as the process of selling wine over the internet becomes more common, relying on tourists to deplete inventory will become less an issue. One can find out about the quality of a product in many ways and those ways need to be given more emphasis and investment in the wine industry than in the creation of the financially iffy and environmentally destructive construction of hundreds of tourist-centric wineries. The goal is to insure that the natural beauty and rural character of the place where it is made is not destroyed before the click-and-ship future of the industry arrives. As Supervisor Pedroza has said several times now, "once our open space is gone, it's gone."
Wine tourism lobbyists have previously presented to the county
the idea that visitation is necessary for the survival of the wine industry, and not just to feed the growth of the tourism industry. They will be presenting again this Wednesday (2/1716) at the Napa Planning Commission, probably with this report in hand.
The Vine Trail Discussion (updated)
|Bill Hocker - Jan 3, 2016 5:25PM Share
|Geoff Ellsworth - Jan 3, 2016 8:43PM |
I went up to visit the Ehlers Lane neighbors last week to look at the proposed Vine Trail route through their Ag and residential areas.
This would devastate their neighborhood and community in the same way a large Event Center Winery would devastate one of our neighborhoods.
While I'm sure we all support bicycling, this is about zoning encroachment and setting a precedent for recreational/commercial use of Ag Preserve land.
I believe the Vine Trail must stay along the existing major transportation corridors.
I've signed this petition
and hope we can build the signatures to over 500 by Tuesday
|Bill Hocker - Nov 20, 2015 5:24PM Share
Healdsburg Tribune 11/18/15: Call to stop ‘Napafication’ of county
In a public comment at the Nov 18th meeting of the Napa planning commission David Heitzman of the Defenders of the Napa Watersheds (DENW) asked the commissioners, and the rest of us, to google "napafication".
I did so and came across the above article about a Sonoma meeting two days earlier. "Napafication" has been used for some time in Sonoma to describe the negative impacts of tourism development, traffic and degradation of the natural landscape, as this LA Times article from 1999
attests. Salinas residents were also concerned about the trend in this article
in 2002. And another from Oregon
, and Canada
and this from an article
on a Long Island winery also from 1999: "Some locals worry about the potential Napafication of their pretty little corner of the world. Will it become commercial and overcrowded and lose its rural charm?" I don't think one could find a more succinct definition of the phenomenon.
I also discovered it used in articles on the a spanish wine region
and on a mexican tequila region
not necessarily as a pejorative but as examples of how singular regional agriculture can be exploited as the base for a tourist economy. The residents of those places had yet to feel the impacts of napafication, I suspect.
While "like Disneyland" or "like Las Vegas" are often referred to as similes for the conversion of an authentic community or environment into a tourist trap, I could find no word other than "napafication" as a synonym for the process. What does that say about the world's image of this place?
Unfortunately my naive assumption for the last two years has been that the tourist commercialization of the next door property in my remote mountain retreat was a recent trend. We just had to lobby hard and present some common sense about the obvious negative impacts of tourism development to the good people of this county to nip a disease in the bud. Unfortunately, it seems that Napa was in fact the source of the disease long ago, and, like a phylloxera, has spread to wine growing regions everywhere. Tourists to the Napa Valley have been carrying the napafication bug on their shoes to the remote corners of the world ever since Robert Mondavi opened the prototype for the tourism event center in 1966.
Can napafication be rooted out at its source? Too late, I'm afraid - we will have to continue living with the scars. But do we just give up, bear up under the traffic, let the vines wither to make way for wine themed event centers and vine-garnished parking lots that recall a storied past like the grape crusher presiding over Meritage's potemkin vineyard. In a hundred years will the world's only image of this place be the term "napafied" applied to a thousand winery tourist traps around the world?
There is still much of Napa county, like Soda Canyon Road, and like much of the watersheds, that has remained un-napafied. The threats are there - napafication projects have been proposed. Does the county have the courage to halt the spread of this disease bearing its name? And once arrested, does the county have the courage and foresight to begin a recovery, where possible, of its agrarian health currently threatened by the development of ever more tourism infrastructure? I would like to think that the world's source of this affliction might also become the source of the strategies, the policies, in a word, the "de-napafication" necessary for remission.
Traffic and taxes may save us
|Bill Hocker - Oct 23, 2015 8:42PM Share
NVR LTE: Why are hospitality taxes so high?
In an article in the NY times
last year the writer suggested that prices and traffic had made the Valley a less-than-perfect getaway. Time for real afficionados to have an authentic wine experience in Oregon, something that some Napa Valley residents have also begun to recognize. As this LTE exemplifies, Napa's failure to stem the addiction of municipalities and the wine industry to tourism dollars - while converting an authentic wine industry into a tourist attraction and our roads into gridlock - may prove a quicker cure to our tourist problems than all of the 3 minute exhortations, and tens of thousands spent on opposition consultants. Perhaps the best solution might be to get out of the way and let unenlightened self interest sort things out.
Your tax dollars at work
|Bill Hocker - Oct 20, 2015 12:18PM Share
Glenn Schreuder sends this photo of the Napa Farm-to-Flight bag that his lunch came in while at the airport on his way to the Bahamas. Supervisor Luce assured me that the $5.6 million the county gives to Visit Napa Valley
from TOT taxes is just to even out the flow of tourists, not to create more tourism. I hope the patrons at the airport understand that.
A wine selling strategy worth pursuing
|Bill Hocker - Oct 16, 2015 11:06AM Share
SF Chron 10/15/15: Can Napa Sustain The Dream Of The Idyllic Winery?
My takeaway: A winery tasting room near where the tourists gather (like copia
?) is more efficient than luring the tourists into the vineyards. It is a trend that we need to encourage. Unfortunately, I suspect that Rudy Von Strasser's property is worth a good deal more as an event center site than as a source of grapes, and that we will end up with more building development in new and old locations.
Dario Sattui's view of the situation
|Bill Hocker - Oct 10, 2015 9:14AM Share
Wine Industry and the Future of the Napa Valley
Mr. Sattui was not shy about expressing himself in the APAC meetings, nor is he here in this letter to Supervisor Luce. His statement was submitted in response, no doubt, to the Planning Commission's recommendation to the BOS to amend the primary definition of agriculture in the General Plan to insure that the "marketing of wine" is a "clearly incidental and subordinate" accessory use to agricultural processing. There is clearly nothing incidental or subordinate about Mr. Sattui's Castello di Amorosa when it comes to the marketing of wine. It would seem that he envisions many more such ersatz monuments covering the hills and the valley of the county, providing entertaining experiences for generations of tourists to come. If residents don't like it, then move.
Mr. Sattui, with some of the deepest roots in the wine industry in California, perhaps has a greater sense of the historical trajectory of his industry and of this place than us newcomers. It may be that his vision is inevitable and that our efforts to save this place through his first suggested alternative, stopping development, is doomed. Unfortunately his second alternative, the unfettered development (beyond public safety concerns) of the Napa Valley as a tourist destination to rival, perhaps, Waikiki or Las Vegas may be the future of his industry, but this place will be gone.
Hudson Vineyards Winery - Oct 7th
|Bill Hocker - Oct 1, 2015 4:12PM Share
A new event center winery is coming up before the planning commission on Oct. 7th: 80,000 gal/yr, 66,000sf (inc 33,000 sf of caves) 27,000 visitors/yr. on a 166 acre property in Carneros. Item 9A on the agenda here
What's interesting here is the first use of Dir. Morrison's more comprehensive charts designed to help the planning commission in determining the appropriateness of the requests before them. The charts for the project are here.
Several things are now quite apparent: 1. this project is a bit smallish compared to its public winery neighbors but largish compared to its by-appt. neighbor. 2. It is over the top in building size (4x) , and visitation (2-2.5x) compared to other similar capacity wineries throughout the county. (the median calc on the by-appt wineries looks like it's off)
This is also the first opportunity to try out the two criteria categories and see if they help to arrive at an appropriate project.
The project is quite frankly a clean and low key "napaesque" design
, tucked away in the hills on a very large site. Is water a problem - probably not given the reservoir. I could be wrong but is seems that there may be no neighbors that will complain. Its impacts will be only those of the additional traffic its visitors and employees will generate at the already clogged interchanges along 29 south of Napa and the additional people it encourages to come to Napa Valley requiring hotels and restaurants. Those cumulative impacts are, of course, what everyone is complaining about. The county's Hudson page is here
Tourism über alles
|Bill Hocker - Sep 21, 2015 10:28PM Share
NVR LTE 9/21/15: Rural tourism is essential to state's economic future
Visit California's take on WineryLand in Disneyfornia.
What can one say? Ginna Beharry's online response is worth repeating:
RURAL TOURISM? Sounds a bit like an oxymoron. How "rural" will an experience be if the visitor is stuck in traffic for an hour? Does a $165 food and wine pairing constitute a "rural" experience? The return on "marketing investment" spent by Visit California fails to take into consideration the cost of tourism to the local residents - the cost of deterioration of infrastructure, the use of water, the costs of disposing of waste created by tourists, the social cost of the low wage jobs created by the industry. No mention of balance in this article. Where's the tipping point? How many tourists can you cram into a "rural" experience before it doesn't feel rural any longer?
Short term rentals for long term decline
The murky waters of visitation
|Bill Hocker - Sep 2, 2015 10:33PM Share
NVR 9/2/15: Planners say winery visitation plan nearly at hand
9/2/15 Agenda letter
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.
Process grapes not tourists!
Let's survey residents about the tourism industry.
|Bill Hocker - Aug 14, 2015 3:58PM Share
NVR: Local residents view wine industry positively, survey reports
As usual there is not one use of the word "tourism" in the article, just as the word is never used at APAC meetings and rarely in the County General Plan. Am I the only one who sees a difference between the wine industry and the tourism industry? People who like the wine industry but don't like its traffic are in fact conflating the two, just as the county does (perhaps in good faith) and as winery event center developers do (in their own self-interest). If you've been to any real agricultural region you know that traffic congestion is not a major concern. If you've been to tourist traps you know that traffic is always a problem.
In Napa it isn't just winery tourists and the winery tourism workers that are causing the problem (although they do cause 20% of the traffic which is not a small amount). It is also the tourism infrastructure that the municipalities supply, and their employees, all of those restaurant, hotel, resort, limo, and catering workers that must commute because they can't afford to live here. And there is the army of people and equipment needed to build the tourism infrastructure, new buildings, new roads, new sewers, electrical grids, and of course eventually new housing, new schools, new fire stations and wastewater treatment plants. And of course new jails. And more workers to quarry the all the aggregate necessary for all these projects.
The argument is out there that much of the traffic is generated by institutional employees (some of the largest single employers in the county) . Even if this were true, which it is not, those are not population growth industries. Neither is the wine industry, even counting commuting vineyard workers and cellar rats . Only the tourism industry in Napa county is a growth industry and the growth is exponential as more and more workers are needed to handle the ever increasing daily influx of visitors.
Please, lets stop asking what residents think of the wine industry and start asking them what they think of the tourism industry. The wine industry makes this a desirable place to live because it has maintained a lovely rural community, a rarity in this urban world. The tourism industry makes this an undesirable place to live because it is replacing the rurality with urban ills. One traffic jam at a time. Lets stop confusing the two.
Mike Hackett LTE in the Star
2014 tourism industry statistics (updated)
|Norma Tofanelli - Aug 11, 2015 2:15PM Share
Visit Napa Valley 2014 Visitor Profile
Visit Napa Valley 2014 Economic Impact Report
Wonder why the roads are clogged?
- 2014 visitor count up 11% and tourism jobs (mostly hotel and restaurant low paying) = 11,776
- Low income, high housing costs = most of those 12,000 employees commute
- Low-wage jobs, commuting employees and lots of day-trippers: 2.21 mil of 3.39 mil visitors per year
- Nearly one in three lodging guests joined a wine club (29.7%).
- The majority of intercept respondents reported high likelihood to purchase and take home wine. Day trip and VFR visitors were asked their likelihood of purchasing wine to take home. Two-thirds of these visitors were “Likely” (25.6%) or “Very likely” (42.6%) to buy wine to take home.
- Two-thirds of lodging guests surveyed bought wine to take home (66.5%).
- In 2014, Napa Valley visitors spent an average of $482.71 per day in-market. The bulk of this spending is attributed to wine bottles purchased at wineries ($130.64), followed by Restaurants ($124.97). Reported visitor spending usually covers more than one visitor. The average daily spending reported in the previous question covered an average of 2.2 persons.
- Napa Valley lodging guests commonly travel with one other person. Lodging guests were asked how many people stayed in their lodging room. Over three-fourths of lodging guests shared their room with one other person (77.8%). The average lodging room accommodated 2.2 persons.
NB Business Journal: Report: Napa tourism generates $1.6B
Visit Napa Valley website: Research & Statistics page
George Caloyannidis' letter on the DTC boondoggle.
Ving Direct: Vine Notes: Data dispel wine direct-sales myths, Part 1
(Myth No. 3: People are buying lots of wine when they visit you in Wine Country.)
Is the use of our resources and the traffic mess worth it? The article above says no - they use old Napa County visitor data (in 2012 the take was $10/visitor/winery) which prompted me to update with 2014 data - interesting.
Visit Napa Valley 2014 data
Average visitor spends $482.71 per day "in-market"
(reported spending covers more than one visitor - actually covers 2.2 visitors)
Wine bottles purchased at wineries = $130.64
And Average visitor went to 3.3 wineries per NV visit
130.64 / 2.2 visitors = $59.38 wine purchases at winery per visitor
59.38 / 3.3 wineries = $17.99 per visitor per winery
All this for $17.99 wine sales per visitor?
Bill Hocker adds:
In re-looking at the 2014 visitor profile one statistic that jumped out was a question to visitors about how to enhance the Napa Valley experience:
5% wanted more wineries. 30% (6 times more than any other response) felt it was great as it is. Who will the county and the wine industry listen to?
Wine Tourism under the microscope
|Bill Hocker - Aug 3, 2015 10:38AM Share
Norma Tofanelli just forwarded a 2013 report done by the Portland State University School of Urban Studies and Planning to help guide the development of winery tourism in Oregon. While the conclusions seem to reinforce the wine industry embrace of tourism, the case studies (of the existing wine regions of Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, and Walla Walla) upon which their conclusions are based are very thorough. Done before the current community backlash against winery tourism, the Napa case study nonetheless gives a comprehensive look at the issues involved here. The comparison to the similar tourism issues confronting other wine growing regions is also instructive. I am amazed that this report has not surfaced in discussions before.
Managing Activities at Wineries: Building and Sustaining a Place-Based Brand
Cities should ban tourists
Who pays the costs of Tourism?
|George Caloyannidis - Jul 26, 2015 5:54PM Share
I have read with interest the two-part series by Pam Simpson, CEO of the St. Helena Chamber of Commerce, published in the St. Helena Star in which she analyzes the tourist contribution to the valley’s economy. Citing the findings of the recent Visitor Profile study that shows that in 2014 the annual visitor spending per Napa Valley resident was $11,741, she concludes: “This means $11,741 is the amount each Napa Valley resident would have to spend to keep our economy going if visitors were not here”. If it only were that simple.
There are about 147,000 residents in the Napa Valley and they host 3.5 million visitors. Together, they require an entire accommodating physical and service infrastructure including adequate road capacities, utilities, hotels, restaurants and retail stores. Unfortunately, our hospitality and retail section of the economy pay the lowest wages, with a median wage of around $22,000 while the Napa County Self Sufficiency Standard (SSS) for a single person is around $28,000 and the wine industry median wage is around $35,000 below the SSS for two adults with no children, which is around $39,000. This workforce commutes from outside the county and accounts for 25 percent of all traffic adding to the 16 percent of direct visitor traffic. The public pays the difference between the low tourism wages and the SSS through a variety of social programs.
If one interpolates the 2014 Fehr & Peers Travel Behavior Study data, the Napa Valley population increases during season by 1/3 from the influx of visitors and outside workers, and they come with costs in 13 different categories ranging from increased services, to the physical infrastructure: Fire and EMS, public safety and government facilities and services, road transportation, waste water and storm drain systems, water service facilities and increased cost of water. The associated workforce able to earn a decent SSS, requires mandated affordable housing, school system and parks and recreation facilities and not least, it has to cope with visitor caused cost of living increases which pushes the SSS farther out of reach to the spiral freefall of even more commuters.
Unfortunately, there are no studies that have quantified the actual costs of tourism but there are tangential studies regarding the comprehensive costs of resorts in Oregon, which offer strong indication that the $11,741 is likely to move from the positive to the negative side of the ledger.
One such study by Fodor & Associates for the Thornburg Resort in Dechutes County, Oregon (population 157,000)—a large mix of hotel, timeshare, full occupancy homes and golf courses—quantified only 6 of the 13 cost factors. They show a deficit for infrastructure capital improvements (or the proportional shared cost of existing improvements already paid for by the public) of $51 million. On the other hand, it shows a net annual revenue of $466,000 from room and other taxes and fees. When this net revenue is capitalized over 20 years, it still results in a net deficit of $46 million.
Making the matter worse is that by then, the infrastructure will require updating to the tune of several million dollars; one more spiral freefall.
A good local example is the multimillion dollar widening of Highway 29 just south of St. Helena for which every California resident is paying, solely necessitated by the population increase caused by the tourist industry and the types of jobs it creates. According to the 2007 Napa County draft environmental impact report, just to maintain level C road service by 2030, 6 lanes will be required from Vallejo to Yountville and 4 lanes for Yountville to St. Helena, or it will be bumper-to-bumper traffic. Just these costs will eat up not only any fiscal tourist contribution but leave an enormous gap to be borne once again by the public.
Napa County is in urgent need of a comprehensive study on the cost of growth that will calculate the net fiscal impact of the ever increasing visitation model. It is the only rational way by which from a purely fiscal point of view we can determine whether this is the way to, as Ms. Simpson writes, “keep our economy going”.
However, as dubious the fiscal model is, it is not the most important factor to consider, and that is whether we really want this way of “keeping our economy going”. Do we like the urban type traffic congestion in our supposedly agricultural area? The gradual displacement of neighborhoods by part-time residents? The inflationary impact and unsustainable local services? Do we want to end up Bowling Alone in the anonymity caused by the disproportionate influx of visitors in what Robert Putnam in his eponymous seminal book coined as “the loss of social capital”?
In the end, for whom do we keep this economy going?
Napa Valley Register Version 7/24/15: Does tourism really pay for itself?
Napa Valley for sale
|Bill Hocker - Jul 24, 2015 8:54AM Share
At the end of one of the planning commission meetings as a few people talked informally with Dir. Morrison he chided us, saying that things are not going to return to the way they were 40 years ago. "There's just too much money involved."
KCBS news: Family-Owned Napa, Sonoma County Wineries Getting Bought Up Like Tech Startups 7/24/15
One person interviewed said she liked Sonoma because it was not "the Disneyland of wineries". Where might that be?
The most consistent voice at the APAC meetings thus far has been for the concept of the 10 acre dream winery - to insure that there are places where someone just starting out can realize their ambition to mint a wine brand. If looked at in the tech analogy, such winery startups might just be seen as spec investments, funded perhaps with venture capital, built with the intention to get bought out by wealthy individuals or corporations. It does not bode well for the 4500 parcels in Napa County that can currently be occupied by wineries.
The Devil's vineyard
|George Caloyannidis - Jun 24, 2015 9:59PM Share
I just returned from a trip to Europe.
One of the visits was to the island of Sylt on Germany's North Sea. The island is connected to the mainland by bridge with road and train service. Its spectacular 25 mile long sandy beaches have always been the secret playground of the German rich and famous. Beautiful thatched roof homes used to comprise a cohesive country community, always a big part of the attraction.
In the last few decades, tourism discovered Sylt as an opportunity resource for exploitation. The massive proliferation of expensive hotels, second home buyers and Porches for rent have gradually pushed out the local population. The steadily diminishing number of children forced its first elementary school to close a few years ago, then the second one combined classrooms with children of different ages. Recently, the last school was forced to close leaving no alternative for the remaining children but to board the train to the mainland. Local residents complain that they no longer have neighbors they know or to talk to. While the local economy seems to be thriving, the social fabric has been torn to pieces. Low paying jobs are proliferating, the income gap stares one in the face... Stage 3.
The second, the historic city of Bruges in Belgium is as charming a mediaeval city as there is. Lovely steeped roofed brick homes, two incredible cathedrals, cobbled streets and canals bring tour bus after tour bus with 3 million tourists a year on to its 117,000 residents. Chocolate and waffle shops abound, restaurants are packed with tourists. The economy seems to thrive but the income gap widens. One can understand why locals hate living in what has become a Hansel and Gretel Disneyland... Stage 3.
Late last year, a few thousand locals staged massive protests against the onslaught of tourism in Barcelona. The least obscene banners proclaimed, "Don't step on Barcelona" and "Tourists don't trample on us". Similar scenario, with GDP declining and the national economy relying on EU bailouts. No difference in Portugal...Stage 3 1/2.
Greece which completely sold out to tourism after joining the EU, found out that the jobs it brought are the lowest paying ones. Subsidies to supplement them have proliferated and so have government jobs, the only ones paying decent wages. We all know how this bankrupt scenario has played out... Stage 4.
The literature on tourism generally recognizes 5 stages in its trajectory. The first, is purely supplemental and supportive to an existing economic base. Stage 2 leads to the local economy's increasing reliance on tourist dollars and is perceived by local governments and businesses as essential. Stage 3 sees the beginning dislocation of the local population, a gradual tearing of the social fabric, the proliferation of low paying jobs with the associated concentration of outsider investor wealth at the top. With those factors in place, turning back the clock is almost impossible. That process is irreversible by Stage 4. The deficit economy of tourism becomes evident as the 30 to 40-fold wear and tear of the infrastructure requires ever increasing funds for maintenance and further destructive expansion.
By stage 5, the Faustian Deal is complete. Local government has negotiated itself into the corner of no alternative than the vicious circle of even more and more tourism to pay the bill. It never catches up. Finally, tourism having left thriving communities in tatters both in terms of infrastructure and social capital, it moves on little by little to other destinations to devour.
The Napa Valley is steadily approaching the Stage 3 tipping point and the local population is starting to feel it in its bones.
Napa Valley Register version: Tourism's Faustian deal
(read the comments)
|Sandy Ericson - Jan 14, 2016 9:08AM |
R.W. Butler: Tourist area life cycles synopsis
and the full article
It just occurred to me that this is the "Platex Strategy" again! In the lingerie garment industry Platex would place a big order from the manufacturer . The company was thrilled and went out and bought machines, rented space and hired workers to make the order -- they could not turn down the order. The next order was for a lower price but the company had debts by then and so had to accept the price. The next order was even lower. Until you can guess the outcome but by then Platex was on to another company. In the industry this was a famous case study in business schools.
Millions Visit Napa Valley - more to come
|Bill Hocker - Jun 15, 2015 12:32AM Share
On Tuesday, June 16th 2015 the Board of Supervisors will consider a $5,600,000 appropriation for Visit Napa Valley to continue its effort to flood the county with ever more tourists. The agenda letter is here.
NVR: As Napa Valley's prestige increases, so do visitors
"Tourism is one of the largest industries in the Napa Valley" the article states. (No other industry was mentioned.) Members of the tourism industry positively gushed about the amounts of money and people coming into the county. At the current 6% rate of increase the visitor population will grow from 3.3 mil to 6 million visitors in 10 years. “Napa is just becoming internationally well known as a destination” a tour operator states. "We’re very pleased with the significant increase in international visitation" says the president of Visit Napa Valley. That number is currently increasing 44% per year which might mean 16.4 million international visitors alone in 10 years.
These projections represent a 2 to 6 fold increase in the number of tourists and venues and hotel rooms and workers and traffic and infrastructure, all over the next 10 years. The tourism industry didn't seem to see any downside to the numbers.
Many have indicated that county planning decisions need to be based on data. Visit Napa Valley has provided some data that implies a very large amount of development required in the future. Much has already begun. Perhaps 70 winery projects have been approved but are still unbuilt. Perhaps 50 more are in the planning department awaiting approval. Major hotel and resort and worker housing projects are in the works. But much more will be needed if Visit Napa Valley continues its success. And with each development the agricultural base of the county is more at peril.
Visit Napa Valley has done its part in helping create the "reliable market" seen in the WDO for Napa wine. But an ever increasing amount of tourism is having impacts on the character of our community and the ultimate viability of agricultural in an increasingly urban environment. Perhaps the goal should now be to maintain that level of visitation as is going forward while the county begins to deal with its impacts. And perhaps the Supervisors should consider an equal effort in creating a reliable market for Napa wine, particularly the small labels that seem the most anxious to sell their wines directly to customers, beyond the borders of the county.
The Butler Report on Tourist Area Life Cycles
more info here
My letter to BOS re Visit Napa Valley funding
Letter to Supervisors on Visit Napa Valley Funding
|Bill Hocker - Jun 12, 2015 3:29PM Share
An open letter to the Napa County Board of Supervisors,
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the appropriation of fiscal 2015-16 funds for the Napa Valley Tourism Improvement District, aka Visit Napa Valley. As you know their 2014 visitor studies were recently reviewed in this NVR article: As Napa Valley's prestige increases, so do visitors
It will seem churlish perhaps to take issue with a government agency that has by all measure been a great success in dealing with the tasks assigned to it. The NVTID has done more than its fair share in adding to the "reliable market" for Napa wines envisioned in the WDO. But, as has been discussed throughout the last year, and as the county has acknowledged through the creation of APAC, and as the planning department proposals on visitation acknowledge, tourism into the county has impacts. As many have argued this last year, the development impacts of tourism and of the expanding workforce and services necessary to cater to it, will, if left unchecked, change not only the physical character of the county that we treasure but will also make less viable the agricultural resource you strive to protect.
The numbers reported in the article are presented as a great blessing, with members of the tourism industry gushing about the amounts of money and numbers of people coming into the county. But the visitation numbers also foretell a darker omen. Overall visitation has increased 6% per year since 2012. At that rate of increase, the visitor population will double from 3.3 mil to 6 million visitors in 10 years. Referring just to the international visitation, there has been a 44% per year increase. If Visit Napa Valley continues its success rate, there will be 16. 2 million international visitors alone in 10 years.
These projections represent a 2 to 6 fold increase in the number of tourists to be accommodated in the county in the next decade - not a long time in planning terms. That implies a similar 2 to 6 fold increase of event venues and accommodations and hospitality workers and tourism traffic and infrastructure, all in the next 10 years.
Many have indicated over the last year that county planning decisions need to be based on data. Visit Napa Valley has provided data that implies a very large amount of development required in the future. Much has already begun. Perhaps 70 winery projects have been approved but are still unbuilt. Perhaps 50 more are in the planning department awaiting approval. Major hotel and resort and worker housing projects are in the works. But much, much more will be needed if Visit Napa Valley continues the trajectory of its current success. And with each new development the agricultural landscape and the rural nature of our community, treasured by resident and visitor alike, is diminished.
I would urge you to take this opportunity to begin re-looking at the direct-to-consumer dogma, promoted by the tourism industry, that encourages tourism as the principal means of developing a reliable market for smaller Napa brand wines. No doubt many small wineries have a hard time reaching a market beyond the county borders, particularly if owners are unwilling to do the leg-work that their predecessors in the valley had to do to survive. But tourists-through-the-door is not the only way to promote their viability, and the county should put as much effort into developing alternative marketing strategies as they have into the tourism strategy.
Bricks-and-mortar retail is disappearing in the digital age and it will happen in the wine industry as well. The county should put its resources behind an internet sales portal for small Napa wineries. It should encourage alternative, less profit oriented, distribution organizations to market smaller labels. It should encourage tastings and sales through small-label wine markets in the municipalities giving the visitors that are here exposure to the many labels. It should support advertising campaigns not for tourism but for wine. The county might even consider supporting a Napa small-wine boutique in Hong Kong
. Most importantly the county should drastically reduce the visitation allowed at wineries. Wineries should represent a need to process fruit, not a desire to process tourists.
Granted the revenues to the county from these solutions may be less than tourism development fees and TOT. But the support of agriculture as the best and highest use of the land is also not the most profitable use of the land. The county's fundamental commitment is to support an agriculture-based economy. Tourism is in competition for the land and water resources necessary for an agricultural economy.
As your predecessor, Mel Varrelman, recognized: "Tourism is a very destructive thing, I mean, anybody who thinks otherwise is just not thinking it through very clearly." We need solutions to maintain the wine industry and its agricultural resource that don't rely on ever increasing development. Please, begin to think through those solutions now.
3460 Soda Canyon Road
Agricultural protection vs tourism
The direct-to-consumer boondoggle
|George Caloyannidis - Apr 17, 2015 9:20PM Share
The Direct to Consumer Sales Model, April, 2015.
The premise that the wine sales model has changed, requiring direct sales for wineries to survive, which the County believes is basically false. For it to be understood in terms of implementing policy, it must be recognized for what it is and separated into its different components.
While in Los Angeles, I spoke to two people in the wine distribution, brokerage, retail and import trade. They have been at it for as long as I have known them; 40 years.
The 3-tier sales system is alive and well. No new laws have changed it.
What is true is that the number of distributors has become smaller due to consolidation and the large distributors prefer large volume wineries. Though fewer, they sell more wine than ever before.
However, the slack has been picked up by many more wine brokers who handle smaller wineries. Scores of them would love to sell the many wines that wineries choose to sell directly to customers.
But, just as before, direct sales are more profitable, eliminating the middle tier costs of storage, commissions etc. Nothing new.
There are two ways to sell wine direct: One is benign and one is destructive.
DIRECT SALES/WINERY EVENTS:
Direct sales are easier to implement than they have ever been. In addition to winery trade tastings, winemaker dinners at markets around the country, the internet has provided a powerful new tool for developing a direct sales data base and increased winery profits.
Trade tastings and winemaker dinners involve travel and hard work which the new winery owners are not willing to engage. They prefer the easier way and have convinced the County that this is an issue of survival. And the County keeps accommodating them with increased visitation rights. It is a short sighted policy.
Direct sales as such have no direct impact on the valley. Entertainment at the wineries is another story.
The concept of bringing the customer to the winery, instead of taking the winery to the customer is not the result of "the changing marketing reality". It must be recognized for what it is [event related] and the consequences it has for everyone.
More tourist traffic and more hotel rooms, the primary drivers of an accelerating low wage job market, create more commuter traffic, diminished quality of life, more use of the infrastructure and its deficit maintenance/expansion/replacement costs which are borne by the community at large. All for the benefit of very few who are not willing to put in the work.
Any formula which increases the number of winery visitors unleashes this destructive chain. Tying visits to production levels will only increase the applications for increased productions.
This chain of consequences gradually transforms the agricultural character of the valley to one of retail entertainment. It is a slippery slope and it lies at the root of the increased search of new definitions and variances, around what constitutes agricultural or commercial use.
We should not be having this debate.
40 Winery projects in the hopper 1/26/15
|Jim Wilson - Feb 16, 2015 9:20AM Share
I asked John McDowell for a list of current winery projects. This is what he has. Brian Bordona wrote to say he'll have a list of winery projects by next week. Geoff requested this information be kept updated and posted like St. Helena does.
This is good information to have in weighing cumulative impacts and for staying ahead of the public notices, such as the Anthem neighbors are determined to do.
John Mc Dowell responds:
PBES Descretionary Project List 1-26-15.pdf
Current Planning projects list attached. It is updated about once a month by
our Supervising Planner, Charlene Gallina. Hopefully we will be able to get
this up on our webpage soon, but we have some IT logistics to work through
Vineyard projects are handled by our Conservation Division and the Supervising
Planner in that section is Brian Bordona who is out sick. I'm pretty sure he
isn't going to make it back to work this week, and I don't know how to get to
Geoff Ellsworth adds:
Hi, St. Helena doesn't do this either but the suggestion has been brought up, I think it is necessary at this point
Chris Malan adds:
This is useful and puts things into persceptive for Vision 2050 Coalition, and perhaps we need the same table for vineyards in the pipeline. Jim can you ask David or Brian Bordona for the same on vineyards? We really need the County's list of all development projects-one supervisor said there are 90.
This should be posted on the County website.
Bill Hocker adds:
There is always the list on sodacanyonroad.org at http://sodacanyonroad.org/forum.php?t=179#usepermits
. There are 41 new wineries or major modifications currently in the planning dept. There is also a map at http://sodacanyonroad.org/forum.php?p=589
on which I have begun to plot all of the non-winery developments as well.
If someone comes up with a vineyard conversion list I wlll put it up as well.
Gary Margadant adds:
Thanks Bill. My friend and colleague up here on this mountain, Russ Wilsey, is wily in the ways of computers and Database and one of my main backups.
80 Pending use-permit Applications?
|Bill Hocker - Jan 18, 2015 12:53PM Share
Norma Tofanelli sends this link:
Counties grapple with winery outreach directly to consumers
I have requested info on applications in the pipeline from Charlene Gallina at the Planning Department and will post it here when available. In August the planning department produced this table of projects
in their pipeline which included 26 new wineries or major modifications (in pink). At a meeting in November Mr. Morrison indicated that perhaps 15 additional applications had come in. I've been using the number 40 in describing the backlog. The 80 may include minor modifications as well - we'll see when and if I get the info.
Update 2/11/15: 41 new wineries and major modifications in the hopper as of this date.
Sustainability versus Napa Valley tourism
Great Wines Don't Need Tourists
|Bill Hocker - Aug 20, 2014 4:09PM Share
Someone happened to mention the cult wine producer Screaming Eagle
yesterday and so I looked up their website. This note on the site's FAQ made a great impression:
"Can I visit the property?
We are sorry to report that the property cannot accommodate tours and that because of the extremely small quantity of wine produced we do not offer tastings."
The lesson I took from this: Great wines don't need tourists.
The very well regarded Dominus Estate
, recently involved in opposing the proposed mega-tourist attraction Yountville Hill Winery, is also a tourist-free zone.
Given all of the pleadings that some vintners make that their survival depends on tourist sales, these two examples make me wonder how many other of the valley's greatest winemakers feel no need to cater to tourists to sell their wines. And while those wineries that allow no visitors are probably rare, there are many wineries, like White Rock Vineyards
on our road, that have managed to sell extremely good wines for decades with a very modest amount of by-appointment tastings. It does make me wonder if extensive marketing plans might, in fact, be a sign of second rate wines.
These examples reaffirm my belief that tourism at wineries should only include tours and tastings. Food (well, except maybe crackers) should be banned. "Events" belong in the hotels and resorts and restaurants located within the city limits as is intended in the general plan. Wineries may belong in the vineyards (although I think we've reached a saturation level) - but entertainment does not. The inclusion of "and may include food service without charge to except to the extent of cost recovery when provided in association with such education of development" is one of 2 original sins in the 1990 WDO. It needs to be struck. (The other is the ambiguous "or members of a particular group for which the activity is being conducted on a pre-arranged basis", meaning, like, anyone on earth. That also needs to be struck.)
The St. Helena Window on Tourism
|Bill Hocker - Aug 17, 2014 11:41AM Share
Sandy Erickson has an excellent page devoted to Tourism
on her St. Helena Window site. It includes a synopsis of the Butler Report on Tourism Life Cycles along with other references which summarize exactly the context being confronted by the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commissioner in their current search for direction to the county's future. Her page is essential background for the community discussion we will be having in the weeks and months ahead.
Updated additions to my tourism use permit roster
Peter Jensen on Winery audit 2013
The Butler Report on Tourist Area Life Cycles
|Sandy Ericson - Jul 11, 2014 12:25PM Share
[Email from Sandy Ericson of the St. Helena Window
sent to supervisors and commissioners]
Dear Supervisors and Planning Commissioners:
In view of the recurring requests for greater tourism facilities and the accompanying community backlash, this may be a good time to review the Butler Report, a famously quoted study and an effective "head's up" for geographic areas contemplating the growth of tourism. It is an area fraught with unintended consequences for those new to the game. For instance, this spring, within the City of St. Helena, citizens successfully used the Referendum process to defeat a revision of the Small Winery Ordinance which opened neighborhoods to commercial wineries and events. At some point, this will likely happen on the County level as well.
Here is a synopsis of the Butler Report:
Butler Report Synopsis
the full paper is here
The SHWindow Tourism Page
A Faustian Bargain
|Bill Hocker - Jun 23, 2014 2:42PM Share
I sent this in response to Geoff Ellsworth's appeal for a few lines on cumulative impacts to present to the BOS on June 24th.:
At what point will the county, nominally intent on preserving an agrarian economy, begin to realize that it has made a Faustian bargain with the tourism-development industry? Equating tourism with agriculture means the vineyards will slowly be consumed by tourist facilities with their event centers, parking lots and accessory wineries. And then the vineyards will be consumed by the resort, hotel, road and commercial development necessary to house, feed, transport and entertain tourists. And then they will be consumed by the housing developments and schools and shopping malls necessary for the workers and contractors that must service a tourist economy. And then the vineyards will be consumed because nobody will care what the valley once used to be. It is past time to recognize that not only is tourism not agriculture, it is an existential threat to agriculture. Tourism development, like all forms of development, is the realization of an economy of maximized profits that the ag preserve was created to counter. If the county still wants an agricultural economy, then It is time to find a new bargain that saves our imperiled rural environment. If not, then bring in the tourists and let the devil have his due.
Combined BOS / Planning Commission meeting to discuss winery-tourism
|Bill Hocker - May 16, 2014 9:02AM Share
Combined BOS / Planning Commission meeting to discuss winery-tourism
agenda item 9E
The agenda summary is here
A Video of the Joint BOS/PC meeting is here
item 9E starts at about 9:45.
Date: Tues May 20th, 2014
Time: 9:00 am
Location: Napa County Building
Combined Board of Supervisors Planning Commission meeting to discuss:
1. Noticing procedures (enlarge the 300' neighborhood noticing requirement for new proposed projects)
2. Winery visitation, marketing and cumulative growth impact analysis (Cumulative effects of approved and future winery-tourism projects)
3. Environmental Impact Report process (reliance on applicants paid consultants for project analysis)
4. Climate Action Plan status (current status of County' greenhouse gas reduction policy)
Tourism or agriculture?
|Bill Hocker - May 15, 2014 10:11PM Share
This letter is in response to Peter Jensen’s recent article “Pelosi family wins delay of winery project
“ on May 8.
The consideration of two new winery projects by the Planning Commission brings up once again the impacts that the loosening of tourism-marketing restrictions in the 2010 revision to the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO) is bringing to the county.
As a resident of upper Soda Canyon Road faced with the possible location of a winery-tourism project in my neighborhood, I have become quite sensitized to the concerns of residents, and perhaps some vintners, all over the county that are confronting the same intrusions into the rural life they thought they had found in the Napa Valley.
These projects, the Castelucci Family Winery and Titus Vineyards and Winery, are just this month’s examples of how the development pressures released by the change to the WDO (and the enactment of the State’s Evans Bill in 2008 allowing on-site consumption of wine purchased at wineries) are playing out.
The Agricultural Preserve was created in 1968 in the knowledge that small-scale agriculture cannot compete profitably with almost any other land-use endeavor. The Ag Preserve was set up to drastically limit what Napa County land could be used for beyond agriculture. But developers have always been pressing against the dykes of the Preserve trying to find a way to turn Napa land to more profitable use. American Canyon was created in 1992 to relieve pressure against the rest of the County.
The Winery Definition Ordinance of 1990 was a similar response to the development pressure. Wineries and wine tourism, industrial and commercial activities in any other part of the world, were redefined as part of the agricultural process. The tourism was heavily restricted, but it was a crack in the dyke.
In 2010, the tourism restrictions were eased, to allow “marketing plans” that included meetings and events of almost any kind (short of weddings) and to allow “wine pairings” or the serving of food with wine, allowing the wineries to become in essence restaurants. Combined with the Evans bill, the profitability scales tipped and development proposals have been coming in at the rate of several per month for the last few years.
In the last year alone, proposals amounting to more than 1 million gallons per year in winery production capacity, 300,000 square feet of increased winery area, and 500,000 new visitor allowances have come before the Planning Commission. One new tourism-winery is being added to the county each month and existing wineries are beefing up marketing plans and infrastructure to tap into this new wave of tourism.
Each new project impairs the maintenance of the Ag Preserve. The Titus Vineyard most clearly shows the threat: 3 vineyard acres of the 31-acre property have been removed from true agriculture and are now devoted to industrial and tourism uses. That nibbling away of agricultural land in these developments was best described in one of the 1990 WDO “findings of fact”:
“(f) The cumulative effect of such projects is far greater than the sum of individual projects. The interspersing of non-agricultural structures and activities throughout agricultural areas in excess of what already exists will result in a significant increase in the problems and costs of maintaining vineyards and discourage the continued use of the land for agricultural use.”
The other threat to the Ag Preserve lies in the tourism numbers. The combined allowed visitors (34,000 per year, by my calculation) in these projects, along with the other half million new visitors per year permitted in the last year will all need hotels and restaurants and parking lots and bathrooms — all of which require land and water that currently belongs to the Ag Preserve.
Tourism and agriculture are not mutually compatible, each requiring for different purposes the land and water resources that seem to be in ever shorter supply. If the concessions to tourism made in the 2010 WDO are not removed, the tourism they are spawning will continue to nibble at those resources until the vineyards, like the fishing villages of Cape Cod, become only a prop to justify tourism.
The WDO argued that wineries are integral to agriculture, and that accessory uses (like wine marketing and tourism) were to be subordinated to agricultural use.
I may be wrong, but I would guess that if the tourism components of new projects were eliminated, the wineries would not be considered; that the positions of agriculture and tourism have been reversed from that intended in the WDO, with tourism and marketing profitability driving the decision to build a winery, not the need to process grapes. (Indeed vintners are already concerned that winery capacity has overtaken their ability to supply the necessary Napa grapes.)
It is past time for the Board of Supervisors to decide if Napa County is to base its economy on agriculture, or on the more profitable economy of tourism. It is just that imbalance in profitability that the Ag Preserve was created to guard against in the first place.
Tourism, regulated at its current level, will undoubtedly consume and deface the rural environment that is the legacy of the Ag Preserve, the loss of an environment treasured by residents, vintners and tourists alike. It is time to re-look at the unfortunate decisions made in 2010.
NVR LTE version 5/15/14: Agriculture cannot keep up with tourism-based economy
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