Walt Ranch


Oct 14, 2014

"God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools."
- John Muir


Two groups have been formed to oppose the Walt Ranch vineyard conversion project on the oak woodlands of the Miliken and Capell Creek watersheds, 350 vineyard acres on a 2,300 acre property that Kathryn and Craig Hall bought for $8mil in 2005 at the eastern end of Foss Valley on the south slope of Atlas Peak. With the approval of the Walt Ranch Draft EIR in July, this project has generated active opposition from the Circle Oaks community that it will surround who have formed the Defenders of the East Napa Watersheds (DENW), and from the Montecello Road community that is the access to the project and the Atlas Peak Road community that will also suffer the effects of water depletion on the Milliken Creek watershed who have formed the Watersheds Alliance for Atlas Peak (WAAP). Other watershed issues are discussed on our Watershed Issues page.

Update 12/07/16: The Board of Supervisors have denied all appeals of the PC approval of the FEIR, 5-0.

Update 11/19/16: Appeals to the BOS by DENW, Living Rivers Council, Circle Oaks, Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club of the FEIR approval. See calendar for dates.

Update 8/1/16: Final Notice of approval for the Walt Ranch ECP

Update 6/13/16:The County has issued a Tentative Decision to approve the Reduced Intensity Alternative (RIA) which seems to include a reduction in the total development area from 500 down to 400 acres. (Who will check, one wonders?)

Update 2/29/16: The Final Environmental Impact Report has been issued for the project. The FEIR will be presented at a special hearing on April 4th.
The notice for the hearing is here
The County's Walt Ranch page including the FEIR is here

Documents
Final Notice of approval for the Walt Ranch ECP
City of Napa's concerns about the FEIR
DENW Website
Walt Ranch Factsheet
County documents and Draft EIR on the Walt Ranch Vineyard Conversion
The John Harrington Opposition Letter
Audio of the Nov. 12th, 2014 hearing is here
Walt Ranch FEIR promotional mailer

Articles:
NVR 4/2/17: Walt Ranch development, Syar quarry expansion proceeding slowly amid legal challenges
NVR 1/21/17: Walt Ranch approvals head to court
NVR 12/20/16: Napa County supervisors complete Walt Ranch approvals
NVR 12/6/16: Napa County supervisors endorse controversial Walt Ranch
NVR 12/5/16: Napa supervisors poised to make Walt Ranch decision
Nancy Tamerisk LTE 12/3/16: Walt Ranch's unresolved issues
Patricia Damery LTE 12/1/16 version: Walt Ranch needs better environmental evaluation
NVR 11/15/16: Napa's Walt Ranch vineyard controversy goes to supervisors
Heitzman LTE 11/15/16: Is Walt Ranch project really that simple?
Stephen Donoviel LTE 8/28/16: Articles highlight the contrast between art and reality on oak woodlands
NVR LTE 8/16/16: Visiting wild Napa Valley: A traveler's view
NVR 8/16/16: City of Napa, Walt Ranch reach agreement on water quality
Stephen Donoviel LTE 7/21/16: Reject Walt Ranch
Jerry Cohn LTE 5/31/16: Who is accountable if they're wrong?
Pettigrew LTE 4/16/16: Death by a thousand cuts
NVR 4/4/16: Decision on Walt Ranch expected June 13
NVR 4/2/16: Walt Ranch heads to Monday showdown
NVR 3/16/16: Caltrans seeking fix for collapsed section of Highway 121
NVR 3/13/16: EIR for Walt Ranch addresses water runoff, tree loss
When is enough enough?
Reconsider new vineyard on Atlas Peak
Development will affect county's balance of nature
Craig Hall responds to Walt Ranch critics
Public sessions planned for controversial Walt Ranch vineyard proposal
Walt Ranch: Too Much
What Then, is Napa County?
Walt Ranch neighbors want to meet
Halt Walt and beyond
County to host meeting on Walt Ranch report
Walt Ranch: Not the way to go
Development affects wildlife habitats
Walt Ranch would do aesthetic harm
Walt Ranch will destroy Circle Oaks
Walt Ranch will destroy natural treasure
Walt Ranch opponents deliver petition
Circle Oaks fills role as Napa niche community
Will Walt Ranch hurt groundwater supply?
Napa fears Walt Ranch could hurt city reservoir
Walt Ranch should concern everyone
SH Star 8/5/14: Hall Wines vineyard project concerns neighbors
Wines & Vines 1/6/09: Major Vineyards Proposed in Napa
Wine Spectator 1/31/05: Kathryn Hall Vineyards Buys 2,300-Acre Napa Ranch

Posts


You must log in to add comments  | Share this topic
68 comments



Walt Ranch Appeals Denied


Bill Hocker - Dec 20, 2016 6:39PM  Share #1340
Moving ever closer
Day 4

NVR 12/20/16: Napa County supervisors complete Walt Ranch approvals

I was pleased to read that the Living Rivers Council also had taken up the issue of future developement of the Walt properties for housing once a water system and all weather road system are in place. The county again apparently has dismissed such subsequent development potential as pure speculation, implying, as before, that the CEQA requirement to consider the growth inducing impacts of a project don't apply in this case becuse that owners haven't proposed a housing project.

Day 3

NVR 12/6/16: Napa County supervisors endorse controversial Walt Ranch
NVR 12/5/16: Napa supervisors poised to make Walt Ranch decision
Video of the day 3 hearing (12/4/16)

WIth modest discussion, they made their decision: ALL APPEALS DENIED 5-0

Kudos to Sup. Wagenknecht for bringing up the "speculative" possibility of home development on the 35 parcels of Walt Ranch. It is the first time that any public official or staff member has brought up the issue beyond the terse dismissal in the EIR that the developer didn't propose housing so we don't have to discuss it. In fact, once he raised the question about the probability of the vineyard development making the parcels more salable for home development and the impact that might have on water demand, there seemed to be an uncomfortable silence in the chamber as staff and supervisors mentally wrestled with a need to respond to a subject that has been completely taboo during the entire EIR process.

Staff seemed compelled to state that once the EIR was approved there would be no more public review of future home developments on Walt Ranch and that such development could proceed by right requiring only ministerial (non-public) decisions. Sup. Caldwell, pointing to the wide variety of development allowed by the zoning that could occur on the properties (including up to 105 dwelling units), asked for a clarification on the road upgrading that might be required. Dir. Morrison responded that the ministerial review would likely require the improvemment of roads to state mandated requirements but that was just more speculation. And then, after 8 years, this one and only brief governmental interest in the potential conversion of 2300 acres of virgin forested watershed into a housing project was dropped, and the project was approved.

Most interesting was Sup. Luce's impatient and enthusiastic motion to deny the appeals (and his ironic support of the development industry that had just kicked him out of office) as well as Sup. Dillon's "it's vineyards or houses, folks" canard [a pre-Internet post-truth] knowing that Walt Ranch will eventually be a vineyard estate housing development. She also ungraciously accused the appellants, whom she was about to hammer with her decision, of "post-truth" lying.

Day 2
NVR 11/23/16: Proponents of Napa's Walt Ranch make their case (day 2)
Video of day 2 hearing (11/22/16)

Day 1
NVR 11/18/16: Napa's Walt Ranch vineyard hearings open with protest (day 1)
Video of day 1 hearing (11/18/16)
NapaVision2050: Day 1 post-hearing statement with news links
Mark Wolfe summation for Sierra Club at hearing

As stated in my letter to the BOS prior to the hearing, my interest among the many negative impacts that this project promises are the "growth inducing impacts" that the construction of an all-weather road system and a water storage and distribution system to each of the 35 properties in the project which will encourage further development of the properties as estates after the vineyards are in. I was pleased to see several speakers take up that theme in the appelants' presentations and by speakers afterward.

John Rose from the Center of Biological Diversity, in his arguments against the EIR, made the clearest case yet concerning both CEQA's admonition against "piecemealing" of projects and the need to discuss "growth inducing impacts". Their enitire PowerPoint is here. The specific slides of concern to me are here:




In public comments after the appellants' presentations other speakers brought up the issue of reasonably foreseeable future development on the property:

Gordon Evans' statement:

    While outside the current scope of this particular vineyard project, I ask the Board to consider the intended future use of the property.

    On Nov. 6, 2014 at a public meeting hosted by the Halls at the Meritage Resort, Craig Hall, after acknowledging that the ranch consisted of 35 separate parcels, expressed surprise that “there hasn’t been much focus or contention on this” and “we wouldn’t have bought the property had it not already been divided into 35 development parcels.”

    Indeed, when you overlay the proposed vineyard locations on the existing parcels, you will note that they are placed in such a fashion as to provide most parcels with their own dedicated vineyard. I initially pointed this out at the Public Forum conducted by Mr. Morrison on Nov. 12, 2014, and again personally to Chairman Pedroza at a private meeting on Feb. 22 of this year.

    So, in this context, Mr. Lippe’s comments this morning about “economic feasibility” take on a special meaning, because we’re not talking about just a vineyard project here. You only have to look at the Hall Ranches development in the Anderson Valley to see what the ultimate prize here looks like. $269,000 per acre of developed vineyard is a paltry sum compared to the potential value of 35 developed mini-ranches with established vineyards.

    As good as Hall wine is, the economics of this Vineyard Conversion Project defy logic if it’s only intended for wine production. Rather, I submit it is a costly stepping-stone to a vastly more valuable investment.

    I assure you, we haven’t seen the last of this battle.

Former Supervisor Ginny Simms' statement:

    I'm Ginny Simms and I'm rushing toward 90 at breakneck speed. I'm here to talk about the Walt Ranch EIR but I'm here really to talk to you. Because I'm bringing up some things that you all know, that you have all experienced just as a reminder. These 35 parcels I researched and most of them were created from about 1980 and a whole bunch of them in and around 1990. And they remained parcels that were not really sold or developed or anybody showing much interest. There was at that time no proof of water, no access roads to them and as a result they were not really in any sense marketable.

    But something has changed. If [the county has] not looked at the potential for this being a subdivision, that is exactly where it's headed. The EIR did not examine the development - I think this is rich - because it was not proposed by the project applicant. In other words we don't have to look at that because he didn't mention it. I find that kind of odd.

    The EIR regulations clearly state that you must look to the expected results of the decisions you make following the hearing and basically that the EIR needs to cover the obvious and predictible results of the action. And I submit to you that our zoning of AW is a predictible and obvious result. Today if this is approved, a zoning administrator looking at an application for a house on one of these parcels will grant it. He could also grant a small residential care facility, a hunting club, and RV park or camp ground. In short, the process this has gone through by asking only for the nature of this action, what's really happened is that the planning department become judge jury and, in the form of the zoning administrator, the executioner.

    What we see now is that we have water to every parcel, we also have a road to every parcel, an all weather road to every parcel, and the market is obviously going to respond. In addition they don't have yet any right to use this water for irrigation and the 21 miles of exiting roads are available to anyone who wishes to buy a parcel. I want to warn you that you are heading us for the same kind of trouble you have all experiened with the Berryessa badly planned subdivisions.
Former Supervisor Kathryn Winter's statement:

    illustration: Bob Johnson
    I'm Kathryn Winter. I'm giving you a cartoon that was drawn by a friend thirty-five years ago that we laughed at then, and you'll see why it's kind of amusing.

    I'd like to address the limitations of the cumulative impact analysis for the Walt Ranch with its vineyards and 35 pre-existing parcels, each with the capacity to be developed at a future day and induce growth in rural areas. The County's responses to various appeals claim that preperation of the cumulative analysis is consistant with CEQA guidelines, and they did find cumulative impacts, and they suggested mitigations. The county asserts that all of the many CEQA issues have been mitigated to less-than-significant levels. We've all heard the comments about the impacts on wildlife, from construction of roads, impacts to surface and ground water, increased traffic, impacts on endangered and threatened species, fragmentation of habitat, noise and fencing, pesticide drift, water pollution, loss of old growth oak tress and land slippage on unstable slopes. We've heard that all. With a project this size it's unfathomable that all impacts can be mitigated to less-than-significant levels even though additional mitigations added by staff allow them to recommend such a finding. This is what concerns me.

    In 12 years making land use decisions as a town council member, county planning commissioner, and county supervisor, I approved projects whose impacts were theoretically mitigated, yet the county is saddled with ever increasing impacts and their costs. We see the failure of mitigations like huge swaths of clearcut hillsides marching up the valley. We gave up and determined the traffic can not be mitigated. So it takes 60 minutes some days to drive 18 miles from Napa to St. Helena. We have 400 to 600 wineries yet more seek approval. Bit by bit we are eliminating habitat for wildlife, decimating forests and slowly destroying our environment because our elected leaders do not have courage to say "no" to the wine industry when it seeks to impose it's will on the community. Where is the vision to look at the true costs of environmental degredation on our health, roads, loss of species, decreased air quality and compromised quality of rural life. If not you, who else can help citizens when we express fears about over-development. Scientists say we are witnessing the sixth major extinction of species. We don't need to contribute to that in Napa County. We can dot every "i" and cross every "t" of an environmental document and still come away with an unsatisfactory result because we have not addressed the real issue, which is the carrying capacity of Napa County to support unlimited winery and vineyard growth.

Photos from day 1 protest

















Walt Ranch post-hearing truth


Bill Hocker - Dec 14, 2016 11:05AM  Share #1358

Dan Mufson of NapaVision2050 sends this fact-filled, "real-truth" letter from the Sierra Club to the BOS outlining disputed nitty gritty of the staff presentation at the Dec 6th Walt Ranch final hearing (where Supervisor Dillon, trying to discredit the concerns of Walt Ranch impacted citizens, accused them of being "post-truthful").
The hearing video and agenda is here (item 9B)
Download pdf of the letter below.
(The referenced AES Dec 2nd memo does not appear to be available of the County's website)


Ignoring key part of the environment


Donald Williams - Dec 1, 2016 11:21PM  Share #1356

Walt Ranch promises “environmental responsibility,” “sustainable stewardship,” and “commitment to the greater Napa Valley ecosystem” if it replaces 209 acres of woodlands and chaparral with more grape vines.

But besides threatened trees and water, the ecosystem includes neighbors unimpressed with its plan.

Why stubbornly develop a vineyard when so many people in the neighborhood object? In any ecosystem, any neighborhood, the measure of success is cooperation (not wealth).

Perhaps the Walt owner has a dream. Or the competitive urge to make the best cabernet.

But those reasons neither build neighborliness nor foster community. It’s difficult to conceive that a project as supposedly solicitous of the environment as Walt Ranch would exclude from its concern a crucial part of the ecosystem: neighbors.

Insouciant remarks like “What else should be done with that land?” or “Well, that’s business,” disrespectfully dismiss the fertile idealism that may be the bane of business but the salvation of Napa County. If economic interests continue to trump aesthetic values, and the countryside vanishes, little time will pass before the great Bay Area awakening that wonders, belatedly: “How could they have let this happen to Napa County?”

NVR version 12/1/16: Ignoring key part of the environment

Deforestation in the time of drought


George Caloyannidis - Nov 21, 2016 3:16PM  Share #1346

[Letter sent to Napa County Board of Supervisors 11/21/16]

RE: WALT RANCH APPEAL
Dear Napa County Supervisors:

I am sure you are aware of the November 18, 2016 U.S. Forest Service Report (attached here) regarding the alarming disappearance of trees in the state of California due to the drought. Not only is the number of 102 million trees lost staggering but even more alarming is the accelerated rate by which this is occurring: "62 million in 2016, a more that 100% increase over 2015 with; millions of additional trees weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years".

The Report goes on to state that "With public safety as its most pressing concern, the U.S. Forest Service has committed significant resources to help impacted forests, including reprioritizing $43 million in California in fiscal year 2016 to conduct safety-focused restoration along roads, trails and recreation sites".

This reality brings up once again the issue on which I have alerted you before: The tools by which projects are analyzed and evaluated in Napa county (CEQA / EIR) are inadequate in assessing the true impacts of projects as they are casting a very limited radius of impacts.

The Napa Land Trust, an organization whose mission and work is appreciated by us all, has saved 57,000 trees through land acquisitions and is supported by the voluntary financial contributions of many of our citizens, and the U.S. Forest Service is supported by the taxpaying public. Yet Napa Cities' and County policies are working in the exact opposite direction, having consistently approved or set to approve the clear cutting of some 30,000 trees in the past two years.

As the most egregious examples, the City of Calistoga approved the cutting over 10,000 mature trees (over and above the approx. 2,500 trees cut through a prior THP for roads) and the Walt Ranch project now before you is seeking to cut another 14,000 trees.

It is obvious that the County's policies are working against rather than in accord with state public policy and ignoring a statewide alarm.

It is imperative that Napa County adopt a more responsible and wider reaching radius and network of impacts when considering projects. That the current myopic tools are inadequate can be experienced daily by all of us - including you - in regards to the disastrous cumulative impacts on traffic as a result of the series of what you have been willing to accept as "less than significant impacts" as certified by the limited CECA and EIR findings and alleged mitigations. Impacts such as the rise of cheap commuting labor demand and the rise of CO2 levels due to stop and go traffic have never been addressed by the findings you deemed credible and have resulted to where we are today.

When the alarming loss of trees in California causes the U.S. Forest Service to raise the alarm in terms of public safety, it is irresponsible for the County to keep approving massive deforestation projects such as Walt Ranch with the sole purpose of accommodating the financial interest of a corporate entity. There are no effective mitigation measures for deforestation.

Respectfully,

George Caloyannidis
Calistoga

Mark Wolfe's Sierra Club summation 11/18/16


Bill Hocker - Nov 20, 2016 6:06PM  Share #1343

Good afternoon. I am Mark Wolfe, a land use lawyer here on behalf of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club, in case you didn't know, is the oldest and largest conservation organization. Next year it celebrates its one hundred and twenty fifth anniversary. It's been around a very, very long time and achieved considerable success by taking the long view. Taking the long view a hundered years ago led to things like the creation of Yosemite National Park which I'm proud to say I can have my kids go and see in a relatively unspoiled state. And it's that same philosophy of the long view that we're asking you to take today. The downside of going last is that other people have stolen your thunder. And in this particular case I have to say that I find the thunder in this room resounding, in its quantity but especially in its quality. I've been doing this for about 20 years and rarely if ever have I seen the degree of technical and legal sophistication brought to bear by such a diverse set of interests. Also pitched on one particular project. And I think it speaks to the magnitude of the issues that you're facing today. So I'm not going to repeat the points that were already made, probably much more succinctly and eloquently than I can make myself. Going last brings benefits, being able to tie things up and that's what I'm going to try to do briefly today. I want to focus on 3 concepts, all of which underscore and I'm going to talk about them ... The concepts are first risk, second doubt and finally accountability.

Risk. What's at stake? What's at stake are the natural resources and the environmental quality that has been talked about at length for the last several hours. We're talking about groundwater; we're talking about the critters, the frogs, the birds, the turtles. We're talking about their habitat. Were talking about the state of the climate, air quality, safe roads and ultimately human habitat as well. What can we say about these resources? Well first, I think its fair to say, they belong to everyone. These are shared public recources. The Halls may own the dirt, they may have a deed that says they have title to this particular piece of land, but the water that is in those creeks, the frogs, birds, the turtles, those belong to the people of the state of california if not the United States of America. Obviously a stable climate belongs to us all. These are shared public resources that belong to your constituents, us and yourselves as well. We can also say about theses resources that they are definitely finite. They are limited. They will not last forever and they are in a state of serious depletion already. You've heard at great length from the people before me the state of risk that faces several of these species, the groundwater resources and the surface water resources and the .. resources as well, So they belong to all of us, they are limited, they are finite and they are in a state of depletion. So who's supposed to be watching, manning the ship, tending the farm? For better or worse, it is you. I don't envy you. You five are the stewards of these resources. You are the guardians of these resources. You have, for better of worse I dare say, a somber responsibility to prevent the further unnecessary or unreasonale depletion of their already finite characteristics for your constituients today and, it almost a cliche to say this at this point, for their children and their children's children for future generations. This is what the Sierra Club, frankly, is all about philosophically. So you are, in effect being asked to make a gamble, take a risk, place a bet. And the stakes are these resources, the people's resources. To belabor the metaphore, you are being asked to make a bet at the casino using you constituients' money. So what are your responsibilities, as public officials, with regard to that risk? Your responsibility is to minimize it to the maximum extent practical, the maximum extent reasonable.

Which brings me to my second concept which is doubt. Risk and doubt are absolutely closely related. If there are doubts about the wisdom of the bet, you shouldn't take the bet. Or if you're going to take the bet, you should minimize what you're putting on the table, the number of chips. You have a duty to calculate this risk and minimize it to the maximum extent practicable before you take any action, before the cards are dealt. Here, I think, the record before you, as illustrated by all the testamony before you so far, should have indicated at the very least that there is abundant doubt about what's going to happen to the resources affected by this project. We would submit that there is virtual certainty that the resources are going to be unacceptibly depleted, degraded further, and there is nothing in the EIR that conclusively or compellingly shows to the contrary. But you'll hear form the applicatnt on Tuesday, and certainly you're going to hear other technical experts, with other evidence and information probably saying all of our concerns are overblown. Regardless of that, at the very least, I think that you have to admit that there is some small doubt. There's doubt about whats going to happen to the water, there doubt about hydrological interaction between the creek and the groundwater, there's doubt about how far away from the streambeds the frogs can travel, there's doubt about what is going to happen to the runoff, there's doubt aobut whether deep ripping is going to increase or decrease permeability. Doubt. Doubt. Doubt. The hallmark, that is, the catchphrase that I've heard from the presentation today: we don't really know what's going to happen. What can you do? Your job, respectfully again, is to work to minimize that doubt to the maximum extent practicable. I underscore the word practicable. We're not asking you to do the impossible, because it's probably impossible to guage with 100% probability what's going to happen. But I think you owe it to your constituients and the resources and the public at large to do more than accept this EIR in its current form. You have a duty to make the staff and the applicant take a closer look, pay careful attention to all of the technical points that were raised so far and come back with a document that truely identifies that actual nature and extent of that risk to these resources before you make the bet on approving the vineyard.

Finally, the question of accountibility. It's really what CEQA is all about. The supreme court has said repeatedly that CEQA EIR's are essentially documents of accountibility. They present to the public and to the decision makers what will happen to the environment should ...this project get approved. Based on that information, the agency, you, get to make that ultimate balancing test, that judgement. Are the benefits of the project worth that cost. are the economic benefits, the employment benefits, tourism benefits of a project like this, - is it worth it? If you make that determination, you do so in what is called a statement of overriding considerations. In this particular EIR, because it did not find any, any significant unmitigated impacts, you actually don't have to adopt a statement of overriding considerations. You can approve the project as it is. I'm aware that there's one in there anyway. That doesn't really count from a strict legal perspective. It only becomes relevant if the EIR finds significant unmitigated impact. Now a flawed EIR, one that does not adequately disclose all potentially significant impacts, makes that whole exercise in accountibility essentially a hollow exercise. It makes it irrelevant. The way that CEQA is written to make sure that doesn't happen is one key touchstone requirement: if you certify this EIR, you have to find that it reflects your independent judgement. You can't point at the staff and say that they said the EIR was OK. You can't point to the applicant and the consultants and say that they say that the EIR is OK. You need to make that decision for yourselves. When you certify, you are saying to your constituients and the the people of the State of Califronia, quite honestly, that you believe the this EIR in its current form has absolutely been put to the task and that it has done all that it can reasonably do to investigate, to disclose and evaluate all the potential i... that this project could bring to bear on affected resources. The Sierra Club would respectifully submit that there is just no way on the current record you could make that finding today. We would join with the other appelants in urging you to require the staff and the applicant to come back with a revised, limited, EIR - it doesn't have to be the entire thing all over again, but those issues that are in controversy today - and come back and make sure that everything is adequately disclosed and mitigated where feasible
Thank you.


Walt Ranch deserves a better fate


Bill Hocker - Nov 17, 2016 5:01PM  Share #1339

[My third Walt Ranch letter - not so different from the second.]

Members of the Board of Supervisors,

Walt Ranch from other side of Monticello Rd
I would like to repeat here my letter of opposition to the approval of the Walt Ranch FEIR. While I too feel there are significant impacts on water resources, on wildlife habitat and on our county's carbon footprint, my concern is also about the suburbanizing trend that this project represents for the remote and natural woodland areas of the county. Supervisor Pedroza has repeatedly said that "once our open space is gone, it's gone". He is right, and I would seriously encourage you to heed his words.

This project is not a vineyard erosion control plan. No real estate developer (as the owners are) would spend 10 years and milions of dollars seeking approval for 21 miles of roadway and a substantial water storage and distribution system on 2300 acres of land only to serve a 209 acre vineyard. The project is, in fact, the preliminary infrastructure development for a 36 unit residential subdivision. The FEIR failed entirely to discuss the reasonably foreseeable future development and growth inducing impacts that the project represents. From the FEIR:

    "As stated above in General Response 4, the purpose of the Proposed Project is to develop vineyards on the Walt Ranch; the EIR does not analyze the development of homes on the parcels because that is not proposed by the project applicant. No other reasonably foreseeable future development would occur on the project site beyond what is described in the EIR. Therefore, it is not appropriate to include the development of single-family homes on the Walt Ranch property in the cumulative analysis for the Proposed Project". (FEIR v1 pg4-39)

This FEIR has completely ignored the discussion required under CEQA guidelines of the reasonably foreseen "growth inducing impacts" that the project represents. The FEIR mistakenly concludes that because a particular use has not been proposed as part of the project that such use is not forseeable. Until such use has been legally prohibited on these properties, that use is eminently forseeable. From the CEQA guidelines:

    CEQA Sec 15126.2(d) (pg155): "Growth-Inducing Impact of the Proposed Project. Discuss the ways in which the proposed project could foster economic or population growth, or the construction of additional housing, either directly or indirectly, in the surrounding environment. Included in this are projects which would remove obstacles to population growth (a major expansion of a waste water treatment plant might, for example, allow for more construction in service areas). Increases in the population may tax existing community service facilities, requiring construction of new facilities that could cause significant environmental effects. Also discuss the characteristic of some projects which may encourage and facilitate other activities that could significantly affect the environment, either individually or cumulatively. It must not be assumed that growth in any area is necessarily beneficial, detrimental, or of little significance to the environment."

It is irresponsible for the FEIR to foresee no other development on the properties as a result of the creation of an all-weather road system and the provision a water system and water lines to each property, by a developer that has a track record of developing vineyard-ready residential subdivisions. [ http://www.hall-ranch.com ]. The FEIR states in General Response 4 (FEIR v1 pg4-5) that "There is no evidence that, elsewhere in the region, vineyard projects are being proposed as a catalyst for future residential development." They weren't looking very hard.

From the Hall Ranch website:



The reason that everyone in the county is now stuck with traffic congestion, unaffordable housing, an agrarian landscape now littered with building projects and more and more in taxes to cover the infrastructure costs of an expanding population is because each project approved never considers the reasonably foreseen future development that the completed projects will necessitate, encourage and make possible.

If the developer is serious about denying the growth inducing impacts of their project they should place non-development conservation easements on the properties or a no-future-development clause into the property deeds. If they are serious about only using the vineyards to supply grapes for Hall wines then let them recombine the properties into one parcel as a show of commitment. These steps need be taken as a condition for the granting of the ECP.

The parcel and vineyard map of Walt Ranch is here. Just look at the vineyard block plan. Would any vintner sensibly create such a convoluted, inaccessible and expensive vineyard just to supply grapes to their winery? Would anyone buy 2300 acres of land for 288 (now 209) acres of grapes? The convoluted vineyard configuration does insure that 34 of the 35 parcels each have some vineyard acreage necessitating road access and water availability required for the sale of vineyard-ready residential property.

The perfunctory discussion regarding growth inducing impacts by claiming this project is only about vineyards in the FEIR can only be seen as an attempt to fudge over real intent of the project and a sidestepping of the intent of CEQA. The CEQA "growth inducing impact" discussion is at the heart of this project.

It is, as well, a discussion that is at the heart of all the projects that that have generated so much opposition in the last three years as the obvious impacts of growth are beginning to destroy everything special about Napa County. Beyond this review, and the infrasturcture that his project will create, there are no land use restraints on the further development of these properties for housing. Walt Ranch, at 2300 acres, is a significant piece of open space and undeveloped natural woodland in the county. It deserves a better fate than just 35 more luxury homes (actually 105 residences when including allowed secondary units and guest cottages). If approved, the urbanization of Napa County, with each project's urbanizing impacts mitigated to a level of insignificance on paper, will go on unabated and, eventually, the open space will be gone.

Thank you for this opportunity to re-emphasize my concerns.

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Rd
Napa

Deep Root Speaks


Bill Hocker - Nov 17, 2016 10:33AM  Share #1338

Author James Conaway has tapped into an experienced source willing to talk about the backstory on Napa land development on the eve of the Walt Ranch appeal hearing.

Nose Blog 11/15/16: An insider condemns cutting thousands of oaks

[As of 11/20/16 the article has disappeared, perhaps understandably. The identity of Deep Root would be hard to conceal for any length of time in such a small place. I'll keep a link to the page in case the article returns. The essence of the article was that the Napa vineyard development is no longer about wine - it's about real estate. (The ag preserve succeeded in saving a lot of open space, now available for construction in this new age governed by real estate developers)]

On another blog post, related to the Walt Ranch project, Conaway gives his no-doubt-comming-book excerpt on Planning Director David Morrison:
Nose Blog 11/20/16: Napa's man between the developers and the enviros

Walt Ranch BOS appeal and protest Nov 18th


Jim Wilson - Nov 9, 2016 2:52PM  Share #1336

NVR 11/15/16: Napa's Walt Ranch vineyard controversy goes to supervisors

Napa County citizens will rally in front of the County Administration Building at noon on Friday, November 18th. The appeal of the approval of the Walt Ranch Erosion Control Plan to the Board of Supervisor will begin at 9:00am

This occasion is the first day of hearings on the appeal against the Walt Ranch project. This project has aroused more ardent public protest than any in our county’s recent history.

The county wants to ignore us-- let's make it harder for them to do so. We'll have signs on hand, or bring your own.

A day at Hall Wines


Bill Hocker - Sep 11, 2016 9:58PM  Share #1310

On Sept 10th 2016, many citizens concerned about the proposed removal of 24,000 trees on the 2300 acre Walt Ranch development, and of the many other environmental impacts that the development will create, made their concerns known at the developer's winery, Hall Wines, in St. Helena.




Walt demonstration at Hall Wines Sept 10th


Bill Hocker - Sep 9, 2016 3:13PM  Share #1304

An invitation to show your support for the preservation a significant piece of Napa County native oak woodlands for future generations.

Sept 10th, 2016, from 10:30am to 2:00pm in front of the Hall Winery at 401 St. Helena Hwy



The DENW website issues page discussing the impacts of the project is here

Walt Ranch Erosion Control Plan Appeal
The appeal of the approval of the ECP on Walt Ranch has been filed with the county to be heard by the Board of Supervisors. It is an interesting read, and sets out the many issues not addressed in the final EIR.

There will be three public hearings later this fall-- three opportunities for public commentary. The appeal and all supporting documents may be found on the DENW website, at http://denw.info/appeal-filed-by-circle-oaks-homeowners-and-water-boards/

Walt Ranch Winery?
David Heitzman just sent this Dallas Morning News puff-piece on the Hall's love affair with wine:
Craig and Kathryn Hall pen business love story about winemaking

The journalist has described the Halls previously as a power couple who brought to Napa a Texan sense of excess-in-all-things with the Hall Winery project. In this current article they sound more like Ozzie and Harriet at the kitchen table.

It's the end of the article that piques the interest of the Napa community bearing the brunt of the Hall's love affair:

    'Included in the 4,000 is 2,300 acres zoned for agriculture that the Halls bought in 2005. Some locals are up in arms now that the Halls have shown intentions to build a winery on part of it. The controversy has the couple dumbfounded.

    "Kathy and I think of ourselves as environmentalists. Our Texas friends think of us as crazy, tree-hugging, liberal Democrats," he says.

    "I'm totally OK with that moniker, by the way," she says.

    Craig launches into why the protesters are completely off base.

    Kathryn rolls her eyes. "This is a part that I cut in the book. Who wants to sit through this long story?" '
The building of a winery wasn't mentioned in the EIR for Walt Ranch. Is this a slip of the journalist's pen (conflating vineyards and wineries) - or are the Halls more open with the locals in far off Dallas, Texas than they are with the locals here? Given the concern about the future development of the property, that Napa County has chosen to ignore, it was an interesting, and alarming, note in the story.

As interesting to me, perhaps, was the Texan conception of a tree-hugger, which seemed to point to the relative difference that Texans and Californians might place on the environment. The Hall's are, of course, planning to hug 24,000 trees to death on the Walt property. (It brings to mind those other Texas plutocrats blindly wishing to inflict the din of private helicoptering into our environment.)

The Hall's seem to have been accepted by the Napa power establishment as "one of us", so its a little peevish for regular concerned citizens to call attention to cultural differences. Most all of us are immigrants here. But when an article like this surfaces that looks at a local situation from a foreign perspective one can't help but comment.

Walt Ranch LTE's


Bill Hocker - Jul 23, 2016 9:37AM  Share #1284

Eve Kahn LTE 7/22/16: What is the real plan for Walt Ranch?
Final Notice of approval for the Walt Ranch ECP

Eve raises a most important and obvious issue concerning Walt Ranch: that it is a housing development pretending to be an ECP and the county is just looking the other way. That concern was brought up in numerous comments during the EIR review process including my own letter here and in more extensive comments by Lois Battuello here. Such concerns were dismissed in the EIR with a terse "No other reasonably foreseeable future development would occur on the project site beyond what is described in the EIR". And the county accepted that opinion.

Eve's letter is a response to a previous LTE that I had missed until now, one that is the most articulate summation of the Walt counter-narrative thus far written IMHO. The writer is Stephen J. Donoviel and it is titled simply Reject Walt Ranch

Walt Ranch Protest at Hall July 31st


Geoff Ellsworth - Jul 21, 2016 3:32PM  Share #1289

Once again this Sunday July 31st, 11:30-1:30 will be a sign holding demonstration outside of Hall Winery in St. Helena to protest their Walt Ranch vineyard development. This development proposes to cut and clear 24,000 trees from a sensitive watershed area just east of the city of Napa, this will create serious water quality and availability issues for hundreds of nearby neighbors as well as the city of Napa.

Standing up together we are strong and can protect our communities, resources and environment
401 Hwy 29 St. Helena

Reject Walt Ranch


Stephen J Donoviel - Jul 18, 2016 10:04AM  Share #1479

Reading the article “County approves Walt Ranch" (June 14) immediately brought to mind two comments: one, the response by one of the so-called "Original Ten" vineyard and winery owners during the late 1960s to a question about planting vineyards on the surrounding mountains, to which he replied: "The valley's for farming, the hills are for the deer." The second was a comment I often heard my mother say, "My, oh my, what money can buy!"

David Morrison, director of Planning, Building and Environment, stated in the article that all of the numerous concerns addressed in the EIR analyses for the above project could be mitigated and would not reach the level of "Significant." I disagree.

These concerns involve the entire ecosystem, including soil erosion, draw-down of tens of millions of gallons of water and damage to the water supply affecting local residences as well as necessitating costly improvements to the city of Napa water system; traffic issues, including road damage and increased pressure on recreational and residential mobility; threats to wildlife; geological threats to the adjacent community of Circles Oaks and many other families living in the surrounding area; various forms of noise pollution generated by heavy equipment, increased numbers of vehicles of all types, demolition explosions, etc.; and the potential risks to the health of these citizens (as well as the construction workers needed for the project) by possible exposure to carcinogenic dust being blasted into the atmosphere.

These degradations would result from the domino effects stemming from the extensive alterations to the landscape, and to conclude that all these can be satisfactorily mitigated does not, in my opinion, meet the smell or common sense test -- notwithstanding the numerous analyses and consultants that have been employed.

Central to many of the issues is the cutting of old-growth forest and there is no possible mitigation for time lost, i.e., the many decades to regrow the estimated 24,000 trees and vegetation to be destroyed and the resultant effects on the ecosystem. If we think of the trees as healers of the environment, e.g., removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, stabilizing soil and stream beds, providing cover for fauna, etc., the work provided by 24,000 trees cannot be compensated by the remaining forest regardless of their numbers or ratios.

Planting saplings, while a good idea, will take years and years to equal the healing capacity of what was destroyed. I think it paradoxical that approximately two weeks after indicating that the removal of 24,000 trees did not have a significant environmental impact, Mr. Morrison in a Napa Register article on July 4, concerning Napa's responsibilities to deal with the counties' carbon load, noted that one aspect of the plan could include planting 2,500 trees annually.

Anyone who has driven behind earth/rock-moving trucks (which have relatively tight covers over the load) knows that considerable dust escapes. Four years of construction noise may not seem "significant" when gauged from sound measurement techniques, however the effect undoubtedly would be deemed otherwise by local residents. Unlike the project developers and their staff and those public officials making determinations about the risks of this project, the citizens living nearby will face an estimated four years of daily direct exposure to the noise and air pollution from explosions needed to destroy mountains, cutting trees, constant rumbling of heavy construction equipment, workers vehicles, etc,.

I am puzzled why the owners who, when they opened the Hall Winery in St. Helena, touted it as a "green" enterprise, are now promoting a project that is the antithesis to that concept with the destruction of every conceivable aspect of the environment and all for no apparent good reason -- certainly not to put food on their table, clothes on their backs or grow grapes in an environmentally sound fashion. Looking at the plot maps, this looks more like a plan for multiple ranchettes than a farming operation.

I urge the supervisors to reject the totality of this project and, instead, encourage the owners to deed this bit of earth to future generations, which, as others have pointed out, would prove to be a much greater legacy, a la Warren Buffett, the Zuckerbergs, the Gates, and so on.

If this and other such projects that have negative impacts on the many to financially benefit a few get approved, it seems there are very few options left for us, one of which would be to seek redress through the courts. Obviously such an action would require the resources and clout that an organization such as the Sierra Club has. However they would need our support and I urge everyone who is not currently a member to join the Sierra Club since this project would have lasting negative consequences, in varying degrees, on all of us.

Walt Ranch: who's accountable if they're wrong


Gerald Cohn - Jun 2, 2016 7:46AM  Share #1262

In Mr. Warfield's May 8 article in the Napa Valley Register, "So who is missing the point,” he describes the Halls as very nice and generous people because they follow the rules and give to charities. I wonder what the point of view would be from someone raising a family in Circle Oaks and who will have to put up with four years of construction?

The Walt Ranch is 2,300 acres. Divide that by 640 acres per square mile and the result is 3.4 square miles. In all of that property the only place they could find to develop a vineyard with a strong probability that it could be as large as 500 acres and require up to 30 acre-feet of water is right next to Circle Oaks? Circle Oaks is a middle-class community of about 180 homes that has existed since the 1960s. I wonder if this project would be considered if Circle Oaks was a high-end community like Silverado or St. Helena.

To add insult to injury, the plan is to run heavy equipment right through the center of the community on Circle Oaks Drive.

On April 4, I attended a meeting chaired by David Morrison. It was brought up (with pictures) that the road in question and the land surrounding Circle Oaks is unstable and subject to slippage and the environmental impact report did not address this problem.

This problem was illustrated in an article in the Napa Valley Register on May 2, 2016 that reported the damage to Highway 121 due to slippage could cost up to $5.5 million and take several months to repair. As the meeting on April 4 discussed, these are the similar problems that Circle Oaks Drive exhibited, i.e. ground slippage.

It is also interesting that Mr. Morrison had most of April and all of May, but is waiting until June 11 to disclose his findings, after the election on June 7.

To put things in perspective, a 500-acre vineyard is over ¾ of a square mile and can require to 30 acre-feet of water a year. An acre-foot of water is 325,851 gallons times 30 equals 9.77 million gallons of water a year just for this one development. There are more than 30 individual parcels on the Walt Ranch. What effect the development of all of these parcels would have on water use, drainage, and possible contamination of the Milliken Watershed is unknown.

Water use: To sum this up, the environmental impact report paid for by the Walt Ranch states that the water use will be mitigated by the monitoring of well water levels. Nowhere is there any provision on who is accountable if Circle Oaks runs out of water and what steps should be taken if this happens. It should be noted that the groundwater study conducted by Slade & Associates states that the irrigation demands of the Walt Ranch Vineyard would not affect the ground water levels in offsite wells. This is the same company that said that the water needs of the Carneros Inn and the Carneros residents could be met. Instead, the Carneros Inn and Carneros residents have to track in water purchased from the city of Napa.

Drainage: The environmental impact report for the Walt Ranch also states that the vineyard will not increase sediment and pollutants being washed off the property during storms because of measures taken by the Walt Ranch project. When Joy Eldredge, Napa Water's General Manager, expressed concerns about the vineyard's runoff polluting the Milliken Reservoir and asked if the Walt Ranch would help pay for the $20 million that would be necessary to upgrade the water treatment plant, the Walt Ranch's response was that the request was "disproportional, given that the project's impact will be less than significant"

Trees: The Halls say that only 12.1 percent of the total trees on Wall Ranch will be cut down. What they do not tell us is that 12.1 percent is approximately 28,000 trees. This makes it hard to believe that the Halls are stewards of the land.

The bottom line is the Wall Ranch project will seriously impact Circle Oaks because the environmental impact reports are a sham. They offer no accountability if the mitigations fail. Who is going to be accountable if Circle Oaks Drive fails, if the Circle Oaks community runs out of water, or if the Milliken Reservoir gets polluted?

It is a sad day when the corporate mantra of profit without accountability trumps the right of locals who give to charities and obey the rules to be able to live in harmony with one's environment. Shakespeare said that it is a fool's prerogative to utter truths that no one else will speak.

Jerry Cohn

NVR version 6/1/16: Who is accountable if they're wrong?

Hall, No!


Bill Hocker - Apr 2, 2016 10:53PM  Share #1217

NVR 4/4/16: Decision on Walt Ranch expected June 13

After 3.5 hours of presentation and public testimony and the introduction of 3.5 inches of new documents, Planning Director Morrison has put off until June 13th the decision on the environmental control plan based on the Walt Ranch mitigated Final EIR. There will then be a 30 day period to file an appeal to the BOS on the decision.



And a snippet from the comments to the above article initiated by Rob McMillan:

    Rob McMillan Apr 5, 2016 12:03pm
    As I see it, property owners have rights to develop land and improve it's value within local zoning requirements. There are three things that can happen with this property now: 1) Donate to the Land Trust. 2) Develop a portion with vineyards leaving a healthy amount of natural terrain, 3) develop with homes or ranches.

    I would prefer that the property and all the hills for that matter, be retained as open space because I live in Napa and value the views and nature. I'm an outdoorsman. That said, development of some form will happen unless someone were able to raise money to buy the property and donate it. That hasn't yet happened and there has been time to do that. Asking the owner to do donate isn't realistic as they have voiced their desires plainly and have cooperated and responded to all the requirements.

    If I can't have open space, I'll take this plan as it still leaves the hills without hospital sized homes dotting the hills. While dissenters won't like the likely approval, the process has been exhaustive and everyone with a view has made their point. It's time to make the decision and approve the project. Denial isn't a reasonable outcome and stalling the decision isn't reasonable with all material information now in hand.

    Bill Hocker Apr 5, 2016 4:01pm
    Well in fact you will get homes by approving this vineyard project. The convoluted vineyard plan provides 34 of the 35 parcels with all-year road access and a water supply to each parcel (in addition to a few of acres of vines on each). After this project is done the individual parcels may be sold and each can accommodate 3 dwelling units (one hospital-sized) granted by right and a winery granted by a use permit that virtually cannot be denied. The Halls have already developed a similar housing subdivision in Alexander Valley (http://hall-ranch.com). Craig Hall is a real-estate developer. What does anyone expect? duh!

    Savethechildren Apr 5, 2016 9:59pm
    Bill Hocker, All legal parcels in California are eligible for a single family home. State Law. If not, then the legal existence of your house just might be in jeopardy. If this project goes through, then each parcel will be sold, and each parcel will have a house on it. There is no environmental impact report needed, no public comment, no need to wait 10 years. Deny this project and you will have 35 new neighbors probably overnight. Each of them will submit for their own vineyard (the expensive work is already done for them). Read the EIR and you will see that there are no houses planned. There is no "sub-division" happening here, as that would require a public vote thanks to measure J/P. Continuing to say so is disingenuous at best. This is about vineyards and that's it.

    Bill Hocker Apr 6, 2016 9:17am
    STC - I should have included a link to the parcel plan ( http://sodacanyonroad.org/docs/waltranchsiteplan.jpg ) in the previous post. Without this project, it is quite unlikely that homes would be built. Each buyer would have to provide the costly access road and water source for their property, not to mention the cost of creating the vineyard of their dreams. Normally a subdivision developer would create that infrastructure and sell the properties. You are right that this is not a residential subdivision. So the developer must find another mechanism to create the infrastructure necessary to make the parcels sellable. Guess what mechanism. To get this project approved the Halls have already agreed to cut over 20% of the vineyards initially proposed. Why? Perhaps because this project isn't about vineyards. I would suggest that all developers, and their spokesmen, stop their disingenuous praise of agriculture to achieve their urban development ends.


4/2/16 Sign Holding at Hall Wines

A signholding at Hall Wines to protest the development of 2300 acres of natural landscape into vineyard estate properties by Craig and Kathryn Hall. A public hearing on the final EIR for the project is happening Mon, Apr 4th 9:00am at the County Building.




My second Walt Ranch letter


Bill Hocker - Apr 2, 2016 5:46PM  Share #1199

Brian Bordona, Supervising Planner
Napa County Planning, Building, & Environmental Services Department
Napa, CA

Mr Bordona,

Having lived in the Rector watershed for the last 22 years and having watched the natural landscape disappear to vineyard development, and now being confronted next door with the first tourism-centered winery on the plateau, I would like to add another letter of opposition to the approval of the Walt Ranch FEIR and the suburbanizing trend that the project represents for the remote and natural woodland areas of the county.

I can only admire the amount of effort the Walt Ranch consultants made to address almost each and every opposing comment among the 3800 pages of comments submitted, in addition to finding the common themes of opposition and addressing those concerns at greater length. While the bulk of the opposition seems to revolve around woodland, habitat and water impacts I would like to emphasize, as I did in my first letter, the issue of reasonably foreseeable future development and growth inducing impacts that the project represents. For me, concerned about the obvious future impacts of what I can only see as the infrastructure development for a 35 unit residential subdivision, I was a bit disappointed by the summary dismissal of that as a concern in the FEIR:

    "As stated above in General Response 4, the purpose of the Proposed Project is to develop vineyards on the Walt Ranch; the EIR does not analyze the development of homes on the parcels because that is not proposed by the project applicant. No other reasonably foreseeable future development would occur on the project site beyond what is described in the EIR. Therefore, it is not appropriate to include the development of single-family homes on the Walt Ranch property in the cumulative analysis for the Proposed Project". (FEIR v1 pg4-39)

The FEIR foresees no other development on the properties as a result of the creation of an all-weather road system and the provision of water lines to each property, by a developer that has a track record of developing vineyard-ready residential subdivisions. [ http://www.hall-ranch.com ]. The FEIR states in General Response 4 (FEIR v1 pg4-5) that "There is no evidence that, elsewhere in the region, vineyard projects are being proposed as a catalyst for future residential development." They weren't looking very hard. (Please watch the video on the Hall Ranch site.)

From the Hall Ranch website:



The reason that everyone in the county is now stuck with traffic congestion, unaffordable housing, an agrarian landscape now littered with building projects and more and more in taxes to cover the infrastructure costs of an expanding population is because each project approved never considers the reasonably foreseen future development that the completed projects will necessitate, encourage and make possible. This FEIR has completely ignored the discussion of the reasonably foreseen "growth inducing impacts" that the project presents:

    CEQA Sec 15126.2(d) (pg155): "Growth-Inducing Impact of the Proposed Project. Discuss the ways in which the proposed project could foster economic or population growth, or the construction of additional housing, either directly or indirectly, in the surrounding environment. Included in this are projects which would remove obstacles to population growth (a major expansion of a waste water treatment plant might, for example, allow for more construction in service areas). Increases in the population may tax existing community service facilities, requiring construction of new facilities that could cause significant environmental effects. Also discuss the characteristic of some projects which may encourage and facilitate other activities that could significantly affect the environment, either individually or cumulatively. It must not be assumed that growth in any area is necessarily beneficial, detrimental, or of little significance to the environment."

If the developer is serious about denying the growth inducing impacts of their project perhaps they should place non-development conservation easements on the properties or a no-future-development clause into the property deeds. If they are serious about only using the vineyards to supply grapes for Hall wines then let them recombine the properties into one parcel as a show of commitment. I doubt that any of those steps will happen. The parcel and vineyard map of Walt Ranch is here. Just look at the vineyard block plan. Would any vintner sensibly create such a convoluted, inaccessible and expensive vineyard just to supply grapes to their winery? Would anyone buy 2300 acres of land for 288 acres of grapes? The convoluted vineyard configuration does insure that 34 of the 35 parcels each have some vineyard acreage necessitating road access and water availability required for the sale of vineyard-ready residential property.

The perfunctory discussion regarding growth inducing impacts by claiming this project is only about vineyards in the FEIR can only be seen as an attempt to fudge over real intent of the project and a sidestepping of the intent of CEQA. The CEQA "growth inducing impact" discussion is at the heart of this project.

It is, as well, a discussion that is at the heart of all the projects that that have generated so much opposition in the last two years as the obvious impacts of growth are beginning to destroy everything special about Napa County. Walt Ranch will eventually be a very lovely housing project if this vineyard conversion is allowed to go ahead as is. And the urbanization of Napa County, with each project's urbanizing impacts mitigated to a level of insignificance on paper, will go on unabated.

Thank you for this opportunity to re-emphasize my concerns.

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Road
Napa, CA 94558

Lois Battuello Letters on Walt Ranch


Bill Hocker - Apr 1, 2016 11:36PM  Share #1216

April 20, 2016

Napa County Planning Commission
1195 Third Street
Napa, CA 94558

Re: Walt Ranch and today’s presentation packages

Dear Members of the Commission:

Thank you for always recognizing the Public Comment provision of our Government Code, which permitted me to explain why I believe the Walt Ranch project should be subject to a Use Permit Application and why it is vital to this County, vis a vis SAF-34.

On my point that this is a future home site development, not just a vineyard application, I provided two maps from the Walt Ranch EIR that if super-imposed would show vineyard plans for all but the Capell Watershed parcel at the top of the map. These are Figures 3.3 and 3.4 I noted.

In your packages are other things that point to commercial development intentions:

-- Kathryn Hall told “The Napa Valley Register” on April 4 that her family has worked on the vineyard plans for a decade. At other times, that they’ve spent millions of dollars of their own money to develop the plans (and go through the process).

In the package you have been given, the last page is a copy of the Deed of Trust recorded in Napa County on August 17, 2012 showing Hall Brambletree Associates, Ltd borrowed $5.7 million for unspecified development expenses for the Walt Ranch properties.

Do the Hall family members live in the Limited Liability Company known as Hall Brambletree, or in some of the Limited Partnerships entitled to draw funds from this loan, such as Search Financial Services, L.P., or Hall Phoenix/Underwood Ltd.? This structure suggests there are other than Hall family members as investors, and that borrowings are the source of funds, not personal funds from the Halls.
-2-
-- Craig Hall is a real estate syndicator and syndicators make money by acquiring, developing, and reselling land for a profit for their investors

-- In the package just submitted are two pages from Sonoma County Planning Department records, one dated October 22, 2008. This memo notes Hall Financial Group was the applicant for Hall T - T Ranch Subdivision in Alexander Valley (known now at the Hall Ranch “community plantation development). Here, established vineyards were subdivided with vines in most cases more than 20 years old, the existing vineyards carved up into 10 forty- acre parcels, a neighborhood governed by a Homeowners Association in an agricultural district.

In other words, Craig Hall and Mike Reynolds of Walt Ranch have already developed other vineyard home sites in Alexander Valley.

-- In their Walt Ranch letter dated November 21, 2014, Hall and Reynolds asserted their rights to build 35 homes.

As noted in my March 28, 2016 letter to you, allowing Hall to get away with his scheme will cause the balances of Napa County's agricultural properties to fall to development never intended by Measure J, nor permitted by our General Plan. People will have to answer to charges of Public Corruption should it happen (meaning a repeat pattern of violating land use laws by any public official) for allowing the Walt Ranch scheme to advance.

The second document of interest is an internal memo showing Mike Reynolds, developer of the proposed Walt Ranch, as project manager for this commercial development. While Mike Reynolds now serves as President of Walt Wines, he functions as a developer for Craig and Kathryn Hall … a developer of home sites in rural areas, creating new residential enclaves that are not permitted in Napa, and a developer of their St. Helena Winery.

I believe David Morrison has done an excellent job of giving people a voice, but in a matter that is so limited, that which is before him, a Vineyard Application with the Erosion Control Plan and the EIR, that the other issues presented would be by-passed by the Board of Supervisors.

I believe the foregoing provides enough information to justify requiring a Use Permit application to also put this project on track for SAF-34 review.

Any effort you can lend to this cause would be appreciated by those who have not been given a voice otherwise allowed by the normal process for development schemes.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Lois Ann Battuello
1634 Main Street
St. Helena, CA 94574
 
Copy to: David Morrison, Director of Planning
-------------------------

To: "David Morrison"
Sent: Saturday, April 2, 2016 9:16:01 AM
Subject: Walt Ranch and Public Safety Questions - Use Permit or Vineyard Development Application?

Hi Dave,

Please see my letter below directed to the Planning Commission March 28. I have not yet requested to be placed on the agenda regarding Walt Ranch, however I have seen enough red flags related to the Walt Ranch project to suggest the appropriate application should be for a Use Permit, not a simple vineyard development, and I hope to address the Planning Commission to place this matter on their agenda, unless that is something you can accomplish?

Please see the last paragraph of page 2 below for a recap of what I do for our Country and our County. And see the top two paragraphs of Page 3. Then please go back to page 1 for a list of projects that included community developments in Napa County after the passage of Measure J -- all rejected or failed. I think you will see that Walt Ranch has the potential of creating a precedent that will bring great harm to our rural areas, stomp out our protective Titles, while I sense from a March 16 feature in "The Napa Valley Register" the developer would not hesitate to bring a lawsuit to attempt to set aside our Agricultural Preserve. Whoa, that's Texas bravado I've heard before.

Importantly, failure by Walt Ranch to apply for a Use Permit put this project outside of normal review by law enforcement, which is described in Napa County's General Plan Safety Element, SAF-34, which reads:

"Policy SAF-34: All new commercial and multi-family development shall be referred to the Sheriff’s
Department for review of public safety issues. If the proposed project is adjacent to or
within an incorporated city/town, consultation with their law enforcement agency shall
also be required"

Frankly, I don't know where to begin the discussion, but it isn't just a "conspiracy theory" approach that I am taking, my concerns are based on the fact that Mike Reynolds has asserted there is a right for each of the 35 parcels to have a home, Hall Financial Group (umbrella over Hall Brambletree L.P. and Hall Brambletree LLC) is an investment bank in Dallas, TX that syndicates real estate investments, including investments for foreign nationals, about whom we know nothing. Hall's first purchase of property in Napa County, 1995, also coincides with the Texas-based Richland Interests L.P.'s Soscol Ridge project. When that project was rejected, other Texans with big plans retreated.

I have also had personal experiences with local counsel for Hall and Reynolds where the truth had been distorted and angles used to circumvent county codes, particularly in matters related to Rich Frank and Koerner Rombauer, whose spectacular warehouse fire also destroyed Kathryn Hall's 1997 and 1998 wine releases ... an illegal warehouse project on its face, and a bit of a bootlegging operation until the fire changed their ways and the Frank-Rombauer venture vaporized.

As a resident of this County, I don't want any new precedent set that could cause harm. I was present when the Board of Supervisors literally put the developer in the Lake Luciana project (Pope Valley) under oath because he had lied so much. As it turns out, foreign (Arab) money was involved in that scheme as well as the other majors proposed for Napa County in the past. Simply put, we have no way of controlling what could be a runaway project without the benefit of a Use Permit application that allows ongoing review. If the vineyard plan is approved, there is no way to prevent provision of utilities to the various parcels of Walt Ranch and their sale of parcels, clearly a commercial activity resulting in formation of a new community.

I spent nearly two years with the General Plan Update Committee shepherding SAF-34 through for "Team Napa," a group that cannot identify itself in public, but who are in a position to review projects to assure we are safe ... but only when properly applied for.

I apologize for not having a copy of the Hall's Alexander Valley (Sonoma County) Hall Ranch project's CC&Rs scanned for attachment to the letter, however I will mail the letter below with attachment this week.

Thank you for your time, attention, and guidance.

Sincerely,

Lois Ann Battuello

-----------------------------
Letter to Planning Commission

March 28, 2016
Napa County Planning Commission (by hand delivery)
Re: Walt Ranch Vineyard Development Application #P11-00205 ECPA Project

Dear Commissioners:

I urge you to reject Walt Ranch’s Application to develop vineyards, regardless of findings of the Environmental Impact Report and Erosion Control reports.

The vineyards are appropriately zoned AW (Ag-Watershed) and AWOS (Ag-Watershed-Open Space), and while appropriately zoned for vineyard development as a source of fruit for syndicated Hall Wines, the vineyards are an ancillary use to a “planned community development” for which Walt Ranch is not zoned. Any development in the county for the purpose of building multiple single family homes can only be on properties zoned RS (Residential Single District) per Title 18.52 of Napa County Municipal Code. In the case of Hall Ranch, the vineyards become ancillary uses, providing views to prospective and future homeowners, as well as fruit for Hall Wines. Even sold without spec homes on the parcels, this is a planned community development with hardened roads to each parcel that would have easements recorded for access to each, and commonly-shared roads and entrance … a gated community with vineyard “views, views, views of rolling vineyards,” likely with commonly shared farm management.

The Community of Walt Ranch would be governed, as is their Hall Ranch development in Alexander Valley, by Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions that would be recorded immediately upon any approval of this vineyard plan, just as they were recorded in Sonoma County for Hall Ranch in Alexander Valley (Geyserville), evidenced by the attached cover sheet for the CC&R filing. Like Hall Ranch, Walt Ranch will advertise the estimated monthly HOA dues (Homeowner’s Association Dues), as soon as the project is developed for what Sotheby‘s terms a “community plantation development.” We do not permit new urban communities on land designated AG, AW, OS, or any combination of special zones, save RS noted above.

The County has no financial incentives to approve this project. “Bloomberg News” just reported that the French are on a buying spree in Napa County, and dozens of established winery properties are turning over, increasing our tax base considerably. Remember when the French rejected Robert Mondavi’s vineyard plans there because they didn’t want a forest harvested, despite their passion for vines and wines?
Four of the Alexander Valley Hall Ranch’s ten parcels have sold, two to individuals and two to investment companies which intend to flip the properties a second time, likely after developing homes on the sites. There is a more limited market for “build your own” than thoughtfully developed homes ready for occupancy that the investment companies could provide.

In the past, the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors have rejected similar developments in Napa County since Measure J was passed in 1990:

    Soscol Ridge (Richland Interests of Houston, TX). Location: Napa
    A referendum by the developer was rejected by 84% of the county’s voters

    Juliana Vineyards (Bill Harlan‘s Pacific Development Corp‘s project for Reunion Industries in 1996 on former Buttes Gas & Oil properties of Houston, TX). Location: Pope Valley

    Lake Luciana LLC (developers Criswell & Radovan for Four Seasons Resorts/Hotels on property owned by Triad Communities/Fred Grimm and Dallas Police & Fire’s TBD Realty of TX) which was tied in common ownership of the developer to historic Aetna Springs in 2009. Location: Pope Valley

    Eco Village fell apart when Lake Luciana was rejected; the project shared common ownership
    (Triad Communities) with the rejected Lake Luciana, and collapsed financially. Location: Angwin

    Carneros Inn was on land zoned commercial and was a mobile home and RV conversion; Calistoga Ranch replaced an existing RV park.

Walt Ranch’s Application is disengenuous, a way to incrementally develop the property … vines first, homes later under different building permits. Developer Craig Hall is a real estate syndication expert. By his admissions to “Dallas Morning News” (March 24, 2014), his Hall Financial Group has more than 500 investors and is moving to 600, who, among other assets, own Hall Wines. Both Hall Ranch and Walt Ranch appear to be syndications.

We have never approved any project in this county for a real estate syndication, the purpose of which is to purchase, develop, and resell property for a profit for shareholders by Hall’s admission at http://www. hallfinancial.com. That’s a non-permitted commercial activity on its face.

In our County, vineyards have never been intended as “spec developments” to make profits for real estate flippers/investors, rather core enterprises of family and partner- owned farms producing fruit for wineries, or core assets owned by wineries to meet production needs without home developments. You will never find Beckstoffer, Mondavi, Beringer, Charles Krug, or any of our large vineyard owners building a home on every parcel they own, and then flipping the parcels, or flipping parcels for home development by investment companies incident to the vineyards. You won’t find hardened roads throughout their vineyard parcels, only around the perimeters of the collective parcels or paved county roads to access them. Other roads through vineyard blocks are cultivated each year and re-established by farm activities, never hardened for all season use.

Hall Wines (one of the businesses owned by Hall Financial Group for which Craig Hall serves as an investor and CEO per “Dallas Morning News’s” D Magazine), has a use permit issued by the County for 1.26 million gallons (roughly 500,000 cases) of wine, and intends to expand current production to that limit and beyond, through projects similar to Walt Ranch. If you approve this, he’s likely to buy the former Juliana Vineyards/Lake Luciana project area’s vineyards and parcels, currently owned by Dallas Police & Fire’s Pension Fund, as is Aetna Springs, or purchase the failed Soscol Ridge site, or create something similar from any existing ranch he can find with multiple parcels that he’ll flip, while contracting fruit for ever-expanding Hall Wines. Craig Hall will do this over and over to satisfy the thirst of his real estate investment syndicate, and then will head to Planning, Building and Environmental Services Department with an application to modify his Hall Wines Use Permit to meet the demand of his 8,500 and growing wine club membership, and his 600 investor/owners who receive both cash dividends and cases of wine.

Craig Hall is a “moneyman” who has had two big crashes in 1986 and 2008-2010, likely busting out some investors. He lives on OPM (other people’s money), as well as his own. The film “Wall Street” has a great line: “They (moneymen) never die, they just grow back in different forms.” As noted in the foregoing “Dallas Morning News,” “Tapped out at the time (after the 2008 debacle), Craig came up with an investment plan to finish the (Hall Wines’ winery) project that’s similar to a private placement of preferred stock.

You may think of Craig Hall as the comeback kid, but I’ve not been able to find a proper registration for his business activity of real estate syndication filed with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission incident to his issuance of preferred stock. With some 600 investors, he is supposed to develop a prospectus and file as a broker with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission to approach 25 people or more by any form of solicitation -- mailers, newspapers, pep rallies (aka “dog and pony shows“), robocalls, or “big tent“ events.

Because there is no disclosure of his investors, who come from around the world, I have no way of knowing whether or not his investors include Saudi financiers of terrorism who were involved in other projects noted earlier, as well as Carneors Inn and Montalcino Resort at one time. I am one of our Country’s experts in tracing terrorist financiers’ funds globally, and getting documents to our Governor (having served two of them), the White House (having served three Presidents), the U.S. Senate (recruited me in 1994), and the Southern District of NY (FBI and JTTF) who head the 9/11 criminal investigation.

Terrorist financiers were also involved in the City of Napa with “Starwood Westin Verasa Napa” and “St. Regis” at Stanley Ranch where the ownership has been changed. In the City of Calistoga, they were involved in the Diamond Hills and Silver Rose projects, but this has also been changed. It is only through
Discovery in a lawsuit brought by the County that we can depose Craig Hall and issue Subpoena Deuces Tecums to learn the identity of his investors to know whether or not we are safe. To date, I have kept us safe, as has President Bush with the rejection of the Montalcino Resort project that had avoided review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (aka CFIUS, U.S. Treasury and FBI, among others).

I found out years after the rejection of Soscol Ridge that one of the financiers of terrorism was behind that project, so you made the right decision then, as did voters who have had enough of new vineyard developments at the sacrifice of our forests.

With Craig Hall’s Hall Financial Group located in Dallas, TX, and the Dallas Police & Fire Pension located in Dallas, I wouldn’t be surprised if Craig Hall is looking to purchase, through syndication, the Lake Luciana and Aetna Springs assets to help his local firemen. He would once again be Dallas’s hero. Approval of this project would set a PRECEDENT for the foregoing scenario of community plantation developments, while Dallas Police & Fire have other alternatives and are moving against parties responsible for the failed projects (attorneys and cpa‘s). Nonetheless, Hall could help bail out the pension funds loaded with $8 billion in debts and only $3 billion in assets, with resurrection of the Pope Valley projects.

If you approve this vineyard development Application, Walt Ranch will flip the new vineyard properties. Walt Ranch’s total investment before vineyard development is $10 million. The syndicate would recover the cost of the 2005 purchase likely from the sale of only 3 parcels after vineyards are developed, at prices close to $5 million per parcel in Napa County. The balance of parcel sales would be gravy, flowing to Craig and Kathryn Hall and their preferred shareholders, additionally providing seed capital to do this over and again in Napa County.

Keep in mind that moneymen have to keep buying, selling, buying again, selling again to satisfy commitments to preferred shareholders.

I grew up on a family farm in the county, picking prunes, grapes, walnuts, suckering, tying vines, budding, and assisting during harvests in many ways. I love vineyards, but not at the sacrifice of 28,000 trees on this cattle ranch, and the dangerous precedent. I would think a cattle ranch is something a Texan would take pride in owning.
Keep those trees, help the county meet its state-mandated goals to reduce our carbon footprint by leaving those trees alone! I have no idea how many tons of carbon dioxide are processed by them, but any loss has negative consequences.

I urge you to reject this precedent- setting Walt Ranch vineyard development application.
Thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration.
Sincerely,
 
Lois Ann Battuello

A letter from the Halls


Bill Hocker - Mar 15, 2016 9:34PM  Share #1205

The Napa County planning department public presentation of the Walt Ranch Final EIR is scheduled to happen on April 4th 2016.

This week in the mail I received a promotional packet for the project from the developers with a prepaid mail-in survey card. It is an impressive public relations effort. The owners, Kathryn and Craig Hall, probably have a large circle of friends, so no doubt a lot of postcards will be sent in with the "I support the Walt Ranch vineyard proposal" box checked. One wonders how many of the "I oppose the Walt Ranch vineyard proposal" boxes will be checked. I give them credit for asking both questions.

The flier, as one might expect, is rosy about the issues of "water conservation", "erosion control" and "tree preservation" not dwelling on the 69 million gallons of water that must be pumped out of the aquifer each year, the amount of earth moving needed for 500 acres of clearing and grading including 21 miles of roads or the removal of 28,600 trees over 5" dia. to make way for the vines. As usual in every EIR, all environmental impacts have been mitigated by the developer's numbercrunchers to "less-than-significant levels". Unfortunately, residents must also spend enormous amounts of money to have their own equally qualified numbercrunchers come to different conclusions.

The one issue that is most important to me (and it seems to be only my interest) is almost unmentioned in the flier: "For most of the year, vehicles entering or leaving Walt Ranch will be almost unnoticeable, as there will not be a winery on-site or the ability for tourists or the public to access the site." They overlook the 4 years of construction activity, of course. Also they imply that this is one site with the potential for "a" winery. Walt Ranch is in fact 35 already subdivided sites with the potential for 35 wineries plus 105 dwelling units under current county zoning. Are the Halls willing to prohibit further development with binding non-development conservation easements on the properties to insure that future development "would not result in cumulative impacts to transportation and circulation in the area"? As I have tried to make the case here, to treat this project as just a vineyard conversion without considering "growth inducing impacts" that development of the site will have is a travesty of appropriate governmental oversight. This project is simply the infrastructure development for a 35 parcel housing subdivision, no different from other properties developed by that Halls and the county should be treating it as such.

Walt Ranch Second Look


Lisa Hirayama - Apr 7, 2015 7:29PM  Share #754


MST groundwater shortage


Lisa Hirayama - Dec 16, 2014 1:12AM  Share #499


Napa City opposes Walt Ranch


Daniel Mufson - Dec 7, 2014 7:24PM  Share #492


1000' noticing at the BOS Dec 9th


Jim Wilson - Dec 7, 2014 4:07AM  Share #491

Hi All,

We'd like to have a good turnout and show support as Mr. Morrison's proposes important CEQA procedure changes for Napa.

It's an 1100 agenda item at next week's BOS MEETING TUESDAY 12/9/14. (The agenda won't be uploaded until Friday.)

DESCRIPTION: Director of Planning, Building and Environmental Services requests the Commission recommend to the Board adoption of a County-sponsored resolution. The proposed resolution will: 1) amend the County's local procedures for implementing CEQA to eliminate the option of allowing applicants to contract directly with environmental consultants for preparation of CEQA documents including Environmental Impact Reports; 2) expand the radius of public notice provided regarding CEQA documents from 300 feet to 1,000 feet from the project parcel; and 3) other non-substantive clerical corrections.

-------------------------------------------------------
Gary Margadant wrote:

Hi Jim

I just looked at the BOS Agenda for 12/9 and the CEQA changes for that date are only the noticing (see Agenda Letter 9F): "Direction was given to expand noticing from 300 ft. to 1,000 ft. from project sites, and to provide a courtesy notice within a short period after an application is submitted to the County". The huge part of this change is the last bit, notification when the applications are submitted, so if you are on the distribution list, forewarning is in the works.

Note the noticing requirements on page 4. This will not change, so the notification upon application is huge. 10, 20 and 30 days notice is in favor of the applicant and county as it limits time to gather research, resources and effectively comment.

NOTE: CEQA changes as to the Planning Dept having more say over the hiring and direction of consultants has been rescheduled back to the Planning Commission on Dec 17 with a BOS review and action in January 2015. This is the major change in the County Code for processing EIR's.

I will be there to comment on these changes. With only 3 minutes to comment, I need to have others share the comment subjects. Normally, we only try to coordinate within our group, but we are open to suggestions.

Policy Manual Resolution: The attached resolution would add a new policy to the Planning Division's administrative procedures obligating staff to send out a courtesy notice to all property owners within the 1,000 ft. radius and along a shared private drive shortly after a new project is submitted to the department for review. This notice would generally occur within two weeks of project submittal and be distributed concurrent with the request for comments sent to referral agencies and departments. This "notice of pending project" would be in addition to the formal legal notice required by State Law. The intent behind this early notice is to inform interested property owners as close as possible to the commencement of the County's review of the request.

After reading the Agenda Letter for Item 9F and supporting document A , proposed ordinance Redline, I NOTE a huge problem, On this document, see See Section 1, 2.88.010 Definitions, Items F 1&2 (pages 2 & 3). Then note Section 2, items B 1 a&b (page 4).

The county is retaining a 300 ft notification radius for some projects, so the 1000 ft is not applicable to all projects. Erosion Control Plan Notification will be retained @ 300 ft. THIS is HUGE and should not be allowed, since ECPs affect a much larger area of the valley than the 300 ft.

Now I know why the Correspondence Letter from the NC Farm Bureau, NV Vintners, GrapeGrowers and WineGrowers are all in favor of these changes.

We have to do a coordinated opposition to this failure to include all projects within the 1000 ft radius of notification.

About Circle Oaks by Barry Eberling


Bill Hocker - Nov 30, 2014 9:12AM  Share #483

NVR 11/29/14: Circle Oaks fills role as Napa niche community

And this article sanctioned by the Napa Valley Grapegrowers:
Napa Valley vineyards: From mountaintop to valley floor
While not specifically mentioning Walt Ranch, this article does seem a highbrow defense of vineyard development in even the most rugged hills and the timing can't be coincidental. This means that the Farm Bureau and the Grapegrowers are now publicly in support (or at least not opposing) the project. They should also make clear their stance on the development of residential compounds and wineries on the 35 parcels.

The City of Napa responds to Walt Ranch


Daniel Mufson - Nov 24, 2014 8:18PM  Share #476

Here is the City of Napa’s response to the Walt Ranch dEIR. As you can see they have several serious concerns including sediment, pesticides and the potential for home development on the property. I’d say this is a most significant response as it puts the city into play against the county. Thanks are due to Chris Malan, Bob Wallin and Carl Bunch for pursuing this with the city.

WaltRanch DEIR Comments-CityNapaWater-11-21-14.pdf

Note this from the letter:
    "If the County of Napa were to approve the proposed project, it should impose a condition of approval prohibiting any future development of one or more single-family dwellings, small residential care facilities, recreational vehicle parks or campgrounds. To protect the public water supply [of] Milliken Reservoir, ..the Water Division opposes the future establishment of the aforementioned uses in the Milliken Reservoir watershed."

[Tourism wineries are OK? - BH]

Formal Response Letters to Walt Ranch


Daniel Mufson - Nov 23, 2014 8:11PM  Share #466

I’m attaching a submission by the legal team hired by the Circle Oaks Water Board and Home Owners Association. The letter has been prepared by Rachel Mansfiels-Howlett of Provencher & Flatt, LLP, Santa Rosa:

11-21 Walt Ranch Comment final RMH.pdf

Report by Patrick Higgins for the Living Rivers Council concerning Walt Ranch:

Walt_Ranch_Higgins_11_21_14_Sent_10_AM.pdf

Thomas Lippe, Attorney writitng on behalf of the Living Rivers Council Letter:

C007a DEIR comment 4.pdf

Chris Malan of Living Rivers Council letter in opposition:

Walt Ranch ECPA LRC comments 11.21.2014.doc

Letters to Planning Department RE: Walt Ranch


Lisa Hirayama - Nov 23, 2014 7:55PM  Share #469

November 19, 2014

Kelli Cahill, Planner III
Napa County Planning, Building and Environmental Services Dept
1195 Third Street, 2nd Floor
Napa, CA 94558
RE: Draft Environmental Impact Report Walt Ranch Expansion Project #P11-002005-ECPA

Dear Ms. Cahill,

I have concerns regarding the above named Walt Ranch project that aren't referred to in the DEIR, but I believe are relevant to this proposal. I believe these issues need to be considered in the decision process of whether or not to approve this development.

It has come to my attention that Hall Financial of Frisco, TX is selling a 421-acre property in Geyserville on which they are awaiting approval to subdivide into 10 parcels. Once approved, they will be selling the parcels as estates, each with vineyard acreage. Interestingly enough, those vineyard blocks appear similar to how Hall Brambletree will be planting their 356 acres of vineyards on 35 parcels for Walt Ranch. Will the County specifically prevent the splitting of Walt Ranch into estates, if in fact, that is the end goal of Hall Brambletree? I have attached to this letter the informational flyers on this property. I would like to understand if a corporation can receive a development permit under the Napa Ag Preserve and then years later, possibly subdivide the property and sell it as estate parcels? How would this be the "highest and best use" of agricultural land? Once the County allows Walt Ranch to move forward, will Hall Brambletree be required to file an EIR again if they want to sell off each parcel as an estate? Or does it mean that once they are allowed to develop Walt Ranch as vineyards, later on they can do as they wish to the property without any restrictions? Will the impact on the neighbors and the environment have no validity?

A neighbor in passing commented to me that Circle Oaks is similar to Foss Valley which is due west of us up Soda Canyon Road. She said it has suffered no ill effects from vineyard development. I would beg to differ for many reasons. Our soil is of a completely different quality because we are more prone to slides and subsidence. For example, on January 1, 2006, there was a massive mudslide between Circle Oaks and Napa that closed Hwy 121 for a week. There are also always pockets of mudslides in our neighborhood that occur when heavy rains fall. Foss Valley's "hillsides are steep and well drained with volcanic soils of red dirt, loads of rock and tuffa." The soils there are not deep and it has a high water table. There is a surprisingly broad valley floor "with all of the area's water flowing into it from sources such as Rector and Milliken Creeks." Foss Valley is relatively close to the Walt Ranch project, but no comparison can be made between the two since the areas are dissimilar in soil quality, stability, water sources and current residential population. There is no moderately dense housing in that area. Circle Oaks operates a closed water system for its residents with no access to any other public water sources. Circle Oaks is truly unique and believed to be the only such type of this community in the State of California.

I have learned that the Hall's own the property at 3438 Atlas Peak Road under a different company name. One would think this should have been disclosed in the DEIR if there exists another access point to Walt Ranch other than Circle Oaks Drive, their dirt road 1/4 mile east past the CO entrance and Circle S, but I don't recall seeing anything about it. Shouldn't Napa County know all information if it pertains to Walt Ranch? Why would Hall Brambletree not mention it even if it is under a different named company owned by the Hall's? This goes to the transparency of this project--what else is possibly being concealed?

On November 16, 2014, "60 Minutes" aired a segment about the depletion of groundwater in California, especially in the Central Valley, to sustain agricultural crops. Wells are now being dug 1200' down to reach water and the ground has dropped 6' in some areas of the Valley because so much groundwater has been pumped out. One test well dropped 5' in one month and that same well has dropped 200' in the last few years. Water levels are at historic lows in the Central Valley. Is this what it will take for Napa County to realize that projects like Walt Ranch are devastating and unsustainable? By that time, the damage will be irreversible. Napa County should be considering the future cumulative impacts of allowing so much groundwater to be removed if Walt Ranch is allowed to proceed.
http://www.cbs.com/shows/60_minutes/video/

This past August, the Groundwater Resources Advisory Committee, formed in 2008 to study, monitor and make recommendations about Napa County's groundwater supplies, delivered its final report to the Board of Supervisors. "It focused on the valley floor because it contains the greatest amount of groundwater and the hillsides' complex geology would take too long to tackle. Gauging groundwater health in the hillsides would have to be done on a property-by-property basis." The committee declined to comment on how one property owner's water usage would impact another neighbor's well. "It's all very site-specific", so developing rules for usage can't be applied universally. If that is the case, then how can Hall Brambletree conclude that just by testing Walt Ranch wells, the Gale Well and the Circle-S wells, there is more than enough water in the aquifer to support Walt Ranch, Circle Oaks and all neighboring properties. They did not even know where the COCWD wells and possible spring were located, much less test them. I learned from a neighbor who relies on well water that testing for water volume should be done in the month of September. Walt Ranch testing was done in June 2009 before peak summer usage and before the drought. I would conclude that the Walt Ranch aquifer testing appears to be woefully inadequate and, at a minimum, needs to be retested for the current year.

Climate change is a reality. One just has to watch the news everyday to see the incredible rainfall and flooding that occurred this past summer back east, in the midwest, the south and the southwest, but California got nothing. Now all those areas are in a deep freeze with record snowfalls for this time of year, and California is still below average in rainfall for this time of year. Water monitoring needs to be mandatory for any new vineyard development or expansion. We can't extrapolate future water availability based on past water availability because climate change has made those records obsolete. The water issue is one of the most important aspects of any expansion or development in Napa Valley and the hills surrounding the valley. Water is life and it needs to be protected. I believe that Napa County needs to be the steward of the land and protect the well being of its residents. It needs to stop issuing use permits for new vineyards without considering the cumulative impact on the environment, watersheds, and residents. Now is the time for Napa County to make the difficult decisions that can one day be looked upon as the turning point that preserved Napa Valley for future generations. The residents are the heart and soul of Napa Valley, not the corporate vineyards.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Lisa Hirayama

---------------------------------------

November 21, 2014

Kelli Cahill, Planner III
Napa County Planning, Building and Environmental Services Dept
1195 Third Street, 2nd Floor
Napa, CA 94558
RE: Draft Environmental Impact Report Walt Ranch Expansion Project #P11-002005-ECPA

Dear Ms. Cahill,

I have lived in Circle Oaks for 14 years and am deeply concerned about the above named project. As a lay person, I have done my best to understand this immense document. As such, I believe there are innumerable troubling issues in the DEIR, some of which I list below, and therefore, it should be rejected in its current form.

Section 3.4.3, pg 3.28
Walt Ranch proposes to use 213.5 acre feet of water annually or approximately 69.6 million gallons of water. The proposed project would rely solely on groundwater (Appendix--Vol I, pg 3-41). Circle Oaks used 19.5 million gallons of water in 2013, down from 23 million gallons in 2012. As of 11/19/14, Circle Oaks water usage for this year is down nearly 10% from last year at this time. Circle Oaks is doing their part to conserve water, so why would Napa County allow a vineyard to use 3.5 times the amount of water for grapes that a residential community uses to sustain lives? The state is in its third year of drought, now categorized as an exceptional drought, so how does Napa County justify allowing a project to massively dewater the aquifer? There is no way of knowing when or if this drought will end. California residents have done their share of conserving water: overall state usage is down 11.5%, but the Bay Area has decreased usage by 15%. Why then would Napa County give all that water savings to a vineyard for their grapes? Will Napa County guarantee that Circle Oaks, Atlas Peak, Monticello Road or any Walt Ranch neighbors not run out of water? If this project is approved, it is very possible that it could take a few years for water issues to arise. Will Napa County guarantee to pay for the water that will have to be trucked in to sustain households? Property owners on Mt. Veeder are experiencing dry springs/wells after the 32-acre Woolls Ranch vineyard was planted. How can I NOT be concerned about a 356-acre vineyard and the effect it will have on the water table. The California Water Code section 106 states, "It is hereby declared to be the established policy of this State that the use of water for domestic purposes is the highest use of water and that the next highest use is for irrigation." Given this statement, how can Napa County justify allowing agriculture to take priority over human consumption of water?

Section 4.6.1-3, pg 4.6-15
When groundwater is depleted, the concentration of minerals and solids increases. The DEIR states that "the primary constituents of concern are high total dissolved solids (TDS), nitrate, boron and organic compounds." A table on the following page lists arsenic, iron, manganese, and silica from groundwater samples taken at wells in June 2009 and May 2007. Why weren't samples taken recently to see if concentrations have increased after three years of drought? It appears that all the information we have encountered in the DEIR was taken in 2009 which is pre-drought. If the mineral concentrations increase years down the road and the water is unsafe to drink, will Napa County pay for water to be trucked in for all affected residents? Who will guarantee that our water will remain safe to drink when the ground water is depleted? Mt. Veeder is now experiencing high concentrations of boron and arsenic in a pond well since the Woolls Ranch vineyard was planted in 2010. Those levels are too high for grape irrigation and human consumption. In July 2013, Woolls Ranch began hauling water to irrigate their vines. Between 7/10/13 and 9/30/13, a time period of 82 days, Woolls Ranch hauled 1,748,000 gallons of water for their vineyard. In a time period of just 3 years, boron and arsenic levels have increased to unsafe levels and nearly 2 million gallons of water is being trucked in. Is this the fate Walt Ranch neighbors will have to endure in a few years if this project is approved? What will it take for Napa County to protect domestic water usage which is deemed by the California Water Code section 1254 to be "the highest use of water"?

Section 4.6.1-4, pgs 4.6-18 and 19
The DEIR states, "The COCWD may also have two wells and a spring water source located along the southern Walt Ranch property boundary; numerous attempts to contact the COCWD to participate in the groundwater study went unanswered." It would seem logical that if the hydrologist is trying to determine how Walt Ranch water usage will affect existing the water supply, he should know exactly where all wells and springs are located, not state "COCWD may also have.....property boundary". How can he determine how much water is available in the aquifer if he doesn't even know how many locations are tapping into that aquifer? He refers to five wells that are representative of the local groundwater conditions, but he doesn't verify that there could be more in the area? That analysis sounds extremely incomplete. It is also difficult to believe that Hall Brambletree (HB)was unable to make contact with anyone from COCWD. The ranch entrance is 150 feet from the COCWD office where someone staffs it Monday through Friday from 9am to noon. COCWD has an answering machine for off-hours, and there is an emergency number HB could have used if they were truly unable to make contact any other way. COCWD has no record that they were ever contacted by HB. This statement makes me wonder how much other information contained in the DEIR is suspect and dubious.

The DEIR states, "Due to the highly fractured nature of the Sonoma Volcanics and subsequent folding of the geology, it can be difficult to predict the influences of groundwater pumping over long distances in these rocks. Groundwater is found within the fractures, fissures and joints of the rocks." It states that the recharging of the Sonoma Volcanic rocks would be expected to occur due to direct rainfall on various types of surfaces that would filter down to the Volcanics. As I stated previously, California is currently in an exceptional drought, and no one knows when, or even if, it will end. With climate change, this region might never again have the normal rainfall we once experienced. How is the aquifer suppose to recharge if there is no rainfall? In January 2014, Governor Brown asked CA citizens to conserve water and they did. Again, how can Napa County justify allowing a vineyard development that will use 69.6 million gallons of water when there is an ongoing statewide conservation of water? California residents are not conserving water just so that it can be given to a corporation to grow grapes.

Also, because the Sonoma Volcanics are highly fractured, it can be more susceptible to earthquakes. A tributary creek that runs through Circle Oaks is normally dry during the summer. After the 8/24 earthquake, it started flowing and is still flowing strong. Creeks in Vallejo, Green Valley and Sonoma, normally dry at this time of year, have been flowing again due to the earthquake. Some people believe that this proves there is extra water in the aquifer, while I believe that the groundwater has been pushed to the surface which means there will be less water in the aquifer. Unfortunately, all that water flowing in the creek is not being saved for any use. How can anyone really know how much groundwater there is? After the September 2000 earthquake, one of the springs used by COCWD increased its flow. And just as easily as an earthquake can increase water flow, it can also cause creeks to dry up. I understand that acts of nature cannot be predicted. However, when one is willing to allow vineyard water usage priority over human lives, then something is seriously wrong. The aquifer has been productive in sustaining Circle Oaks and it's neighbors, but increasing its water demand 3.5 times over current human consumption just for grapes seems to defy common sense. Is Napa County going to monitor the water usage if Walt Ranch is allowed to be developed? Highly doubtful, so will Walt Ranch be monitoring their own wells for the sake of Circle Oaks? That's like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.

The groundwater analysis looked at the proposed pumping with annual precipitation and the average drought year. The flaw in that statement is that there is no average drought year anymore due to climate change. The DEIR makes the following partial statements, "A typical and conservative estimate of specific yield; based on available data; based on these calculations; volume that can potentially be extracted." Does this mean that there was no actual testing done to determine the true volume of groundwater? It sounds like it's all calculations based on information that might no longer be relevant or accurate. What happens if Walt Ranch is permitted and then it's proven that their numbers were inaccurate? There will be no reversing the damage that will have been done. Will Napa County just say "too bad"? Will Napa County take responsibility for their error in allowing this project to be developed? The analysis found that there is sufficient groundwater available in the Sonoma Volcanics to support the proposed project for a long period of time, even during drought years and even when demand might exceed recharge. Again, who is guaranteeing that statement to be true? Hall Brambletree? Napa County? As I stated before, who knows when and if the current drought will end. Global warming is throwing a monkey wrench into all previous climate records. These tests were done in June 2009 before the drought began. Why were measurements not taken more recently? And I've been told that to get an accurate reading of well water volumes, it should be measured in September, not in June before the peak summer usage.

Walt Ranch is proposing to build four new open reservoirs for the groundwater storage. Based on typical evaporation rates in the region, the DEIR estimates that 207 acre feet, or 6,745,116 gallons will be lost to evaporation. That translates to a third of the water consumed by Circle Oaks in one year, and this will happen every year. Why would Napa County allow that type of water waste? The DEIR states that average annual rainfall is 35" and will directly add 27.4 acre feet (or 8,928,317 gallons) into the reservoirs annually, so that amount will offset any evaporative losses from the storage reservoirs. In this time of drought, why would anyone think 6.7 million gallons evaporating annually is acceptable? If covered water storage tanks were used, then it would be an 8.9 million gallon water gain every year for the aquifer. However, the problem with the whole situation is that it is working off the assumption that every year will have 35" of rainfall. What happens when there isn't that much rainfall for extended years? What if there is never that much rainfall ever again?

Appendix--Volume I: Section 3, pg 3-8, d,e)
Hall Brambletree (HB) intends to manage the vineyards with sustainable agricultural practices. Does that mean poisonous pesticides? They state that it's not expected "to expose sensitive receptors to substantial pollutant concentrations or create objectionable odors affecting a substantial number of people." Since "this impact is considered less than significant , the EIR will not discuss or analyze these issues." Shouldn't ONE person be considered significant? If I'm that ONE person, why am I not important enough to consider? If my health or my children's health are affected by HB's poisons, why am I not considered signficant enough? We currently breathe unpolluted air. Is Napa County going to guarantee that the air I breathe will not become poisonous from pesticide usage on Walt Ranch? The prevailing winds blow directly onto my house from where the proposed vineyards will be developed. Will I no longer be able to enjoy the breeze in the late afternoon and evenings because I will have to worry about the poisons that might be carried by the wind? Will I no longer be able to open my windows because it will be dangerous to have any dust settle into my house possibly contaminated with pesticides? Why should my right to breathe clean air be considered less important than vineyard development?

Appendices Vol. I, Appendix D, pg 11
When a well is drilled, it is sealed to prevent contaminants from entering into the groundwater from the surface. For agricultural purposes, wells are sealed down 25 feet. For domestic usage, wells are sealed down 50 feet. The wells that have been drilled on Walt Ranch are sealed 50 feet down. If the property is to be developed under the Ag Preserve, why would Hall Brambletree need to seal 50 feet down? After learning of the Geyserville property for sale that I reference in my November 19, 2014 letter, this just reinforces suspicions that Walt Ranch will be subdivided in the future and sold as estate parcels. It would appear that Hall Brambletree is trying to develop the area under the guise of agriculture, but that is not what the end result will be. Why would the County not take possible future developments into consideration when granting approval under the Ag Preserve? If this permit is allowed because of the Ag Preserve, then how can houses be considered agricultural?

The Napa County Planning Department, the Planning Commission and the County Board of Supervisors need to listen to their citizens. Our county government has the responsibility to the hundreds, if not thousands, of residents who will be impacted by the Walt Ranch project. It is a massive and aggressive proposal that threatens to cause chronic dewatering problems and put entire communities and the environment at risk. Approval of this project would send the wrong message to the wine industry and to the people who live in rural Napa County. One of Napa County's roles in government is to be the steward of the land and protect it for current and future generations. Please remember that when making your decision on Walt Ranch.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Lisa Hirayama

Walt Ranch Opposition Letter


Diane Shepp - Nov 21, 2014 3:56PM  Share #465

November 21, 2014

County of Napa
Planning, Building and Environmental Services Department
Attn: Kelli Cahill, Project Planner
1195 Third Street-Suite 210
Napa, CA 94559

I am opposed to the proposed Walt Ranch project for several reasons. The project mitigation measures are inadequate. The findings and conclusions are not supported by the evidence. The Walt Ranch EIR, although voluminous is inadequate, insufficient and makes erroneous conclusions.

The EIR fails to fully evaluate the immitigable, irreversible impacts of the project on neighboring properties, Milliken dam siltation, degradation of the Capell Creek watershed, depletion of the areas aquifer/ground water, degradation of one of the few pristine natural woodland areas left in Napa County, long term effects of clear-cutting over 28,000 mature trees, loss of wildlife, the increase in traffic through a quiet residential neighborhood, to name a few.

The EIR makes conclusions contrary to know facts (or lack thereof) including the rain fall necessary to fill reservoirs. Napa and the State of California are in a severe drought, from which it will take many years to recover. Once ground water is depleted it takes even more years if not centuries to restore aquifers and in the interim the ground itself sinks into the spaces left where underground water once was and the soil either compacts or erodes.

The State of California and the County of Napa do not have current or substantiated data as to the actual ground water in the hills surrounding the Napa Valley. Therefore the County of Napa does not have substantiated evidence on which to base a knowledgeable decision about current existing ground water levels. The rubber stamping of vineyard and winery applications by the Napa County Planning Department has been a dangerous guessing game. However it is known that in the contiguous area just south of the proposed Walt project, the MST ground water has already been depleted.

The Napa County Assessor’s website states:
    Some California groundwater basins are being "mined" faster than they are recharged by rainfall and surface waters. Courts have held that the rights of owners who draw from such over-drafted basins can be restricted so as to share the limited groundwater resource equitably.

    In Napa County there are several groundwater basins, one of which is known to be in decline, the Milliken, Sarco, Tulocay (MST) basin. The United States Geological Survey is in the process of expanding a 1977 study of the MST basin that is named for the three major streams located in the study area. The MST basin extends generally from Hardman Avenue on the north to the ridgeline on the east (Atlas Peak/Mt. George/Sugarloaf) to Imola Avenue on the south and the Napa City limits and Silverado Trail on the west.

    In 1999, the Napa County Board of Supervisors passed a groundwater management ordinance regulating the extraction and use of groundwater in the county and requiring the issuance of a groundwater permit before development may occur. Because the MST basin is in overdraft, groundwater uses are subject to unique restrictions. For example a groundwater permit in the MST basin cannot be issued if evidence exists showing that the proposed agricultural, commercial or residential development will increase the existing water use on that parcel beyond the fair-share amount or take more than its fair share of groundwater if there is no pre-existing use.

The Walt Ranch proposed project is one of approximately twenty-five new vineyards/wineries projects currently in the Napa County Planning Department. When is enough enough? Enough vineyards and enough water to sustain the vineyards, wineries and existing neighborhoods? Has the County of Napa already reached a tipping point of no return?

Until there is substantiated, recent evidence regarding ground water levels in Napa County, among other things, I ask that the Walt Ranch EIR as submitted be challenged and not approved as submitted.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of my request.

Diane Shepp​
3580 Soda Canyon Road, Napa, CA 94558​

'Napa NIMBY Army' recognized


Bill Hocker - Nov 19, 2014 10:10PM  Share #463

NVR 11/19/14: Walt Ranch opponents deliver petition

In the comments to this Barry Eberling article the expression 'NIMBY Army' is used, as usual as a pejorative. To those of us NIMBY's who have accepted the title as a badge of honor, as the shock troops in the battle against the development interests threatening to destroy the small-town rural character of Napa county, it's heartening to see that our increasing numbers have now been recognized.

Walt Ranch Letters due on friday


Daniel Mufson - Nov 18, 2014 8:39AM  Share #458

The deadline for comments to the Walt Ranch is this Friday at 4PM. I’m attaching a template to make it a bit easier for you to send in your comments. It is important to send a message which hopefully will identify a fatal flaw. Even if you comments are not fatal, it is important that the Supervisors see how much opposition there is to this project. They do count votes--although they sure do count their contributions too! Those of you who spoke at the public forum can send in your message. Halt Walt Now! You won’t have another chance.

Walt opposition letter template (MSword doc)

CEQA Oak Woodland Conservation


Bill Hocker - Nov 17, 2014 11:42AM  Share #456

In going though the CEQA guidelines looking for something else I saw that there is a section specifically devoted to Oak Woodlands. It is §21083.4 on page 31 in this version of the guidelines.

Understanding CEQA guidelines is beyond me, but perhaps someone can clarify why these provisions would or would not apply to the Walt project. The fact that Oak woodlands in particular are called out (while, for example, redwood forests are not) make me think that the drafters of the document felt that oak woodlands were of particular concern in the state.

Hall Ranch: The future of Walt Ranch


Sandy Ericson - Nov 16, 2014 7:49PM  Share #451

A big wine guy just sent me this map -- no words, just the map. And he's never contacted me before. I tracked it down through the Sotheby's label and found that they are apparently already marketing for sale the 10 subdivisions of the 421 acre Hall Ranch in the Alexander Valley. The map is of the 10 sub-divisions. This is a big head's up of what the next move will be for the Walt Ranch if the pattern holds -- except there will be 65 divisions and more. Scroll down to see the listing.



Sotheby's Listing
($24,000,000 for the whole thing?)
Hall Ranch Website

-----------------------------------

Jim Wilson writes:

Well, news:

This property is in Geyserville on Wilson Road. It does not currently have a street address. See the map link here. Look familiar?

http://www.hall-ranch.com/#!map/c1f6w

I spoke to the Sonoma County Assessor's Office and learned that this is Parcel 21. It is at or near 2437 Wilson Road. This is unclear to the person I spoke to. It is currently being split into ten parcels. Those parcel numbers are:

131-250-001, 131-250-002, etc thru parcel no. 131-250-010

The owner is Hall T-T LLC. The mailing address is given:

Attn: Legal Department
6801 Gaylord Parkway, Suite 100
Frisco, TX 75034

This needs to be included in our DEIR comments. It's a reasonably foreseeable build out for WALT but the DEIR ignores its impacts by impermissibly limiting the scope of the project.

Walt Ranch: Nov12th DEIR public comments audio and article


Bill Hocker - Nov 13, 2014 10:48AM  Share #448

The audio (but not video) of the Nov 12th 2014 meeting convened by Planning Director David Morrison to take public comments regarding the Walt Ranch Erosion Control Plan and Draft EIR is already! up on the county website.
The audio is here

Barry Eberling's NVR article on the meeting is here:
Walt Ranch opponents use signs to make a point

My own take from attending the meeting: Thank goodness that such a large, articulate, organized and passionate group is in the maw of this development monster (see Carolyn Chute's plan left). And thank goodness for a planning director that seems committed to the airing of the impacts of development projects going on in the county.

Much comment was rightly given to the issues of water depletion and woodland conservation. Both are significant issues for the county as a whole, and both have been completely neglected in the development of ever more watershed vineyards. The drought is now forcing the county to look at the water issue, and that issue deserves serious scrutiny on this project. Also let's hope that the the Walt development and the Circle S development adjacent to it, which together amount to 3900 acres of unspoiled county woodland, will begin a discussion of the benefits of adding marginal amounts of vineyard to the Napa grape resource versus a legacy of undeveloped natural habitat to be enjoyed by future generations.

IMHO the Walt Ranch project is not a vineyard conversion. On its face it is a proposal to develop 365 acres (now 288 perhaps) of woodland into vineyards. The tortured vineyard plan (see above) shows just how difficult the development of these acres will be. Major woodland clearing, blasting, major rock removal and road reconstruction. This is a rugged piece of property, and the development costs will far exceed a typical vineyard development. The process has taken 7 years so far, 500 investors are involved; this is not about the yearly return on a 365/288 acre grape harvest. (The fact that the Halls are willing to reduce the number of acres to appease neighbors shows how unimportant the vineyard revenues are). This "erosion control plan'" is really about the development of the infrastructure to serve the 35 properties of a high-end residential-commercial subdivision.

Until now, the county planning department has had a no-questions-asked policy on vineyard conversions as long as an erosion control plan follows county guidelines. All vineyards are seen as having no negative impacts on future county development. That has led to a vast expansion of watershed vineyard property in the county over the last 20 years, in most cases to the county's agricultural benefit. But it is also the path of least resistance to build the roads and water systems necessary for subdivision development: The property is subdivided. Vineyard development insures that infrastructure for the subdivision has no planning hurdles. The subdivision plots are sold. No further planning department involvement is necessary in building 35 residential complexes with their 35 guest houses. Only when the new owners wish to to build tourist-wineries does the planning department again become involved, long after vast areas of the county have been converted from rural to suburban use.

I may be wrong, of course. The ultimate intention of the Halls may be a vineyard and not a housing project. If so, as a gesture of commitment to agriculture, perhaps they might consider removing further development rights from the property deeds as a condition of approval. Barring that, the EIR for this 2300 acre property should also discuss the impacts of the potential development of those 35 parcels to the future of the county. In the words of CEQA, further physical change in the environment "is a reasonably foreseeable impact which may be caused by the project". 15064(d)(3)

Two presentations stood our for me at the hearing:

The first was made by Greg Gale, a resident of Atlas Peak Road just south of the Walt Ranch. One of his graphics shows the boundaries of Circle S and Walt properties together on the same map. It is an area about the size of St. Helena. It is about 4 miles wide. This is not an insignificant chunk of the county, and it is being developed into homesites with little input from the planning department and no consideration about the impact of such suburbanization on the agricultural future of the county.

The second was made by Jim Lincoln of the Napa County Farm Bureau. It was a big disappointment from the "stakeholder" we are depending on to save Napa's ag preserve from suburban sprawl. They argued that this unprecedented hearing is an unnecessary intrusion of public scrutiny into the administrative review of erosion control plans, a process that the Farm Bureau had no doubt worked hard to implement. To me it was clearly an apt example of not being able to see the forest for the trees. They seemed institutionally unwilling to make a distinction between trojan vineyards used to garnish housing estates and real ones designed to expand our agricultural resource. It may be a tough call in many circumstances (i.e. Circle S) but with Walt it is not. And they should have used the opportunity explore the distinction between the two.

I am in great hopes that Director Morrison, as evidenced in this hearing and in opening the upcoming review of the WDO, has seen the trajectory of development of the last 15 years, knows that it is leading away from the preservation of an agricultural economy, and is beginning to push on the behemoth of planning policy to shift course - before it is too late.

Age and wisdom on Walt Ranch


Bill Hocker - Nov 11, 2014 9:41PM  Share #444

Really long-time Napa resident Harold Halterman reminds us in this LTE why we're here and what it's all about:

Walt Ranch: Not the way to go

Also one from Murray Berner:

Development affects wildlife habitats

Barry Eberling previews the Walt Ranch Forum.


Bill Hocker - Nov 10, 2014 3:49PM  Share #439


Join Us!


Sandy Ericson - Nov 10, 2014 11:36AM  Share #437

Here's a quick How-To if you would like to comment publicly on the Walt Ranch project and have your comments included in the final documents that support the decision-making process. See previous email for time & place of the meeting tomorrow.

WHO & WHEN:
Written comments may be submitted to the project planner either at the public hearing or prior to close of the public comment period on November 21, 2014 as follows:

Kelli Cahill, Project Planner
Napa County Planning, Building, & Environmental Services Department
1195 Third Street, Suite 210, Napa, CA 94559
Email: kelli.cahill@countyofnapa.org
Telephone: (707) 265-2325 Fax: (707) 299-4271

http://www.countyofnapa.org/PBES/WaltRanch/

WHAT:
Here is the Napa County General Plan. You must remind Supervisors why they should deny or adopt by giving them references to "findings" in the General Plan and advocating for why certain "findings" should have priority in this instance or time. The General Plan was done in 2009; therefore, many goals, policies and implementing actions are not current with subsequent climate change, drought and tourism realities. Many commercial enterprises understand this and take advantage of it.

Here is just one section of the General Plan, the Natural Resources section of the Conservation Element. Use it and other sections in the General Plan to support your positions. Submit your comments in writing also. Several people may sign a comment.

Sandy
http://www.shwindow.org/

Join Us!


Geoff Ellsworth - Nov 10, 2014 9:16AM  Share #435

28,000 TREES proposed to be cut and burned in
Napa County clearcut.
Walt Ranch vineyard conversion hearing, 1pm Wednesday, November 12,
2741 Napa Valley Corporate Drive, Building 2



This is a project by a Texas corporation affiliated with Hall Winery, a large event center just south of St. Helena city limits.
This is a vineyard conversion project that proposes to clearcut 28,000 trees in the watersheds just east of Napa city and will most certainly have major impacts on our area and residents.
The hearing is at 1pm on Wednesday, November 12, at the new County Offices in South Napa. 2741 Napa Valley Corporate Drive, Building 2
Down by Southern Crossing between DMV and Meritage Hotel.
I'll be there with my mother, holding signs, standing with other concerned residents, homeowners and citizen stakeholders of Napa County. Please feel free forward this message or to attend and stand with us if moved to do so.


The view from Atlas Peak


Bill Hocker - Nov 9, 2014 10:40PM  Share #434



Kelli Cahill, Project Planner
Napa County Planning, Building, & Environmental Services Department
1195 Third Street, Suite 210, Napa, CA 94559

Ms. Cahill,

Above is a view southeast from Atlas Peak along the main ridge of the Howell Mountain Range. To the left is the Lake Berryessa watershed flowing toward the delta. To the right is the Napa River watershed flowing to the bay. The Walt Ranch project, now under your consideration, is further down the ridge, behind the hillside in this photo (perhaps just appearing on the left flank of this hill). The dense oak forest covering its slopes is similar to that seen here. As you no doubt know, it is a heartbreakingly beautiful expanse of native California landscape. The views from this ridge, as can be seen from the photo, are breathtaking .

As you also know, perhaps 15% of the Walt Ranch property will be cleared of its woodlands, blasted in places, to create areas for the vineyard blocks. It is a tortued vinevard plan, a recognition of the ruggedness of the terrain. Many of the blocks are less than two acres in size. Access to the property is along a hair-raising stretch of Hwy 121, 20 minutes from the Napa Valley, and through the residential community of Circle Oaks. The inappropriateness of the terrain for vineyard development and the difficulty of access for equipment and labor make one wonder why such a property was chosen for its intended agricultural use.

The intention may not be simply to increase Napa's agricultural resource. (In this regard, through no fault of the developer, it does a poor job: in the 8 years it has taken to get this far, as many acres of vines have been lost to the nibbling of winery projects and expansions - 4-5 acres on the Mountain Peak project proposed next to me for example - as this development will add. The county bears the impacts of both types of developments with no increase in the resource.)

As unlikely as this rocky ridge is for vines, the proposal represents the "right to farm" of all property owners in the county. In Napa county however, that right also includes the right to an extensive residential compound, guest house and commercial winery that also serves as a tourist event center. Although those uses are not mentioned in the DEIR, given the great effort and expense necessary to develop this convoluted vineyard, one might reasonably ask if the intended use of the 35 parcels on the property might entail further development beyond the proposal before you.

If there is such an intention, it should be made clear by the developer now. If further development is probable, then what we are seeing here is just the first phase of a very high-end residential-commercial subdivision, not merely a vineyard conversion. The planning department, in its mandate to guide the future development of the county, should be considering those impacts now and the EIR should be amended to reflect them. If, however, the intention is that no further development is to take place in the future, then the county should insure that the conditions of approval incorporate that prohibition and be codified into the deeds of the properties.

Hopefully, Napa's long term future will be a part of the WDO discussions coming up next year. Vineyard conversions are just the first step in a long process of suburbanization of Napa land. The effects of that suburbanization in traffic jams, housing projects, stop lights, and the clamor for a Costco are already upon us. If the county is serious about the maintenance of a sustainable agricultural economy in the next 50 years, then that process of suburban development must be broken. A place to begin a commitment to that future is on the spectacular, oak-covered ridge south of Atlas Peak now known as Walt Ranch.

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Road
Napa, CA 94558

John Harrington's letter to the planning commission


Bill Hocker - Nov 9, 2014 8:44PM  Share #433

Dan Mufson has sent a copy of this letter from Atlas Peak resident John Harrington to county planner Kelli Cahill. Punches are not pulled.

RE: Walt Ranch: Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR)

Walt Ranch letters-to-the-editor


Bill Hocker - Oct 30, 2014 5:03PM  Share #423

Long time Atlas peak family member Jane Mead voices her opposition to Walt Ranch:
Walt Ranch: Too Much
Be sure to read the mountain of comments

This follows on 2 other editorials from long time Atlas Peak families:
Development will affect county's balance of nature
Reconsider new vineyard on Atlas Peak

And Daniel Musfson weights in on the hypocrisy of Arbor Day with
What Then, is Napa County? which also echoes this previous post

And Richard Cannon writes:
Walt Ranch neighbors want to meet

And Marc Padrone and the Napa Sierra Club join the fray:
Halt Walt and beyond

And:
Walt Ranch threatens rural way of life
Walt Ranch poses unacceptable risks

Public sessions planned for controversial Walt Ranch vineyard proposal


Daniel Mufson - Oct 24, 2014 9:00AM  Share #411

We are making progress in challenging this mega vineyard, Walt Ranch, that the Halls want to build on top of Atlas Peak. They intend to cut and burn over 28,000 trees; build several reservoirs; grade the land and pump up at least 69,000,000 gallons of water annually.

The ranch is within the Milliken Creek watershed which feeds the City of Napa’s water supply and the groundwater deficient area called the MST. The system is such that projects like this get approved unless there some tremendous pushback. We have been organizing neighbors on both sides of the mountain, on Atlas Peak Road and in the Circle Oaks Community. The latter will be especially hard hit as the construction trucks will use their inadequate road to gain access to the ranch—and their water wells are right on the property line of this project.

We would appreciate your support by attending at least one of the two upcoming meetings: The Halls are running a show-and-tell meeting on Nov 6th to try to cajole residents (see calendar) and the county is opening an unprecedented public hearing on Nov 12th. (see calendar).

Barry Eberling on the Oct 21st BOS hearing in the NVR:
Public sessions planned for controversial Walt Ranch vineyard proposal


Walt Ranch Update October 15, 2014


Diane Shepp - Oct 14, 2014 10:01PM  Share #382

Watersheds Alliance for Atlas Peak (WAAP)

We are 5 weeks from the date (November 21) to file comments on the draft EIR for the Walt Ranch Project. The legal and expert teams are at work.

It is time for you to consider writing a letter to the county planning staff about your concerns to make them part of the public record and to be considered by the county in its evaluation of the project. I’ve been told that it is good to frame your concerns in the form of a question that the county staff will have to answer during their review. I’m sending you a copy of the email that Phil Brody just sent as a short, sweet, to the point critique with a question at the end.

Letters to the Editor are still good to keep the project in the public’s mind. Our friends in Circle Oaks are planning to inform the public by setting up in Bel Aire Plaza to get people to sign a petition against the project. It is hoped that gathering thousands of signatures will impress the Supervisors with political reality. Would you like to join this activity? Would you like to attend a planning meeting tomorrow at Circle Oaks at 6PM? Let me know.

Opposition to Walt Ranch


Bill Hocker - Sep 28, 2014 2:46PM  Share #363

Long time Atlas Peak Setty Family opposes the Walt Ranch Vineyrard project in NVR Letter to editor:

Reconsider new vineyard on Atlas Peak (and be sure to read the comments: OMG! - ceogal notes that Bill Dodd has accepted more than $10,000 in campaign contributions from Craig and Katherine Hall!)


Sierra Club Donation Appeal against Walt Ranch.


Bill Hocker - Sep 1, 2014 3:19PM  Share #341

From: Sierra Club - Napa County Group <napavalleysierraclub@gmail.com>
Date: August 28, 2014 at 9:29:42 PM PDT
Subject: Napa Sierra Club vs. Walt Ranch!
Reply-To: Sierra Club - Napa County Group <napavalleysierraclub@gmail.com>

We've been expecting this fight for years, and it is big. It is a fight over habitat, groundwater, and climate change.

Its name is Walt Ranch, and it will be expensive. So, for the first time in several years, Napa Sierra Club is making a fundraising appeal.

The Walt proposal, by a 500+ member Texas-based investment group, is to clear cut over 300 acres of oak woodland for vineyard development on Atlas Peak.
More than 28,000 "significant" trees will be cut down, eliminating wildland habitat, wiping out carbon stores which counter greenhouse gases, and destabilizing the land.

Project-generated erosion and landslides could threaten house foundations, roads, and water delivery infrastructure.
The project proposes to annually pump over 69 million gallons of water from two sensitive watersheds: Milliken Creek, which supplies the City of Napa and the water-
deficient MST basin, and Capell Creek, which supplies the seven hundred residents of Circle Oaks. Another 300 or so homes on Atlas Peak also rely on wells.

We believe that the Walt Ranch Environmental Impact Report is deeply flawed. To effectively challenge it we must hire an attorney and experts in hydrology and biology. Our estimated initial expenses are in the range of $15,000 - 20,000, about 7 times our annual income.

Can you help us?
Please donate by writing a check to Sierra Club Foundation, stating "Napa Group" in the memo line.
Mail to Napa Sierra Club, PO Box 644, Napa, CA 94559.


To adjust your Sierra Club email preferences, please reply to this email with a description of your wishes. Thank you.

Sierra Club 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105

------------------

NVR Article on the Circle Oaks fight over walt ranch

The Price of Deforestation at Walt Ranch


Jim Wilson - Aug 22, 2014 10:32AM  Share #326

The Halls propose to increase their vineyard holdings by bulldozing, blasting, and grading approximately 500 acres of mostly forested hillsides to net approximately 350 acres of vineyards. This is an enormous industrial development by any standard in Napa but unheard of in our quiet neighborhood. Deforestation on this scale would destroy a fragile ecosystem and diminish its beauty for those who call it home.

Napa County and its public agencies, as science-driven organizations, need to pay close attention to the warnings issued by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Its report released this year concludes that GHG emissions are at risk of warming the world by as much as 7 deg F by the end of the century if we do not take action now. Also released this year is the Federal Climate Assessment which states unequivocally that the threat to nature and our well-being is not something in the distant future. It's happening now.

In California, our state's new carbon market is studying ways to achieve carbon credits for forest management. The County of Napa, like all nine counties in the BAAQMD, can and should have a Climate Action Plan requiring carbon pollution reductions. Curbing deforestation and forest degradation is a critical component of a CAP because of the carbon sequestration forests provide. We need our local government to value our standing forests and to take action to preserve them. Our leaders must implement policies at all levels to reduce GHG pollution. And it's time for consumers and investors to hold businesses accountable for their role in wrecking the climate. Deforest wine must become conflict wine.

My neighbors and I are committed to raising awareness about how nature matters in our lives. Saying no to deforestation is about saying no to big corporations having too much power over us and our government. The untrammeled forest on Walt Ranch is home to countless living creatures. That is hands-down the noblest and highest-value use of the land. We need our Board of Supervisors' help to preserve it. The forest is Napa's lungs, the planet's lungs. Its continued destruction impoverishes our place in the world.

Peter Jensen on Walt Ranch extended public review


Bill Hocker - Aug 7, 2014 11:25PM  Share #308


Walt Ranch Vineyard Project Concerns


Bill Hocker - Aug 4, 2014 1:48PM  Share #298

A major vineyard project on the southern slope of Atlas Peak has been making its way through the county for several years now. A draft EIR has just been issued beginning a period of public comment. An extension of the public comment period will be raised at the planning commission on Aug 6th.

Napa Register: Circle Oaks residents uneasy with 356-acre Hall Wines vineyard project
The Walt Ranch planning documents are available on the county website here
The Circle Oaks Community Water District (COCWD) page on the Walt Ranch

Walt Ranch EIR


Gary Margadant - Jul 23, 2014 5:44PM  Share #282

The Walt Ranch Draft EIR has been published and is open for comment until Aug 25. This is a very large vineyard development of approximately 356 net acres of new vineyard within 507 gross acres of disturbance on a 2,300 acre property. I understand that they plan 3 reservoirs of 40 acre-feet each (120af total or 39,000,000 gallons). Water is going to be a big issue, but comment is over before the new WAA is out from the Public Works Dept.

I am participating in a team for comment on the EIR.
Let me know if you are interested in commenting.

Here is the County's Walt Ranch Draft EIR page.

Regards, Gary




share this page