Eternal vigilance is the price of preserving the Napa Valley.
 - Former Planning Dir. Jim Hickey 2008 (RIP 2017)
This website is intended to create an online place for the residents of Soda Canyon Road and its tributaries Loma Vista Drive, Soda Springs Road, Ridge Road and Chimney Rock Road, located in Napa County, California.

It was born out of the threat of a large tourism-winery project proposed at the top of our remote and winding road. But this is only one of many development projects now being proposed throughout Napa county and this site has begun to advocate on behalf of those impacted communities as well. And we are not alone. The negative impacts of wine tourism on rural agricultural communities are being contested by residents all over the state and the nation.

While some vineyard acreage has been added in the last 20 years, there is already much more winery capacity than needed to process Napa grapes in the county. Yet more wineries are being approved, not to support Napa agriculture, but to provide venues to bring more tourist dollars into the county. On the valley floor the dominance of tourism over wine making is represented by French and Persian Palaces, Tuscan Castles, Aerial Trams and a vast sculpture garden of ego-fueled modernist statements. The great old wineries have been refurbished to bring a whiff of Disneyland or Planet Hollywood to the Valley. Highway 29 has traffic jams worthy of San Francisco and the Silverado Trail is beginning to resemble a two lane freeway (or worse, Hwy 29!). In the watersheds, clear cutting of forests for the estate-winery fantasies of plutocrats brings good-life enterprise to even the most remote neighborhoods.

County residents have always supported the wine industry for the character of the environment and economy it has produced. But that support is eroding as vanity event centers proliferate and wine corporations move into entertainment. Winery tourism and marketing events have moved from an incidental and subordinate aspect of winery economics to the reason for their being. The impacts of this shift, in traffic, lack of affordable housing and neighborhood commercialization, are no longer palatable, and the pushback of residents hoping to maintain the rural, small-town character that they grew up with or found here is the result. Until the industry adopts a less destructive way of marketing their goods (and the internet age offers other ways in addition to traditional legwork), until it recognizes the enormous difference in community impacts between grape processing and tourist processing, the industry should expect condemnation from those more concerned about the future quality of their lives and their environment than the quality of tourism experiences occurring next door.

But expanding tourism is only one facet of the ongoing urban developement, and this site has also begun to recognize that the loss of the rural character we all treasure is more than just one industry's problem. It is the mentality, a part of the American DNA, promoted by all development interests and enabled by governments controlled by development interests, that growth is good and lack of growth is death. Napa County has made a very strong commitment to protecting its rural environment and economy. As one grapegrower has said, this is one place on earth where agriculture might be able to hold out against urbanization. Yet the growth, in wineries, tourism facilities, industrial projects, housing projects, commercial centers continues.

If the county wishes to maintain its rural environment for the next 50 years, it needs to reject a growth economy based on the unlimited profitability of continued urbanization and commit to a stable economy, based on the limited amount of agricultural land with an appropriate mix of wine, tourism, industry and housing that provides the quality of life worth having and the survival of an industry worth supporting. Unless we act now the rural, small-town life that still exists here, as well as the rural environment that is our home on Soda Canyon Road, will soon be gone.

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Upcoming Events (full calendar here)

Tue, Jan 29, 2019

Board of Supervisors

BOS Watershed Protection Ordinance Workshop
A workshop for the Board to discuss stream and wetland setbacks, buffers for municipal reservoirs, tree protection and other amendments to the Conservation Regulations and to hear public comment on these proposed matters.

Adoption of replacement Circulation Element for General Plan
Plus adopt circulation element supplement to 2008 General Plan EIR, adopt amendment to circulation element of Business Park Specific Plan
Video of 12/19/18 hearing
The markup Circulation Element is here showing changes
Wed, Jan 30, 2019

Bloodlines DEIR comment deadline

Deadline for submission of comments on the DEIR for the Bloodlines Vineyard ECP in the Rector watershed at the top of Soda Canyon Road.

Comments should be sent to Brian Bordona,
County's Bloodlines Vineyard DEIR page
SCR on the Bloodlines Vineyard Project
Fri, Feb 1, 2019

Mountain Peak in Court Day 1

Soda Canyon Group, composed of 4 residents of Soda Canyon Road, are suing the Supervisors and County of Napa for abusing their discretion in not compelling an Environmental Impact Report as required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for the Mountain Peak Winery project. The first day will devoted to the motion to augment the administrative record to allow inclusion of information from 2 consultants and about the 2017 fires. The principal hearing on the writ of mandate will take place on Mar. 7, 2019 at 8:30am.

When: Thursday, Feb 1, 2019, 8:30am
Dept C in the Napa County Historical Courthouse
825 Brown Street
Napa, CA 94559
Tue, Feb 5, 2019

Tentatively proposed joint BOS-PC meeting

3/10/15 Redux? (see here)
After 3 plus years, and an extensive APAC process nominally devoted to the issue, and 65 more wineries and winery expansions approved and almost two million more visitation slots approved, the issue of winery growth may get another hearing before a joint session of the Board and the Planning Commission. 400 residents showed up at the last meeting to voice their concerns about the encroachment of winery tourism on their quality of life, and nothing in the intervening years has slowed the process.

Latest Posts

Below are the latest posts made to any of the pages of this site with a link to the page in the upper right corner.

Napa Moves to Oregon on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Jan 21,19  expand...  Share

Update 1/21/19
Tom Wark Blog 1/21/19: My Exit Interview From Napa Valley Wine Country
Tom Wark Blog 1/3/19: Saying Goodbye To Napa Valley

Napa wine booster Tom Wark is joining the exodus to Oregon. After living in Wine Country for the last 25 years Mr. Wark has decided that he can't afford to be here anymore. Of course he bears some responsibility for the high cost of housing. As one of many people promoting Napa wines and wineries as good-life status symbols for the plutocrats of the world, and the Valley as a good-life destination for masses of travelers dreaming of becoming plutocrats, the rise in housing prices is the direct result of that effort. I assume that he is going to Oregon in the hope, through his efforts, that it too will be unaffordable in 25 years. But he will already have his house. I wonder why he didn't buy a house 25 years ago before the boutique winery, vineyard and tourism explosion that he has encouraged sent property prices soaring.

Its a good move. As the exodus attests, Napa is beyond its peak. It has lost its authenticity, a victim of the efforts of good-life promoters and developers who, along with residents feeling the impacts of their work, now look for unspoiled locales to call home.

NVR 10/3/17: Juliana Inman resigns from Napa City Council

When we first looked at our future home at the very remote end of Soda Canyon Road in 1992, the residents there said that they were moving to Oregon. The nearest house was a half mile away. All you could see was chaparral below the forested ridgeline beyond the gorge at the edge of the house. There are just too many people here, they said.

Last year, one resident on Soda Canyon Road, active in our first year of community organizing, abruptly sold her 250 acres and moved to Oregon. Two years ago Sandy Ericsson, the editor of the St Helena Window (archived here) and daughter of a previous St Helena mayor, moved to Oregon. A year before, a writer for the NY Times recognized that Oregon represents what Napa used to be - a place with some authenticity and a connection to the rural life of an agricultural community. She advised wine tourists to go there instead.

It isn't just Oregon, of course, that is beginning to receive the diaspora of Napa's disenchantment. The photographer Charles O'Rear commented publicly on his decision to leave in Goodbye, Napa Valley. And Jason Hammett has more recently added an eloquent lament. For each of those that we know about, there are no doubt many more who have decided that the character that attracted them to Napa is disappearing as the place is being refashioned by a new generation more interested in the profit to be made from the image of a rural place than in actually living in one.

Juliana Inman's departure is a bigger story than just the decampment of a politician mid-term. Napa is losing its connection to a rural, small-town way of life increasingly rare in the Bay Area. In a period of rampant tourism development in Napa it is significant that she seeks move to a place where there is still the hope of preservation. It is a difficult story for those who remain behind making the effort to retain that character, against all odds at this point, a battle that seems more hopeless with each new event center or hotel or housing project approved.

Oxbow officially designated tourist trap on: City of Napa

Bill Hocker - Jan 16,19  expand...  Share

NVR 1/16/19: Study supports branding Napa’s Oxbow district, showcasing river

Oxbow Branding study

A well done study, but one that has as its purpose the development and marketing of yet another tourist attraction to further urbanize the Napa Valley, adding to the many impacts that are degrading what was until recently a prized rural, small-town quality of life.

It has come several building approvals too late. From the article: "city leaders can ...consider zoning that would prevent new construction from blocking views of the river and Napa Valley edges". It was obvious that the Black Elk hotel was a bad idea from an urban planning standpoint when it was proposed (see update 7/14/17 here) and yet it was approved anyway. Coming a year after the Black Elk approval, It could be that this study was a result of that unfortunate event. (Or maybe it was a reaction to the noisy and tacky "The Studio" next door, the true definition of a tourist trap venue.)

Why do government leaders always take action after the fact - waiting for problems to become insoluble before trying to solve them?

Mountain Peak in court: dates rescheduled on: Mountain Peak Winery

Bill Hocker - Jan 16,19  expand...  Share

Update 1/16/19
The Court hearing Dates have been rescheduled as follows:

Day 1 will be a hearing on the Motion to Augment the Administrative Record on Fri., Feb. 1, 2019 at 8:30am at Napa County Historic Courthouse, Dept. C, 825 Brown St, Napa

Day 2 will be devoted to the principal Petition for Writ of Mandate against the county on Thurs., Mar. 7, 2019 at 8:30pm at Napa County Historic Courthouse, Dept. C

SCR Mountain Peak Page

Update 12/27/18
NV2050 blog post on the hearing
NV2050 Email Newsletter for the holidays

The lawsuit filed by Soda Canyon residents against the County for its abuse of discretion in approving the Mountain Peak Winery is set for a hearing on Jan 11, 2019 starting at 8:30am in Dept. I of the Napa County Courthouse. A schedule has been established for the submission of documents and the Soda Canyon Group, Petitioner in the lawsuit, has already submitted their opening briefs.

The lawsuit asks that the County conduct a full Environmental Impact Report on the project, as required under California law, rather than relying on the staff's negative declaration of less-than-significant environmental impacts when the Board of Supervisors approved the project. The project is for a 100,000 gal/yr winery with 33,000 sf of caves, 15,000 visitors/yr, 19 employees/day, 100+ vehicle trips/day all 6 miles up a winding dead end road.

The documents are here:
Why is the Mountain Peak case important to the entire county?

The lawsuit comes at an interesting and important time for the County's future. After the contentious Measure C vote, the fires that reemphasized the dangers of building in remote locations, the conflict that is not abating between residents and the wine industry over the intrusion of "event centers" into their rural neighborhoods, and the new emphasis in reducing vehicle miles traveled in development projects, the Board of Supervisors have begun to look at the potential impacts of "remote" winery projects with a more critical eye. (The issue of Remote Wineries was an important aspect of opposition to Mountain Peak.)

The NVR articles on the two recent BOS meetings held earlier this fall are here:
The remote winery discussion, now expanding into a discussion over the "compatibility" of a winery with its location, is outlined in this recent report by Planning Director Morrison to the Board. Supervisors Dillon and Wagenknecht both had significant comments on the issue. In one meeting, Supervisor Dillon used Mountain Peak as an example of problems with the winery approval process. The effort to define winery compatibility may go on for several months with numerous hearings. (Archived here on

The contentiousness of winery proposals before the planning commission and the Board of Supervisors has shown no signs of letting up. In a sign that attitudes may be changing at the County, two winery projects have recently been denied by the Planning Commission - more than have been denied in the previous decade at least. Both were opposed by the communities in which they are located:
And there are projects still in the pipeline already receiving pushback from residents:
In addition to the consideration of a winery compatibility ordinance, and following the divided concerns in the county over Measure C, the County Board of Supervisors, has called for a new process to seek consensus on the future of the county. It will continue an effort already begun but interrupted last year, to chart long term development goals and strategies through the development of a Napa Strategic Plan. (Archived here on

Since 2010 in the County as a whole, over 140 new wineries and winery expansions have been approved adding over 5 million gallons of winemaking capacity, more than 1.8 million visitor slots, more than 1 million sf of building area, hundreds of new employees, and perhaps 100's of thousands of vehicle trips on Napa's roads each year, all approved under negative declarations, as Mountain Peak was, indicating that such increases will cause less-than-significant environmental impacts to life in Napa County. Many residents, stuck in traffic or losing a favorite wooded hillside or favorite local shop, or unable to find an affordable place to live, know that the impacts of tourism expansion are NOT less-than-significant. Winery development is the leading edge of that expansion and the case for a more thorough assessment of the environmental impacts of this type of project is needed more than ever.

The Mountain Peak project is at the forefront of this type of commercial development in an incompatible location, and the legal proceedings will serve as a bellwether (for better or worse) for future winery development in Napa's remote and rural areas. We must continue the fight and sincerely hope you will join this effort by attending the hearing and by donating to Protect Rural Napa

The Ellman Winery on: Soda Canyon Road

Bill Hocker - Jan 11,19  expand...  Share

Yet another winery has been proposed at the Soda Canyon Junction. As I have lamented in "The end of the trail" the winery congestion at the Soda Canyon intersection with the Trail has been a particular concern both on the impact in this one corner of the county and as a harbinger of and prototype for continued winery development on every possible parcel in the county. And the eventual demise of the Trail as an iconic piece of Napa landscape.

The County's Ellman page is here and I will continue to follow the project as it makes its way through the Planning Commission.

As usual with current winery proposals, the visitation request is modest. Given community pushback in the last few years, becoming established with low numbers and then ramping up with future requests seems an easier route than starting out at full ambition.

The production request of 30,000 gal/yr (above the median size of 20,000 gal for wineries in the county) also seems to be the current starting number for new wineries. It represents perhaps 4 times the amount of wine that can be produced from the 14 acre site. There's a logic to allow larger capacity on small sites because, in theory, fewer wineries need to be built to process the Napa grape crop. The reality that there are already enough wineries in the county to process all available Napa grapes several times over. This winery, like most other being approved, will make wine from vines that are currently used by some other winery. It will add only another building to the Napa landscape and no more wine to the Napa wine industry.

Note that in terms of the real wine industry, Ellman, like Mountain Peak proposed next to me, already makes wine and markets it through tasting rooms in town and in online portals. The Mountain Peak brand is also marketed through a distributer. None of these projects are about making wine - they are about catering to more profitable entertainment uses.

Unfortunately, by ignoring the reality that these projects would probably not be built without the justification of the profitability of direct-to-consumer "experiences", the County is continuing to promote the urbanizing impacts that the tourism industry is having on county infrastructure, resources and quality of life.

The Ellman Winery proposal highlights another issue. The very un-residential Ellman house that has been under construction on the site this last year is an unfortunate example that treating homes differently from wineries in terms of setbacks and coverage and community review is as destructive as winery development to the rural character that the county claims to protect. I know that in the past efforts have been made link the two types of building projects under one set of ordinances when it comes to their impact on the land, and I hope the County is continuing with those efforts. The purpose of the winery ordinances to protect Napa's rural character is a mockery if homes, many as large as a winery, can continue to be built ignoring those protections.

The chain winery on: Tourism Issues

Bill Hocker - Jan 10,19  expand...  Share

Napa's newest tourist attraction
Update 1/10/19
NVR 1/10/19: Napa County hits The Prisoner winery with code violation notice

NVR 11/22/18: Pick your poison: chains or a skeleton: The Prisoner winery opens

"This is not Disneyland. I think it is just agriculture in the 21st Century."
  -Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza.

From Tim Carl's article:
"It would have been hard to imagine Robert Mondavi wineries dotted around the globe, but it would not be surprising to see Prisoner “wineries” pop up in places like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, London and Tokyo. With this change you certainly have an “evolution.”

There are many things to like about this new winery (high quality, decent pricing, support of small growers), but there are things that are also of concern (a blurring of the lines between restaurants and wineries, the use of imprisonment as a form of entertainment and the erasing of a prior iconic wine brand without any sense of gratitude or remembrance). However the bigger concern might be that the loss of a sense of place will harm other local businesses, especially if other wineries widely adopt such strategies.

Mr. Carl's take on this theme-park winery, a wine version of the Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood, has succinctly highlighted the distorting effect of the corporate/plutocrat quest for mass-market tourism and branding that is steadily turning an authentic place with an enviable history into something else entirely.

The Strategic Plan at the BOS: Jan 15 on: Napa Strategic Plan

Bill Hocker - Jan 7,19  expand...  Share

Update 1/15/19
Napa County to start tackling post-Measure C environmental issues

I have to admit that the Napa Strategic Plan has reminded me of our initial experience with Nextdoor, the social media networking site for neighborhoods. In 2014 it seemed like Nextdoor Soda Canyon might be a good organizing platform to confront the development issues that were beginning to change our lives on Soda Canyon Road. But, of course, it proved to be more about finding a missing pet or someone to repair a septic system.

The initial thought was that the Napa Strategic Plan was intended to be about the "big picture" that was the impetus for for the Mar 10th 2015 meeting or APAC or Measure C. Instead it is about the nuts and bolts of making Napa County government a better institution that listens to its citizens, a noble goal to be sure.

As the NVR article points out, the Supervisors did use the Strategic Plan hearing to begin another public process over the Measure C issues. But that process seems like it would have happened independently anyway.

In public comments, most of the passion revolved around Climate Action (now!!) and the sacrosanct Vine Trail, each group claiming their issue, if Napa acts quickly enough, was going to save humanity. The industry's "data-based decisions" mantra was tediously repeated. Development impacts can be quantified and mitigated abstractly to "less-than-significant" to justify approving projects. Somehow all that data crunching fails to mitigate significant traffic congestion, housing local business loss, viewshed and resource degradation, and loss of quality of life. Quality of life, developers know, is hard to quantify.

Update 1/9/19
The Revised Draft Napa Strategic Plan

Update 1/8/19
The next presentation of the Napa Strategic Plan at the Board of Supervisors will take place on Tues, Jan 15 2019 beginning a 9:00am.

Video of 12/18/18 meeting and documents
Napa County Strategic Plan 2019-2022
Email with comments

Update 12/19/18
NVR 12/19/18: Napa Supervisors surprised by deluge of comments on family farm woes and winery rules
Wine 12/19/18: Napa County presents goals through 2022

The report was given, Supervisors had brief comments and 28 members of the public spoke. Staff was directed to digest the day's proceedings, tweak the Plan accordingly and schedule another hearing (probably 1/15/19).
Video of the hearing
Coalition Napa Valley white paper

NVR 12/17/18: Napa County unveils plan to deal with Measure C, other issues

The Draft Strategic Plan is here.
The County's Strategic Plan page is here
Community Meeting reports are here

Our Vision for the Future
Napa County is an agricultural treasure known for its legendary wines, our small-town character, and sustainable natural resources.

   - Napa Strategic Plan

For those that hoped the Napa Strategic Plan would be a vehicle to address the growth issues that are impacting the quality of life of Napa residents (the issues that led to the Mar 10 2015 joint BOS/PC meeting and the creation of APAC, and Measure C and countless fraught hearings over major projects like Walt Ranch, Syar and individual wineries) the draft report may be a bit too focused on symptoms and palliatives rather than causes and cures. It does not talk about how to slow the stream of development projects that occupy almost every planning commission meeting, adding buildings, visitors, employees, traffic and a demand on resources in an urbanization process that is directly counter to the vision of the Strategic Plan.

The Plan contains 81 action Items that are a bit more aspirational than actionable, and leave a lot of room for interpretation.

Six action items mention traffic/transportation: "Improve and maintain the existing transportation and roads system to accommodate all users" is the essence. Transportation action items are already being looked at in the Update of the General Plan Circulation Element. Unfortunately limits on the growth that is creating the traffic are not seen as part of the solution. (30% of the 1000 questionnaire comments mentioned traffic/transport)

Only one action item mentions wineries: "Work with stakeholders to update and develop sustainable regulations for issues including but not limited to residential development, view shed development, solar facilities, winery compatibility, outdoor winery hospitality, food pairings, and pesticide use." This is the crux of many development concerns. But the County's unwillingness to halt development while these issues are being defined or re-defined, and the APAC experience which essentially ignored residents as "stakeholders" in any decisions, makes one apprehensive. (20% of the questionnaire comments mentioned winery/wineries)

Only one mentions tourism: "Residents want to feel that the County is working for them, rather than catering to tourists, by encouraging more small businesses, family activities, and local services that focus on building community, improving well-being, and making it easier to live and work in the County." Tourist urbanism is the biggest threat to the rural character that residents treasure in the county. The county should get out of tourism development promotion and concentrate on real agriculture. (20% of questionnaire comments mentioned tourist/tourism/hospitality)

Only one mentions growth: "Develop a balanced approach to growth based on data-informed decisions." "Balanced growth" is a bit like the oxymoron "sustainable growth". Unfortunately, balance and sustainability only have a chance to be achieved once the growth is stopped. Also, the industry/government mantra "data-informed decisions" always seems like an excuse to put expert-opinion-justified development interests over resident-centered interests in quality of life. Quality of life is very real but hard to quantify, and expert opinions and reality are often not the same thing. (5% of questionnaire comments mentioned growth although growth is at the heart of other concerns)

As pointed out in the NVR article, one section does deal strictly with the issues raised by Measure C and the action items are rather specific. It is almost as if the only major complaint the BOS had with Measure C was that they didn't write it. The vineyard conversion goals, however, don’t change from the current general plan. "Establish a cap on vineyard development through 2030, consistent with the 2008 General Plan Environmental Impact Report (EIR) project description." The 2007 EIR Agriculture chapter posits an additional 12,500 acres on top of the 42,000 acres then in production. Over the last decade about 100 acres of producing vineyards have been added to the county each year. The GP cap for vineyard production allows for 10 times that amount. (Note to County webmaster: Appendix H dealing with vineyard projections, like many of the documents dealing with the 2007 EIR, were lost when the new County website was launched in 2017) This is one of the few concrete proposals but, much like the compliance program, simply reinforces the bloated status quo. (13% of questionnaire comments mentioned vineyards/agriculture).

The Strategic Plan is mostly a declaration of good intentions, and as such is to be commended. "Community" is the most frequent word in the document after "Napa County Strategic Plan". But APAC, likewise, was commissioned with good intentions toward the interests of the community, intentions that were watered down or erased entirely when subjected to industry pushback. We each read what we want to into the intentions, and I can see how they would be the basis for constructive change in dealing with the issues of growth in the county. But, how the action items will actually be interpreted, or modified in ordinances or practice, is a very open question.

The fact that the Plan is nominally concerned with only the next three years still seems a bit odd, a rather short term vision of the future. We are celebrating 50 years of the Ag Preserve. It has been a success. But "growth" has Eden fraying around the edges, with building projects in the vineyards and on the hillsides and with chronic traffic congestion and a tourism economy replacing both the agricultural and residential economy. It is that fraying that was behind APAC, and Measure C and the resident activism that seems to have led to this Strategic Plan. Extrapolate the "growth" that has occurred in the last 20 years and there will be little left of the "agricultural treasure" and "small town character" 50 years from now. We need to begin a Strategic Plan not for the next 3 years but for the next half century. Otherwise there will be nothing to celebrate at the 100th anniversary of the Ag Preserve.

Anthem Winery at Planning Commission: Jan 16th on: Anthem Winery

Bill Hocker - Jan 7,19  expand...  Share

Update 1/8/19
The continued Planning Commission hearing for the Anthem Winery was to take place Jan 16, 2019 but has been continued to a date uncertain and will be renoticed 1/16/19 agenda and documents here.

Update 10/3/8
After 3 hours of presentation and public comment the Commissioners sought additional work by Staff to review and address the many concerns raised. The hearing was continued to Dec 5, 2018 [now Jan 16, 2018]. (The Davis Winery marketing, caves and production expansion was approved)

NVR 10/4/18: Napa County needs more time on controversial Anthem Winery requests

The Anthem Winery project, at 3123 Dry Creek Rd, will be up for a use permit modification at the Napa County Planning Commission on Oct. 3, 2018.

Technically a use permit "modification", it will be, in fact, a newly constructed complex including a new 10,000 sf winery building, 29,000 sf of new caves, a new 1500 sf tasting room, a new 1700 office building, outdoor event spaces, 22 car parking lot, and newly constructed entry drive from Dry Creek Rd. Tours and tastings and events will bring 15500 visitors/yr and 7-12 employees/day.

The site is 3.4 miles from Hwy 29. At 56 proposed trips per day, that amounts to 69495 VMT/yr due of its remote location - almost 3 times around the earth.

The project has been vigorously challenged by neighbors whose enjoyment of their remote rural properties will be destroyed by an event center in their midst. The adoption of tourism as an integral part of the wine Industry has much to do with the current antagonism of residents toward the industry as a whole. In this case it is also another example of neighbors who are themselves farmers and vintners - as happened with Yountville Hill, Girard, Raymond, Melka, B-Cellars and others - coming forward, not in opposition to a neighbor's right to farm and process their crop, but their right to create a tourism entertainment venue. Tourism may be defined as agriculture in the pro-development dogma of wine industry stakeholder groups and in the County ordinances that they have crafted, but in the real world, tourism is not agriculture - especially when it shows up next door. If only more farmers would act on the real possibility that an event center will eventually be their neighbor, the county might return to a more realistic definition of agriculture.

The Anthem project involves a road exception for the entry drive constraints, setback variances from the private drive, a viewshed ordinance regulation because of its visibility on the hill, and the removal of 130 trees. As was the case with the nearby Woolls Ranch winery, the project involves the contested use (commercial vs residential) of an easement over a neighbor's property. It raises once again the issue of water availability in the western watershed, having had to truck in water for a couple of years, also the case with the Woolls Ranch vineyard. It also raises the issue of remotely located custom crush facilities, with only a small percentage of its 50,000 gallons coming from grapes on the property. And then there is the dispute with another neighbor over the clearing of a woodland preservation easement between their properties. Finally, some events will be allowed until the trend-setting hour of midnight. The project pushes the boundaries of every norm.

Given the continued expansion of wineries into the watershed areas of the county, numerous projects have come before the Planning Commission asking for variances and exceptions to county ordinances to make the projects feasible in the hilly terrain. The ordinances were enacted specifically to recognize that some locations are not appropriate for building projects in order to maintain the rural and natural beauty that has been one of the county's principal assets. Unfortunately, the County, under pressure from a never-ending tide of profit- and ego-driven entrepreneurs, continues to approve projects requiring such exceptions to exist. And a rural landscape, protected by a previous generation of civic leaders and responsible stakeholders, is slowly being diminished as a consequence.

The Oct 3rd Planning Commission will also hear the Davis Estates Winery request for a large expansion in capacity, facility size and visitation numbers located on the Silverado Trail. Between the 2 wineries, 37,000 new visitation slots per year will be created, adding to population increase and the urbanization needed to accommodate it.

There are approximately 140 new wineries or expansions that have been approved since 2010 that will add some 1.8 million visitor slots. Another 30 are in the planning pipeline seeking to add 260,000 more visitor slots. Of those already approved, few have been built and their visitors and employees and the traffic they generate and the need for infrastructure, services and housing that they will create have not yet added to the impacts of urbanization that we already feel.

These wineries also represent an increase in permitted production capacity of 6+ million gallons/year. According to crop reports, the number of producing acres of vines has only grown by about 1000 acres in the last decade, barely enough for 1 million gallons of new production capacity. Many new wineries, like Anthem, will be used principally to process off site grapes that are undoubtedly being processed elsewhere now. Their wine will add little to Napa's overall wine output. Their real product is wine tasting experiences and the events they will host. These wineries would probably not be built were it not for their tourism function, a fact that Anthem’s owner quantified in her letter to APAC.

In 2014, when we first found out about the event center proposed for the property next to us, it was already obvious that winery construction to serve a tourism economy was distorting the concept of agriculture as being the highest and best use of the land. It is now past time to decide that there are enough wineries already, enough boxes littering the landscape, and begin to use the county's discretion to deny those whose reason to exist is little more than the dream of owning a winery of one's own and the wealth to realize it; in particular those wineries that must stretch every ordinance and antagonize every neighbor to accommodate that realization.

Bloodlines Vineyards EIR on: The Rector Watershed

Bill Hocker - Jan 6,19  expand...  Share

Update 1/8/19
The Bloodlines Vineyards Draft EIR is available for comment through Jan 31 2019 (previously Jan 16). Comments may be addressed to County Planner Brian Bordona at

Update 11/19/18
Dave Phinney has sent the letter below announcing that the EIR that has been in process for the last year for the development of the Bloodlines Wine properties on the Rector plateau will be ready for comments in late November.

The ECP is here (EIR coming soon hopefully)

Dave Phinney
P.O. Box 2020
Saint Helena, California 94574

November 14th, 2018

Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Fellow Community Members:
Please allow me a few minutes to tell you about a project that my team and I have been working on since 1998. Over the past 20 years we have purchased 278 acres at the top of Soda Canyon Road with the vision of planting and farming a vineyard. These nine parcels lie in the Agricultural Watershed in this beloved Right to Farm community, our Napa Valley.

Rather than rushing to plant a vineyard as quickly as possible, we have taken our time. We have spoken with people who have farmed in the area, purchased fruit from adjacent vineyards, talked with neighbors, leased with the intention of eventually purchasing an adjacent vineyard, and have asked questions with open ears and an open heart. A team of expert engineers, biologists, hydrogeologists, archaeologists, geologists, soil scientists, and viticulturists spent five years designing a very unique vineyard. Rather than simply submitting an Erosion Control Plan application to the County of Napa, we voluntarily agreed from the beginning of the process to conduct an Environmental Impact Report to analyze and mitigate all impacts the vineyard may have to our community. This gave us confidence that all Conservation Regulations and mandates of the California Environmental Quality Act were not only followed but exceeded in the Erosion Control Plan application.

Below please find some of the highlights from the expert studies:
The engineering firm designed the vineyard to result in net zero sediment runoff, protecting the watershed from erosion. Since those calculations, the property completely burned in the 2017 wildfires, and an engineered vineyard planting will greatly reduce erosion potential.

We will take on the responsibility for providing safe and ecological transportation options for our employees to do our part in mitigating traffic. Our farming practices will follow an innovative Integrated Pest Management strategy. A hydrogeology team conducted a Water Availability Analysis and confirmed that there is more than enough water on the property to farm the acreage of vineyard in the application.

We will not be applying for a winery permit at this location. We are currently working on plans to build a winery in an historic building that we are restoring on Mare Island in Solano County.

My team is working with local Neighbors, Board of Supervisors, Mayors, City Council Members and Planning Commissioners and listening to any of their questions or concerns regarding our project. This communication has been valuable, and we are incorporating cooperative solutions into our plans. Each expert report, the Erosion Control Plan, and the Environmental Impact Report will be available for your review at the County’s website ( The official County Public Comment Period will start in mid to late November. If you have any questions or input regarding the application prior to that time, I invite you to contact me directly. My team and I value the opportunity to hear what is important to you.


Dave S. Phinney

Update 5/28/18
NVR 5/28/18: Napa County's Measure C and D campaign in six figures

According to this NVR article, Dave Phinney has contributed $25,000 to the NO on C campaign, the largest amount after the NVV's $200,000.

Update 12/27/16
Notice of Preparation of the EIR for 114 acre Erosion Control Plan on Rector plateau
County's Bloodlines page

Several residents of Soda Canyon Road accepted an invitation for an August 26th, 2016 BBQ meet-and-greet over the pending Erosion Control Plan for 114 new acres of vines on 2 separated parcels on the Rector plateau. The ECP, processed initially under the company name of Orin Swift, will be vetted by a full blown Environmental Impact Report, with the draft version due in early 2017. The time line is here.

With little previous interest in the world of high end wines, and knowing nothing about Orin Swift, the meet-and-greet has begun an interesting exploration. The invitation was in the name of the Phinney family, with an RSVP to Amy Whiteford. The vineyards are being developed by the former owner of Orin Swift Wine Cellars, Dave Phinney. Amy Whitehouse, is his viticulturist in their new company, following a similar stint at the Stagecoach vineyards.

Although someone had mentioned something to me long ago about the buzzwortihyness of "The Prisoner" wine, which I understood after seeing the label, only now did I learn that Dave Phinney was the creator. And only after a bit of research after the BBQ have I begun to understand what a wine phenomenon this very youngish-looking man is. His story seems already, at least in my infinitesimal knowledge of the wine world, the stuff of legend.

As summarized in this Wine Searcher article, Dave Phinney since 1998 has now developed two wine brands and sold them for a total of $325 million dollars. These wines were made from contract grapes in custom crush wineries. no land or construction investment necessary. It is the application of the tech startup model of ammassing a fortune. And it shows, while the wines are no doubt good, that in the real world, the business of wine (as with everything else) is all about the value of branding. The name of their new company is "Bloodlines".

There should be a lesson here for all of those entrepreneurs claiming that they simply can't survive without tourists swarming their wineries. The Dave Phinney story shows that survival in the wine business, and in fact over-the-top success, can be achieved without the the threats that tourism urbanization poses to the long-term viability of an agricultural economy and a rural environment.

Dave Phinney has purchased a significant chunk of the Rector watershed, and whatever he does will have an additional impact on our lives. The proposals talked about at the BBQ - conservation easements, worker van pooling, urban tasting rooms, a winery in Vallejo, alternative marketing and branding techniques, a​ desire to reach out to residents and to develop a charitable purpose to the business model - all point to an approach that is looking for success that is sustainable and beneficial with a minimal impact to the agricultural land and open space that is our home. The cloud in the narritave is that Mr. Phinney's considerable expertise and success seems to be in building up brand and then flipping it. What development limits is he willing to place not just on himself, but on the potential next owner of the property? We hope those limits will be known by the time the EIR is completed.

There is another small cloud as well: currently, 46 people have written letters to the planning commission opposing the Mountain Peak Winery project on the Rector plateau. 6 people have written letters of support. 5 of the supporters are people with a financial interest in increased development of the watershed, development of more tourism on the road, or direct contracting with Mountain Peak. Mr. Phinney is among them. Opposition to Mountain Peak is not about the responsible development of more vines here; the time to prevent the Rector watershed from being consumed by vineyards is long gone. The concern now is about the use of this remote residential-agricultural community as a tourist destination. Mr. Phinney's support of the Mountain Peak project does raise questions about where his interests will lie once his vineyards are in place.

Coming to a vineyard near you. on: Tourism Issues

Bill Hocker - Dec 26,18  expand...  Share

NVR 12/26/18: Napa supervisors report on Australia wine trip

"Rising out of vineyards, the five-story-tall d’Arenberg Cube looks like a glass Rubic cube in mid-move. Visitors can see a 360-degree video room, take in art in the Alternate Realities Museum, sniff flowers and fruit in sensory rooms, taste wine and eat in a restaurant. The center contains no wine production."

The beauties of a tourism economy.

Save the Family Farm on: Napa Strategic Plan

Bill Hocker - Dec 20,18  expand...  Share

NVR 12/19/18: Napa Supervisors surprised by deluge of comments on family farm woes and winery rules

Save the Family Farm on
Save the Family Farm Committee statement

At the Strategic Plan hearing before the BOS on 12/19/18 several people got up to describe how difficult it was as for small winemakers to survive: those vintners that had a small number of acres of vines that they processed at a custom crush facility or in their barn, but had no means, in an age of consolidated distributers needing large quantities, of actually selling the wine other than inviting people to their farm. The cost of getting a use permit for a winery, a multi-year process at the County, and the cost of actually building a commercial winery was way beyond their means.

The refrain of the small family winery being priced out of the Napa Valley has been fairly constant since APAC and before, with the discussion about the CEQA small winery exception. Apparently there are many winemakers out there that have been operating completely off the grid of official county statistics for some time.

The County's winery database of use permits now has some 500 wineries, not even half of Dave Thompson's Napa Wine Project database of 1100 Napa commercial wine makers, most of which he has visited and written excellent reviews about.

For me, and perhaps the Supervisors, this is much like the issue of winery use-permit non-compliance which turned out to be a much more widespread than first thought. The emphasis on the plight of the small family winemakers, operating without a winery permit and depending on "home" tours and tasting to sell their product may be just as big. And now that the County is cracking down on winery non-compliance with a deadline of 3/29/19 for wineries to register to recognize the conditions of their use permits, the many sub-permit wine makers may be getting nervous.

It seems unlikely that the County doesn't know about number of commercial wineries documented in the Napa Wine Project, regardless the Supes surprise as the small winemakers are coming forward. But is probably safe to say that the impact of those wine makers on their neighborhoods and on the metrics of traffic generation and housing need have thus far been ignorable. Until now.

The Save the Family Farm Committee has produced their own definition of the Small Family Winery. There are good aspects to the proposal, but the 30,000 gallon limit represents a 50% increase on the median size of existing use-permitted wineries in remote areas, not really small by Napa standards. And the 25 visitors every day is 4 times the median visitation in remote areas and would present a noticeable commercial presence in remote rural neighborhoods.

In 2014, the first year of doing this website, I proposed a series of solutions attempting to stall the urbanization of the county. One was a "true" family winery ordinance of my own. The overriding considerations were that such small wineries have minimal impacts and that they not be expandable - that they are meant to allow a proof of concept for budding winemakers and an authentic tasting experience for a limited number of aficionados. If the wine maker wishes to expand, it is time to move additional production and visitation out of the hills. The most important aspect of the proposal was that the permit is given to the owner of the land. If the owner left the land, the permit ended. And that it be the only type of winery allowed in the watersheds going forward, so that these permits are not simply a cheap and easy way to start a large event center project. Protecting the watersheds from corporate and plutocratic overdevelopment is the goal. And Limiting big money development of the watersheds means that the properties that are available are less expensive for small family farms. It is a workable proposal for just the vintners that are coming forward now.

Actually, the County already has a Small Winery definition for old existing wineries. It would seem a reasonable template to fit the needs of “Save the Family Farm” petitioners, with the removal of the word “existing”. It prohibits tours and tastings - but it is worth noting that Screaming Eagle is in compliance with this definition. It is possible for a small winemaker to be successful based on the quality of the wine rather than the quantity of the experiences.

One of the other “solutions” that gets at the issue of marketing small brands might be appropriate to mention here: The development of public wine markets in each of the municipalities specifically to sell the county's small labels, with a boutique or stall for each of the winemakers. The TOT would be used to subsidize, or pay entirely, for the cost of rent on the stalls. The marketing of wine by dragging ever more visitors into the rural areas of the County is not a sustainable approach - in terms of protecting that rural character or of dealing with the VMT issues of climate change and global tourism. But small family farms are sustainable - if they remain small family farms.

County General Plan Circulation Element Update on: Traffic Issues

Bill Hocker - Dec 19,18  expand...  Share

Update 12/19/18
The Circulation Element was approved by the Planning Commission and found to be consistant with the ALUC Plan.
The video of the hearing is here
The markup Circulation Element is here showing changes
Public Comments

The most interesting of the public comments is the Department of Transportation letter. While the wine industry keeps touting their "data" that only 20% of Napa's traffic goes in and out of winery driveways, the Department of Transportation has a less sanguine view of impact of tourism traffic to the Napa Valley. Their comments on tourism, the most extensive of the letter are worth noting:
"Wine tourism produces significant economic benefits for the County and State but is also a significant contributor to VMT and other transportation impacts. We are concerned about the direct and cumulative impacts from the expansion of the wine industry and related tourism sector, and that without significant mitigative action, the County’s policy goals will not be reachable ...

The County should study implementing both a fast, convenient transit service from San Francisco to Napa, so tourists aren’t forced to rent cars to reach their destinations, and a bus/transit loop that stops at the most visited wine and hospitality destinations. This could be modeled on the hop on/off bus services that run in most major cities. Such a service could also benefit the employees of wineries and hospitality sites, especially if paired with express bus service from residential areas."

Their suggestions obviously posit a concentration of wine tourism activities, as do other letters. Policy CIR-3 recommends urbanized areas for new commercial development, but since the County refuses to consider winery tourism to be a commercial activity, it has no policy on their placement. The County's lack of a policy, in fact, encourages new wineries that disperse visitors and hospitality employees into areas of the county more remote and less costly than the main tourism zone. Not only does that substantially increase VMT to access tourism venues, but when visitors or employees must travel the last miles on remote hilly roads not served by public transport, they are unlikely to choose alternative transport to get to Napa in the first place.

Update 12/6/18
The Update to the Circulation Element of the Napa County General Plan is going through its next public review process. On Dec 19, 2018 it will be presented to the Planning Commission at 9:00am, and then to the Airport Land Use Commission at 11:00am.

Meeting agenda and documents
Redline markup of Circulation Element
Public comments on the May 8 meeting

Comments may be submitted from Sat, Dec 8 through Tues, Dec 18 2018 to John McDowell at

A Supplement to the EIR for the update gives the broad outline of its intent:
"In general, the revised text in the current Draft Circulation Element reflects the recent shift in transportation planning principles, wherein less emphasis is placed on modifying the roadway network to optimize automobile movement. Instead, emphasis is placed on maintaining the existing system; ensuring adequate and safe transportation options for all users, regardless of income level, age or physical ability; and enhancing the efficiency of the transportation network by reducing single-occupant automobile trips. Cascading benefits of reduced vehicle trips include improvements in air quality and public health, as air pollutants from vehicle emissions are reduced and people are provided better opportunities to utilize more active transportation options (walking and bicycling)."

Restating the concept that growth of the road system is to be shunned in favor of other transport alternatives is good. But it ignores the reality of the situation. 90% of the movement in the county happens over roadways. Reducing Napa's road traffic to, say, 80%, equivalent to the rest of the Bay Area with it's greater density and BART service, would be a laudable goal and a miracle if it actually happened. That still means that the vast majority of new traffic, that created by the enormous quantity of approved but as yet unbuilt building projects in the county (including at least 150 winery projects), will be adding to a road system that is already annoyingly congested. And neither the County nor the Municipalities have given any indication that they are going to curtail the rate at which new projects are being approved.

Where are the new zoning policies, like the original Ag Preserve, in which the goal is to slow development and population growth to "protect the County’s rural character"? Instead all of the County's zoning restrictions have been relaxed to allow ever more construction and jobs and people on "agriculturally" zoned land. The commitment to hold the line on roadway enlargement, while a decent goal, rings hollow in the absence of real effort to slow the traffic-generating urban growth that drives the need for road enlargement.

One of the most significant changes in analysis presented in the Update is the change from LOS to VMT in looking at the traffic impacts of projects, a change based on new CEQA guidelines regarding VMT. Rather than concentrating on the congestion created by the project at particular times at intersections (and the mind-numbing atomization of traffic to a particular hour on a particular day), now the total vehicle trips generated by a project becomes the critical element in the analysis. (How the miles traveled in each trip are calculated seems still to be defined.) Policies CIR-37, CIR-38 and CIR-39 all present a commitment to evaluate and to reduce VMT on a project basis.

One argument advanced in the Mountain Peak hearings highlighted the 44,000 6-mile long trips (now down to 36,000) to the winery from the Trail each year which would generate 260,000 VMT, 10 trips around the earth. Much more if the distance from the owner's tasting room in downtown Napa is used. The argument didn't seem to have an impact.

Winery development now taking place is most often driven by their utility (and profitability) as tourism venues rather than processing plants. The use of VMT as a development metric should highlight the wisdom of an approach to tourism planning that is based on transporting guests and employees to even the most remote corners of the county to taste wine and have lunch, rather than concentrating those activities in a more GHG friendly central locations. Is such a distributed development pattern justified when reducing VMT becomes a prime goal in the County's Circulation Element?

POLICY CIR-37 indicates that "the County will support measures that eliminate or reduce the length of vehicle trips." To do that, the policy suggests building more housing so employees can live in-county, shuttles, shared parking with other development, mitigation fees to fund alternative transport. Will new affordable housing actually reduce VMT? Affordable housing funding is dependent on a large increase in overall urban development, as Napa Pipe shows, which brings even greater transport impacts. New market rate homes might be affordable for some workers, but they might also become weekend retreats, Airb&b venues, or bedrooms for SF commuters adding to overall VMT. Shuttles, or an expanded VINE system, may help if they're free (paid for by mitigation fees and TOT perhaps) to compensate for the loss of automobile flexibility. Shared parking lots - little impact. And how much must be charged in mitigation fees to make a difference on the major transportation infrastructure projects ultimately needed to change driving habits. The amount raised would likely be insufficient to fund station signs in a mass transit system.

POLICY CIR-38 asks that proposed projects evaluate their VMT with the aim of reducing that number by at least 15%. "Evaluate their VMT" means that metrics will be established for a standard VMT per project and then that standard will be reduced by mitigations like van-pooling or bicycle racks or charging stations. But how are the standards set? Anything above zero VMT is adding to the problems of climate change. This increases rather than reduces the problem. (And naturally there will be an incentive for consultants to inflate the initial VMT numbers in order to present subsequent reductions.)

What the County's VMT-reduction policies don't consider is a change in zoning to discourage development. The list of potential development projects in the zoning code for AP and AWOS properties is extensive. (Now including Solar Farms!). The best way to reduce VMT is to reduce the potential that development projects will be proposed in areas away from major transport corridors. By limiting even further the potential for building development in the AWOS areas (perhaps ay redefining “agriculture” in County code back to its dictionary definition) not only is Napa County doing its bit to curb VMT GHG's, but it is also providing further protection against urbanization so that Napa may remain an agricultural economy for the next 50 years, a goal explicit in the visions of the General Plan and its Elements, but ignored in the planning approval process which concentrates on (often meaningless) mitigations to allow building development to proceed in the face of obvious degradation of those visions.

SCR on the GHG's of Remote Winery Tourism

Original Post 5/9/18
NVR 5/9/18: Imagining a Napa County future of uncluttered roadways? Think again.

The County Planning Commission was given an introduction to the first draft of the new Circulation Element that will eventually replace the current one in the General Plan. Public comments may be submitted to the county staff through June 1st after which the staff will address the comments and produce another draft of the element by this summer. And then there will be planning commission hearings on that draft.

Video and docs of 5/2/18 PC meeting
Existing Circulation Element (2008)
The new Draft Circulation Element
NCTPA Vision2040 Report (2015) with Fehr & Peers study

From the staff presentation it seems that the new circulation element will emphasize policy aimed at reducing Greenhouse gas emissions, and as such will work in tandem with the county's stalled Climate Action Plan which may be taken up by the commission in June.

Commission discussion ranged from more electric charging stations to public transport to more affordable housing and the need for regional solutions. The discussion seemed focused at mitigations for problems we already experience or that can be expected in the future. No one talked about reducing the root cause of traffic increases, i.e. the amount and type of tourism and industrial development occurring in the county that generates more traffic and encourages visitor and employee travel. No one ever discusses the possibility of moving from a growth mentality that assumes an ever larger economy with ever more development to the consideration of policies for a stable economy with a finite limit on growth that gives the opportunity to stabilize emissions and then perhaps find ways to reduce them. Reductions in existing GHGs are hard, production of new GHGs from more development and population importation are way too easy, and a net reduction in GHG production will never be achieved as long as "growth" rather than stability is the goal.

In public comments after the discussion Dave Whitmir, who will shortly be replacing Comm. Basayne on the planning commission, spoke about some initial suggestions in looking at the new policies. Despite a concern over his opposition to measure C, one issue he brought up made caught my attention:
"Regarding Circulation policy CIR 36 (pg 20 here): Should there be an action item for this policy to review the new development approvals and insure that roads are adequate for the demands placed upon them? And I would specifically call out some recent approvals on Soda Canyon and Atlas Peak and the concerns of resident in those areas about whether or not those roads are safe to handle that kind of traffic."

The wording doesn’t quite make clear whether he is calling for re-thinking further commercial development on problematic rural roads, or for improving the roads so that these rural areas can be further urbanized. I want to believe the former.

The Compliance Ladder of Travesty on: Compliance Issues

George Caloyannidis - Dec 4,18  expand...  Share

Update 12/04/18
The Resolution on Code Compliance was passed 4-0 by the BOS at their 12/4/18 meeting.

Chatten-Brown and Carstens LLP letter to the Supervisors with legal concerns about the Draft Code Complince Resolution on behalf of the Friends of the Napa County Agricultural Preserve.
Video of 12/4/18 BOS meeting
Revised Code Compliance Resolution

Update 11/20/18
NVR 11/20/18: County wants March deadline for Napa winery scofflaws

Update 11/9/18
Concerning Item 6G of the BOS consent Calendar on Nov 13, 2018 agenda:

This [Draft Code Compliance Resolution] is extremely serious. It opens the floodgates under the guise of "enforcement".

While I only address the issue of public exclusion (in the underlying objective to "streamline"), this Resolution is a complete travesty.

Over and above the issues I raise in the attachment, there is nothing to prevent a never ending string of violations "to come forward for compliance" even after this round of compliance modifications has been completed.

And to suggest that compelling a winery to operate under its original use permit for one year (any amount of time) is punishment is like allowing a thief who has been caught stealing to keep their stolen goods as long as they promise to stop stealing going forward!

Note the bullet immediately preceding my COMMENT text.

It pertains to the unfair treatment of law abiding wineries seeking use permit modifications as compared to the violating ones. The former will still be subject to Planning Commission review and public hearings while the latter will be privileged by an expedited administrative process.

Many believe that this unfairness is so obvious that it will be remedied in the future and that this underhanded process is one already premeditated in this Resolution.

Once again, I urge you not to change the existing process of Planning Commission review and public inclusion for ALL winery use permit modifications.

My current comments to the Supervisors are here
My Oct recommendations are here

For many years now, I have been sounding the alarm of the misguided principles the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors are employing in rewarding winery use permit violators. The latest example in this ongoing practice was the approval of the Reynolds family winery which was caught cheating in its 2014 audit.

On November 1st, the Planning Commission rewarded the winery with an increase in production from 20,000 gallons annually to 40,000, an increase in weekly visitors from 60 to 280 and in annual marketing events from 3 to 54.

The owner, a dentist of some assumed educational level stated that he hadn't noticed the increase in visitors. As shocking this may be, even more so are the statements of the Commissioners who appreciated the winery "owning up to the code violations", whatever owning up means.

Commissioner Basayne stated that the county wants "to work with violators who want to work with the county" another meaningless talking point. Commissioner Scott stated that the county "must support efforts of small family wineries to succeed", in effect sweeping the issue of violations under the rug.

To top it all off, staff developed a comparison chart of 14 wineries producing between 35,000 to 45,000 gallons to serve as a guide for future applications. The chart showed that comparable wineries had 6,213 visitors annually compared to 14,560 granted to Reynolds and 691 marketing visitors while Reynolds was granted 1,901!
Putting all this in perspective and leaving all the ethical and government credibility issues of rewarding violators aside, I want to concentrate on how this affects the state's California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) intended to safeguard not the Reynolds' pocket book but our common quality of life including our resources, infrastructure and traffic congestion.

During my appeal on a similar violations reward case of the Reverie winery in 2015, I pointed out to the Supervisors the court decision of that same year in Center for Biological Diversity v. Department of Fish and Wildlife holding that "the CEQA baseline must include existing conditions, even when those conditions have never been reviewed and are unlawful". This means that the environmental conditions factored in the Reynolds CEQA analysis included the conditions of the violations, not those which would have been in place had the winery complied with its original conditions and came before the Commission seeking for an increase. In other words, the impact of the increase from 6,213 to 14,560 visitors, the increased production etc. all escaped CEQA review.

This circumvention of the CEQA law by our local government was also pointed out to our Supervisors in letters by the law firms of Abbott & Kindermann representing Beckstoffer Vineyards in April 29, 2015 and by Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger representing Alliance for Responsible Governance in August 11, 2017. Yet the Planning Commission remains undaunted to the fact that its policy of "forgive and reward" which was officially rescinded by Resolution No. 05-229 in December 13, 2005 and signed by then chair Dillon compromises - in fact encourages - the circumvention of CEQA which was designed to protect the health and welfare of communities throughout the state of California.

When the Commissioners and our Supervisors increase the use permit levels of violators such as Reverie, Summers, Reynolds and others one after the other, the comparison chart of "similar wineries" is climbing up the ladder to the benefit of the next violator, all without CEQA review. If one wonders how traffic congestion levels have increased dramatically in recent years even though each project CEQA analysis has assured the public that all impacts have been mitigated to "less than significant levels", one need only look at the ladder of forgiveness.

To be clear, rewarding such violators has nothing to do with helping small family wineries, nothing to do with people who are nice or generous to the community or even those who come forward admitting to violations without having been caught let alone those who have. Unfortunately, our government refuses to get it and many fear corruption. What is the solution?

The county has suspended its auditing program and is examining solutions. No solution will be effective unless violators are caught immediately so the CEQA baseline is not allowed to move forward unexamined. This means a step up in auditing to at least 80 wineries annually, sworn affidavits of winery CEOs that they comply with the terms of their use permits and non-complying wineries having to revert to use permit levels of operation for a minimum of three years so that CEQA conditions have time to reset.

LTE version 11/18/17: Forgiveness for winery violators: The ladder of travesty

AmCan solar farm at the Planning Commission on: Solar Farming

Bill Hocker - Dec 3,18  expand...  Share

Update 12/6/18
NVR 12/6/18: Napa County approves what could be its first commercial solar farm

With the return of Comm Hansen, the project was approved 3-2, Hansen, Whitmer, Mazotti for, Cottrell, Gallagher no.
Video of the 12/5/18 hearing

Update 12/3/18
Aston Pereira LTE 12/4/18: Solar Projects in the Napa County Ag Watershed/Ag Preserve
Patricia Tuck LTE 12/4/18 Cui Bono?
Tina Norman LTE 12/3/18: We need rules for solar farms

On 12/5/18 the Planning Commission returns to render their verdict with a full contingent after the 2-2 split decision on 11/28/18. The property is currently generating income for its owners as a horse and animal farm. Will Comm. Hansen vote for the further urban development of working ag lands? Or will the county decide in its wisdom direct staff to propose regulations for this new land use before rather than after the fact?

Update 11/28/18
NVR 11/28/18: Proposed American Canyon commercial solar farm awaits a tie-breaker

At the 11/28/18 Planning Commission meeting, the motion to approve the AmCan Solar project was split with Comms. Whitmer, and Mazotti for, and Comms. Gallagher and Cottrell against. Comm Hansen was absent. County Council indicated that given the tie the project must be agendized for the next meeting when the 5th member will be present. The project has been put on the Dec 5th agenda.

I'm a bit confused by the policy regarding a tie. In the Girard project, a 2-2 tie was interpreted as a loss of the motion. In the first ALUC hearing on the Palmaz heliport, the ALUC board split 3-3 and the hearing was renoticed for a future meeting. There had to be some clarification on this because the ALUC policy was different than the Planning Commission policy. Perhaps the Planning Commission policy changed? Comm Gallagher asked at the time, why would a hearing be scheduled if the members present are potentially not capable to make a binding decision. Good question.

Update 11/20/18
Planning Commission hearing on project 11/28/18

Agenda and documents
Staff letter for hearing
County's AmCan Solar Project page
Sonoma Co. renewable energy standards
Eve Kahn statement
Lisa Hirayama statement
NRSP/NCFB/NV2050 'quasi-utility' comments

Update 10/20/18
NVR 10/20/18: Napa County commercial solar proposal raises larger questions
The hearing has been continued to Nov 28, 2018

The second solar farm currently being proposed in the county will be up before the planning commission on Oct. 17th 2018. The agenda and documents are here.

The neg-dec notice is here. Less-than-significant impacts as usual. It will cover a hillside in the bucolic, actual American Canyon between Hwy 80 and the AmCan High School. Given the route, a viable alternative connection between Hwys 80 and 29, remaining a piece of the county’s unpretentious ranch landscape was not in the cards. It might have become another vanity vineyard, but in this corner of the county closer to a freeway, the most profitable crop seems to be the guiding principle. If the County is willing to consider solar power plants as an acceptable use on ag lands, there are 45000 acres of land in the county already cleared with the intention of soaking up the sun waiting to be developed into more profitable use.

According to one website, leasing farmland for solar collectors might produce a net profit of "somewhere between $21,250 and $42,500 per acre on an annual basis". Compare that to the $7000/ton x 4 ton/acre = $28,000/acre gross revenue from vines in Napa County. With costs of perhaps $16000/acre that would leave $12000/acre/yr net profit, far below the money to be made from a solar farm. While not every farmer would be interested in doubling their income by converting to solar power, there is definitely an incentive to do so.

There is a real need for the County to develop a policy and ordinances for solar development before any projects are considered for approval. Sonoma County already has an ordinance. This question needs to to be answered first: why should agriculturally zoned land, the "highest and best use of the land" in the County's oft-touted phrase, be used for power plants rather than relegating such an expansive industrial use to industrially zoned land?

This illustration shows the size of the American Canyon solar array (18 acres large) in comparison to the ultimate Napa Logistics buildout. The array is about 3/4 the area of the largest building in the complex. The County should ask why solar collection can't be incorporated into industrial or commercial uses to offset the costs of both, as rooftop or parking lot installations (as in the Gasser HQ parking lot)? Would it not make sense to initially target large solar power projects for the industrial areas and uses that need generous amounts of power to operate, and leave ag lands for ag uses?

The NFRSP group has published a statement opposing the project on the NV2050 website here:
Planning Commission: Wait! We need a plan on solar before we set any precedents!

The restaurant-winery impact on: The WDO

Bill Hocker - Dec 1,18  expand...  Share

Update 12/1/18
Just on heels of his insights on the meaning of the opening of The Prisoner Winery, Napa's newest tourist attraction, the Register's food and wine writer Tim Carl has done a deep dive, with statistics, into Napa's dying restaurants. There is a relationship between the two stories

NVR12/1/18: A staffing shortage clouds the future of Napa Valley restaurants

Update 10/30/18
Eve Kahn et al LTE 10/30/18: Why are supervisors allowing restaurants in the Ag Preserve?

Update 10/16/18
NVR 5/22/18: Brian Arden Winery's new food and wine experience are perfectly paired

NVR 10/16/18: Diane De Filipi: Food and wine at Sequoia Grove

Eve Kahn at the BOS on Oct 16, 2018 brought up the De Filipi article from the Wine section of the Register. The author of the article offers some jaw-dropping candor:

"Wineries and visitors are now able to benefit from an ambiguity in the ordinance [the WDO] that allows for educational wine and food pairings for visitors. This little loophole is making it possible for us to enjoy meals at wineries while still preventing most gargantuan events.

One of wineries that has created an inviting and impressive dining experience is Sequoia Grove. Their five-course seasonal cuisine wine and food pairing was an intimate, no more than 16 guests, experience."

Creating a restaurant-class kitchen and hiring a top chef and support staff is no small endeavor. Neither is staying within the parameters of the loophole. Sequoia Grove has figured it all out and in a setting, which is lovely without the least bit of pretense."

What can one say. Except that the wine industry was fully aware what the "ambiguous" 2010 changes to the verbiage of the WDO would mean - that wineries could then become much more profitable commercial enterprises, i.e. restaurants.

At the BOS meeting, industry spokesperson Debra Dommen discounted the quotes in the Redd article below, saying that, based on her inside knowledge (more reliable than mere employees presumably), restaurant closures were not related to losing business to wineries. Just more fake news she implied.

But, at his first meeting as Planning Commissioner on the day following this BOS meeting, Comm. Mazotti, a member of the company developing several major Napa urban projects, had just the opposite view from Ms. Dommen. The market for high end restaurants is saturated in the valley. The urban development community looks at each new "restaurant" as a net zero condition, with the loss of one existing restaurant expected for each new one. If the new ones are at wineries, then the town suffers.

Update 10/9/18
NVR 10/9/18: Why Yountville’s Redd restaurant closed
"Restaurants have to compete with so many wineries that are now offering food pairings and lunches, with in-house chefs creating menus to keep their visitors engaged. Tourists aren’t necessarily interested in a big dinner or fancy lunch when they can have a food experience at the winery. It’s really tough on restaurants now." - Redd sommelier Chris Blanchard

Redd is not the only example: George Caloyannidis mentioned in one email that:
"I had a long talk with the Dierkhisings who own 2 restaurants in Calistoga. Despite the increase in visitors they told me they will be going out of business. When I asked why, they said tourists get enough food at the wineries and they don't come to us. Several other restaurants in Calistoga have closed."

Charlotte Williams then replied:
"In small Calistoga the effects of any trend become clear sooner than in larger towns. Brannan's Bar & Grill closed a few weeks ago. The owners
cited traffic as a problem but there's also the probability that winery
hosted dinners and lunches didn't help business in the restaurants in town.

I imagine that was a problem for Terra and Cindy's Backstreet in St.
Helena, too. Market (restaurant) figured it out and decided to take
their food to the wineries, instead, essentially becoming a catering

The labor shortage, as the wineries poach workers as well as customers, is another cause of demise. There is a lack of workers either for want of housing or from winery and resort competition. The approval of ever more commercial development in the municipalities without the infrastructure or housing to accommodate the increased work force is putting the squeeze on all employers. It will only get much worse as the many hotels and resorts and industrial projects approved but not yet built come online.

As mentioned in the article, the preference by tourists for less expensive food in town when they spend $125 for winery lunch speaks to another issue - the promotion of Napa as a mass market tourism destination. One trip to Oxbow Market, an ideal, I'm sure, from the tourism industry's standpoint, should convince anyone that the days of oenophiles and epicures seeking an undiscovered gem are over. Like being at Disneyland, an expensive meal at a winery is part of the ride, but for all other meals it's strictly comfort food.

The County's land use policies are clearly a cause in the transfer of food revenues from the municipalities to the vineyards. By including food service as an agricultural process allowed under the County's restrictive agricultural zoning, the County has encouraged the use of wineries as restaurants. The result, as has been apparent in the use permit requests since 2010 changes to the WDO to allow increased food service, is a bleeding of a definite commercial use, a restaurant, from the municipalities into the unincorporated areas. The urban-rural line has been perforated. Hotels are sure to follow.

The "wine industry" claims that serving food at tastings and events is the only way attract the patrons needed for wineries to survive. In fact, it is the economic justification needed for wineries to be proposed in the first place. Without the wine pairings and food serving events, the number of wineries being proposed, and the number of employees contributing to the population challenges the county now faces, would be considerably reduced. The decision to build a winery would be based on the need to process grapes into wine, and the county already has several times more than enough approved processing capacity for all the grapes grown in the county.

NVR 12/31/14: Etoile, restaurant that helped launch Napa Valley food scene, is closing

Although the above article is a unique case, it is representative of what we can expect to happen in the next few years as the synergy between wine and food, codified under the WDO, is exploited. Note that food service isn't ending, it's just that the winery will be serving the food in the form of banquets and private parties.

My two screeds on the ongoing conversion of wineries into backdrops for restaurants are here and here. The jist of my arguments, and the reason that the 1990 version of WDO went to such linguistic pains around "marketing events", is that restaurants should not be allowed in the vineyards. It is not that wineries and restaurants cannot cannot coexit - they do quite well together. In fact the two together present an unbeatable profit center that will eventually eliminate the need for municipal based restaurants. The combination is, in fact, profitable enough that every vineyard owner will want one, and all of the empty vineyards will eventually be occupied by their own restaurant-wineries. Whereas the profits to be made from tours and tastings at wineries is not enough to justify building a winery solely for that purpose, a restaurant within the winery does justify the cost. I'm sure that the winery being proposed in my back yard on Soda Canyon Road would be a very dicey investment if it were to depend only on tours and tastings. And as the profits from winery tourism eclipse the profits to be made from the sale of wine, the need for the vineyards also diminishes, and other uses, like parking lots to accommodate that large winery events, will be found for the land.

My own modest recommendation: the new version of the WDO, being debated in February, needs to remove food service from the vineyards - lest the vines are literally eaten away.

Watson Ranch Referendum on: Watson Ranch

Bill Hocker - Nov 30,18  expand...  Share

Residents and labor union members are backing a referendum to put the approval of Watson Ranch on the ballot. While Mayor García tries to portray supporters of the referendum as labor unions angling for a bigger piece of the project and as outside Green party radicals opposed to development, it doesn't take much to realize that there isn't anything in this project for the residents of American Canyon except more traffic, pollution, school crowding, job competition and increasing infrastructure and service taxes.

As noted in the EIR: "significant and unavoidable impacts with respect to: air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, noise, and transportation and traffic." This project doesn't need outside agitators to oppose it. It just needs informed residents. Hopefully the referendum will do that.

Unfortunately the referendum will not be countywide. The traffic increase in American Canyon will impact everyone traveling to and from the Napa Valley, and some of the infrastructure needs of the expanding American Canyon population will, no doubt, be borne by the rest of the county as well.

Lewis and Grapes LTE 11/30/18: Sign the petition = A better American Canyon – not another Vallejo
Leon García LTE 11/20/18: Do not sign the Watson Ranch petition
NVR 11/20/18: Unions launch referendum campaign to stop Watson Ranch in American Canyon

County Supervisors, Khashoggi and the Angwin cookie jar on: Compliance Issues

George Caloyannidis - Nov 29,18  expand...  Share


On December 4, the Supervisors are scheduled to adopt the so called Winery Compliance Resolution. If this sounds reassuring, think again.

The way the County defines winery compliance is far from what the common man understands under this label. When wineries exceed wine production, visitations and numbers of events above their use permit levels, this is when they are out of compliance. One would expect that when the County proposes to bringing them into compliance, it would compel them to operate under their use permits for at least some substantial period of time. That would not only be respect for the law, restore unfair competition towards law abiding wineries and rectify their escape from environmental review thus adding to our traffic without mitigations.

Regretfully, the way the County proposes to treat "compliance" is to legalize violations with revised use permits, in essence adjusting the law to fit the crime; even better, it brings the County rather the wineries into compliance.

"Words matter" as president to be Barak Obama once said in 2007. Words can inspire and can fool the public.

And since I am quoting presidents, most peoples' moral sense was offended when President Trump decided against placing sanctions on Saudi Arabia for the horrific dismembering of Jamal Khashoggi by risking a $100 barrel of oil. "This is not who we are" reverberated throughout the country. But here we are in Napa County.

Without claiming a moral equivalency to a horrific crime or national interests, if there is any doubt how corrosive this loose play with our collective moral values is even beginning at the local level, one can look back to the Summer of 2015 when I unsuccessfully appealed the County's decision to forgive numerous egregious violations at the Reverie winery with a new use permit by bringing it into "compliance" (it sold a few weeks later with several millions of ill gotten gains added to its value). At the time we asked Mr. Rothman, teacher at Angwin Elementary School to pose the following question to his 7th and 8th graders: "If I passed around a cookie jar and asked each of you to take no more than three cookies but some of you took six, should they be allowed to keep them?". We can still celebrate; not one single child said they should.

At least in 2015 these children understood morality, but if we continue down this path from a small county to the entire nation where money trumps it, we will end up in the kind of society which we will have deserved.

On December 4, the small children at Angwin Elementary will be looking down at the Supervisors' desk.

George Caloyannidis


Bill Hocker - Nov 29, 2018 11:25AM

Mr. Caloyannidis has sent along these more specific comments:

Below I distill the main issues with the proposed Winery Compliance Resolution.

1) It increases the discretionary power of the PBES Director (Morrison) to determine which of the violating wineries' applications require a public hearing and which do not. If he decides they do not, he grants new use permits. This limits public comment at the Planning Commission level.

2) It gives a penalty pass towards new winery use permits which recognize their violations if they submit a "substantially conforming" application by March 29, 2019. But the deadline can be extended for "extenuating circumstances" for up to 120 days but that can again be extended for extenuating circumstances, both at the "Director's sole discretion".

3) It also grants these violators the right to apply for additional increases in use permits over and above the violation ones.

4) Such ministerial approvals will be almost impossible to appeal to the BoS because the public will have to rely on the County website postings in order to submit a comment in order to acquire legal standing for an appeal.

5) The only penalty wineries which miss that (flexible) deadline will be to undergo CEQA under the original use permit baseline (which they need to consent to) and be required to operate for one year under their original use permit.

6) There are no provisions of how repeat offenders will be handled.

7) No provisions on how wineries who do not apply at all will be handled.

8) No provisions for a County auditing program so as to prevent violators in the future.

9) While these wineries will be required to submit annual reports on production, they are not required to do so for their marketing activities.

The more general concerns at issue here are:

1) According to the last winery audit in 2013, 40% of all audited wineries were out of compliance. We have about 500 wineries now.

2) The proliferation of use permit violators on traffic, visitations, events, production has had profound impacts throughout the valley in terms of advancing these increases without mitigations by escaping CEQA review. As per recent court rulings, the CEQA baseline on applications must recognize existing conditions even if they have been caused by unpermitted operations.

3) These illegal increases in winery marketing and production have had deleterious effects on the commercial activities in the cities. The unmitigated increases on traffic have also had an equally negative effect on accessibility and the commercial activities in the cities from American Canyon to Calistoga resulting in store and restaurants closures as they complete in a short labor market and food service.

No on Palm Drive solar on: Solar Farming

Bill Hocker - Nov 28,18  expand...  Share

Update 11/28/18
At the 11/28/18 hearing on the American Canyon Solar Project, the developer indicated that they have withdrawn their application for the Palm Drive Solar Project. Temporary or permanent?

Update 9/30/18
Laura TInthoff LTE 9/30/18: Keep our valley bucolic: No on Palm Drive solar


Another community group has formed to oppose the urbanization of the "agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure", this time to prevent a wooded hillside in Coombsville from becoming a power plant.

It is Napa Residents for Smart Planning…No on Palm Drive Solar.

Their very well done website does a good job of showing how inappropriate such an industrial project can be to a rural landscape.

The red splotches are stands of oak woodlands to be removed. Given the concerns raised by the Measure C campaign over the last year it is a bit shocking that a company would have the hubris to push forward such an industrial use of Napa's oak woodlands. The plan is one of the documents on the County's Palm Drive Solar page.

Sonoma County Ag+Open Space on: Sonoma County

Bill Hocker - Nov 21,18  expand...  Share

Napa Vision 2050 has just sent out an email which among other concerns cites this article from the Sonoma Press Democrat: Report: Sonoma County’s natural resources worth billions

The report was a product of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preserve + Open Space District.The Ag+Open Space District webpage devoted to the report is here
The report itself is here

As usual, I was quite unaware of the situation in the county next door. It was a revelation that Sonoma's Ag+Open Space District, created by voters in 1990, seems to represent a wholistic approach to natural resource value and protection that has eluded Napa with its company-town mentality toward the wine industry. By comparison to the lofty and often ignored visions of the Napa County General Plan, and the feeble efforts of the County to mitigate but not challenge the development goals of the wine/tourism industries in the face of public resistance and potential resource depletion, Sonoma's Ag+Open Space District seems to place a "highest and best" value on Sonoma's "natural capital" beyond just its use as cropland or a scenic stage set for tourism.

While the District seems to embody the characteristics and purposes of Napa's Land Trust in its effort to preserve the natural character of the county through acquisition and conservation easements, the Ag+Open Space District is, in fact, an agency of the Sonoma County Government, with a substantial staff, overseen by the Board of Supervisors, giving the County a broader view when advancing the regulation of agricultural and tourism development. Unlike the Napa Land Trust, which pointedly refrains from any political controversy over land use (particularly over Measure C), the Ag+Open Space District is an adjunct to that political process and its concern in maintaining the natural character of the county should act as a counterweight to the desire for unregulated agricultural and tourism development.

As other posts on the SCR Sonoma County page attest, Sonoma also has its share of community resistance to the aggressive expansion of the wine/tourism industries parallel to that happening in Napa. The Ag+Open Space District isn't a panacea. But as this report shows, the county has the means through the District to concern itself with bigger issues than just the success of one industry - unlike the focused concern on the health of the wine industry which so occupies the Napa County government.

The report itself, which places a monetary value on things intrinsically hard to value, natural beauty, carbon sequestration, water quality, pollination (a lot!) and of course recreation and tourism, seems like it would be open to claims of biased discretion in making an economic case for natural land protection. There are case studies tied to the report with the numerical analyses used to produce expert opinions as to the valuations. As I have ranted about elsewhere, reality and expert opinion are not the same thing. But, hopefully, the valuations that this report has produced will stand the test of competition from experts with even more money to tout the economic benefits of urbanization. It is a shame that no government body and its citizenry, in this capitalist nation, is simply willing to decide that protecting the natural environment of a place is simply a moral imperative, a blessing to the human soul, regardless of the economic loss or benefit. A report with a dollar value is necessary.

What was illuminating to me about the report is that Sonoma County has a governmental body that looks at land use beyond just the economic interest of particular industries, and that agriculture is not defined as the highest and best use of the land, but that instead the natural capital of the county, God’s own creation unspoiled by human exploitation, may have a higher value. The report is a collaboration with two other Bay Area Counties, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz. Napa County should endeavor to be a partner in the next update.

Aloft Winery on: Remote Winery Ordinance

Bill Hocker - Nov 13,18  expand...  Share

Wine-Searcher 11/8/18: New Mondavi Plan Upsets Some Locals
NVR 9/6/18: Proposed Mondavi family winery generates controversy in Angwin

Scions of the Mondavi family are starting over by developing a new 50,000 gal/yr winery up a dead end road outside of Angwin. The project, the Aloft Winery, has run into opposition from neighbors as being incompatible with its remote location (an outline for a CEQA lawsuit has already been submitted!). The initial presentation of the project before the Planning Commission on Sep 5, 2018 generated enough concern that it has been continued to a date uncertain while neighbors and the owners attempt to come to some consensus.

The project represents one of several projects that are receiving new scrutiny after the fires of 2017 and the close defeat of Measure C in 2018. There are issues both in the water impacts of winery and vineyard development in the watersheds and the wisdom of pursuing tourism development in rural areas that are fire prone and are seen by residents as farming communities and not commercial development zones. The issue of winery development in the watershed areas has been the subject of a series of meetings at the Board of Supervisors that may, or may not, lead to an ordinance defining winery compatibility criteria for winery locations. The two meetings thus far are discussed here:

Two projects, the Dry Creek-Mt Veeder Winery and Caldwell Winery, have already been denied this year over similar concerns, more than have been denied in the previous decade. The Anthem Winery scheduled for its second hearing on Dec 5th is similarly being opposed by residents. The Mountain Peak Winery is heading for its own CEQA lawsuit on Jan 11, 2019.

George Caloyannidis sent the link to the Wine Searcher article at the top of this post. There is a certain disdain in the title of the article which seems to reflect the attitude of the wine industry toward communities that push back against the expansion of commercial facilities into their rural midst. The article closes with chamber-of-commerce talking points voiced by a "Chicago-based drinks attorney": "it will spur job growth and tax revenue. Plus, a great facility like the one proposed will draw people to the area." Just what this remote rural neighborhood was looking for, I'm sure.

Tourism threatens the world on: Tourism Issues

Bill Hocker - Oct 31,18  expand...  Share

Update 1/5/19
Guardian 1/4/19: The death of Venice? City’s battles with tourism and flooding reach crisis level

Update 8/28/18
The Economist 10/25/18: The backlash against overtourism

The concept of putting gates at the entrances to neighborhoods in Venice to limit the number of tourists is a lamentable proposal. “‘It’s the last step to becoming Disneyland,’ sighs one of the city’s urban planners.”

Perhaps one of the most memorable of the hundreds of bullet points from the Napa Strategic Plan meetings is this from the Wine Growers: “Fee for Silverado Trail (aka 7 mile drive)”. It might be considered tongue-in-cheek were it not highlighted as one of their principal proposals. As Supervisor Pedroza at one BOS hearing dismissed the annoyances of the tourism economy that we are all having to deal with: “This is not Disneyland; I think it’s just agriculture in the 21st century.”

Update 8/28/18
Dan Mufson sends along a link to this 2-part article in Der Spiegel on the worldwide pushback on the undesirable impacts of tourism on local communities:
Der Spiegel 8/21/18: How Tourists Are Destroying the Places They Love

Dan writes:
"Here’s an important article that describes the state of tourism today and it’s negative effect on locals. We heard the same message from Professor Mendlinger at our Forum on the Costs of Tourism in April, 2016. George said then that tourism creates private profits along with socialized costs. Others now state this: 'Tourism is a phenomenon that creates many private profits but also many socialized losses,' says Christian Laesser, a tourism professor at the University of St. Gallen.

When will our elected officials acknowledge this?"

As I have mentioned before, our travels are no longer as naive as they use to be. We now see every place visited through the lens of the impact of tourism on our own appreciation of Napa. And on the environment. We are headed to Porto for a conference in October, so the Der Spiegel article is timely - and concerning.

Update 8/2/17
The Gardian 3/7/18: Europe's beauty spots plot escape from the too-many-tourists trap

The solution proposed by a tourism conference in Berlin? Spread it out. Rather than being overwhelmed by tourists at peak periods, have constant tourists at every location at all times. This is a tourism industry solution to the very real impacts that tourism is having on residential communities all over the world. And, in fact, it is the solution that Napa County takes with Visit Napa Valley. When I asked Mark Luce why the county spends millions of dollars on Visit Napa Valley each year to attract more tourists, he said that it's not about attracting more, but in spreading out the tourism by promoting visitation in off-months and off-hours. What it really does is to promote filling up the level of tourism at all times to match the overwhelming tourism at peak periods. And, of course, to increase the tourism urbanization that threatens the rural small town quality of life in the county, impacts not so different to those being felt, and fought, around the world.

Update 8/2/17
The Local (Italy) 7/4/17: Venice residents protest against tourist influx
NYT 8/2/17: Venice, Invaded by Tourists, Risks Becoming ‘Disneyland on the Sea'

George Caloyannidis sends over this link to the latest in Venice:

The Telegraph (UK) 6/12/17: Venice bans new hotels as crackdown on tourism continues

Which also references their article on Amsterdam: Amsterdam has become ‘unlivable’ as residents fight back to stop ‘Disneyfication’ of city (When it comes to wine tourism, the term of art is 'Napafication', and the negative impacts are just as onerous). And more recently the resistance is becoming aggressive: DailyMail (UK) 8/2/17: Majorca is hit by anti-tourism protesters

The international uprising of locals against the unwanted impacts of tourism has been building for some time, as chronicled in this 2015 article in the NY Times.

It is interesting to look at the ratio of yearly tourists to residents to ask if there is some breaking point at which rebellion occurs. Venice is the extreme example: 20 mil tourists/yr and 265,000 residents (including suburbs) or 75 tourists/resident/yr. (Just
look at this graph to see what the "success" of post-war tourism has done - and can still do - to a resident population, a goal that the tourism industry might prefer.)

Compare this to the other cities mentioned in the articles that have been experiencing tourism backlash:
    Charleston: 38.4 tourists/resident
    New Orleans: 27 tourists/resident
    Ankor Wat 9.1 tourists/resident
    Amsterdam: 6.5 tourists/resident
    Barcelona: 4.4 tourists/resident
    Berlin: 2.6 tourists/resident
    Copenhagen: 1.5 tourists/resident
    Buthan: 0.3 tourists/resident (a ratio that any place wishing to maintain its quality-of-life should strive for)

And now look at the growing discontent with tourism in Napa County which is currently at 24.6 tourists/resident. (Sonoma County is at 14 tourists/resident)

While it seems there is no universal magic trigger point at which resident anger over the threat to the character of their communities becomes actionable, clearly Napa residents, having moved firmly into the double-digit tourist-to-resident category, have begun to realize that a crisis is at hand.

Residence Definition Ordinance on: The WDO

Bill Hocker - Oct 28,18  expand...  Share

home sweet home
Update 11/1/18:
NVR 11/1/18: Napa County sees McMansions as farmland threat

BOS Agenda 10/30/18 Item 10A

"Director of Planning, Building, and Environmental Services requests discussion and direction regarding commencing potential zoning ordinance changes to the Viewshed Protection Program and limiting total development area for residential development within agricultural zoning districts."

The agenda letter for this item at the Oct 30 2018 BOS meeting is here

It has always seemed a paradox to me that an enormous number of zoning restrictions are placed on wineries, including development area allowed, setbacks from roads, need to "convey their permanence and attractiveness", and above all a highly public approval process to insure that wineries are in harmony with maintaining a beautiful and agrarian landscape. Houses on the other hand, seem exempt from those considerations - except for a viewshed ordinance that doesn't seem to have prevented the county's most prominent ridgelines from being encrusted with buildings. It is as if, because houses are a "by-right" use, that their negative impacts on the environment are also granted by-right.

The photo shows a house currently being constructed in a very obvious location on the Trail near the Soda Canyon junction. The setback is about 200' rather than the 600' required for a winery. The building's design, of very un-"napaesque" boxes, screens off the farmlands and ridges from view and a bit more of the county's rural landscape has been urbanized. A public vetting of the design, and an ordinance intended to moderate the visual impact of a residence in the landscape and its occupation of Napa's precious arable land would definitely be a welcome addition to the County's land use arsenal.

The urban cancer In Carneros on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Oct 28,18  expand...  Share

Update 11/1/18
NVR 11/1/18: Napa County tries to work out a solution to Carneros Resort's water saga

Update 10/19/18
BOS Agenda 10/30/18 Item 9A

A proposal for a development agreement between the County and the Carneros Resort will be presented the Board of Supervisors on Oct 30, 2018. The Notice of Public Hearing is here.

The agreement would allow for the extension of Napa municipal water from the currently serviced Congress Valley water system to service the Carneros Resort site. In addition the agreement calls for an enlarged access to the Carneros Resort from Old Sonoma Hwy and an expansion of the parking lot, and a relocation of a County fire station to facilitate the new entry. This meeting is intended to give staff direction on the conditions of the agreement prior to the proposal being presented to the Planning Commission for formal review.

County's Carneros Inn page

Roger Wolff LTE 3/30/18: Regarding the Carneros Resort Hear! Hear!
NVR 3/20/18: Napa council votes to offer city water to Carneros Resort for 50 years
NVR 12/6/17: LAFCO opens door to piping Napa water to Carneros resort

12/4/17 LAFCO hearing video
Agenda Letter prepared for the hearing

How does urban development begin even within a regulatory regimen specifically tailored to inhibit that development? A connected developer manipulates a government to push through an inappropriate project, then moves on (in this case to Napa Pipe) leaving the owners to deal with the negative impacts foreseen from the beginning. The owner then pleads with government to solve the problems lest he goes bankrupt. Urbanization, like some cancers, may begin in an isolated location and then grow just slowly enough to hide its inexorable spread until its too late to be stopped.

Note that a 2015 state law shepherded by Bill Dodd, whose election as Supervisor in 2000 shifted the board in a more development-oriented direction, allows cities to extend infrastructure to county parcels without requiring city annexation of the properties. A growth inducing bill if ever there was one.

The appropriate solution in the case of the Carneros Resort is not to aid urban expansion with growth inducing infrastructure. Cut out the tumor. Or at least cut down the size of the project to match the amount of water available from its wells. A County committed to maintaining a healthy agricultural environment shouldn't be encouraging urban tumors to survive and grow.

The LAFCO infrastructure expansion area for the Carneros Inn (and properties in the neighborhood) is the green dogleg on the bottom.

The history
1/1/09: Urban Land institute Case Studies: Carneros Inn
12/12/03: The Carneros Inn Opens in Napa Valley's Winegrowing District
Simms, Kahn LTE 8/26/02: Slow-growth groups oppose Lodge
NVR 9/4/02: Carneros Lodge plan slashed, then approved
SHStar 11/29/01: 12 percent of Carneros groundwater considered 'not significant'

Napa Vision 2040 on: City of Napa

Bill Hocker - Oct 28,18  expand...  Share

A vision of Napa in 2040
Update 10/31/18
NVR 10/31/18: Napa picks 13 advisers to help create city guidebook for growth
NVR 10/28/18: NVR Napa council to choose advisers to shape new general plan

The statements of the Applicants are here in the order they will be interviewed by the Council.

Update 8/25/18
SR press Democtat 8/25/18: Healdsburg set to limit future downtown hotels, require affordable housing offsets on new projects

Healdsburg leads the way. Of course, as usual, government has acted to solve problems when the problems are already beyond being solved. Napa’s rewrite of its general plan may, or may not, begin to curb hotel development, but the number of projects already approved and being built will change the character of the town from resident-centric to tourist-centric.

NVR 8/13/18: Napa to seek advisers to guide city’s new general plan

The application form to become a member of the General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) is here
The City of Napa General Plan 2040 Information page is here

The city’s web page summarizes the two community meetings that have already taken place to discuss the future of Napa in the next twenty years, with meeting notes (and breathless video trailers) of each. The high-tech, dense and exciting future envisioned by the panelists will be a bit disconcerting for those that appreciate the rare value of living in a sleepy small town in the urbanized Bay Area. The emphasis, given that the conversation is driven by a government and panelists that hope to profit from development (as probably will most GPAC members), is how to make urban growth, and the transition from a real town to a tourist trap, palatable rather than how to avoid such a fate.

It is obvious that planning guidelines and vision are needed, now more than ever, as the planning commission struggles with one random development proposal after another at each meeting. The pessimism comes from knowing that the GPAC process will be driven by, or co-opted by, those who will profit from ever more urban development, and that soon the mass of people and enterprise they bring to the county will burst out of the rural-urban lines and take down the great Napa agricultural experiment. As Andy Beckstoffer recognized, "Never in the history of mankind has agriculture withstood urban growth long-term, but here we have the best chance." But only if the municipalities as well as the unincorporated county exercise maximum restraint in their building ambitions. Neither is doing so at present.

Napa Strategic Plan feedback on: Napa Strategic Plan

Bill Hocker - Oct 23,18  expand...  Share

NVR 10/22/18: Survey shows Napa residents satisfied but wary of future

The County, under CEO Minh Tran's guidance, has made an amazing effort to plumb the feelings of its citizens in trying to chart a path for the next 3 years.

Meetings held over the last 2 months with a couple dozen "stakeholder" groups are catalogued on the County Website here with links to recaps of the meetings. The recap documents give bullet point analysis and solutions to achieve each group's aspirations. The bullet points in their brevity are often ambiguous, but there are real intriguing nuggets that hopefully the County's consultant will pull out. (Like the Wine Growers idea of turning the Trail into a paid "7 mile drive" tourist attraction. [did they mean 17 mile, or 27 mile?], or like the Napa Valley Vintners desire to build more housing in the unincorporated areas, the anthesis of the Ag Preserve!) Just reading the red comments first is helpful in sorting it all out. In only two of the meetings was there a summary of the group presenting their goals in their own words, those of the Vintners and Farmers for Responsible Agriculture and Napa Vision 2050. ( My District 4 meeting is bullet-pointed here.)

The County also solicited citizens to fill out an extensive online survey. The Register provided a copy of the responses here.

The obvious finding seemed to be that we like our quality of life and that we feel it's all downhill from here. Why else would we spend time on a tedious questionnaire but for the hope that our fears are less likely to be realized by doing so.

The responses to the rate-from-most-to-least-important questions were a pain to fill out because one tends not to have strong opinions about everything the county does. And yet most people voted "extremely" or "somewhat important" for everything. Seldom does a question get less than 70% of the total in those two rankings combined.

The most interesting part of the responses to the questionnaire were the comments, 1000 of them. And I was very pleased to see that a good number that dealt with the negative impacts of winery tourism. It is, IMO, the heart of why this process is happening.

The one aspect of the Napa Strategic Plan that I find a bit odd is its 3 year horizon. There are undoubtedly issues that can be addressed in three years. But in terms of land use issues, the next 3 years and beyond have already been determined by the number of projects that have been approved but not yet built. Those projects will deteriorate the county's rural quality of life over the next decade at least, with increased traffic and demand for housing and the need for more taxes for infrastructure and service upgrades required by an increasing population of workers and visitors. The decisions that the County will be making now are for a future beyond the next decade. I would be more than pleased if the county were to stop issuing and expanding use permits tomorrow. And I hope that they do. But that has little to do with changes to our lives that will be happening in the next 3 years.

"Compatible winery" Session 2 recap on: Remote Winery Ordinance

Bill Hocker - Oct 21,18  expand...  Share

NVR 10/21/18: Napa County continues remote winery discussion
Video of 9/18/18 BOS meeting
Video of 10/16/18 BOS meeting
Transcript of 9/18/18 BOS discussion on remote wineries
Transcript of 10/16/18 BOS discussion on compatible wineries

At the Oct 16, 2018 BOS meeting, Dir. Morrison produced an agenda letter that identified 7 constraint criteria around which the compatibility of a winery with its site might be evaluated: traffic, custom crush, hold and haul, topography, fire safety, visitation, variances and exception. It was a first stab at itemizing the issues which an ordinance might concern itself.

After public comments (including Eve Kahn's comments on food, and threats from the wine industry lobbyists about the can of worms this discussion was opening), it didn't seem like any of the Supervisors were completely happy with the approach. Sup Dillon led off with the initial salvo, and since it highlighted an 'incompatible' winery on Soda Canyon Road (and my potential next door neighbor), it is worth quoting in its entirety:

"First of all, I don't think this [Dir. Morrisons compatibility issue list] is ready to be put into an ordinance or any other document. I really think in general that we're focused on these details when what should happen is a common sense application of "does this proposal fit into this place?"

I can remember a year and half ago when I thought, "oh-oh, I think we're in a little bit of trouble" because I looked at the Mountain Peak winery comparison chart - this is compatibility but compatibility is a comparison - that had been prepared by the planning staff and it was for Mountain Peak at the top of the canyon [Soda Canyon]. And it was compared to Ashes and Diamonds, Round Pond, Black Stallion, Tinter, Alpha Omega. Why on earth was it compared to those things?

I remember thinking this is not a good thing because we're not comparing apples to apples. And the essence of what we're talking about today, the reason this started with "remote" is we're supposed to be talking - not comparing a winery at the top of Soda Canyon to a winery on the Silverado Trail. You just can't make that comparison. And yet that's where we are right here and we're talking about these details, and what I'm really concerned about is going through each of these things - one, two, three, four, five, six, seven - and deciding on each of these factors and then you are going to have some proposal come before the planning commission that might technically fit into each of these, but it's not a good fit at this location where it is.

And I realize that this is land use planning and so it's a little difficult to use - I don't know if it was a metaphor - in the discussion of pornography there was a judge who said at one point "I'll know it when I see it"? Well the flip of that is "I'll know when this is not a good fit" at this location based on what neighbors say, based on many factors.

And that was the way the winery definition ordinance was designed. It didn't have all these details in it. If you look at the legislative history, which I wish staff would bring to us, it said we're going to look at these on a case by case basis. So I don't think this is the way for us to solve the problem which we have, which is we have had a planning commission that has approved wineries that are not compatible with the neighborhood or the physical situation where they're located. Then we have a lot of community consternation and/or we have an appeal to here.

One of the things that is missing from this process is a meeting between the planning commission and this board - it's been at least a couple of years - and we used to have that regularly and we would have some interaction and they'd get informal direction, and that informal direction solidified that decision making that was based on a common sense approach of what was the appropriate thing to do.

Going through each of these [7 points] and having these as decision points - to me its not the answer to the challenge that we do have before us. I question, for instance, on number seven, variances and exceptions: " strictly construe the regulations to protect health and safety". Does that mean that there's another case where we're going to loosely construe? I just don't think this is ready for prime time.

I think we should be looking at other things.I think we should be looking at the bigger picture. We just had out Strategic plan folks say - what was the number one thing people appreciated about Napa valley in the slide show that had no building in it [holds up photos in report] by the way. I think it's very interesting that we always show vineyards without wineries in them and I think we should show wineries in them because they are part of the landscape and part of the context. But what we cherish is natural beauty and environment.

I think we should go look as some other solutions that were previously proposed. For instance, instead of thinking about the minimum parcel size of a winery - I not saying we should reduce the 10 acres - think about how close they should be in appearance. If you have a place where you have a whole bunch of 10 acre parcels you're going to have whole bunch of wineries and I think it creates something that is adverse to what we cherish about this place. So either increasing the minimum parcel size in certain areas, talking about the developable area including of the residence. One of the things that was left over at APAC was the residential coverage. We have got to get to that because all those things we are saying about wineries? - residents could do far more - a mini-mansion of mega-mansion. Talking about the distance between wineries. And talking about the safety issues. Those are the things I think we should focus on."

Sup. Wagenknecht also had some interesting comments perhaps also worth quoting to know where one supervisor stands on remote wineries:
"This discussion was far beyond what I was anticipating. I still ...when we talked about it what we were talking about was a "remote" winery. I was concerned about the remoteness. And in the work product we have today [Dir. Morrisons's 7 points] there is no mention the remoteness of the ... what a remote winery, remote site would be.

I think it could be a lot of things. The remoteness of the road. The narrowness of the road. The accessibility of the parcel. How far the parcel was from arterials. Most of the things that you have in here would help address a remote winery very nicely. I guess I'm kinda in the mindset, in my mind, that I'm not seeing a real need for more wineries in the far hinterlands of Napa County. I'm seeing that we have plenty of them out there. So I liked having these things to look at remote wineries.

To me the remote winery was my access point to this discussion. There would need to be a traffic benefit from the winery coming in, the traffic for the overall neighborhood coming in. There would need to be a fire safety and a safety benefit for that winery coming in. Emergency benefit. The water... we kinda talked about this that the water was... sometimes they're going to get/move[?] the winery, they say that we'll put in the grapes now that we have a winery. The grapes should be the reason that you're having the winery up there not the other way around.

A lot of these questions help me answer the remote winery question. And I've appreciated the discussion we've had more broadly, but I don't want to lose that I'm very concerned with wineries that are going out in the middle of nowhere. And I'm not seeing a huge reason for them. And maybe in the discussion with the Planning Commission I'll see that but I don't see it right at the moment. That was my access point to this discussion."

(Sup. Luce expressed similar concerns at the Mar 10, 2015 joint BOS/PC meeting and it probably cost him his re-election. Let's hope that three more years of winery and visitation slot approvals and community pushback, and knowledge of the real dangers of tourism development in fire-prone hills, have altered some perceptions.)

Each of the other Supes had their own preferences or disinterests about the 7 point list. Sups. Pedroza and Gregory were all about prohibiting custom crush in remote areas; too bad they did nothing to stop the expansion of The Caves. And I really appreciate Sups. Dillon and Wagenknecht championing this issue; I wish that their concerns had been as clear during the Mountain Peak appeal.

I couldn't help but feel some sympathy for Dir. Morrison as the discussion careened from one issue to another, especially after he had made a concerted proposal to get at winery proliferation issues 3 years before with little success. It had been a long day and he finally held up a white flag and claimed to have been given enough direction. It will be interesting to see his responses to the Supervisors own internal divisions and lack clarity in their demands, and how the process, which may require modifications to the WDO, unfolds over the months that it will take to play out.

As happened 3 years ago with APAC going on, this scrutiny of winery issues is happening in tandem with another significant public planning process, this time the Napa Strategic Plan which will also be covering some the same community concerns, At the end of the meeting there was some consensus around melding the winery growth concerns raised in the Strategic Plan with these proposals on compatible wineries as part of the joint meeting with the Planning Commission.

Lisa Hirayama letter on solar projects on: Solar Farming

Bill Hocker - Oct 18,18  expand...  Share

Lisa Hirayama has written a good letter (as usual) to the Planning Commission concerning the 2 proposed solar projects in Coombsville and American Canyon:

Dear Planning Commissioners,

I am deeply concerned about the prospect of placing large commercial solar panel arrays in the Ag Watershed and Ag Preserve.

The two projects presented by the developer, Renewable Properties, and currently under consideration by Napa County Planning Staff, Planning Commissioners and the Board of Supervisors are the Palm Drive Solar Project and the American Canyon Solar Project.

Planning Staff has agreed that “the magnitude of this project is beyond the scope of our zoning regulations.” The proposed solar projects, while presented as a utility, in reality, would be privately run manufacturing facilities that transform sunlight into electricity which is transferred to the grid. These projects are truly incompatible to the beauty, biodiversity and bucolic nature of the Ag Watershed and Ag Preserve zones. The destruction of native mature oak trees whose ability to capture water and nurture species’ habitats is unacceptable, especially in this age of climate change. Removing oak trees and replacing them with solar panels that change the microclimates are counter intuitive to Napa County’s and the community’s concerns about climate change. The County hasn’t explored and doesn’t have the expertise to make decisions about the health and safety impacts of this type of technology to be constructed on this proposed scale in the Ag Watershed and Ag Preserve.

The Palm Drive project will have significant and permanent negative impacts on the aesthetic, economic and environmental qualities of Napa County. The removal of 3.5 hillside acres of mature blue oaks for non-agricultural, private financial gain will have a deplorable impact on the viewshed and impinge on the quality of life for that neighborhood and potentially Napa County. This proposed project would set a precedent for similar developments on non-cultivatable land for the entire county. There is nothing about this site location that is good for our environment, quality of life, or our economy.

The American Canyon site appears to be more suitable for this type of project, but it is also located in the Ag Watershed. Approval of this project will set a very alarming precedent for future projects in all of Napa County. I believe that citizens need to have a voice in this issue. I am not opposed to all commercial solar, but Napa County has no regulations in place for a project that is expected to last thirty years. The Winery Definition Ordinance was created to define, refine and regulate wineries. The Conservation Regulations were created to regulate vineyard development. Why should solar farms be any different? Neighboring counties have created ordinances or taken a stand on this matter. Napa County is ripe for commercial solar development and the long - term consequences of this decision haven’t been thoroughly considered.

Marin County Supervisors made a decision on solar energy recently, and I believe that Napa County is in the exact same position with regard to these two solar projects. The Marin County Supervisors made their decision based on the very point that Marin County is not equipped to make this decision. Napa County’s current zoning regulations don’t address or provide for consideration of this kind of project in the Ag Watershed and Ag Preserve.

Sonoma County, which is significantly larger than Napa County, has reviewed their zoning regulations with regard to solar in their valleys and on their hillsides. They’ve drafted their zoning ordinance to address the issues that solar brings to the forefront. They’re similar to Napa County in that they have as much natural beauty to protect and preserve and as much to lose by not doing so.

Napa County is allowing more and more development into the hillsides which equates into removal of mature oak woodlands. Walt Ranch is already one devastating environmental project that has been approved by the County with little regard for neighbors or water issues. The Palm Drive project will open the doors for more financial projects into the hillsides and watersheds when consideration should be given to saving mature trees, not cutting them down.

The Planning Staff, Planning Commissioners and Board of Supervisors should NOT create a precedent by approving or recommending either of these projects without taking an opportunity to appropriately revise county zoning regulations. With no ordinance yet in place for a project of this magnitude, this project is detrimental to many residents and the agricultural land itself. To name a few problems: there is no minimum parcel size, no setbacks, no limits on percentage of parcel coverage, no viewshed protections, and the long term implications of this type of decision have yet to be considered.

I encourage the County, as it redrafts the Climate Action Plan, to initiate and develop solar power that is generated on site and remains within our region. County owned rooftops, parking lots and the Napa County Airport are just a few examples of the many suitable sites for solar panels in which the county government could take the lead. It is our elected and appointed officials, rather than private individuals, corporations and developers, who should be accountable for creating regulations with substantial input from citizens.

The Napa County General Plan states that “Napa County will be a place where agriculture is the primary land use and where a vast majority of the county is open space....” The Renewable Properties solar farm proposals are inconsistent with the General Plan and should be denied for that reason and far more. Until county zoning regulations are revised to incorporate solar farms, approval for these projects should be denied or postponed.

Lisa Hirayama

A developer joins the Planning Commission on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Oct 17,18  expand...  Share

Update 10/17/18
In the first example of applying his expertise as a developer to the affairs of the Planning Commission, Comm. Mazotti created a bit of a surprise. At the end of the 10/17/18 Planning Commission meeting the discussion turned to a recent article in the Register, which described a winery able to serve meals because of a "loophole" in the WDO. That, of course, led the commissioners to wade in again to the issue of "food" service versus "meal" service at wineries and whether the serving of food at wineries was causing the recently reported demise of numerous in-town restaurants.

At the BOS meeting the previous day, in which the same issue came up, wine industry lobbyist Debra Dommen, claiming inside knowledge, assured the Supes that the reason for some closures was not due to winery competition as reported. But Comm. Mazotti gave a fairly definitive and contrary answer to the Planning Commission: from the urban development community's standpoint, the creation of new restaurants is a "net zero" condition - for each new winery restaurant the loss of one in-town restaurant might be expected.

I have been quick to pigeonhole those officials coming from a development background (Sup. Gregory included) as being supportive of continued urban development of the county in which tourism wineries play a significant part. I still feel that way, but this is a small indication that the reality may a little more nuanced.

NVR 10/11/18: Real estate developer Mazotti joins Napa County Planning Commission, Scott leaves
Proclamation given to Mr. Scott by the BOS on 10/16/18

At the Oct 3, 2018 County Planning Commission meeting it was a bit of a shock at the end of the meeting to hear Commissioners begin to laud Commissioner Scott's service to the county over these last 19 years. The news that he would be leaving was news indeed to this avid follower of Planning Commission affairs, as it apparently was to Sup. Wagenkenecht as well. Despite being on the email list for BPES announcements this was a total surprise. Maybe I just missed some announcement of potential vacancy in a previous hearing. The actual happenings in the Planning Commission and BOS meetings are often buried in obscure asides during previous meetings. Acting CEO Minh Tran's avowal that established procedures had been followed in the appointment leads one to believe that established procedures are a bit opaque from a community oversight perspective.

Commissioner Scott, in keeping with his position as the longest serving commissioner, was the most courtly of members, appearing to be genuinely anguished over the residents concerns as their neighborhoods were commercialized by his decisions. While at one time I saw him as a truly independent thinker on the commission, and commended his courageous decision to deny Yountville Hill amid enormous pressure to approve, ever since his service under Supervisor Pedroza he has been a reliable vote for every development up before the Commission. He expressed a true love for the job, even, I think, making it worth the anguish to follow the wishes of his Supervisor when he might have made another choice.

With the selection of Mr. Mazotti to replace Comm. Scott, Sup. Pedroza has obviously chosen someone who shares his vision for the future of Napa County. Mr. Mazotti's direct financial stake in the continued urban development of the county is unique in the recent history of the commission. There was always concern that Comm. Basayne's connection to a limo company meant that each approval he made had the potential to increase the business of his company. Comm. Hansen, until recently a reliable pro-development vote, heads an organization that promotes the adoption of green principles in development projects and as such has a real connection to the development community. Other Commissioners, like Mr. Scott, have had less direct connections to business interests that wish to profit off of more building development.

Mr. Mazotti will now have a very direct role in the development of more tourism 'experiences" in the County. The continued development of winery venues for tourism and the increase in visitation slots are at the base of the Napa's ongoing urban development, creating the need for ever more hotel and tourist-serving commercial development, and increasing the demand for housing and commercial development needed for the in-town and winery workforce. It is a legitimate question to ask if it is appropriate to have a developer on the Commission or, as one activist put it, a wolf guarding the hen house. Developers have lawyers and consultants and fixers and county staff who work together on a daily basis in order to massage their projects and prepare them for presentation at the Commission. Having one of their own on the Commission really seems like a leg up too far and raises the question of a conflict of loyalties in making objective decisions.

Comm. Mazotti will also be at the forefront of any agreements between the municipalities and the county regarding annexation agreements (think Napa Pipe) that aim to give up county land for urban projects. While the County in the past has been loth to surrender its land, based on its 50 year role as protector of the rural heritage and economy of the county, the winds of change, first set in motion by Bill Dodd's tenure as Supervisor and now no doubt pushed by Sup. Pedroza, are now becoming apparent. In a little noticed action at the Sep 25, 2018 BOS meeting, the Supes considered a change to county policies to establish "a prudent and responsible fiscal approach to annexation agreements". The intent: to insure that the county gets an appropriate cut of all taxes that come from development on the annexations into the future. The county will now have a more realistic financial stake in the urban development of county land than it has had in the past.

Placing a developer on the Planning Commission may change little in the short term. Comm. Scott has been a pretty consistent pro-development vote. But it is a clear statement from Sup. Pedroza where his interests lie. And the protections of the rural character that many residents treasure in the county have become a bit more tenuous.

Solar farms are not farms on: Solar Farming

Bill Hocker - Oct 16,18  expand...  Share

Eve Kahn gave a statement at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Oct 16th. It is worth repeating:

"How many of you remember when PG&E announced they were installing high voltage transmission lines to expand their interstate power grid. Power lines that would bisect the valley crossing Hwy 29. It didn’t seem like we had a choice but the community and electeds responded with a resounding HELL NO. Somehow PG&E found another path to support the grid and we were spared.

Why do I bring this up? Because tomorrow brings a unique opportunity and a similar threat. A private developer has an application for a Solar “Farm” in a remote corner of Am Cyn near Hwy 80 on an AW parcel currently used for horse boarding and training. 21 acres with 18 acres of solar farm. How can this be?

An exception exists to all zoning codes for electric production without limitation. AG/LU 29 states public utility shall be permitted in “appropriate” locations. But, the applicant is a private developer not a public utility.

Let’s be clear. Solar Farms are not farms, they are commercial production facilities that convert sunlight into electricity and then sell it (in this case to MCE).
We are familiar with production facilities – we have 100s called wineries. They have regulations, guidelines, and clarifying memorandums and, more importantly, support agriculture.

Solar farms have NONE!
• No minimum parcel size No maximum development area
• No setbacks or viewshed considerations
• Unclear if conservation regs apply – cutting trees, altering runoff, blocking wildlife corridors might be out of our control
• Solar Farms should definitely be included in our Strategic Plans

The Am Cyn site may be “appropriate” (although we have no definition) – but it sets a precedent that may be impossible to challenge for the next application, or the one after that - which could very well be on Highway 12 or 29, Silverado Trail, Old Sonoma Road – just to name a few.

Tomorrow, I will ask the Planning Commission to defer a decision until you, the Board, set direction & policy. Similar to the recent workshop on Rural Wineries (on your agenda today).

Thank you for your support on the issue."

"Remote" or "compatible" wineries? on: Remote Winery Ordinance

Bill Hocker - Oct 12,18  expand...  Share

Item 10A at this coming Oct 16th 2018 meeting of the Board of Supervisors: "Director of Planning Building and Environmental Services (PBES) requests confirmation of direction on proposed winery compatibility measures."

Previously referred to more descriptively as "direction on the adoption of an ordinance regarding remote wineries" this discussion came as a bit of a surprise to all concerned at the Aug 14 2018 meeting of the BOS. This is the most significant attempt to look at runaway winery development since the failed effort by APAC. The industry stakeholders showed up just in time to express their consternation that this process hadn't been vetted through them prior to its introduction to the board.

While efforts to curb the continuing development of wineries in the watershed areas of the county were proposed and then curtailed in the APAC process, (with opposition led by the wine industry that wanted evaluation only on a case by case basis under existing WDO rules rather than new proscriptive ordinances) two events have changed the dynamic in looking at the issue: 1. the Oct 2017 fire that laid bare the dangers to health and safety (and perhaps county liability) in the industry's effort to bring ever more tourists into the county's remote areas, and 2. the narrow defeat of the Watershed Protection ordinance that brought to light not only public concern over the protection of water resources but was, in fact, a referendum on the continued development of the watersheds for commercial use of any kind.

This meeting is only an initial step in looking at the issue again post-APAC. It promises to be a months long process.

AmCan Planning Commission approves Watson Ranch on: Watson Ranch

Bill Hocker - Oct 11,18  expand...  Share

NVR 10/17/18: American Canyon council approves expansive Watson Ranch development after years of study

AmCan Eagle 10/11/18: American Canyon planners approve Watson Ranch despite late opposition

Sigh! From the EIR: "significant and unavoidable impacts with respect to: air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, noise, and transportation and traffic." There would seem to be no limits to the damage government officials will visit on their constituents in support of their patrons.

The Atlas Fire: a second documentary on: The Atlas Fire

Bill Hocker - Oct 11,18  expand...  Share

NVR 10/13/18: Napan creates documentary film about human impacts of the October wildfires

A documentary about the Atlas Fire by Jeffrey Perez de Leon with Soda Canyon residents Jeff and Tracey Foley:
Trial By Fire - Napa Fire Documentary

Hotel explosion rocks Napa on: Tourism Issues

Bill Hocker - Oct 5,18  expand...  Share

Update 12/27/18
NVR 12/27/18: No. 5 Story of 2018: Hotels growth and housing prices sparked a Napa County debate

Update 11/14/18

NVR 11/14/18: Napa council grants historic, earthquake-damaged post office new life as a hotel
NVR 10/25/18: City: Hotel plan preserves historic quality of downtown Napa's post office
NVR 10/19/18: Hotel at earthquake-rocked Napa post office wins city planners’ backing

Kudos to the developer for taking a financial gamble on this significant restoration project. But still, another 163 rooms added to the thousands in process

Update 10/10/18
SF Chronicle 10/5/18: How many high-end hotels can Napa Valley handle?

The answer: a few. Napa, as a high-end retreat for the wealthy (i.e. Meadow wood and Auberge du Soleil) is already losing its luster as the number of tourists keeps increasing and the marketing of food and wine through winery experiences becomes a mass market entertainment. (And as the traffic jams increase and the natural beauty of the landscape is diminished by building projects). In the short term, as long as the tourism numbers keep expanding there will be a percentage that can be convinced to spend $1000 a night for their image of the good life. The question is whether the construction of pricey hotel rooms will outpace the ability of Visit Napa Valley to sell the region's exclusiveness while marketing to the masses as well. If not, as all of the rooms come online, the prices will probably begin to fall to a rate in line with the rest of the world's tourist destinations.

Update 8/25/18
SR press Democtat 8/25/18: Healdsburg set to limit future downtown hotels, require affordable housing offsets on new projects

Healdsburg leads the way. Of course, as usual, government has acted to solve problems when the problems are already beyond being solved. The already-approved doubling of hotel rooms will give Healdsburg the feeling of a 24-hour tourist trap, and future affordable housing requirements will not ease the existing or approved shortfalls. Unless the affordable housing offsets are actually sufficient to house the employees of the hotels in question, new hotels will continue increase the burden on the city to provide affordable housing and the problem will never be solved, only exacerbated.

Update 6/1/18
NVR 7/16/18: Future of Napa Marriott hotel lies with City Council
NVR 6/1/18: Napa [City] planners advance hotel-winery plan, despite housing concerns

Comm. Murray said, regarding the number of new workers needing affordable housing: "We can’t be continually punting the ball down the field, but we can’t put the burden all on one project," to which the logical reply is "Why not?" This particular project is increasing the affordable housing shortage by a specific number of units. Why shouldn't the project create those units as a condition of approval or else pay for the difference between affordable and market rate housing for every employee?

More about the traffic impact of this project and other projects around bottleneck junction is here.

Update 6/16/18
Lucretia Marcus LTE 6/16/18: Build housing for your workers

Update 6/2/18
NVR 6/2/18: Napa’s Gasser Foundation proposing 200 apartments and a hotel for Soscol Avenue

The 30 affordable units in the housing project won't quite accommodate the 100-150 new hotel employees, but Gasser is setting a trend by tying actual affordable housing construction, not just token mitigation fees, to tourism development.

That being said, the increase in population and continuing urbanization of the county and shift in the economy from wine to entertainment spells a long term decline for agriculture and the rural character that everyone claims to treasure.

Update 5/24/18
The Trinitas Mixed Use (Marriott Hotel-Winery-Office Bldg) complex is up before the Airport Land Use Commission (County Planning Commission + 2) on June 6, 2018. It is a 253 room hotel, 25,000 sf winery (no capacity or visitation specified but 57 parking spaces allowed), 30,000 sf office bldg, and 441 total parking spaces.
The notice is here
The project documents are here (large file)

Is it compatible next to the airport? No less than the Meritage or the County office buildings, one would assume. Will the current traffic jam at the entrance to the airport, made that much worse by one more huge project up the road, be discussed? Probably not.

NVR 6/2/17: Design of south Napa Marriott hotel leaves city planners cold
NVR 6/1/17: Napa planners to get first a look at a Marriott hotel, winery
NVR 5/18/18: Napa planners grapple with housing demands of 250-room Marriott hotel

Update: 5/15/18
Peter Mott LTE 5/15/18: Peter Mott: Time for a hotel moratorium

It is great to see that even some of those members of our county governments that have been supporters of tourism development have begun to believe that continued expansion of the tourism industry is unsustainable if the goal is to retain the rural small-town character that draws tourists here and makes this a desirable place to live. There needs to be a limit of tourism activity in relation to real life or real life ceases to exist. Many already feel that line has already been crossed, and the vast increase in hotel rooms in the municipalities and wineries in the county already in the pipeline means that the tourism impacts we already feel will only get worse. But If more of our officials, like Mr. Mott, are willing to begin opposing tourism urbanization now, and begin thinking in terms of a sustainable stable economy rather than a unsustainable growth economy, there may still be some hope for the survival of a quality of life treasured by both visitors and residents in the future.

Update: 3/2/18
NVR 3/2/18: Napa planners ask is Foxbow too much hotel for the neighborhood
NVR 2/28/18: Napa city planners to take up Foxbow hotel plan in Oxbow District

Oh No! Another over-scaled, over-wrought hotel crammed onto First Street.
This one is more apartment-looking than the previous version, an advantage if the tourism market crashes at the end of this hotel bubble.

Preliminary review at the Napa City Planning Commission Thursday, Mar 1st, 2018 at 5:30pm. Staff report is here.

Update: 1/6/18
NVR 1/6/18: Napa planners comment on Wine Train’s future hotel, rail depot on McKinstry Street
The Staff report on the project is here. (large file)
NVR 12/23/17: Top 10 of 2017, No. 7: Hotels, tourism continue Napa boom

Update: 12/04/17
Dan Mufson sends this article from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat regarding hotel development in Healdsburg:

SR Press Democrat 12/2/17: Healdsburg City Council to discuss limits on future downtown hotels

While it's hard to compare the nebulous disorganization of Napa's downtown with the iconic organization of Healdsburg's town plaza, the impacts here of rampant tourism development will likewise wipe out any sense of "small town" character that Napa does possess as 5 and 6 story hotels, and the throngs of their patrons, begin to dominate the Napa streetscape.

Update: 11/31/17
NVR 11/28/17: Downtown Napa's newest luxury hotel opens its doors

Kudos to Mr. Johnstone for telling it like it is: "You walk in and you think you're in New York." and "How many hotels does downtown need? I hope we're not overdoing it."

Update: 9/29/17
NVR 9/29/17: Meritage Resort's massive expansion takes shape in south Napa

Update 9/6/17
NVR 9/06/17: Napa, developer start talks on new City Hall, housing and hotel

Update: 8/14/17
City report on the hotel explosion this Tuesday

Napa Vision 2050 has just sent out this notice about a staff report to be presented to the Napa City Council on Aug 15th, 3:00pm about the various hotel projects going on in the city. You are encouraged to attend.

Update 7/14/17
NVR 8/18/17: Napa planners approve 5-story Black Elk hotel in Oxbow district
NVR 7/4/17: Proposed four-story Oxbow hotel to receive Napa planners’ scrutiny

The Black Elk Hotel had a preliminary review by the Napa City Planning Commission on July 6th 2017. The Staff Report and Documents are here. It is a very innappropriate building for the location, out of scale, a visual barrier to the Oxbow district, of "barnish" shape and materials out of place in its urban setting, a box of a building trying to squeeze as many hotel rooms as possible on the small site, which brought to mind a 19th century tenement house.

What became very apparent here, and in all of the hotel projects in the news recently, is that the city has no master plan for the development of the city, no commitment to integrate housing and real people and businesses into the tourism economy, and no design guidelines to regulate what the character of the place will become. As with the rural areas of the county, the future of Napa City is being irrevocably altered in this developer boom period, and the Planning Commission decisions about Napa's future are being made on an ad hoc basis, one isolated project at a time, without looking at the long term result. Which, of course, will be a hodgepodge of developers' schemes, some with good taste and some without, trying to maximize the money to be made from the tourist trade on every square inch of the city, while the residents are forced out.

Update: 7/2/17
NVR 7/2/217: As hotels increase, do Napa residents benefit? Readers, officials weigh in

Howard Yune, Napa city reporter for the Register, had to previously ask readers what they thought about Napa's hotel explosion, and he gives some of the responses in the above article. He had to ask because the Register, in a blow to the free exchange of ideas in a democracy, decided to discontinue the ability to comment online to news articles last year. There were, no doubt, legitimate concerns leading to the discontinuance. But for those seriously interested in issues in Napa county, like the explosion of hotel development, citizen reaction to the news is an important part of the story. The problems that the paper experienced with responses, I think, had much to do with the anonymity of the posts and the freedom that gives to be irresponsible in posting. Require real names and let the comments continue.

Update: 6/20/17
It's hard to keep up with this issue:
NVR 6/25/17: Downtown Napa hotel plan calls for merging Zeller's and former post office sites
NVR 6/22/17: Surging hotel taxes become a larger part of the new Napa city budget
NVR 6/20/17: How many hotels are enough -- or too much? Contact the Register

The hotel explosion raises several issues.

First, the loss of a community. Hotels not only bring in more tourists, but they increase the 24-hour tourist population. At some point, as the ratio of tourists to residents increases, and as jobs, commercial activity and housing continue to shift from resident-serving to tourist-serving, the sense of normal, small-town community life will be lost to the collective endevour of catering to, and being the local color for, the tourism experience. And the real town and its community will disappear. (St. Helena is at the forefront of this phenomenon.)

Second, a financing dependency. TOT revenue and other in-lieu fees are welcomed as a quick fix for the deferred infrastructure and service costs needed to mitigate the impacts of previous urban development. But low wage jobs are created by the hundreds and the money isn't there for affordable housing. Traffic and parking problems explode. The increased tourism and employee population require additional infrastructure and services which then encourage more new project approvals and so on. Ultimately the place becomes a dense tourist trap, devoid of residents, and, much like Oxbow is now, packed with people wondering what's so special about Napa.

Third, the loss of Napa's rural soul. The number of hotel projects, like the amount of traffic, is a symptom of a community losing it's resitance to development pressure. That pressure was was contained in Napa for the last 40 years by a combination of politicians and citizenry with a clear vision of an un-urbanized future, and an industry dependent on an agricultural product. But as the landscape and vineyards are slowly filled with buildings to exploit the expanding tourist population, the vision of a rural enclave in the urban Bay Area is harder for politicians and their citizens to imagine, and the industry is finding that more money is to be made by providing wine-related experiences than from making wine. The importance of agriculture fades beyond its use as a stageset for TOT-paying visitors.

Update: 6/17/17
A neighbor just sent over a link to the latest Napa Life, Paul Fransons's weekly "insiders guide to the Napa Valley." The June 19th, 2017 issue is here. Scroll down to the section on "Lodging News". Below the summaries of the latest hotel projects in the Register he has a list of the projects currently in the approval and proposal pipelines. While I struggle to keep up on this site, as an insider he has a much better handle on these things. And it is a bit freightening.

Most freightening of all is the mention of a Ted Hall 80 room hotel in South St Helena (described in this 2015 NVR article). Ted Hall (recent profile here) is perhaps the most revered grower-vintner in the county, one of the few statesman in an industry filled with entrepreneurs. Each trip to the planning commission to present his winery projects turns into a lovefest (just as the hotel project did). He will probabaly make the most sensitive, ecological integration of agriculture and overnight accommodation it is possible to make. And he will set the precident for lesser lights to follow for the next phase of the "wine" industry in its transition to an entertainment industry. Now that the winery restaurant is firmly established as an acceptable "incidental and subordinate" use allowed at wineries, it is only a matter of time before the winery b&b begins to make its way into the definition of "agriculture" as well. A euphanism will have to be invented - "immersive agricultural experience" perhaps - to make sure no one would mistake a winery for a hotel. But with the precedent set by this most solid citizen of the County, every good-life entrepreneur will now want a hotel-of-their-own to go along with their winery.

Update: 6/8/17

Cohn LTE 6/8/17: Slow the stampede of development and his petition
And the concurrences:
Don and Arlene Townsend LTE 6/16/17: When is enough enough?
Lynn Korn LTE 6/12/17: Enough already
Barbara Cioppone LTE 6/8/17: All for the rich people

A lot of proposed Napa hotel projects in the news:
NVR 6/8/17: Cambria Hotel coming to Napa's Soscol Avenue (And subsequent sale)
NVR 6/5/17: Napa Valley Wine Train owners plan $100 million resort development
NVR 6/2/17: Design of south Napa Marriott hotel leaves city planners cold
NVR 5/17/17: Altamira family reviving plans for a winery/hotel project on Silverado Trail
And other projects:
NVR 6/14/17: Napa approves 4-story building for Bounty Hunter wine bar, restaurant

NVR 2/20/17: Napa asks, How many hotel rooms are enough?
NY Times 2/1/17: A Waking Giant or a Monster? Developers Eye Once-Sleepy Napa

In the Times article Napa Vision 2050 is recognized nationally for its efforts to slow the urbanization of Napa County. Kudos to Harris Nussbaum and Patricia Damery.

Jim Wilson on the Napa Vision 2050 Economic Forum
It's exactly the effect we heard is coming at George Caloyannidis' Tourism Economy Forum in April of last year:

Samuel Mendlinger:
  • Tourism accelerates the polarization between the population and the very wealthy.
  • Polarization begins when businesses begin to cater to tourists and affluent locals at the expense of townsfolk.
  • Now a major social revolution: small group of elderly people and few young people.

    Q: Whose town is this anyway? What can community do so the power doesn’t get concentrated in the hands of a few?
    A: There are a few only. Locals are usually the last to get a voice in tourism development. Usually money does the talking. Local leaders who are wise enough know that the local people need to be part of the process. Most people don’t really know what their long-term needs are. Community groups need to have experience.

    Know what they’re doing, how to get things done, like NV2050. It’s what attracted me to this event in Napa. Hospitality is about cheap labor. Tourism is about value added.

    Q: Local schools close and students are sent out of town?
    A: Imbalance. Older population crowds out the younger people. Mis-managed tourism.. Petersborough losing its school system,, and its vertical, complete society. Declining school enrollment is a sign that either young adults don’t want to have children, or they don’t see a future in the town.

    Q: How do you organize the population?
    A: NV2050 is a great example. You’re anxious over the future, you’re organizing through people who can organize, and have the time and abilty to see things through. Then expand! It’s bottom up. Top down is very rare.

    Q: How do you recommend citizens get involved in decisions on smart tourism?
    A: Mendlinger: What is motivation for County and City political leaders to get involved? Do they want more development or a higher quality of life for citizens? If interested in business they won’t listen. But if you have wise leadership you’ll do the part of the job that improves the quality of life. Especially in Napa you have a great pool of experience and wisdom. It’s cosmopolitan not provincial. Political leadership has to listen to well-organized citizens who understand how real life works. Citizens can go far. Like this meeting where you have political leadership plus informed citizens. I traveled fro Boston to see how Napa is doing, and I am encouraged by the possibilities. Rural areas - resource extraction areas – when industry pulls out there’s not much reason for community to be there.

    Q: Advice on blasting open “iron triangle” government/agencies/industry?
    A: Mendlinger; How to develop experienced and wise leaders and citizens is the question. I just don’t know how.

Eben Fodor:
  • In an economic impact study, costs are just as important as revenues.
  • Too much tourism can overwhelm a community.
  • Impact studies usually tout all the benefits of a development. Fiscal impacts are often overlooked and no multipliers are used.
  • The reports that go out make the development look great but it’s not. There’s no balanced perspective with costs to the community.

Napa Vision 2050 Economic Forum: Understanding the tourism driven economy
George Caloyannidis' articles on growth and tourism
More on Napa City development here
More on Napa Growth Issues here


Harris Nussbaum - Jul 10, 2017 7:27PM

[Statement to Napa City Planning Commission 7-6-17 Black Elk Hotel ]

Thank you for listening. I have a few questions.
1) How will you know when there are to many hotels downtown and what will be the impact when all the commercial development in progress is completed?
2) What will be the impact as more and more tall buildings are built?
3) When do you think we will have to many cars in, out, and around Napa? (pause)

Almost everyone I talk with who lives here feels we have reached that point and worry about the future of Napa and their quality of life.
We often don’t think about the impact on our schools. Enrollment is declining because many people with children can’t afford to live here. Staff is being significantly reduced, schools are closing, and over 100 teachers are being laid off this year alone and it will continue. How will this affect your children or grand children?

I’m sure it looks good if you can get more occupancy taxes, but it cost more than you are getting. If you haven’t read James Conway’s article in which he says Napa’s current level of development is not economically supportable due to the requirements of infrastructure and on going maintenance, please read it.
You talk about the need for housing, but keep building hotels and other businesses that employ people who can’t afford to live here. Local businesses are closing because they can’t afford the rent.

There is so much to say about the problems being created by traffic, parking, police, fire, and all the other services needed to run a city. Here is a copy of the letter to the editor I recently wrote. Please read it.

I’m not anti business, but I know to much of anything is a problem and will destroy this jewel called Napa. You are our friends. Please do what you are meant to do and protect us. Take a step back and see where we are. Consider the cumulative impact and what infrastructure is needed before any more hotels or large businesses are approved. Work with the County to solve these problems, because what each of you do affects the other.

And finally, create venues where the people feel they are really heard and have equal opportunities to speak.

Thank you!

Glenn J. Schreuder - Feb 2, 2017 9:07AM

Add another negative consequence to the list of all this economic progress.

SF already has a very low rate of families with kids. Looks like Napa is headed the same way. Maybe I’ll drive to the

central valley to watch a little league game in my retirement years. All this raises the question if Napa is really a good place to call home anymore. Where did all the little ones go?

Higher housing prices will trigger greater enrollment declines in Napa schools

Carl Bunch - Feb 1, 2017 5:37PM

Well, for a very limited time in our lives (all to change as a result of the Presidential election) a government agency is treating its citizens fairly and appropriately and a major newspaper is highlighting the work of a citizens' group on the environment. This, to the great advantage to the citizens who reside here.

The St. Helena City Council, by a 3-2 vote (according to the Napa Valley Register) has actually rejected an application by a winery for expansion of its business. This City Council recently seated, due to a majority vote of St. Helena citizens, two new Council members, including Geoff Ellsworth, a leader in the fight to control the rampant approvals of virtually anything having to do with winery uses of Napa Valley land for the profits of its owners and stakeholders.

The New York Times, in a most important article, featured the work of Napa Vision 2050 regarding environmental issues raised by for-profit corporations and others and which seriously affect critical matters pertinent to Napa citizens, including, among others, watersheds, tree deforestation, and various matters tending to make the Napa Valley one of the world's most desirable places to live.

CONGRATULATIONS!! This has been a long time in coming and we can only hope it’s a harbinger of better things to follow.

Shelle Wolfe - Feb 1, 2017 5:36PM

Vision 2050, among others, made the NY Times today. Interesting assessment of our situation. It would have been great if the article mentioned the traffic along with the other issues like parking.

Great comment by Patricia Damery… this is what we need to be communicating.

Ms. Damery said “I’m not anti-development,” she said. “I am for balanced development. Downtown is wonderful and so much better than before, but we have to invest in quality-of-life things like mass transit and housing.”

Daniel Mufson - Feb 1, 2017 4:04PM

Napa Vision 2050 was asked for perspective on the
state of development in Napa,
as detailed in a story for the New York Times.

Hello Napa Vision 2050 supporters,

Thank you for interest in the mission of Napa Vision 2050.
This past year, Napa Vision 2050 worked for a more effective and organized public voice with wider distribution. We did this to help get the perspective of those who live in our county, to be heard by those who are making decisions on growth and development in Napa County. Well, we are being heard nationally!
I’m attaching an article about Napa downtown just published in the New York Times. Napa Vision 2050's Harris Nussbaum and Patricia Damery are quoted while several more of our coalition members had been interviewed.

It is so satisfying that the article has a link to the Napa Vision 2050 webpage. Please share this with your contacts, and keep our momentum growing!
If only my Mom could see that: A boy from the Bronx makes the Times for doing something good!!

Dry Creek Road Alliance website on: Anthem Winery

Bill Hocker - Oct 2,18  expand...  Share

The Dry Creek Road Alliance, another group formed some time ago to counter the threat of a commercialization of their rural community have now added a website, just in time for the Planning Commission hearing on Oct. 3, 2018 for the proposed Anthem Winery (see screed below).

The Dry Creek Road Alliance website

The proposed 90,000 gal/yr O’Connell Winery on a 12.5 acre site just up the road from Anthem may also become a concern for the Alliance.

Mountain Peak approval to be challenged on: Mountain Peak Winery

Bill Hocker - Sep 22,18  expand...  Share

9/22/17 9/25/17: Atlas Peak residents file suit after Napa County Okays Mountain Peak Vineyards construction

As usual with wine industry reporting (much like governmental reviewing), there is no use of the word "tourism" or mention of the impact of tourism on the residential farming and small-town communities of wine country. "I came here to farm", Steven Reh says, as if this were about a "right to farm." This isn't about farming: the property has been a farm since 1992. The resistance to the project is about the invasive nature of tourism and the rural, small-town character of the communities it is in the process of destroying.

NVR 9/22/17: Mountain Peak winery opponents file lawsuit in Napa court

The appellants opposing the approval of the Mountain Peak Winery project contend that county Supervisors, in upholding the Planning Commission decision to approve the project without an Environmental Impact Report, have abused their discretion. The case is made here.

The project was given a negative declaration by staff, supported by consultant's paid for by the developer, indicating that the project would generate less-than-significant environmental impacts. However, there are impacts: noise impacts, light impacts, impacts due to the remoteness and condition of the road, impacts to the water supply of the Rector Reservoir, impacts to the character of a remote uncommercialized community. Corresponding reports from the appellant's equally qualified consultants concluded that the impacts would be significant. Those conclusions were ignored. Also ignored were the signatures of over 150 residents on the sparsely populated road and over 800 residents of Napa County opposing the project.

Since 2010, over 120 new wineries and winery expansions have been approved adding over 4 million gallons of winemaking capacity, more than 1.5 million visitor slots, more than 1 million sf of building area, hundreds of new employees, and perhaps 100's of thousands of vehicle trips on Napa's roads each year, all approved under negative declarations indicating that such increases will cause less-than-significant environmental impacts to life in Napa County. One new winery is being approved each month. Many residents, stuck in traffic or losing a favorite wooded hillside or favorite local shop, or unable to find an affordable place to live, know that the impacts of tourism development are not less-than-significant and that winery development is an inherent part of that urban development trend.

Wineries, at the top of Napa's tourism food chain, should be analyzed to a higher standard of review than just the opinions of wine industry developers and the county staff that they interact with on a daily basis. It is important to ensure that the cumulative urbanizing impacts of the many projects being proposed not destroy an environment not only treasured by residents, but that they not destroy the agricultural heritage at the base of the wine industry as well.

The appellants of the Mountain Peak project are not alone in recognizing the lack of appropriate environmental vetting that winery projects should receive. In a recent letter to the County Supervisors, the attorneys for a new organization have laid out the legal case that the impacts of winery tourism were not adequately analyzed in the EIR for the 2008 General Plan and that the expansion of the tourism industry and its impacts on the quality of life throughout the county are at least partly the result.

The probability is that were it not for the use of the Mountain Peak winery as a tourism center, it is unlikely that the project would have been proposed. It is unquestionably a remote, rural location. The costs of building and staffing the winery are significant. The developer is currently making wine from the property's grapes and is currently selling it in a prominent tasting room in the center of downtown Napa. Like most new wineries and winery expansions being approved, the principal intention is the increase of tourism visitation to boost the more moderate profits to be made in wine sales. The cumulative impact of the County's approval of such projects is to promote a further shift from an economy based the production of an agriculture product to an economy based on tourism. It is an impact that needs more serious vetting than it has heretofore received. With court intervention if necessary.

Napa Vision 2050 and Protect Rural Napa have sent out a mailer urging your help in insuring that the impacts of the Mountain Peak project are properly vetted and in further protecting Napa's rural heritage. A copy of it is here.

Remote Winery Workshop Considerations on: Remote Winery Ordinance

George Caloyannidis - Sep 22,18  expand...  Share

[Sent to Board of Supervisors]

George Caloyannidis
2202 Diamond Mountain Road Calistoga, CA 94515

September 22, 2018

To: Napa County Board of Supervisors
cc: Minh Tran, David Morrison


I sympathize with Mr. Morrison's requesting definition clarity (Board Agenda letter 9/25/18) on how a "remote" winery is defined.

In Napa County, we do not consider remote wineries and vineyards which are located on the valley floor but ones which are exclusively located in the hillsides. We therefore need to define the hillside location factors which would merit special considerations for new vineyards and wineries or expansion of existing ones.

They include:


1) Loss of woodlands.
A partial list includes:
a) Aesthetic degradation of a scarred landscape (an important asset to the Napa valley experience).
b) Negative impacts on water quality and stream siltation, municipal watersheds etc.
c) Negative impacts on animal habitat.


1) Increased traffic.
a) Oversized vehicles for agricultural and wine making operations.
b) Large limousine and personal vehicles for visitors and events.

2) Increased fire danger by the increase of workers and visitors in fire prone areas.
3) Difficulty in navigating the generally narrow roads on opposing traffic situations.
4) Inadequate escape and emergency vehicle access routes.


It is my contention that at its core, the term "remote" implies "hillside development" considerations. As such, the term "remote" does not reflect the fundamental issues which have initiated this inquiry.

Conceivably, one could define "remoteness" in quantifying acceptable negative impacts on the hillsides' environmental factors, in which case, "remoteness" would not necessarily be linked to the distance from some defined point.

While important, this paper will not attempt to evaluate "remoteness" within the environmental relevance / impacts framework.

Rather, it will concentrate in examining it in relation to the introduction of commercial / agricultural vineyard and winery operations in the hillsides. Specifically, it will examne compliance with existing minimum established County road standards and provide related recommendations.

NAPA COUNTY ROAD & STREET STANDARDS (Revised September 26, 2017)

SECTION 14 / Street and Road Classifications

Major Roads
The pertinent road classifications serving vineyards and wineries are either (a) Arterial (Collectors to Highways) or (b) Collector (1,000 to 5,000 vehicles per day). These roads are through-roads, not Dead- End-Roads.

Minor Roads
These are defined as serving "up to 1,000 vehicles per day". They may have a Cul-de-Sac (e) but then they may have a "maximum traffic volume of up to 250 vehicles per day". "Cul-de-Sac situations with lengths greater than 1,000 feet shall be provided with turnaround areas at 1,000 foot intervals and emergency access unless it is not considered feasible by the County Engineer".

It is important to note that the requirement is for turnarounds, not turnouts.
Furthermore, the criterion of feasibility is not defined beyond the generally accepted topographic and economic considerations and ignores public safety, health and welfare.

Other Roads
(i) Agricultural Special Purpose Roads
"Serves agricultural related single use facilities and light traffic facilities which generate up to 100 vehicle trips per day. This road is not applicable to any winery access. Applies to lightly travelled, low speed roads connecting two activity areas with no significant side traffic. Turnouts must be inter-visible".
Unless agricultural activities using such roads do not comply with this specification, they must be accessed by Major or Minor roads.

SECTION 15 / Design Criteria

Roadway Width:
  • "All streets and roads with the exception of Agricultural Special Purpose Roads shall be constructed to provide a minimum of two 10-foot traffic lanes and a minimum of one foot of shoulder on each side".
    Since wineries are excluded from this category, unless vineyard and activities comply with the use limitations of Agricultural Special Purpose Roads, they too must comply with the above roadway width specifications unless they also come under the specifications below.
  • Both Arterial and Collector Roads with no Parallel Parking Lanes (Details C-2 and C-3) require a Right of Way of 40 feet with two 14-foot traffic lanes and shoulders (totaling 39 improved feet).
  • General Minor Roads with no Parallel Parking Lanes require two 12-foot traffic lanes, a total of 12 feet of shoulders (36 improved feet within a 40-foot Right of Way).
  • In addition, to the 1,000 feet turnaround maximum spacing requirement for dead-end roads, roads with turnouts (Detail C-11) "shall be spaced a maximum of 400 feet apart and must be Inter-Visible unless allowed by County Engineer and Fire Marshal".

Dead-End-Roads Specifications:

The Napa valley hillsides have a plethora of dead-end roads, many exceeding 3 miles. Soda Canyon Road and Diamond Mountain Road are just a few examples, well above the maximum allowable 5,260 feet.
  • "Maximum length for parcels zoned 5 acres to 19.99 acres - 2,640 feet for parcels zoned 20 acres or larger - 5,260 feet"
  • "(b) Turnarounds where parcels are zoned 5 acres or larger shall be provided at a maximum of 1,320 foot intervals".
  • Agricultural Special Purpose Roads must comply with the inter-visible mandate of the required turnouts spaced a maximum of 400 feet apart (Detail C-11).

I am not aware of any of the county's hillside roads being in compliance with ANY and ALL of the above requirements or exceptions.


Unless there are exceptions I am not aware of, all of the county's hillside roads are out of compliance with the County's Road Standards.

The County Engineer and Fire Marshal have in the past exercised their discretionary power in approving them in the interests of development while increasing the risk of residents', workers' and visitors' inadequate escape routes and the concurrent access to emergency vehicles.

Given the increased danger of fires as we have experienced and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future and in order for the County to avoid being knowingly complicit in case of catastrophic loss of life of property as well as in the interest of public health and safety I recommend that:
  • The County Supervisors revoke the Engineer's and Fire Marshal's discretion to deviate from the accepted road standards on all future commercial / agricultural hillside development, new or the expansion of existing ones.
  • All future commercial / agricultural hillside development on roads which do not comply with the County's Road Standards shall be prohibited until such roads are improved to meet such standards.
  • All commercial / agricultural hillside development be prohibited on hillside roads lacking a secondary accesses beyond a maximum distance of 2,640 feet.
  • All new secondary road accesses for all commercial / agricultural uses, shall meet the same standards as the primary access roads at any given location.
  • Revise the standards for Special Purpose Roads and Agricultural Special Purpose Roads (single lane) for all new commercial / agricultural hillside development to comply with General Minor Road standards.

Finally, since the issue of remoteness does not reflect actual considerations of remoteness but rather environmental and access safety ones, I recommend that a designation reflecting its actual purposes be adopted.

Remote Custom Crush on: Remote Winery Ordinance

Bill Hocker - Sep 20,18  expand...  Share

Taking aim at one issue involving remote wineries prior to the BOS discussion on Sep 25th, ( and directly applicable to Soda Canyon Road but probably triggered by the denied dry Creek-Mt Veeder Winery), Supervisor Pedroza sent out this email request for input from community members at the meeting:

"The BOS will be discussing Rural Wineries on Tuesday.

Background: In remote areas like Atlas Peak Rd, Soda Canyon Rd, Mt. Veeder, etc, we've had some winery proposals that are completely custom crush facilities, no vineyards on site.

Problem: Wineries in remote, rural areas, that have no fruit, will need to bring in fruit, meaning more traffic, than a normal winery, on a rural road network.

Discussion: require an estate component on wineries in rural/remote (will need to define rural/remote)? For example, if you're going to do a winery on Soda Canyon Road, a requirement might be that you be at minimum 10% estate (requiring you to have some vineyards).

My take: I think if you're going to have a winery, especially in rural areas, you should have some level of vineyards. Also, with the growth of the Corporate Park and Airport Park, that area seems better suited for custom crush activities. I recognize most wineries, if not all, bring in fruit from different vineyards, areas, so there needs to be some flexibility to bring in fruit, which is why I think the % should be on the lower side for rural wineries."

Soda Canyon has two wineries, Relic and The Caves at Soda Canyon, up steep winding driveways with no grapes on the properties. Despite residents having raised the issue of being a grape-less custom crush facility during their last Planning Commission hearing, The Caves was nonetheless granted a doubling of their capacity in 2017 (in addition to the exoneration of their illegal construction of a viewing portal through the ridgeline).

Grape sourcing has become a bigger issue at Planning Commission meetings of late. Relic and the Caves represent the great pitfall of granting approvals based on a "contracted" source of grapes. While I don't know for sure, it is likely that that Relic and The Caves relied on some of the Stagecoach grapes from the top of Soda Canyon Road. The sale of Stagecoach to Gallo last year will probably mean the end of many contracts leaving smaller wineries competing for alternative, and perhaps more distant, sources. Contracted grapes should not be used to justify use permit approvals. Use permits run with the land forever; grape contracts can disappear overnight.

The Mountain Peak owner purchased another vineyard property on the Rector plateau to help justify the 100,000 gal/yr production capacity they were proposing. While that is a substantial commitment and helped justify such a large production capacity on a 40 acre site, non-estate sources used to justify permit approvals, even if owned by the applicant, are only modestly more secure than a grape contract. Mountain Peak may sell the property at any time (perhaps to finance the winery construction) to another owner wishing to build their own 100,000 gal winery.

In the remote areas of the county wineries should be allowed to process the grapes on the property for which the use permit is given. But production capacity beyond what the property can supply will always open the potential for a custom crush operation. In future approvals for remote wineries, the production limit should be, perhaps, 125% of the amount that the property's grapes can generate to allow for some remote component. Entrepreneurs with production ambitions beyond that limit should be relegated, at this point in the progression of Napa winery development, to the industrial areas of the county.

The GHG's of remote winery tourism on: Tourism Issues

Bill Hocker - Sep 9,18  expand...  Share

Update 10/12/18
It turns out that I have not been the only person obsessed with the GHG costs of developing a remote project like Mountain Peak. Over the last year the State of California has begun to link its ambitious goals of reducing vehicle GHG production to the process by which projects are evaluated under the State's CEQA guidelines. Rejecting the Level of Service (LOS) methods of evaluating the vehicle impacts of new development (used to evaluate the Mountain Peak project resulting in the negative declaration), new state guidelines now will require at the analysis of vehicle miles travelled (VMT) as a measure of environmental impact. The method of doing so is outlined in this Advisory from the State's Office of Planning and Research (OPR):

Technical Advisory on Evaluating Traffic Impacts in CEQA April 2018

I can't pretend to understand completely the full significance of the technical advisory, and it is unknown how the County will eventually apply these guidelines in their review process, but much of what I can understand seems to support my own naive effort with the Commissioners in 2016 to quantify the energy impacts (GHG's) of the Mountain Peak project.

"As I pointed out in my previous letter, the amount of energy to be saved in the building through LEED compliance might be compared to the energy spent on the 44,000 trips up and down the 6 mile road each year, 260,000 miles, 10 trips around the earth each year just to get to the project from the Trail. Remoteness is at the heart of this inappropriately ambitious project and of the very large amount of energy consumed in accessing it. "

Update 9/9/18
NVR 9/8/18: Napa County scales back Maxville Lake Winery growth requests

The real story here is not that another event center will be adding its traffic to the county’s road congestion, even in the remote areas of the county, and that its patrons will be adding to the tourists stealing the towns and rural areas from their residents. The real news is that Comm. Hansen voted to turn down her first event center. What’s going on here? Of course Comm. Gallagher also voting out of form, approved the project on the basis of a modest reduction reduction in capacity. But the fact that one of the most reliable pro-development commissioners has turned down a project, even after the pro forma concessions from the developer, hopefully says that some attitudes may be changing regarding the value of tourism development in the remote areas of the county.

Update 8/28/19
After its near denial at the Aug 1, 2018 Planning Commission hearing, the Maxville Lake Winery is up again on Sep 5th. (Agenda and documents are here) Tours and tastings remain the same as proposed in the rejected scheme, but events have been reduced from 6210/yr to 3900/yr. In total 20500 visitors will be adding their traffic to the remote Chiles-Pope Valley Road each year rather than the 23110 previously proposed. Does that make it acceptable this time around?

It will be followed by the Aloft Winery, at a remote-dead-end-road location. With a more modest 5260 visitors/yr, and a provenance of renown, it will be an easier approval. But as the Maxwell Winery shows, the initial building of a winery is just phase one in bringing additional tourism urbanization and traffic to the remote corners of the county.

On Aug 1st, 2018 the County Planning Commission decided not to approve a use permit major modification request for the Maxville Lake Winery on the remote Chiles Valley Road. In a subsequent motion the project was continued until Sep. 5th. The request would add 175,000 gal of winery capacity per year bringing the total to 240,000gal/yr and 11,590 additional visitation slots per year bringing the total to 23,110 visitors/yr. The project was somewhat unique in that a very large winery building was approved in 1998 to handle a medium sized production capacity and visitation. The current owners now want a capacity and visitation commensurate with the size of the building. The project was initially denied on the basis of its remoteness for the production and visitation requested.

After presentation and discussion, Comm. Scott made the motion to approve. The vote was 3-2 against approving the project. Comm. Whitmer joined Comm Scott in voting to approve, which was a bit of a surprise because of his previous concern over the constraints of remote locations.

Comm. Cottrell, consistent with votes since Mountain Peak, could not approve the project because of the amount of visitation and production in such a remote location. Likewise Comm. Gallagher who has also been consistent in looking hard at wineries as tourism venues.

The real surprise was Comm. Hansen. She is a reliably pro-development vote on the Commission (as in the remote Dry Creek-Mt Veeder Winery) so her opposition to the project stands out. And, in recollecting her vote to approve Mountain Peak, it is worth quoting her comments on Manville Lake:
"Where I am struggling is the number and intensity of marketing events on this site in a remote location... In this particular case all the winery comparisons are on the valley floor... they're not 6 miles up in the hills from St. Helena in a remote location...We've had a lot of conversation about intensity of use and appropriateness of location and treating every location independently and customizing it to that space... What we've been hearing is that there is need for tasting and events because there isn't distribution... face-to-face consumer interactions that are very necessary to a business that doesn't have that distribution channel. Here I feel like they're getting both ... and that's a lot to send 6 miles up to the east..."

The Mountain Peak parallel
"6 miles up in the hills... in a remote location" just struck a chord, I'm afraid. The proposed Mountain Peak winery next door to us, which Comm Hansen approved in 2017, is 6 miles up a dead end road, one that is more convoluted and in much worse condition than Chiles Pope Valley Road.

In Maxville Lake, Comm. Hansen made a clear distinction in her thinking between tours and tastings at 46 visitors/ every day (which she was OK with) and events either 30 visitors/day twice a week or 95 visitors twice a month (which she didn't like). I didn't quite get the distinction. 25-75 people arriving every day seemed to me as impactful, if not more so, than the less frequent events.

The visitation numbers of both wineries are similar at 275 vs 325 per week. Mountain Peak's event numbers, which initially were similar but were reduced during the hearings, may be the reason Comm. Hansen felt she was not being inconsistent in opposing this remote winery while supporting Mountain Peak. It was hard for me to see the decision in that light, I'm afraid.

Regarding distribution and the need for winery consumer sales: it is worth mentioning that it is possible to find less impactful ways of marketing than inducing tourism to the remote corners of the country. Mountain Peak's owner, realizing that building a winery would not be a quick process, opened a tasting room across the street from the Archer Hotel (opened 2 days after Comm Hansen approved the project) and has contracted with distributers to sell their wine in California Nevada and Arizona. For those vintners that are in the business of wine making rather than wine entertainment, at-winery marketing is not the end all even for new wineries.

The remote winery question
Maxville Lake was not the only winery taken up by the Planning Commission on Aug 1st. The Castlevale Winery, with crenelations and turrets, was unveiled up the road from Maxville. Given its modest visitation and productions numbers, and its royal provenance (a Martini scion), it was approved without issue. It will, of course add a bit more tourist traffic to the remote byways of the county.

Considered along with the continuance of Maxville at the Planning Commission next month will be the Aloft Winery, another "6-miles-up-a-remote-dead-end-road" winery, with a modest visitation proposed by another scion (Mondavi). The modest visitation now seems to be a selling point in getting new wineries approved. As we have seen in the many major mods coming up before the commission, and as presented in Maxville, a future visitation upgrade after the project is in place is perhaps becoming a more palatable route to tourism intensification. And tourism intensification now seems to be the goal of most winery development in the county.

The question these remote wineries pose is whether it is justified, in an age in which GHG generation and vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) are becoming the metrics of ethical development, to promote a tourism model that involves transporting ever greater quantities of tourists and tourism employees to the remote corners of the county. In a recent study, tourism now accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. The extra tons per year generated by tens of thousands of 6 mile trips to wineries in Napa county will probably not move that percentage very much, but the fight against global warming is being fought at the micro level throughout the world and Napa should be doing its bit. Electric charging stations and bicycle racks in these remote locations may win an approval or a LEED certification, but are really just palliatives considering the GHG's created by vehicles traveling that extra 6 miles.

The 2010 WDO update (which allowed increased food service at wineries) has an appendix that counters the obvious inducement to tourism that the allowance provides with a warning to consider remoteness in winery approvals. The Napa County General Plan extolls urban-centered growth. The LEED certification process gives significant points for the same goal. The evaluation of GHG's generated by projects CEQA analysis is becoming an ever more important part of the process. The county is about to take up its won Climate Action Plan. It is time for the County to give more serious consideration to winery development on the basis of remoteness to discourage transportation dependent tourism.

(Technical Note: Using the total averages from the 74 wineries on my remote wineries list we get 74 wineries x 28 ave trips/day x 4.5 ave miles from hwy x 365 days per year = 3,403,260 miles x .00042 MTCO2/mile = 1429 MTCO2/yr created to access these remote wineries starting at major highways.)

4900 1100 more trips/day (+cancer) for Bottleneck Junction on: South Napa County

Bill Hocker - Aug 26,18  expand...  Share

Update 8/26/18
NVR 8/26/18: American Canyon Council approves more warehouses parallel with Highway 29

It’s not quite clear how the traffic analysis dropped from 4900 to 1100 trips/day - which is still a lot and caused a resident to respond: Alleviate traffic in American Canyon - not make it worse. Not to mention the cancer. Of course 1100 trips is a drop in the bucket compared to Napa Logistics soon-to-be-added 11,700 trip/day

NVR 5/31/18: New warehouses proposed along Highway 29 corridor in American Canyon

Video, Agenda and documents of the 5/24/18 American Canyon Planning Commission Hearing

The American Canyon Planning Commission has just approved another bunch of warehouses that will generate 4900 more trips per day to add to the traffic jam through American Canyon and south Napa that is Bottleneck Junction. Along with Napa Logistics Park it will clog up the S. Kelly Rd intersection to match the Jameson Canyon intersection. The project will also, incidentally, increase the cancer risk for American Canyon Residents!

From the staff summary of the proposed project EIR:

"Air quality impacts remain significant and unavoidable:"
-"The operational emissions from the total project evaluated in the EIR exceed the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s (BAAQMD) thresholds of significance for Nitrogen Oxides"
-"A community health risk assessment was prepared because of the proximity of two residences to the project site and found that the increase in cancer risk because of the project construction and operation exceeded the BAAQMD significance threshold"
-"Project Greenhouse Gas (GHG) gas emissions would exceed the BAAQMD threshold of significance"

"Transportation impacts remain significant and unavoidable:"
-" The addition of Project traffic to existing conditions would result in the [4] following intersections operating at unacceptable level..."
-"The addition of Project traffic to existing conditions together with other pending projects (background development) would result in the following [7] intersections operating at unacceptable levels..."
-"The addition of Project traffic to projected cumulative traffic conditions would result in unacceptable levels of service at 13 intersections"
-"the proposed project may conflict with the Napa and Solano County congestion management plans"
-And "While improvements have been identified to address these impacts, most of them are under Caltrans jurisdiction and funding and plans have not been approved. Therefore, there is uncertainty about whether the improvements would be implemented, so the impacts remain significant and unavoidable"

The solution to significant and unavoidable impacts that endanger the lives of Am Can residents and make traffic worse for everyone commuting to and from the Napa Valley? Draft some Findings of Overriding Consideration. All ten findings can be questioned on their merits, but these 2 are pet peeves:

"7. The Project will facilitate the logical and orderly development of the Devlin Road corridor in accordance with the City of American Canyon General Plan and Napa County Airport"

As we know from the 2008 changes made to Napa County's General Plan to equate winery tourism with agriculture, industry insiders shape general plans to their financial advantage. American Canyon's General plan is in fact just a developer's wish list for turning raw land into buildings. Almost every square inch of the City is to be developed into housing or commercial projects and the governmental projects needed to serve them. The Land use element is here. It is ludicrous to argue that an overriding consideration to significant and unavoidable impacts is that we have a plan that creates significant and unavoidable impacts. (as does the Napa County General Plan.)

"10. The Project will contribute to the long‐term fiscal health of the City by generating new taxable sales, development impact fees, business license fees, property tax, and other sources of revenue."

As Volker Eisele warned:
Development doesn't pay for itself. It doesn't. [If] you are looking at Napa Pipe now in south Napa, where a developer again is circulating memos showing how much profit it would generate, the profit might be actually true but it isn't really profit, because the cost items are all left out, whether it's traffic, clean air, noise, health, education and other items [concerning] social welfare.

Residents of American Canyon, the County and the State will end up subsidizing this project through increased taxes and bond measures to pay for the infrastructure and service costs that are never covered by the project's mitigation fees. Again ask yourself, do big city residents pay more or less in taxes to support their government? Are large cities fiscally healthier than small towns? Will the city end up spending more to maintain and service 30 acres of industrial development or 30 acres of wetlands?

The city is already desperate (with a $1.2 loss in 2016) for the revenue generated by this project to help pay for the long term burdens of previous urban development. How much will residents have to pay for the road widenings, and intersection upgrades and eventual freeways needed for the thousands of additional daily vehicle trips generated by this project and Napa Logistics Park? How much more for the services and infrastructure upgrades that an increased daily population will need?

It's not like the County is being flooded by immigrants looking for jobs and homes. The long-term population growth in Napa County is projected to be less than .5%. These building projects are inducing population growth in the county (and the impacts that come with it) so that a handful of developers can make some money.

The solution to Napa County's urban problems of traffic and lack of affordable and ever rising taxes and bond measures to pay for increased infrastructure is to stop urbanizing. Develop a general plan created by residents who must live with the results rather than businessmen who profit off it.

The exploding hospitality sector on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Aug 21,18  expand...  Share

NVR 8/21/18: NapaStat | 14,000: That's the current number of leisure and hospitality jobs in Napa County. That's 700 more jobs than one year ago.

As just pointed out in the news post related to the resurrection of the Stanly Ranch resort and its 500 hospitality employees that will need affordable housing, this NapaStat reinforces what the current tourism boom portends for the problems of traffic and housing that already plague the quality of life in the County. 700 new hospitality workers this year. How many affordable housing units were brought online in the same period? The number of proposed or approved facilities in the County, with employees yet to be added to the EDD database, is vast. Over 150 new or expanded wineries and a few thousand hotel rooms not yet realized will add thousands to the hospitality workforce. In addition are millions of square feet of commercial and industrial facilities. And a Costco. As outlined here, providing affordable housing for this workforce will be excruciatingly difficult. The wisdom of continuing to approve new hospitality and commercial development, with no strategy to provide the thousands of affordable housing units for the workforce required, is irresponsible urban planning.

Coincidentally this same subject was reprised on the PBS Newshour today, the challenge of finding affordable housing for workers in Anaheim, California's most touristed place: PBS 3/27/18: Why Anaheim’s low-wage workers struggle to keep a roof over their heads

The county will, of course make an effort to provide more housing - the state will require it based on the number of new jobs created. And the county will make an effort to mitigate the increase in traffic and population with more infrastructure projects. And this place will be steadily urbanized in the process, eventually crowding out the agriculture that a previous generation fought so hard to preserve.

Stanly Ranch on: South Napa County

Bill Hocker - Aug 20,18  expand...  Share

Update 8/16/18
NVR 5/9/15: New $45 million investment for a planned Stanly Ranch resort in south Napa

Stanly Ranch returns from funding limbo. The project would add another 500 low wage employees looking for affordable housing. It would also contribute $4.4 million to the city's affordable housing fund. The cost of 50 units of affordable housing in Napa was just pegged at $24 million. By that standard the $4.4 million will be enough for 9 affordable housing units, enough to house perhaps 18 of the 500 employees. The continuing imbalance of jobs and housing in Napa County, increased with each new development project, is not sustainable.

This is also another example of the trend toward the winery hotel that will eventually be demanded in the unincorporated areas just as restaurant wineries are now.

Update 5/7/17: Only recently, after stumbling upon these documents, have I become attuned to the third mega-project that will be urbanizing the agricultural entry to the county just south of the Hwy 29 and 121 junction in Carneros. It is a housing project and resort known as Stanly Ranch. The project was approved by the City of Napa in 2010. Sometimes, until you see a site plan, the numbers representing the project in a table don't have an impact. A big chunk of vineyards at the approach to the Valley is to become suburbanized and another bit of Napa's forlorn effort to maintain a greenbelt separating the city from the sprawl moving up from American Canyon will disappear.

How the parcel became a part of the city needs a bit of research. As a far-removed extension of the urban-rural limit line, it seems to violate every concept of maintaining the separation between existing urban and rural uses that the county and cities have been committed to since the ag preserve and Measure J were enacted.

NVR 12/20/15: City gives thumbs-up for luxury hotel at Stanly Ranch
NVR 11/2/15: Stanly Ranch receives recycled water go-ahead
NVR 5/9/15: Stanly Ranch resort developer promises 'authenticity'
NVR 11/19/13: Pipeline project to bring water to Carneros area
NVR 11/6/10: Settlement says St. Regis developer must support affordable housing
NVR 1/23/10: Critics blast St. Regis project, but city touts revenues; more hearings ahead
NVR 4/17/05: Merryvale set to begin Stanly Ranch renovation this summer

2009 Stanly Ranch documents

Bill Dodd and PG&E on: After The Fire

Bill Hocker - Aug 19,18  expand...  Share

An epic battle will take place in the courts in the next couple of years between PG&E and the thousands of residents affected by the Sonoma and Napa fires of 2017 [and the Camp Fire of 2018!]. Dan Mufson sends along this link to an article about our State Senator, Bill Dodd in action on both sides of the issue. The article and video gives a sense that the Senator knows who he works for. 8/15/18: Senator Dodd Busted Shutting Down Wildfire Hearings To Rush To Fundraiser With Utility Lobbyists

Dan adds: "Check out the video. At 2:13 our own John Harrington can be seen on the right side of the frame. He went to Sacramento with his family to lobby Dodd, the Governor and others not to let PGE off the hook for liability.

Napa County CAP returns on: Climate Action Plan

Bill Hocker - Aug 15,18  expand...  Share

Update 8/15/18
NVR 8/15/18: Napa County's draft climate action plan has its critics

A public "Scoping Session" on the plan will be held on Aug 15th, 2018. See Calendar

NVR 8/12/18: Gas water heater phaseout is part of new Napa County climate action proposal (a modest top proposal indeed, as the world burns.)

Planning Director's responses to the Grand Jury report on the shortcomings of the County's Climate Action Plan

Notice of Preparation of a Napa County Climate Action Plan Draft Environmental Impact Report

Redlined version of Draft CAP showing changes between Jan 2017 and Jul 2018

The County Climate Action Plan page is here

From the Revised Draft CAP:
"In response to public comments received in 2017, the County has since prepared a Revised Draft CAP that will be circulated for public review in the Summer of 2018. Public comments will be accepted on the Revised Draft CAP and the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the plan during the comment period. The County is also preparing an EIR for the CAP pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The EIR will be released for public review following the public review period for the Revised Draft CAP."

Update 1/5/18
NVR 1/5/18: Napa County's climate action plan again delayed

Update 8/4/17
Wine and Water Watch 7/28/17: Judge Rules Climate Action 2020 Plan Violates CEQA

Sonoma County, like Napa County, is crafting a Climate Action Plan. Not good enough, a county judge rules. Napa County will no doubt have to take another look at their proposed CAP in light of the the ruling.

Update 7/9/17 Final Draft CAP
The Planning Commission 7/15/17 review of the county's proposed Climate Action Plan has been continued tentatively to Sep. 20th 2017. The staff presentation of the plan was made and public comments were taken at the 7/5/17 hearing.

At the hearing Dir. Morrison put the impact of the County's climate change efforts into the context of the world's climate problem - unincorporated Napa accounts for 9 millionths of one percent of global GHG's. Our incredible quantification and pontification and angst over the problem in this teeny, tiny corner of the world seem to amount to little more than a feel-good bromide when held up to the magnitude of the problem, as presented in this article in New York Magazine 4 days after the hearing: The Uninhabitable Earth Nevertheless, I suppose, we must do our bit.

The video of the hearing is here

Jim Wilson has taken on the laborious task of transcribing major portions of the hearing. He writes: "I have recorded everything said by Director Morrison and the Ascent project managers Erik de Kok and Honey Walters. Also all statements from the three Planning Commissioners Basayne, Scott and Gallagher. I did not take down any of the public comments except for one - Henry Mattei, an Environmental Science student at USC. He makes some striking observations utilizing the Quercus Group analysis."

Jim Wilson transcription of major portions of the hearing

Update 7/2/17 Final Draft CAP
NVR 7/2/17: Napa County Planning Commission to consider climate action plan

The final draft of Napa County's Climate Action Plan (CAP) will be presented to the County Planning Commission this Wednesday, July 5th, 2017 beginning at 10:00am
Location: Napa County Building, 3rd floor

Meeting Agenda and Documents
Staff Agenda Letter
County's CAP page
Final CAP red-line version
Jim Wilson NVR Letter to the Editor
Christina Benz' comments
Napa Vision 2050 pre-meeting email

Jim Wilson suggests this reading if you don't want to wade through the thousands of pages on the County CAP page:
Quercus Brief
Sierra Club Brief
Center of Biological Diversity brief
County's Master Responses to Public Comments

2/20/17 First Draft CAP
NVR 2/20/17: Napa County proposes carbon-cutting steps to combat global warming

The county has issued their Draft Climate Action Plan (CAP) aimed at reducing the County's Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG's) with a request for comments. A WICC Workshop on the CAP is planned for Feb 23nd, 2017.

Wine tourism and global warming on: Climate Action Plan

Bill Hocker - Aug 14,18  expand...  Share

GHG generation: agriculture vs tourism
Update 8/11/18
The Napa County Climate Action Plan begins a restart after a year's hiatus at the Planning Commission on Aug 15th 2018. For those hoping that the Sonoma County ruling (see below) would produce a much more comprehensive look at how Napa's development trajectory might change when considering the life cycle GHG impacts of its industries, the revised plan will disappoint. The CAP still contains the disclaimer that the " the preparation of the 2014 GHG emissions inventory for the County’s CAP does not include the calculation of the community’s global “carbon footprint.”" The reduction of GHG's based on the basic land use decisions the county makes will not be evaluated. Only ways to mitigate the emissions resulting from those decisions.

Update 5/6/18
Space Daily 5/7/18: Tourism nearly a tenth of global CO2 emissions

Space Daily, a science blog, has reported on an Australian Research finding on the CO2 cost of tourism dependent economies. (research abstract here.)

The county will soon be taking up the stalled County Climate Action Plan, which will presumably look at the CO2 costs of our increase in visitation and expansion of our vineyards at the local level. But the costs of a mass tourism economy go beyond that. "The multi-trillion dollar industry's carbon footprint is expanding rapidly, driven in large part by demand for energy-intensive air travel". ... to places like Napa.

Wine and Water Watch 7/28/17: Judge Rules Climate Action 2020 Plan Violates CEQA

The Judge's decision in California Riverwatch vs. Sonoma County, et al. , if it withstands appeal, could become a landmark decision. The essence, as I try to interpret the decision's legalese and the supporting plain text newspaper articles and the statement of attorney Jerry Bernhaut who brought the case, is that:

1. The county failed to consider all of the greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts that the county's economic activity generates. For example, how much greenhouse gas is generated bringing a tourist to a winery experience from their point of origin. How much is generated getting a bottle of wine into the hands of a consumer.

2. The county failed to consider a wide enough range of alternative solutions to reduce GHG's in their plan. One alternative not considered, for example, might be a moratorium on the "growth" of new tourism facilities to be able to meet ambitious GHG reduction goals.

The questions being raised get at the fundamental issue of what it will take to reduce global warming. Is it enough to make buildings or vehicles more efficient at burning fuel and still continue to generate ever more urban development inherent in "growth" economies. Can we stop sea level rise, desertification, extreme weather events, or the mass migrations, famine and war caused by a warming climate simply by using solar collectors, bike lanes, vanpool parking spaces, electric powered tractors, or the other tweaks proposed by the Napa County Climate Action Plan? Or does an honest evaluation of the significance of climate change require a look at the impacts of "growth" economies in their entirety, and that slowing or stopping economic "growth", or comparing the GHG impacts of different economic "growth" models, (the conversion of a wine industry to a tourism industry, for example), should be among the alternatives considered given the magnitude of the problem confronting mankind's very existence? In the words of Jerry Bernhaut, “it’s time to admit that perpetual growth on a planet with limited resources and carrying capacity is not sustainable.”

These county Climate Action Plans are, at this point, voluntary efforts to reduce GHG's. It is possible to see that a county may just forgo making a plan rather than confront the development interests which governments usually serve to promote and protect. And even when such plans become mandatory, as the severity of the problem is realized, given that all governments are controlled by prevailing economic interests loathe to change, and indeed that wealth creation by GHG-producing urban development is baked into the DNA of human society, even in hyper-environmentally-conscious California, the chances of addressing the real problem of global warming look slim indeed.

In 2015, George Caloyannidis penned an editorial, "Hodja's Donkey in Napa traffic", about Napa County's lack of consideration of the complete traffic impacts of individual projects under CEQA.

We the people have power on: Napa Strategic Plan

Patricia Damery - Aug 10,18  expand...  Share

I hope that the Board of Supervisors’ most recent Strategic Plan process does not end up fitting the definition of insanity: To keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

After Measure C almost passed in the June election, the board has decided to “listen” to the citizens through a series of meetings with a neutral facilitator (the one difference). They will then craft a strategic plan to address the watershed and growth issues that Measure C put before the voters, as well as other issues citizens bring to the table.

We the People have already been through an impotent process in which the governing officials “listened” to us. On March 10, 2015, the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission held a joint hearing at which 475 gathered for a day of public comment, most of us protesting the lack of code enforcement and commercialization of our agriculturally zoned protected lands. The result? Not much came of it. The Agricultural Protect Advisory Committee (APAC) formed was stacked with wine and hospitality interests.

Then came the dirty techniques of the No on C campaign. Even some of our governing officials participated in misleading the public with erroneous statements aimed at confusing voters. Trust in our elected and appointed officials is at an all time low.

Although Measure C did not pass (301 more votes of the approximate 36,000 cast and it would have) the vote reflects the growing concern in our county for our water supply which is integrally connected to our watersheds. That is the good news. One has to ask: Would this strategic plan process have occurred without the almost 50/50 vote in a large voter turnout election? I doubt it.

Will this time be different? Citizens, it depends on We the People.

Only because Measure C, a very modest measure, almost won the vote to protect our watersheds from development did the Board of Supervisors embark on developing a strategic plan to be implemented over the next years. We have to stay on board.

Make sure that you attend the proposed upcoming citizen meetings for each district in the next couple of months. Write letters to your district supervisor. Insist this not be another APAC, in which special interest groups neutralize any movement toward real exploration and protection.

Remind our governing officials that We the People elect them and if they don’t represent our interests, we will elect someone who will. Remind them that We the People have the right of the initiative when they are not doing their job in protecting our water supply and our community and that and we will use it again and when we have to.

NVR version 8/12/18: We the People have the power

Sonoma County Winery Event Ordinance Petition on: Sonoma County

Bill Hocker - Aug 7,18  expand...  Share

Update 8/7/18
Press Democrat 8/6/18: Petition calls on Sonoma County to stop new winery permits until events ordinance is passed.

An example for Napa? Since the wine industry, in their No-on-C campaign, came out against the development of event centers in the watersheds that are "destroying our viewshed and hillsides; and increasing traffic on our already congested rural roads and Highway 29" (a view shared by Measure C supporters) and since industry stalwart Dario Sattui's vehement plea that "We need to stop all building in the ag areas", perhaps a consensus exists to do just that.

Preserve Rural Sonoma County is petitioning the county government to define and enact a Winery Event Ordinance that it promised its citizens in 2016 based perhaps on this report. Without seeing the final ordinance, it is difficult to know if it will be crafted to limit such events or simply give them legal authority to happen. If the Napa Winery Definition Ordnance is any example, the dominant commercial interests will draft and eventually modify such an ordinance to their liking making challenges to such events more difficult. The devil is in the details. Residents need to be a forceful presence in the drafting of the legislation.

The Petition is here

Sonoma County's General Plan relating to tourism activities seems light years ahead of Napa's in recognizing that the impacts of wine tourism are "detrimental to the primary use of the land for the production of food, fiber and plant materials". This enlightened approach to tourism may however only reflect the fact that the plan has not been revised since 1989, and that the age of enlightenment will pass with the next update.

Policy AR-6f: Local concentrations of visitor serving and recreational uses, and agricultural support uses as defined in Goal AR-5, even if related to surrounding agricultural activities, are detrimental to the primary use of the land for the production of food, fiber and plant materials and may constitute grounds for denial of such uses. In determining whether or not the approval of such uses would constitute a detrimental concentration of such uses, consider all the following factors:

(1) Whether the above uses would result in joint road access conflicts, or in traffic levels that exceed the Circulation and Transit Element’s objectives for level of service on a site specific and cumulative basis.

(2) Whether the above uses would draw water from the same aquifer and be located within the zone of influence of area wells.

(3) Whether the above uses would be detrimental to the rural character of the area.

Unfortunately, as the petition shows, even this clear-eyed policy has not been enough to prevent an explosion of event centers in the intervening years.

After Measure C: a strategic plan on: Napa Strategic Plan

Bill Hocker - Jul 31,18  expand...  Share

Update 7/31/18
More balloons?
NVR 3/31/18: Napa County launches plan to help unite community after Measure C fight
Video of 7/31/18 BOS meeting

From my standpoint Dario Sattui had the quote of the day: "We need to stop all building in the ag areas." Hear! Hear! A moratorium on future development is the only way that the county will ever have the space to deal with the existing traffic, housing and potential water problems created by past development. Of course he was railing principally about homes in the ag areas, and the complaints of homeowners about "noise, dust, night picking, tourists and tasting", nicely summing up the conflation of real agriculture with tourism that is at the heart of resident hostility to the wine industry as it morphs into an entertainment industry. I wasn't sure if he would agree that wineries are buildings and should also be banned.

Several speakers mentioned the Napa County General Plan's vision statement as a starting point for this process. It's worth repeating the first paragraph:

"Today and in the future, unincorporated Napa County will be home to world-famous wines and a residential population smaller than most Bay Area cities and towns. The County’s scenic beauty, valuable agricultural resources, and quality of life are reinforced by longstanding commitments to agricultural preservation, resource conservation, and urban-centered growth. While other Bay Area counties have experienced unprecedented development and urban infrastructure expansion over the last four decades, Napa County’s citizens have conscientiously preserved the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure."

In recognition of that vision, this process should be about one goal: how best to limit the urban growth of unincorporated Napa County. The point was made by speakers that the county has only limited control over the urbanization and that the municipalities are the principal drivers of increased traffic, housing and infrastructure impacts. The vision that the county is "committed to urban-centered growth" (meaning that growth is the municipalities' problem not the county's problem) is a bit of a fudge unfortunately. Growth in the municipalities is very much a traffic-housing-water problem for the unincorporated areas as well. Without inclusion of representatives from the municipalities this process can only have a modest impact on the county's future.

But the County needs to do what it can. In several meetings, including this one, the point has been made that projections of growth in the 2008 General Plan have actually been greater than actual growth. And yet the problems of that actual growth, in traffic, infrastructure and housing needs are apparent to all right now. This strategic plan process should ask whether or not the projections of growth in the General Plan are appropriate for the future we envision. And if not, what land use strategies can be proposed that will bring those development projections down? Dario Sattui's recommendation to stop building in the ag areas might be a good start.

George Caloyannidis adds this clarification:
"The County's line that growth is driven by our cities is absolutely false. The County is the one which provides the demand and development opportunities in the cities by approving new and enlarged wineries, tasting rooms and event centers. Its policies are what brings in the tourists. The cities simply provide the hotels to accommodate them. If the County stopped creating the market for the hotels, the hotels would stop being built."

Update 7/26/18
BOS Strategic Plan Session 1
Meeting date: 7/31/18, 9:00am
Location: BOS Chambers , 1195 3rd St, Napa

3 Year Strategic Plan presentation to the BOS to look at future development issues in the county and to create a task force for the process.

Agenda Letter
Consultant's Strategic Plan Presentation

Be a contributor: This is the beginning of a process happening through the rest of the year. To participate in the process by receiving notifications and attending meetings, the County requests that you sign up as a participant.
The Sign-up form is here

NVR 7/11/18: In wake of Measure C's defeat, Napa County leaders look for a healing path forward

At the beginning of the BOS’s 7/10/18 meeting, Tax Assessor John Tuteur reported to the Board of Supervisors that since July of 2017 unincorporated Napa County has probably had the largest increase in nonresidential construction in the county's history (or at least since he's been assessor). Although not directly related to the post C discussion over the future direction of Napa development, labeled the Strategic Plan by County CEO Minh Tran, it was an apt "fact" which needs to be brought to the table in a discussion already obsessing over fact-based decision making.

CEO Tran indicated that on July 31st he would begin laying out the parameters of a task force to deal with our post-Measure C trauma and seek consensus on Napa's future development. His outline for the process is here.

The use of the word "stakeholders" in the outline is a bit unsettling since it almost always implies a financial stake in the outcome or in our case the wine and tourism industries and the government. While the citizenry who wish to participate may see some financial impact of new policies, it is, I think, the quality of their lives in Napa County that is at stake and that brings them to the table. As happened in APAC, without significant representation of residents, business stakeholders, and the urbanizing development projects they pursue, will dominate the future of the county.

In public comments:

Vintner Joyce Black Sears criticized the changes made in the definition of agriculture that have encouraged intensification of tourism, traffic and deforestation by catering to the business interests of corporations and the wealthy while ignoring the ordinary people who live here. Reconsider the definition of agriculture, she admonished. Otherwise the continued development will be the final nail in the coffin of Napa's ag heritage.

Former supervisor Ginny Simms described how the agreement between the NVV and the Measure C authors was scuttled after months of cooperative effort: Gallo, Treasury, Hall and others demanded that the agreement end or they would pull out of NVV and not offer wines for the Wine Auction - complete bullying by the major wine corporations. A transcript of her statement is here.

Measure C author Mike Hackett called out Supervisors Pedroza, Ramos, and Gregory for their initial support of Measure C when the NVV supported it and then their vehement opposition to the identical initiative when the NVV, at the insistence of major wine corporations, dropped support. Trust was a casualty of the process. Who do you work for? he asked. In citing the disinformation campaign put out by the No on C campaign and the false campaign arguments signed by Sup. Ramos in the official opposition ballot arguments, Mr. Hackett confronted them. "You lied to the citizens of Napa County. You owe an apology".

Fact-based decisions on: Napa Strategic Plan

Bill Hocker - Jul 19,18  expand...  Share

"We'd like to see something that is more data-driven." Sarah Sanders on Climate Report, 11/28/18
Lately, the wine industry lobbyists that comment at Planning Commission and BOS meetings will invariably slip in their interest in "fact-based decision making". It was a principal bullet point in the industry's No on C campaign, in trying to make the implication that further protection of the watersheds and their aquifers from over-exploitation for vineyard and winery development was somehow not supported by facts.

The emphasis on "fact-based decisions" and the denigration of the initiative process as a "blunt instrument" by government and industry opponents in the Measure C campaign has seemed to me to be code for industry and government control of the planing process rather than the "emotion-based decision" making by residents that is an inherent part of the initiative process.

The "facts" that industry and government officials tout are conclusions in reports made by technical experts. They are not, in fact, "facts", but are interpretations of quantities of data given certain assumptions. They are expert opinions. As we have seen, where opponents can afford their own experts, as qualified as those hired by the developer, very different opinions often emerge when the data is subjected to different, but no less valid, assumptions. Which opinions are to be used in decisions become the stuff of lawsuits, as the county knows in numerous projects being challenged in court.

Government and developers like "fact-based" decisions. When impacted citizens complain about the harm projects may cause, the developers can tout the "fact" that an expert says there will be less-than-significant negative impacts. If you don't agree get your own experts. Experts, of course, cost money. Often lots of money. For the developer they are part of the cost of the project, amortized by the profits to be made. They are tax deductible. For impacted citizens, the cost of hiring experts comes from savings accounts. And they are not tax deductible. And hiring consultants is a complex undertaking they have no experience with, often needing a lawyer to guide the process, an additional expense. The truth is that developers and governments always tout and set the parameters for "fact-based" decisions not because the parameters and opinions are irrefutably true, but because the cost and the effort of refuting them is an enormous burden for any opponents wishing to challenge their projects.

The argument in this post should not be seen as an example of right-wing fact-freedom mongering. We all profess and are committed to making decisions based on reality rather than fantasy. It is an argument only that reality and the opinions of experts are not always the same thing. Were they the same, there would be no disagreement over, say, whether red wine is good for you or bad for you. And unfortunately, as we've seen in dozens of examples - think pesticides, tobacco or global warming - expert opinions often depend on the amounts of money to be made by a particular conclusion. Reality can't be held at bay forever, but it can be ignored or hidden for years with enough money given to the task. And as we've seen over and over, in Napa there is lots of money to prove that development projects, and the reality of the traffic they create, and the affordable housing and infrastructure needs they generate, and the resources they use will have a less-than-significant impact on the future of the County. The reality of those impacts, denied or mitigated away for years in "fact-based" development decisions, are now upon us.

After Measure C: Land Use policy under review on: Napa Strategic Plan

Bill Hocker - Jul 19,18  expand...  Share

Update 7/18/18
Bohemian 7/17/18: Napa after C: Nice environmentalists finish last

Update 6/28/18
George Caloyannidis LTE 6/27/18: Measure C: what next?

Update 6/21/18
NVR 6/21/18: In the wake of Measure C's defeat, Napa County supervisors debate what's next

BOS will continue their discussion of Land Use policies on Jul 10, 2018 with input and timelines from staff.

Update 6/19/18
In the discussion of land use policies by the BOS in their Jun 19th, 2018 meeting, in the wake of the Measure C election, Sup Wagenknecht led off the discussion, after acknowledging the quadrennial joy of getting to ask for a job back and hearing from his bosses, with a very clear-headed analysis about the importance of Measure C based on listening to voters. The initiative, as he saw it from their standpoint, was not a vote about the somewhat confusing technicalities of the measure. Their yes vote seemed to be saying "I'm upset about all this change that is happening in napa, all this development". It was a plebiscite on the many development issues that have pitted residents against developers, including the winery industry, over the past few years. Yes on C was a proxy for a vote of concern over the pace of that development. And it was a vote about whether residents would have a say in the process to address that concern.

Sup. Dillon proposed a deliberative process be set up to discuss the broader issues that underlay the negativity and anger that were a part of the Measure C campaign. She cited successful community deliberative processes: GRAC, General Plan update, the Flood Control project. She suggested a third party facilitator, with working groups and the use perhaps of something like "Crowdfire" to identify the the challenging facing the county and to seek an answer to the question "What is the carrying capacity of Napa County?" A 50-50 spit over the future direction of Napa County is not sustainable. And decisions need to be science based, a refrain that would be heard again and again. (She didn't mention APAC or the Walt Ranch hearings, the two deliberative processes that convinced the citizens of Napa County that change was only possible through the initiative process.)

Sup. Gregory wanted some leadership from the Board before the community commission was convened with a restart of the Board's Strategic Planning Sessions that seemed to go nowhere last year.

Sup Pedroza wanted to know what are the problems to be solved? He doesn't see any data to indicate that the development trajectory of napa county is on the wrong track. Look at con regs and ordinances. Bring us the science. We need "scientific, fact-based" decisions. The board needs a conversation first before a community collaboration. And it needs city partners in the process. Later he added that wanted to see process timelines from the staff.

Sup. Ramos felt that Supes were chosen to make tough decisions, and she was not interested in a deliberative approach that's tries to appeal to emotional concerns rather than factual concerns. The decisions need to be made by Supes and favors the Strategic Planning Sessions rather than public workshops,. No need for another futile APAC process on steroids.

In public comments community reps Eve Kahn, and Gary Margadant, both a bit unprepared because the lack of notification and cryptic staff report on the issue, voiced concern about the ineffective 3-minute-speech format for resident input in the collaborative process. The wine industry "stakeholder" representatives were on hand to express, once again, their need for science, fact-based decision making and faith in the Supervisors as decision makers. "I don't feel I'm limited to 3 minutes, I can call up the supervisors whenever I want. And write longer letters and give them to you.", one of the industry reps said. (Since that's what she's paid to do, it might be a bit easier for her than other citizens with their own lives to lead.)

Dir. Morrison then concluded with "I look forward to the journey we are about to embark on." drawing some chuckles from those knowledgeable about the other journeys he has been on these last few years.

On Tues June 19th the BOS will begin (let's hope it is a beginning) to discuss land use policies in the wake of the defeated Measure C initiative.

The brief staff letter on item 10A of the BOS agenda is here

From the staff letter: "Based on prior policy discussions before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, staff has developed a series of options for discussion to address current challenges and further the County's goals of protecting agriculture, the environment, and the economy."

The effort would seem to be Sup Dillon's followup to her editorial commitments made during the campaign:
"We can all be sure that whether Measure C passes or not, these issues are urgent and will drive policy discussion far beyond the election. The real challenge will be to find common ground in the search for solutions to the problems that face us.

Regardless of what happens once the votes are tallied, I am fully committed to do all I can to bring all the stakeholders together to make Napa County a leader in stewardship and sustainability."

It will be interesting to see what Measure C's opponents on the Board have to say. And to see if this effort, like the APAC look at winery proliferation, will be merely an exercise in due diligence or an impetus for change.

Palm Drive solar farm on: Solar Farming

Bill Hocker - Jul 18,18  expand...  Share

NVR 7/18/18: Proposed utility solar farm in Napa's Coombsville neighborhood becomes a hot topic

As previously said, time for a solar array ordinance.

NVR LTE 7/16/18: Solar project is not right for Coombsville
NVR LTE 7/13/18: Wrong site for solar project

NVR 7/11/18: Two proposed Napa County solar projects would power 2,000 homes

It is appropriate to ask why a major solar panel installation is being proposed in a rural residential neighborhood and requiring the removal of oak woodlands rather than in the industrial zoned areas of the county, perhaps shading some of the mega parking lots to be built there.

Solar panels may slow down the suicide of the human species but they are not neighborhood or viewshed friendly. Fortunately a review by the planning commission at an as yet unspecified date will give the community a chance to weigh in on this very inappropriate site.

The County's page on the Palm Drive Solar farm

Hotels spill into the vineyards on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Jul 5,18  expand...  Share

Update 7/5/18
NVR 7/16/18: Napa Planning Commission gets a first look at rural Oak Knoll hotel project
NVR 7/5/18: Proposed Solano Avenue resort under environmental scrutiny by Napa County

Update 6/22/18
A Draft EIR for the Oak Knoll Hotel project is now available.
The Notice of Availability is here
The DEIR is Here

NVR 6/29/17: County studies proposed Oak Knoll hotel on rare rural commercial property
Yountville Sun 6/29/17: Neighbors Not Sold on Oak Knoll Hotel Project

County Oak Knoll Hotel page
EIR Notice of Preparation

Given the relentless explosion of hotel projects in Napa, it is only a matter of time before overnight accommodation is included in Napa County's definition for agriculture - just as food service and party events are now - to allow for their construction in the vineyards. The Oak Knoll Hotel, filling up a parcel on a legacy commercially zoned parcel surrounded by Agricultural Resource zoned land, is a forerunner of a trend that will become increasingly common in the current development frenzy to convert agricultural land to more profitable use. We already have the examples of the Carneros Inn and the Poetry Inn and the approved resort at Stanly Ranch. And the always threatened Altamura hotel at Trancas and the Trail. A highly respected grower-vintner is also proposing a hotel adjacent to one of his wineries and recently another winery hotel is being proposed by the Halls. Again, as with Oak Knoll, the zoning may allow such projects, but the incorporation of overnight stays into the heart of the agricultural landscape, even more impactful than the event-center wineries currently being approved throughout the vineyards, sets a precident that will up the pressure to change the definition of agriculture to allow inclusion of such use on a routine basis.

The county policy in the General Plan that applies to this legacy property use, Policy AG/LU-45 states that :
    "With respect to Policies AG/LU-44 and 45, due to the small numbers of such parcels, their limited capacity for commercially viable agriculture due to pre-existing uses and/or size, location and lot configuration, and the minimal impact such commercial operations and expansions will have on adjacent agriculture or open space activities or the agricultural and open space character of the surrounding area, such limited development will not be detrimental to Agriculture, Watershed or Open Space policies of the General Plan."

This parcel is eminently viable for agricultural use, leased perhaps to the owner of the adjacent vineyards. This project will not have a "minimal impact". The impact of a 50 room hotel, 33 employees and 109-space parking lot, on the open-space character of the surrounding vineyards plus the increased traffic and water and sewer concerns such a project presents, should be a point of contention between the county and the developer. Perhaps the various alternatives presented by staff to the planning commission represent some pushback from the county. But it is not enough.

An alternative not presented in the DEIR (which might be considered "2c-No Project-Existing Entitlements Alternative (Agricultural Restoration)") is the use of the property for agriculture. Money can actually be made growing grapes in Napa County. It is not a taking to disallow building construction on prime arable land at the center of the Napa Valley.

Paradise is being paved over in one building project after another as the official guardians of the county's rural heritage continue to promote development interests, hoping to bolster government coffers while really just adding to the government expense of maintaining a more urban environment.

This project is an opportunity to mitigate that development trajectory and suggest that the urbanization that is currently nibbling away at Napa's agricultural land, with building projects approved at almost every planning commission meeting, can not only be slowed but in fact reversed.

What next after Measure C? on: Watershed Initiative 2018

Mike Hackett - Jul 2,18  expand...  Share

We know now that Measure C did not pass. However we feel tremendous appreciation for the hundreds of volunteers that helped raise awareness about this defining environmental issue.

We garnered nearly 50 percent of the votes and those approximately 18,000 citizens believe that our water resources are in jeopardy and that we need to curb vineyard development on our hillsides here in the Napa Valley.

We lost a precious opportunity to show the world that growers and vintners here were willing to show leadership with a sustainable vision for the community’s future. This was lost early on when the Napa Valley Vintners, betrayed the trust we had built up during the collaboration of Measure C, and joined forces with the other wine trade groups, and together spent roughly three quarters of a million dollars to oppose the collaborated agreement we had reached together.

The wine industry has done an incredible amount of harm to its own reputation here. Over the years, the Napa Valley Vintners has given millions of dollars for worthy causes here. During the campaign for Measure C, they allowed a Trump-like campaign that used false and misleading information to be spread to our voters. We are deeply disturbed and saddened that this type of nasty campaign would be utilized here.

One has to wonder: at what cost to their reputation and was it worth it? There are no winners here, only losers. The oak woodlands will continue to be clear cut for vineyards and the wine industry has lost the respect not only of Napa’s citizens, but wine lovers from around the world.

Once again, big money got the most votes, but our citizen’s awareness of the negative campaign will leave a bad taste for a very long time.

We look back to the amazing collaboration we had with the NVV, which culminated in a jointly crafted Initiative which we submitted to the County on Sept. 1, 2017. Their Board of Directors voted unanimously on four occasions to support the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Measure.

However, almost immediately some short-sighted, powerful and greedy winery owners, joined by the corporate wine interests decided to use fear and intimidation to scare the NVV board into reversing their position. The tactics were simple from big boys: pull your support for this environmental issue or we’ll pull out as members and not participate in the Napa Valley Wine Auction.

Evidently, it worked and these same forces allowed the disinformation campaign to distort the facts and confuse the voters. While campaigning, it became evident that many people thought a “no vote” meant no more cutting of trees. One of their campaign flyers called us “crazy.”

We citizens feel like our moral compasses were broken by organizations utilizing campaign tactics designed to get folks to vote against their own best interests.

Looking ahead is difficult at this time. There’s clearly too much power in too few hands here; and it’s all within the wine industry. This one-industry town can celebrate this initial win at the polls, but the awareness that the majority of elected officials are answering to the industry and ignoring the pleas of the majority of citizens here, will mandate we move forward with another measure as soon as possible.

We all remain committed to protecting Napa County’s water, forests, watersheds and quality of life and will remain active until our lands are protected from over development.

NVR LTE version 9/1/18: What next after Measure C?

Measure C: what next? on: Napa Strategic Plan

George Caloyannidis - Jun 28,18  expand...  Share

Lessons from Measure C numbers
(complete results here)
Measure C was defeated by a mere 600 or so votes among the 36,000 cast. In the face of an extraordinarily high 47 percent voter participation for a primary election, the issue - far from resolved - is at its tipping point, serious enough for the supervisors to finally pick up the ball so that we don't end up at the ballot box once again.

Sifting through their related statements: Supervisor Pedroza advocates having a "conversation" and Supervisor Ramos proposes having that conversation at the Board of Supervisors' platform, meaning 3-minute comment periods at public hearings. But in the face of the one-sided APAC failed model, the time for conversations is over as it will undoubtedly be perceived as one more delaying tactic.

Given this reality, Supervisor Dillon's view that a resolution may be facilitated only through a "science-based" determination of the "carrying capacity of Napa County" is a good first step towards the big picture. Instead of the Planning Commission doling out new permits for more wine production, visitations and events for the asking as it currently does, a set of carrying capacity metrics would serve the long term health of the Napa Valley well.

But as constructive as a carrying capacity study would be, all factors that affect it must be examined and acceptable standards must be set for each one of them. How many wineries are enough? How many tourists are beneficial? How many woodlands - and not just oaks - must be protected? How much traffic congestion is acceptable?

Should winery and agricultural development be permitted on mile-long hillside roads with no secondary accesses? Should areas in the county be graded according to more, less or no development zones? How can we rectify the enormous damage winery use permit violators have inflicted upon our valley by escaping environmental review? Just to name a few.

Science, of course, can be helpful in setting standards in terms of water availability under extended drought conditions, carbon dioxide emissions, pesticide leaching and sedimentation into our reservoirs, traffic intersection grades, air quality.

Added to the difficulty of setting commonly agreed upon carrying capacity standards is the widening credibility gap between the residents and our county government.

The county has been reassuring the public for too long that it has been applying CEQA mandates effectively and that all developments have been mitigated to "less than significant impacts" until traffic congestion proved how misplaced the public's trust in the supervisors as guardians of the residents' quality of life has been. Other issues are less visible but there are there nonetheless.

The credibility of the Board of Supervisors was further compromised by its choice of the consultant for its 9111 reports on Measures C and D. These reports were not only bias-based but they attributed provisions to the initiatives that were downright false. If this were not enough, none of the supervisors challenged even a single finding in these reports during public hearings; in fact, they precluded answers to questions by the initiatives' drafting attorneys.

Entrusting the supervisors with the choice of widely acceptable consultants or with defining carrying capacity standards is highly problematic at this point and a serious dilemma right from the start.

As difficult as the task may be, it is imperative for such a process to move forward without delay. This is what governing is all about after all. Otherwise, anger and discontent will keep growing beyond its current tipping point with no telling where this may lead. Judging from the national political landscape, when officials remain unresponsive to wide public demands, mistrust grows and results can become irrational. Then the people are left with no choice but to take the law into their own hands by resorting to initiatives.

In the year ahead, I urge the Planning Commission and the supervisors to devote less time on processing single-interest applications and direct the bulk of their efforts on issues which affect the quality of life of all residents. Their policies of the past decade have seen the transformation of an agricultural economy into a tourist economy. The impacts on residents and on the natural environment were never adequately thought out.

It is time to right the ship.

NVR LTE version 6/27/18: Measure C: what next?

The Hall Winery Hotel on: Tourism Issues

Bill Hocker - Jun 28,18  expand...  Share

Not your average mobile home
Update 6/28/18
NVR 6/28/18: St. Helena City Council spells out ‘significant concerns’ about Hall mobile home park plan

Update 6/20/18
NVR 6/20/18: St. Helena City Council criticizes Hall plan to revamp former mobile home park

SH City Council is on the case!

The Halls have just submitted a request for a development agreement and a "minor" modification of the use permit for the mobile home park that they now own next to their Bunny Foo Foo winery. The property was granted a use permit as a mobile home park in 1961 with 18 spaces and 4 structures is now largely a vacant piece of property. The minor modification would allow demolition of the existing structures on the property and the addition of 22 "manufactured homes" and a clubhouse building with pool and event areas. 14 of the two story manufactured homes would provide 28 hotel suites. 7 of the manufactured homes would be 3 story town house units, no doubt for short term rental. There is a direct connection to the garden of the adjacent Hall Winery.

Project notice
The county documents are here

The project is called the Vineland Vista Mobile Home Park. This is not a mobile home park. It is a change in use from a grandfathered housing project (affordable housing at that!) in the Ag Preserve to a commercial resort hotel with the obvious increase in staffing, water and daily usage adding to Napa's infrastructure, housing and traffic woes. To treat it as a minor modification of the 1961 use permit, and to claim that it " does not change the overall intensity of use of the Property", is ludicrous. Unfortunately, it is one more indication that the "wine" industry is moving beyond food service and events and into the lodging sector as well (more on hotels in the vineyards here).

While being presented as a planned development of manufactured homes, this is an obvious change from residential use not consistent with the definition of manufactured homes. These are not "designed to be used as a single-family dwelling[s]" as defined by the law. Far beyond a minor modification, the project raises the question of a change in zoning use subject to Measure J/P. And as a new use paradigm, it should be required to have a full EIR.

Once again the Halls are trying to hide major development projects within the parameters of minor change. Walt Ranch is a housing estate development masquerading as agriculture. This is a trend-setting winery hotel project masquerading as a spruced-up mobile home park.

Mother Nature rebukes wine industry? on: Watershed Issues

Bill Hocker - Jun 19,18  expand...  Share

The Vintner's Collective
Public Works Director Steve Lederer, at the Jun 19 BOS meeting, gave a heads up on a study (research paper) that has received some press in the last week. The study makes a connection between groundwater pumping and the 2014 Napa Earthquake, a finding that, if true, might have some impacts on continued agricultural development in the county, and perhaps an issue with the County's Groundwater Sustainability plan.

Abstract of and link to the Research Paper (lots of math)
KQED 6/13/18: Study Says 2014 Napa Quake May Be Linked to Groundwater Changes
ABC newscast 6/13/18: 2014 Napa quake may be linked to groundwater changes

NIMBY on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Jun 18,18  expand...  Share

Pat Clay LTE regarding Napa Oaks II 6/18/18: Napa Oaks offers many benefits

As is the case in many of the community battles with developers over the last 4 years, Pat Clay invokes "NIMBY" in the editorial. Whenever community members, in their self-interest, attempt to protect the quality of their lives in the face of development projects in their neighborhoods (and often in Napa County they are developments that want to exploit that quality of life for profit) they are labeled as NIMBY's. There seems to be no similar pejorative for the developers that, in their own self-interest, wish to profit from the diminishment in their quality of life - beyond the word "developer". Unfortunately, in America, the self-interest of money trumps the self-interest in quality of life.

Finally I had to look up the etymology. The first printed use of "NIMBY" was made in a 1980 in a lengthly article on hazardous waste disposal sites and the EPA's first regulation of hazardous wastes. (When the EPA was in the business of protecting the environment rather than un-protecting it).

The author's quote:
"People are now thoroughly alert to the dangers of hazardous chemical wastes.The very thought of having even a secure landfill anywhere near them is anathema to most Americans today. It's an attitude referred to in the trade as NIMBY -- "not in my backyard."

"The trade" was a reference to the waste disposal industry but might also be seen as any development industry. "NIMBY" is, as I have always assumed, a term invented by developers to pejoratively label those trying to preserve the quality of their lives in the face of a less desirable future. There is no similar pejorative for those wishing to make money by diminishing that quality. Other than "developer".

The intent of a pejorative label, raised to an art form by our current developer president, is to ridicule the target and divide them from the support of their otherwise similar peers. Who wants to be associated with someone who is "crooked" or "crazy". It is the prime weapon of every 10 year old schoolyard bully.

While the term "NIMBY" is usually invoked by developers against those impacted by the project to discount their opposition, it is also used by the non-impacted residents who support, in principle, the concept of “property rights” or else of urban development as a sign of prosperity from which they may benefit. That is until a proposed project threatens their quality of life.

Napa City's Oak Woodlands - saved! on: City of Napa

Bill Hocker - Jun 14,18  expand...  Share

Napa woodland slated for urban development
Update 6/19/19
The City Council has voted 3 to 2 to deny the request to rezone the Napa Oaks property, thus rejecting the Napa Oaks II proposal.

NVR 6/20/18: City Council narrowly rejects Napa Oaks II homes, 16 years after first veto

Update 6/16/18
Chris Benz LTE 6/18/18: Let's protect Napa city's oaks
Kevin Teague LTE 6/18/18: Why I believe in Napa Oaks
Pat Clay LTE 6/18/18: Napa Oaks offers many benefits

Update 6/16/18
Lisa Batto LTE 6/16/18: Weak argument for luxury housing by the Napa Chamber of Commerce
Sharon Macklin LTE 6/16/18: Chamber should advocate for affordable housing
Napa CofC LTE 6/16/18: Can we decide without divide?
Davidson Homes LTE 6/16/18: We have worked closely with the community on Napa Oaks

Update 6/14/18
NVR 6/14/18: City Council set to resolve battle over Napa Oaks II housing development
Florence Linstrom LTE 6/14/18: Don't approve Napa Oaks II
Suzanne Truchard LTE 6/14/18: Chamber shouldn't take position on Napa Oaks
Carol Barge LTE 6/14/18: The one thing Napa Oaks II can't mitigate
Keith Lindstrom LTE 6/14/18: No to Napa Oaks - report proves we have plenty of existing land zoned for housing.

Update 5/25/18
Stop Napa Oaks has sent out this reminder that the Napa City Council will be deciding the fate of the Napa Oaks II project on Tuesday, June 19th at 6:30pm.

Napa City Council Set to Vote on Napa Oaks II

Update 5/3/18
Christina Bettencourt LTE 5/3/18: Kill Napa Oaks for good
NVR 1/31/18: Council vote on Napa Oaks II homes delayed after release of new quake maps
Duane Cronk (last) LTE 12/28/17: For the right reasons
NVR 12/21/17: City planners narrowly vote against Napa Oaks II homes
SNO 12/21/17: Planning Commissioners vote in a 3-2 split in our favor!

Update 12/7/17
After public testimony the 12/7/17 hearing was continued to 12/21/17 at 5:30pm
SNO update
NVR 12/8/17: Foes of Napa Oaks II housing turn out in force; city planners delay verdict

Tony Truchard: Napa Oaks project will destroy our scenic gateway
Chuck Dresel: Opposed to Napa Oaks, then and now
Eve Kahn: Do we want to destroy our hillsides?

Update 12/5/17
NVR 12/4/17: Battle over Napa Oaks II homes to go before city planners

Napa City Planning Commission meeting on the project, this thursday Dec 7th, 2017. Stop Napa Oaks requests your support and presence here

Update 11/29/17 Meeting Report
NVR 11/28/17: Napa Oaks II developers revise housing plan; neighbors still push back
SNO counterpoints to developer's presentation

Stop Napa Oaks sends this notice after the 11/28/17 presentation hosted by the developers of the 53 unit Napa Oaks housing subdivision slated to replace the oak-covered hillside on the west side of town (pictured). The project will be heard by the Napa City Planning Commission on Dec 7th 2017, with a decision on the project to be rendered in the new year.

The Final EIR describing the project is here (All less-than-significant impacts of course.)

Update 5/4/17
NVR 5/4/17: Possible Truchard winery, Napa Oaks subdivision developers clash
[The Truchard winery was approved on 9/20/17 at this planning commission meeting.]

A clash between tourism urbanization and housing urbanization: The natural landscape of the county loses both ways. The Napa Oaks site should never have been incorporated into the city limits and the housing project is the infinitely more egregious insult to the rural character of the county. The site plan, which shows the tops of the hills being sheared off for building pads, is truly heartbreaking. Let's pray they lose the coming battle with their city neighbors to the east and the Truchards (who seem to be the county ideal of the family farm vintner) to the west. The housing developer's letter does just look like harassment in retaliation for the Truchard's opposition to their project. (The Truchard's opposition letter (at the bottom here), however, is a dead ringer for all of the letters we have written opposing tourism wineries these last 3 years). The best outcome, of course, would be for both to abandon their development plans in order to preserve "the sheer natural beauty of this place".

Napa Oaks II DEIR
Truchard documents Item 8B here

Update 3/1/17: Napa Oaks Development
The Greenbelt Alliance, an organization dedicated to preserving open space in an urbanizing world for 60 years, has just issued a 2017 report At Risk: The Bay Area Green Belt which features the Napa Oaks Project as open space under threat of development. (No mention of Walt Ranch?) More here from the Stop Napa Oaks group.

Stop Napa Oaks petition
Stop Napa Oaks Facebook Page

LTE 6/10/16: Development will have huge impact
LTE 5/4/16; A test of character
LTE 5/3/16: Don't destroy gateway to Napa
LTE 4/18/16: Development would scar the land
NVR 5/3/16: Homebuilder revives plans for rejected Napa development
Napa Oaks II DEIR
NVR 8/1/12: Neighbors demand study of Napa Oaks II hillside subdivision

In true developer fashion this project is named for the environment it destroys. (I grew up in an LA suburb called Sherman Oaks, none of which remained). A part of the oak studded hills that define the rural character of the Napa Valley is to be littered with suburban McMansions. The immediate question when looking at Google maps is why this parcel is within the city limits, surrounded as it is on 3 sides by identical county open space. Not as bad as the absurd Napa gerrymander of Stanly Ranch, but still one of those unfortunate bumps in the urban-rural line that just invites urban expansion into the countryside.

The battles of communities throughout the county these last two years to maintain what is left of Napa's rural character in the face of a resurgence in developer zeal and money has been both heartening, because the desire still exists to retain this place as separate from the rest of the suburban sprawl of the bay area, and discouraging in that governments seem ever more willing to sacrifice that character to developers' interests.

9/4/16: Andersen Ranch Development

Now a second housing project, by the same developer pursuing the Napa Oaks project, is proposed to carve up more of the few remaining Oak Hillsides within the city:
NVR 9/4/16: Planners endorse 37 east Napa homes despite privacy, tree concerns

More traffic for Bottleneck Junction on: Traffic Issues

Bill Hocker - Jun 14,18  expand...  Share

think the traffic is bad now?
Update 6/14/18
Another huge concrete box will be up for a use permit before the County Planning Commission on July 18th, 2018. The Nova Wine Warehouse will add 400,500 sf of space, 263 parking spaces, 80 loading bays 20-40 more employees to the congestion in this already badly congestion location. This follows the proposal down the road of another similar sized warehouse project which, unlike this one, went through the EIR process ending with a liftiny of significant and unavoidable traffic and cancer causing impacts. Will this project, and every project proposed in these two industrial zones, do anything but add to those significant and unavoidable impacts? As the EIR pointed out, there are no traffic fixes on the horizon.

There seems to be no end to the desire to link the urban sprawl of Napa with that of American Canyon to bring traffic in this bottleneck to a complete standstill while making the grand entry to the fabled Napa Valley as charming as a traffic jam on I-80 through Oakland. In an abstract effort to concentrate urban development lust in the south county, the ultimate buildout of American Canyon and of these industrial areas have never been considered from a regional traffic standpoint. Once the traffic is bad enough, the thinking seems to be, someone will build some flyovers, or freeways or something. NVTA, responsible for transportation projects in the south county, doesn't see that happening.

As an aside, in this case the project will fill in the lowlands surrounding the historic and bucolic Rocca Winery and tasting room, destroying their isolation and bringing noise and cancerous pollution from the vehicles looping around their property each day. A parking lot and blank wall of the project push up against and ignore the wooded meander of Soscol creek. This is not the 19th century. Creeks should be planned for human enjoyment, not left to become the forgotten back alleys of industrial operations.

The County Nova page is here
The hearing notice is here

Update 6/1/18
NVR 5/31/18: New warehouses proposed along Highway 29 corridor in American Canyon
In approving the Napa Airport Corporate Center, the AM Can Planning Commission adds 4900 more vehicle trips per day plus an increased risk for cancer. More Here.

Update 5/24/18
The Trinitas Mixed Use (Marriott Hotel-Winery-Office Bldg) complex is up before the Airport Land Use Commission (County Planning Commission + 2) on June 6, 2018. It is a 253 room hotel, 25,000 sf winery (no capacity or visitation specified but 57 parking spaces allowed), 30,000 sf office bldg, and 441 total parking spaces.
The notice is here
The project documents are here (large file)

Is it compatible next to the airport? No less than the Meritage or the County office buildings, one would assume. Will the current traffic jam at the entrance to the airport, made that much worse by one more huge project up the road, be discussed? Probably not.

NVR 6/2/17: Design of south Napa Marriott hotel leaves city planners cold
NVR 6/1/17: Napa planners to get first a look at a Marriott hotel, winery
The project documents are here (large file)

The Napa City Planning Commission seems to have focused on the uninspired architecture floating in a sea of cars. One always hopes for good urban design, but the other chain-tenant shopping plazas and car dealerships they have approved on Soscol don't offer much guidance to the designers. What was not discussed, apparently, was the impact of another few hundred vehicles coming and going each day (not to mention concerns about housing the project’s workers) in this increasingly bottlenecked area of the county, once again highlighting the way in which the municipalities' development lust ignores impacts down the road (literally).

The junction between Hwy 29 and Hwy 12 has become ground zero in the carrying capacity of Napa County, with traffic congestion at the top of everyone's negative list about the county.

The fact that both visitors and workers are turned off by the commute is a good thing for those of us wishing to slow the urban development currently happening up valley. And that attitude seems to be taking hold in the county as well. The Napa Valley Transportation Authority recently decided against enlarging Hwy 29 at the junction. Building transport infrastructure just induces more development to fill the increased capacity, the reasoning goes. The theory, though perhaps not expressed directly at the meeting, is that you can control urban development just by making it impossible to get to the development sites. That theory was at the heart of the decision in the 1970's to stop building freeways in Napa county beyond the one small stretch through Napa City.

Unfortunately, based on approved projects, the bottleneck at this junction is only just beginning to build. Besides the many building projects in the pipeline further up valley that will be adding all of their visitors and employees to this junction, the proposed development around the junction itself, which the Marriott project again shines a light upon, is enough to make any traffic engineer blanch. It includes:

These projects will add tens of thousands of vehicle trips per day to the traffic already there. The gridlock distances and hours will continue to expand. The legal problem is that all of the developers already with approvals are now expecting government to insure that people can get to their projects, and they will exert a lot of pressure. And the municipalities, concerned as always only with economic expansion and no concern about the urbanizing pressure their developments exert on the unincorporated county, have no interest in limiting access. Even residents who see the value of preserving what is left of unurbanized Napa will not tolerate an hour to get through the junction for long. And, because these are state highways, Caltrans will be forced to do something. The county's desire to disincentivize urban growth by limiting access will be forced to mitigate the traffic they have already sanctioned before they can implement a restriction plan - or be sued. The road will have to be widened to 6 lanes and the Soscol flyover built. Napa residents and state residents will have to come up with the money to do it. But what happens after that? Once built the increased access will induce more development. And so on.

Controlling urban growth by limiting access is only half of the solution needed. The other must be to stop granting use permits and building permits, based on the unacceptable impact they will have to the access needed for businesses already in existence and those already approved. Unfortunately, since the Marriott is within the city's southern gerrymander, little can be done. But if the county is serious in their access restricting strategy, then the next step beyond saying no to infrastructure projects is to start saying no to new development throughout the county. It is either that or to begin making plans for the Hwy 12 and 29 freeways that will inevitably be necessary.

At every planning hearing, government officials and some residents have stars in their eyes over the tax revenues and fees projects are expected to bring. It is only years later that the real cost of those approvals are known. The widening of Hwy 29 and the Soscol flyover will cost about $150 million - just one of numerous infrastructure and service costs taxpayers must bear to insure that developers can make profitable investments. "Development doesn't pay for itself. It doesn't." Volker Eisele is sorely missed.

Measure C: watershed protections lose on: Watershed Initiative 2018

Bill Hocker - Jun 12,18  expand...  Share


Bill Hocker - Jun 7, 2018 3:42PM

Sandy Ericsson, former editor of the St. Helena Window and now transplanted to Oregon, sends her appreciation for the C campaign:

Hello to all from Oregon,

To everyone in this next generation of “truth to power” people, I say — Thank you! Thank you!

I had to move on and am now in Eugene, Oregon, as you may know, but in the three years since, I have lectured and written about the Napa Valley experience with big wine — powerpoint, etc. Last month, three of the founders of the core Willamette Valley wine people visited for 3 hours to dissect the problems in Napa Valley. They bluntly stated when they called that they were trying to “avoid what happened in the Napa Valley”. So they and others in Oregon are watching “C” carefully — it is already a lesson for all wine districts. Your work was and is important to every region.

When we met, I recommended a book by César Hildago, at MIT’s Media Lab, called Why Information Grows. The title does not fully identify why it applies to wine countries but it offers a future perspective on what can and will happen to regions whose economic products are anchored the land and why. It’s worth a read and some brainstorming for where to take your momentum.

Know there are a lot of people in Oregon cheering you on too!

Unspoiled Napa on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Jun 11,18  expand...  Share

A neighbor sends this listing in the window of a real estate office in St. Helena. In one horribly ironic line of sales hype a real estate agent has summarized what all of the battles are about, on Soda Canyon Road and the whole of Napa County:

"41 acres of rare, unspoiled Napa Valley just waiting to be developed."

The view of the property from the road. Is that the realtor's No-on-C sign?

The intention of Measure C was to prevent the conversion of wooded hillsides, like this one, from being clear cut for vines. Now, with its defeat, the fate of Napa’s woodlands remains in the hands of developers.

Let the spoiling continue.

Tired of being ignored by Napa County officials on: Watershed Initiative 2018

Lisa Hirayama - Jun 11,18  expand...  Share

Once, I was naive enough to believe that Napa County was concerned about its residents, but my eyes have been glaringly pried wide open. I have attended many Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings and realized that rarely have the boards met a winery development they didn't like.

Former Supervisor Keith Caldwell said at one meeting that Napa County's policy is not to punish violators but to bring them into compliance. That certainly explains why so many permit violators barely get a slap on the hand, i.e. The Caves, Reynolds Family Winery, Reverie, and Summers to name a few.

However, that opens another can of worms because there is little enforcement for code violators, so why shouldn't wineries get away with as much as possible.

I learned that in 2008, Napa County changed the definition of agriculture to include "wine marketing and sales," which, in effect, became a zoning change from agricultural to commercial use. That opened the floodgates and "farming" now includes everything from selling a winery's souvenirs (plates, cups, hats, etc) to hosting a wedding for 300 people.

The "No" side states that if Measure C passes, it will be the end of agriculture and farming. Since they are making so much more money on the new Napa definition of "agriculture," no wonder they aren't interested in protecting the trees and water quality. I admit, I wasn't paying attention to the change being made to zoning because I wasn't personally seeing the effects, but I now realize how detrimental that revision has been.

In October 2016, Supervisor Diane Dillon visited Circle Oaks and I asked what would happen if our wells went dry and we had to truck in water because of the Walt Ranch development (in watershed). She said I'd have to pay for it.

Given what has happened in the Carneros area, I have every reason to believe that it could happen to me. The same consulting firm that said there was plenty of groundwater to support the Carneros Resort and Spa development also said there's plenty of water for Walt Ranch.

The Carneros residents told the county supervisors back then that there wasn't enough groundwater in that area, yet the county approved it. Now, 10-plus years later, the city has been trucking in water to that area and just voted to start the process to connect the resort to city water pipes. Once again, another example of fixing a problem that should never have been given the green light in the first place.

I no longer trust Napa County to protect my property and water supply because I have seen how extremely solicitous they are to the wine industry. Supervisor Belia Ramos said at the Feb. 27 meeting when the supervisors voted to place Measure C on the ballot, that she felt this was the wrong way to initiate change and that the citizens should have come to the government to work out their issues.

I've had a front-row seat for the last four years and the commissioners and supervisors consistently ignore residents' concerns about every new winery and event center that keeps getting approved. The initiative route was the only way citizens felt they could have their voices heard.

Many people believe that the complex matters of protecting the watersheds and oak trees should be left to the county supervisors. With all due respect, have any of these people actually attended a county meeting when winery projects and appeals are being discussed?

I think not, because they would see that the commissioners and supervisors continuously approve every project and appeal before them in favor of the winery. Every concern by residents is mitigated away to a less than significant impact, always by the same environmental consulting service that the county uses for every environmental impact report.

This has been going on for years, which is why citizens have worked hard collecting signatures, not once but twice, to get Measure C on the ballot. They're tired of being ignored by the supervisors and planning commissioners.

Water is a limited resource, and climate change will make droughts more extreme and water sources more scarce. Napa County lost tens, if not hundreds. of thousands of trees in the Atlas Fire, yet Napa County will still allow remaining healthy trees to be cut down in the name of wine.

The effects of losing trees and not protecting the watersheds won't occur overnight---it will takes years or decades, but it will happen. San Francisco is planting 2,000 trees over the next two years to curtail global warming because they absorb carbon dioxide. Napa County will cut down trees instead.

If there was ever a time that a citizen initiative was sorely needed, this is the time. If you're unhappy with the direction that Napa County is heading, vote 'yes' on C.

NVR version 5/28/18: Tired of being ignored by Napa County officials in which Sean Scully adds this editorial note:

Editor's Note: The Register asked Diane Dillon about the comments attributed to her by the author and she sent this response:

"Thanks for the opportunity to respond. I am not known for short conversations - especially on complex issues like the Walt Ranch - so I’m quite sure there was a larger dialogue than that one statement. My family lived in a rural area, and we relied on a well for our drinking water – so I understand and have compassion for those concerned about how a neighboring property owner’s new well might affect an existing water source.

"I distinctly remember discussing with Circle Oaks residents the challenge of proving that one or more new wells - whether installed by Walt Ranch or anyone else - whether for a vineyard - or a home/landscaping or other allowed use - could be attributed to a reduction in productivity of the Circle Oaks water supply - and the limitations of state water law on holding the new well owner responsible for that reduction. Indeed, if that happens overnight, and water is immediately needed, any property owner in that situation has to pay the cost for trucking water.

"But those conversations with residents informed and reinforced the decision to adopt for the Walt Ranch project mitigation measures that require extensive groundwater monitoring. Groundwater extraction is limited and checked monthly. If the monitoring program produces evidence that the project is having an impact on the groundwater basin, the county retains the authority to impose new conditions of approval. Further, if necessary to protect the basin, the county can revoke the project permit. The county has all the tools required to prevent the Walt Ranch from having an adverse impact on neighboring wells."


Bill Hocker - May 30, 2018 11:28AM

Lisa Hirayama responds to Diane Dillon's comments:


Regarding Supervisor Diane Dillon’s response to my letter, “Tired of Being Ignored by Napa County Officials”, I believe her remarks are short-sighted and do not factually comport with the concerns raised in the Writ of Mandate that Circle Oaks’ litigated against Napa County and recently concluded in the Napa Superior Court. The mitigations that Supervisor Dillon is referring to are vague and not enforceable, and they are the subject of a pending appeal before the California Court of Appeals. The extensive monitoring she’s referring to is to be done by Walt Ranch, not by an impartial third party (which Circle Oaks asked for). That is the equivalent of having the fox guarding the henhouse. There will be no one checking to see that the monthly monitoring is being done. The County wouldn’t even put in a baseline level at which pumping would cease should water levels drop. Circle Oaks will only have the word of Walt Ranch that the water levels are fine. Circle Oaks did not receive any actionable safeguards for their water supply as a result of the County's approval of Walt Ranch. Napa County did not provide the same water protection guarantee for Circle Oaks’ residents that they did provide for neighbors of Circle S on Atlas Peak Road.

Yes, Supervisor Dillon had more than a short sentence response to my question, but the bottom line was that I will have to pay for water to be trucked in if the Circle Oaks County Water District’s wells go dry. She states that “if necessary to protect the basin, the county can revoke the project permit. The county has all the tools required to prevent the Walt Ranch from having an adverse impact on neighboring wells.” Please show me an example of where the County has EVER taken that action. And tell me, how well has that protection worked out for the neighbors of Carneros Resort and Spa? So, after all the trees have been cut down and the aquifer drained on Walt Ranch, then Napa County will revoke the project permit? None of that damage could ever be undone. None of what Supervisor Dillon says is enforceable, and even if it were, Napa County’s Code Enforcement Department is terribly understaffed. They provide no assurance that they will be able to respond in a timely manner to any of Circle Oaks’ concerns should our wells go dry while we await County action, if any. The key here is that Circle Oaks must first PROVE that Walt Ranch is the reason our wells went dry before any sort of review/assistance will be undertaken by the County. The onus will be on us, not on Walt Ranch, which is why I don’t trust Napa County to protect my property or water supply.

Lisa Hirayama

NVR LTE version 6/11/18: County offered no guarantees to Circle Oaks

Backup info for response


Below are Circle Oaks' contentions concerning groundwater, which in and of themselves, demonstrate that Circle Oaks did not receive any actionable safeguards for their water supply as a result of the County's approval of Walt Ranch. This section is to verify to you my source for my comments:
(GWMMP = Groundwater Monitoring and Mitigation Plan)

1. In its Opening Brief, Circle Oaks demonstrated that while mitigation measure
4.6-4 “refers” to the GWMMP set forth at Appendix R of the Final EIR, it does not incorporate it or require compliance with it. (Opening Brief at 24.) As a result, the GWMMP is just an appendix to the EIR. The County argues the GWMMP is an enforceable mitigation measure but points to no language in the Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program (MMRP) that would make it so. And as stated, regardless of whether the measures are incorporated into the MMRP, neither the MMRP or the GWMMP contain specific performance standards that would prompt the implementation of mitigation measures

2. The County claims that the Conditions of Approval and the GWWMP ensure
that monitoring and implementation of mitigation will take place. (Opp. at 37-38.) The last sentence of this section is telling. The County states “MM 4.6-4 spells out in detail the data to be collected, requires that Walt provide that information to the County, and empowers the County to take corrective action if the County and the hydrologist find it necessary.” (Opp. at 38.) The County does not explain what would prompt the implementation of mitigation, only that the County and Walt would do something if they found it necessary, and only if it is found that Walt Ranch caused the depletion.

3. Mitigation 4.6-4, in and of itself, fails to specify objective performance standards that the Project is required to meet, other than an undefined reference to “County standards” in the column for “Performance Criteria.” (Opening Brief at 26-28.) And as noted, the GWMMP provides for mitigation to occur when the level of drawdown “would not support existing land uses or planned uses for which permits have been granted” and only if it is later determined that Walt caused the drawdown. The County fails to explain what these provisions mean and how that would establish adequate performance standards. These unarticulated performance standards are insufficient to satisfy CEQA’s requirement to set identifiable performance standards at the time of project approval. [see page 12 of Reply Brief attached]

The above issues, and more, are the subject of an Appeal by the Circle Oaks community which is currently pending before the California Court of Appeals.

Lisa Hirayama

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