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 wineries proliferate, most too small and inefficient to supply the export distribution chain. 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, Mar 20, 2018

Board of Supervisors

Agenda and Documents

11:00 9E Staff presentation of 2017 Groundwater Sustainability Annual Report
County Groundwater Page

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.

More degradation of the Trail on: Growth Issues

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

NVR 3/17/18: State wants half-acre solar array along Napa's Silverado Trail

The Trail is already filling up with garish homes and event centers and parking lots and left turn bumps and now the indignity of an industrial power plant. OK, OK it's churlish, and un-PC, to bad-mouth solar power. But we should recognize, as solar power provides more and more of our energy, that solar collectors are attractive only in their novelty and their benefit toward maintaining life on earth. In fact they are little different in appearance than a full parking lot.

As every home and business begins to burden the landscape with an array, the landscape will suffer. We see even now the jarring apparition of arrays climbing the hillsides behind homes and wineries, with little thought about their visual impact, but much admiration for the "green" commitment of their owners. And large solar arrays, as with the half acre at Rector, are significant money makers that will further speed their adoption, particularly in areas with a lot of open space - like Napa. It is really time for a solar array ordinance to mitigate their visual impacts.

About the Rector array: this is an ideal opportunity to propose a 6-8' berm (a modest bit of earthwork perhaps garnished with vines) at the front of the property to hide both the panels and the corporation yard with its industrial detritus. It could be constructed perhaps with a bit of the 1300 acre feet of silt washed down from the vineyard development in the hills above that currently diminishes the capacity of the reservoir. A definite win-win for all.

Measure C: the war of words on: Watershed Initiative 2018

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

NVR 2/28/18: Napa County supervisors place oak woodland initiative on June ballot

Measure C, the watershed conservation initiative headed for the June 5th ballot, was officially born Feb 27th, with the supervisors as seemingly reluctant midwives. The process was an odd one: The supes first had to "receive" a "9111" report outlining the potential legal pitfalls in the text (a supposedly unbiased report done by the same law firm hired by the county to squash the 2016 version of the initiative on a technicality). That information seemed quite useless regarding the decision the Supes were allowed to make: either adopt the initiative as law or else place it on the June ballot in each case as is. It was an expensive "I told you so" document for future litigation - which undoubtedly there will be.

This promises to be a very well debated initiative. Public comments at the hearing were evenly split between pro and con and there was more than a little hyperbole: "beginning of the end of agriculture", "sincere ignorance" of proponents, a "weasel wording" 9111 document, a "voraciously aggressive" supervisor.

There will be a lot of letters-to-the-editor. The Register provides a short list of previous LTE's with each new one printed, but the lack of authors, and not date sequenced makes it difficult to decide which one to re-read. So, in my obsessive fashion, they will be cataloged below with "pro" and "con" annotated.

So far the pros heavily outweighs the cons - but this is to be expected. The very well financed campaign against Measure C will more professionally roll out their effort through ads, social media posts, direct mailings and LTE's to a crescendo just before the election, and the best-free-speech-that-money-can-buy megaphone will probably drown out the more limited finances of the grass roots campaign. Will development money again win the day as it did with Napa Pipe, the "Costco-of-our-own" campaign and the 2016 election of Supervisors? Stay tuned.

Richard Cannon 3/17/18: What is the answer? pro
Bill Hocker 3/16/18: Property rights. Again pro
Elaine de Man 3/13/15: Help save our oak woodlands pro
Ester Akersloot 3/13/18: Let's be stewards of the land pro
Warren Winiarski et al. 3/13/18: Grower/Vintner Support for Measure C pro
Steve Kuhler 3/12/18: Wine or water: voters will choose pro
Stuart Smith 3/10/18: Sticking it to landowners isn't the answer con
League of Women Voters 3/8/18: Napa League responds to letter about watershed initiative pro
Julie Ann Kodmur 3/7/18: Forum on watershed initiative was biased con
Mel Bolbosa 3/6/18: If we destroy watersheds, we lose our water pro
Frank Hawkins 3/6/18: Threatening our water security should be illegal pro
Linda Brown 3/5/18: A solution to a complex problem pro
Stuart Smith 3/3/18: Initiative will unfairly take property rights con
Yeoryios Apallas et al. 2/10/18: Oak woodland protection ballot measure is good for our community pro

The Trail at Soda Canyon is drying up! Not! on: Soda Canyon Road

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

Update 3/16/18
The final report on the Northeast Management Area of the Napa Valley Subbasin came out in January. It is an addendum to the 2016 Groundwater Sustainability Analysis submitted to the State. It reinforces the findings of the Northeast Napa Areal Groundwater Study of Sept 2017 (included in the report) indicating "groundwater in this localized area is in balance, with inflows and outflows nearly equal, over the 28-year period studied".

The addendum will be presented by staff to the BOS on Mar. 20th, 2018 along with the Groundwater Sustainability annual report for 2017.The issue is item 9E on the BOS agenda .
The County Groundwater page is here

Two years after the email exchange below laying out the concerns the county was beginning to have with a shrinking water table at the Soda Canyon Junction (and the junction of Soda Creek with the Napa River), the county staff will present their findings thus far to the Board of Supervisors on Oct 10th 2017. [Cancelled due to Oct. 8th fire] Mostly a factor of less rainfall they seem to be saying - Soda Creek just isn't transporting as much water as before. More water conservation requested.

Of course you wouldn't know that the county is interested in water conservation in the area when you consider the number of water-drawing wineries that they have approved within the study area in the last 2 years. The expansion of the Beau Vigne was approved in Sep 2016. The Sam Jasper Winery was approved in Jan 2017. The Grassi Winery was approved in Feb 2017. And now finally the last of the pending projects, Reynolds, is up for review this month. These are added to the as yet unbuilt Krupp winery approved in 2012 and the Corona Winery approved in 2013. (A map of the winery congestion is here.) The total, at 220,000 more gallons of capacity, will probably not run the wells dry, but the additional 59,600 tourists/yr and several dozen employees/day will add to the water draw as well. As a commitment to conservation in the area, adding more wineries with entertainment activities here to process grapes that are currently being processed in less water-challenged areas doesn't set a good example.

If you're not a geologist, the graphics for the presentation are a bit difficult to fathom, but the one shown above did stand out. It seems like a lot of straws in the ground!

[Gary Margadant's email reply to Public Works Director Steve Lederer in response to information supplied about a potential groundwater deficiency in the area of Soda Canyon Road and the Silverado Trail.]

Hi Steve

Thank you for sharing, since it is of great interest to neighbors in the immediate area and beyond. This is especially interesting to those of us who would like to explore different avenues within the information and data held by the County Administration. Your review of the well activity in the Petra Drive area is very informative. It is one avenue, a basic avenue, of groundwater monitoring and research where well activity is a very telling metric.

I am confused by one aspect of your report: The LSCE 2014 report points to groundwater elevation problems in Subarea 75, yet your note refers to well and groundwater elevations problems along Petra Drive which is in Subarea 76. Is this what you mean by the creep of the cone of depression from the MST in 75 into 76? It would be helpful to find out if the Petra Drive wells are a very local subarea or directly influenced by the MST.

Can you enlighten me on the reason for the loss of 1 or the 2 monitoring wells?

And then a question: Do you think some of the wells on Petra Drive and others near by should be fitted with Patricks' new Sonic water elevation measuring devices (real time measurements) with data transmitted to your office via a WiFi connection in the area? This might improve your understanding of the dynamics in this subarea and help with education, mitigation and conservation efforts. And some of the well owners might want them for their own edification.

Please be aware that Yeoryios Apallas owns and lives on property directly across ST from the Petra Drive corner and directly behind the SC Store. He will be receiving a distribution of this note just as Norma Tofanelli, of Dunaweal Lane.

Thanks again for sharing.


On Mon, Dec 7, 2015 Steve Lederer wrote:

I thought you might find this of interest. Please feel free to share.

Groundwater Concerns in the Northeastern corner of Napa Subarea

Property rights. Again on: Watershed Initiative 2018

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

Update 3/16/18
On KQED Forum this morning, Stuart Smith called in to challenge James Conway who was being interviewed. He felt that his friend, Jim, was bad-mouthing an industry that has been extremely successful in resisting the urbanization of the rest of the Bay Area, and pointed to the protections that have been put in place, citing the Ag Preserve, the WDO, and conservation ordinances, that make it so. Time was short, and Mr. Conway passed on an opportunity to ask him why, if he is so proud of these laws, he is so vehemently opposed to the conservation benefits and further protection that might arise from Measure C. All of the previous measures that he touts were also opposed vehemently by many members of the wine industry who felt that their options would be limited and their rights curtailed. In light of that, his opposition to Measure C seems quite illogical - or perhaps, as Mr. Conaway responded, he is just over-reacting.

3/10/18 Property rights redux
Vintner Stuart Smith has now written a second letter-to-the-editor on 3/9/18 regarding the watershed conservation initiative, Measure C, "Sticking it to landowners isn't the answer", in which he defends, with even more hyperbole, his previous letter of 3/2/18 "Initiative will unfairly take property rights. His is not the first complaint from a vintner about being denied property rights.

"John Daniel, former owner of the Inglenook Vineyard and still owner of extensive vineyard property, called the AP zone in its present form 'patently unfair, un-american and socialistic'. He called the proposal's objectives 'vague and imprecise' and said the disadvantages will be definite and specific. 'We will be deprived of our property rights with no compensation.' "

- from the Napa Valley Register Dec 21, 1967 [the full article is here ]

It needs to be restated that the ability of vintners like Mr. Smith to make wine in this county today is a direct result of property rights that were denied in to property owners in 1968. Being denied the right to subdivide their properties, or sell them for non-ag use, meant the survival of agriculture here while the rest of the Bay Area urbanized.

The purpose of the Ag Preserve was not seen at the time as simply about the protection of an agricultural industry against urban development. It was, in the words of Supervisor Jack Ferguson at the time, that the people of Napa "wish to create for themselves the environment in which they wish to live, and for future generations." It was not about protecting an industry, but a way of life. [the full article is here ]

Measure C, likewise, is all about the environment in which we wish to live.

Will there be economic impacts to the Initiative? Perhaps. But they are as unpredictable as those of the 1968 decision. And unlike 50 years ago, there is much less danger that the impacts will affect current property owners like Mr. Smith. The woodlands protected by the initiative are a limit on future development, most likely undertaken by future owners. As they were in 1968, the negative implications are probably greater for the real estate industry than the wine industry. And for agricultural enterprises and a rural way of life, now as then, dampening the real estate market is a very good thing.

There may be vintners and growers sitting on undeveloped woodland that they had always hoped to plant or sell off to some corporation or plutocrat. With further woodland removal restricted, they can console themselves with the increased value of their existing vineyards. There are probably those that see this as an infringement on their ability to expand their wine production. But it's not the quantity of Napa wine that has led to it's success but it's quality. Indeed, the limited quantity of wine produced in the county is probably a part of its success. As long as Napa's vintners remain committed to quality over quantity, the wine industry can remain healthy, as it is now, whether the hills are clothed in oaks or vines.

The property rights argument, as Mr. Smith presents it in his rants, seems more a philosophical thing, an indignation that government, or mere voters, should curtail his rights. Like it or not, we live in a world of laws that proscribe our rights, and while there can be bad ones, there are also good ones, like the Ag Preserve. Measure C is also a good one. Mr. Smith's net worth may be affected by the Watershed Initiative - though I doubt it - but as with the Ag Preserve, Napa County will be a better environment in which to live, now and for future generations.

3/17/18 NVR LTE Version: Property rights. Again
Frank Hawkins LTE rebuttal to Stuart Smith 3/6/18

James Hickey Memorial on: Tourism Issues

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

Update 3/15/18
Wakoh Shannon Hickey NVR 3/15/18: Remembering James Hickey, the mystic

Memorial Saturday, March 17th, 2018, Tulocay Cemetery Reception Center, 11:00am
Obituary and memorial information

NVR 12/22/17: James H. Hickey 1927-2017

In his 2008 "Oral Histories of Napa County's Agricultural Preserve" interview with Rue Ziegler, James Hickey fretted about the direction the "wine Industry" was headed:

"Tourism is becoming the big driver in the local economy. The wine industry is [now] here to accommodate tourism; tourism doesn't create the winery business. You look at San Francisco, Fisherman's Wharf, you've got everything there but fishermen. The fishermen can't afford to dock there any more because the motels, the shopping...

"The more the rest of the Bay Area develops, the more pressure there will be to locate some development in Napa County, because it has that appeal and the open land. It has that attraction. When you have people touring, they like to have all the accommodations they had at home. They want to have all the different food facilities, they want to have all kinds of overnight accommodations available to them and there are always people happy to provide them. And that's urban development in the urban areas. If it stays in the urban areas, that's good but if it starts spreading into the unincorporated area, that could be the end of the Agricultural Preserve. The Preserve exists by three votes and 30 days. That's three supervisors voting yes on any change and 30 days for the ordinance to become effective. And you don't have to take elimination the Ag Preserve head-on. You can just undermine it by changing the definition of what a winery is, or reducing the standards." (page 146 here)

He is extolled in his Register obituary as a "celebrated county and regional planner" as he should be. But he was, in fact, pushed out of the position of Planning Director in 1990 over the winery definition ordinance, a victim in the battle between his own preservation and conservation efforts and a wine industry then, as now, looking to increase profits through the tourist trade and with a Board of Supervisors then, as perhaps now, split 3 to 2 between developers and preservationists. In his words:

"The question that had to be answered was, 'What's a winery?' It had to be defined, and it had to be defined in a fashion that made it clear that what was happening there wasn't an oversight but it was by design. And so, I raised the question in a series of discussions and reports to the Planning Commission, 'What is a winery?'

It was not popular with the wine industry, because they felt that they had the opportunity to decide what was going to be done at their wineries, particularly some of the bigger ones. And so it became very, very contentious and the board who had authorized the release of the reports that I had prepared, found themselves cought in a crossfire. And, to resolve the problem, they said to the industry, 'Why don't you write a definition and give it to us, and we'll take a look at it and we'll see if we like it?' and I said, 'Well that's one way to answer the question.' So the industry did a very good job. They wrote a definition and Board of Supervisors adopted it and it was fine. And shortly thereafter, it was suggested that I retire. I was removed as the Planning Director and appointed the Executive Director of Special Projects, and I was moved to an office up on the third floor of the County building.... It was kind of lonely up there because I was the only one in the office."

It is well worth reading James Conway's telling of the firing here, as is his entire book. (pages load slowly)

James Conaway's third (and last?) volume on Napa on: Growth Issues

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

Update 3/16/18
3/16/18: KQED Forum: James Conaway interview with Mina Kim

Update 3/14/18
NVR 3/14/18: Author Conaway talks to Napa County grand jury

NVR Review 3/8/18: Writer James Conaway paints a harsh portrait of Napa Valley in his latest book
and NVR excerpts

The Atlantic 3/18: Rich People Are Ruining Wine
And Tom Wark's dismissive response

The Economist 3/6/18 Book Review: James Conaway on the Napa Valley Wine Wars

Sacramento Bee review 2/28/18: Napa expert grim about the state and direction of the valley: ‘I don’t see any hope’

Publisher's Excerpts

Update 2/28/18
Napa at Last Light - America's Eden in the Age of Calamity

Just in time for the 50th Anniversary of the creation of Napa's Agricultural Preserve, James Conaway completes a third book defining the historical arc of this special place. The title, one can assume, reflects his take (and that of many Napans) on the direction of that arc.

James Conaway will be at several book signings in the Bay Area in March. Dan Mufson has forwarded this schedule:

Sat., March 10, 2018 in Napa
1:45pm Arrival
Hosted by Napa Bookmine
580 Coombs St
Napa, CA 94559

Mon., March 12, 2018 in Napa
6:30pm Meet & Greet
7:00pm Film & Discussion
580 Coombs St
Napa, CA 94559
James Conaway will be speaking about the Watershed Initiative along with discussion participants Tosha Commandant, Bill Pramuk, and Warren Winiarski

The Flier for the event is here

Tues., March 13, 2018 in Berkeley
6:45pm Arrival
1491 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94710
This event will be sponsored by Napa Vision 2050.
Books Inc. Announcement here

Thurs., March 15, 2018 in Calistoga
6:45pm Arrival
130 Lincoln Ave.
Calistoga, CA.

The other two volumes:
2002 Napa: The Story of an American Eden
2003 The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley

5/29/17 America as one big hole
James Conaway, in a recent blog post and now in a Register letter, has called attention again to the dangers of life in an age dominated by developers (and now ruled by our first developer-in-chief) to those who would seek to preserve some of their cultural and natural heritage for future generations, not to mention its enjoyment in the here and now.

50 years ago Napa's agricultural preserve was created as a dam to hold back the floodwaters of development lust that was drowning the rest of Bay Area agriculture in building projects. The issue in Napa then was housing development, and it seemed for a while that the minimum-parcel-size zoning and the popular-vote-required re-zoning protections put in place to stop housing subdivisions have worked. An industry based on an agricultural product has survived and prospered and the housing projects have been held at bay.

But development lust is not so easily suppressed. Within the tight constraints of the Agricultural Preserve, the General Plan and Measure J, the formulae had to be jiggled just enough so that a new generation of development interests could begin pumping money into Napa real estate ventures. The magic component: tourism and the hyping of a good-life destination. Define those as "agriculture" and the flood gates open.

It is often said that Napa has become a victim of its own success. It's success was created by careful legislative crafting by politicians and citizens concerned about the preservation of its agricultural heritage. But the victimization is wholly attributable to development lust of a few seeking ways to exploit and cash in (or out) on that success. Wine makers are bought out by good-life entrepreneurs, vineyard real estate is promoted as building sites for every plutocrat's fantasy of a winery-of-one's-own. And the buildings and parking lots and commuting tourists and employees continue to come. The urbanization of ag land in the rest of the county will not be as swift as the development of Watson Ranch, but in the long run it will be just as sure.

James Conaway has been a perceptive student of the cultural and physical transformation of the County for 25 years. The upcoming third book in his series on the Napa Valley will no doubt reflect on the change that has come to the county in that time. Its proposed name, unfortunately, is a bit depressing for those of us who have hoped the fight to save this place was not hopeless: Napa at Last Light.

Grower/Vintner Support for Measure C on: Watershed Initiative 2018

Yeoryios Apallas - Mar 13,18  expand...  Share

From “Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture”

We are very happy that the Watershed and Oak Woodlands Protection Initiative has been approved for inclusion as Measure C on the June ballot. We particularly like that this was named Measure C, as “C” to us stands for conservation, which we favor because our natural resources are not infinite. Those of us who have come together now have a name – “Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture” – as we want to communicate to the citizens of Napa County that there are many of us in the Grower and Vintner community who support this initiative. Our focus is on stewardship of our watershed, and we recognize that Measure C gives the voters of Napa County the opportunity to ensure that our watershed is protected now and into the future.

The Agricultural Preserve (AP) came into existence in 1968 – its 50th Anniversary is being celebrated in many ways this year! Though it was very controversial when it was created, and though it was considered legally uncertain, it has prevailed all tests and it has protected Napa Valley for agriculture for the last half century.

Measure C aims to offer protection to our Agricultural Watershed (AW). Our Watershed is the source of most of the water we use. We, as members of the vintner and grower community, understand how important a healthy watershed is to the citizens of Napa County, to our natural environment, and to the perpetuation of sustainable agriculture in our community. To the latter point, we know that we have a right to farm, but we also know that it is our obligation to farm responsibly. It is for these reasons that Measure C has our fullest support.

Again, the question to be asked is, Will the Napa Valley itself be better if this measure is passed?” We strongly think so.

Yeoryios Apallas, Soda Creek Vineyards
Andy Beckstoffer, Beckstoffer Vineyards
Tom Clark, Clark Claudon Vineyards
Randy Dunn, Dunn Vineyards
Bob Dwyer, past Director of NVGG & NVV
Robin Lail, Lail Vineyards
Dick Maher, past NVV President
Beth Novak Milliken, Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery
Joyce Black Sears, Black Sears Vineyard
Warren Winiarski, Arcadia Vineyards

NVR LTE version 3/13/18: Grower/Vintner Support for Measure C

Dillon vs. Perez on: Campaign 2018

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

NVR 3/9/18: Dillon and Perez to face off for Napa County supervisor seat

As the makeup of the current Napa County Board of Supervisors goes, Supervisors Dillon and Wagenknecht, both up for re-election this year, might be considered the left wing, representing a conservationist ethos, as opposed to the right wing majority devoted to development or "growth" interests. As the most senior supervisors, with long service to the Napa community before that, both have have a connection to and a first-hand appreciation of the battles waged to protect the county from urbanization, in the WDO, measures J and P and the 2007 drafting of the current General Plan. As such, over these last 4 years, as changes to the other 3 seats have pushed the board in an even more development-oriented direction, community groups opposed to that development trajectory have looked to them to be allies and defenders of Napa's rural heritage. Unfortunately, in an age of corporate and plutocrat takeover of the wine industry and the push for tourism development to increase profits, they have not been as supportive as needed for the growing efforts to slow the profit- and wealth-fueled degradation of Napa's rural environment and way of life.

Supervisor Dillon is being challenged by former Farm Bureau President Cio Perez for her seat on the board. Where business-centric Sup. Mark Luce, in 2016, was successfully challenged by development interests for his flirtation with the idea of banning further wineries in the AP, the conservation-minded Sup. Dillon is being challenged from the left for not making an effort to deal with the urbanizing forces that Sup. Luce had recognized. Both Sups. Dillon and Luce, each nitty-gritty policy wonks, have honestly sought solutions with a nod to both conservationists and developers. Unfortunately, in this age of developer supremacy (from the President on down) which rejects centrist solutions, communities throughout the county have been forced to rise in grass-roots efforts to counter the threat.

Three choices in the June election, Measure C, Measure D and the District 3 supervisor race are all about one issue: what this place will be 50 years from now. Do we continue the urban trajectory that has begun to fill the vineyards with event centers and parking lots, to deforest and endanger our watersheds for vineyard estates and more event centers, to promote a tourism economy that brings ever more transients, workers and traffic, stressing resources and infrastructure and changing the nature of the county's small town and rural character, and to continue a development model that places the interests of a small number of wealthy individuals and corporations over those of the majority of residents that live in the county.

Diane Dillon does have a record of commitment to preservation issues in the county and, as Supervisor, where preservation doesn't threaten the wine or tourism industry she will come down on that side. (In all fairness, in the high profile battle directly pitting agriculture against tourism represented by the Raymond decision, she supported agriculture.) But these are not subtle times and the dangers of losing the battle to prevent the urbanization of Napa are more real than they have been since the AP was created.

A small hope may exist that Sup. Dillon, if re-elected, will rediscover her conservationist roots and be the voice and vote that Napa needs if it is to remain a sustainable rural-agricultural enclave in the Bay Area for the next 50 years. But right now, seeing equivocating decisions that tout conservationist bona fides while voting for more development, that's a big if. And needing developer support to fend off a challenge from the left will make her future support of conservation issues even less likely.

Cio Perez, with deep farming roots and a long and vocal commitment to support the original ideals of the Ag Preserve to insure that agriculture remains the prime economic engine of the county in the face of tourism and good-life urbanization, now appears to better represent the aggressive defense needed to protect the Ag Preserve ideals against the assault. Cio Perez at this point is a surer choice.

"Venice has become a victim of its own success" - Sound familiar? on: Tourism Issues

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

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.

Vallejo Cement Factory on: Growth Issues

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

Update 3/7/18
HuffPost 3/7/18: 'Our Bodies Can’t Take That Kind Of Damage’: The California Community Battling A Cement Factory
It has become a national story!

Update 3/7/17
VTH 3/7/17: Vallejo Planning Commission rejects Orcem/VMT project
Update 2/27/17: Sierra Club statement on the proposed project

Update 3/10/16: Two websites are up in opposition to the ORCEM plant and are promoting a new direction in Vallejo's waterfront development:
Voices of Vallejo
Fresh Air Vallejo

Peter Brooks LTE 3/8/16: Vallejo or Napa — whose river?
Geoff Ellsworth 5/16/16: Mare Island is Napa Valley!


Judy Irvin LTE 2/17/16: Vallejo development threatens Napa

I have perhaps risen to the bait of the provocative title of this LTE, but a look at the location of the plant does give one pause in considering the addition of a new heavy industry operation in the San Francisco Bay, even though down stream (a pretty flat stream at this point) from Napa. Fish must swim past the factory to reach the Napa Valley, and the breezes that cool the Valley first pick up the factory's emissions.

City of Vallejo info on the project is here
The project website is here.

Streamlining Public Input on: Growth Issues

George Caloyannidis - Mar 7,18  expand...  Share

NVR 3/15/18: Napa County Planning Commission rejects limiting public speakers to 2 minutes

[Letter to Supervisors regarding Dec 20th 2017 Planning Commission referral of 2018 PC Bylaws governing applicant and protestant speaking times at public hearings (Agenda item 8B here and Register articles here and here)]

Dear Supervisors,

I am dismayed at the proposed "streamlining" process the Planning Commission has put in front of you for your approval.

The basic question which needs to be answered before any changes to the process are made is what is the purpose of the process in the first place. it seems to me that the primary purpose of the process is to seek ways to make the outcome of decisions better. No one has yet to make the case that a faster process is one which delivers a better outcome.

Limiting the time applicants and their consultants have to present a complex application to 15 minutes is not serious when one considers that entire EIRs involving traffic, safety, impacts on resources etc. need to be presented. One can make the argument that all that information - often consisting of over 1,000 pages - are on file for any citizen to inform themselves but you must concede this to be unrealistic. At least it is available to the Commissioners whose jobs it is to do just that. But the public doesn't stand a realistic chance under the current system.

I am a fairly well educated person. Whenever I designed a plan after hours of considering every angle I can think of, I used to think that there was nothing to be added. Until that is, I presented it to public scrutiny. I learned that there is nothing more valuable than the wisdom of the crowd.

The entire premise of the "streamlining" proposal before you is that citizen input is of no value and needs to be curtailed. As a matter of fact one cannot avoid feeling the Commissioners' utter disdain for it and that were it not for the law, they would prefer to eliminate it altogether. Having sat through appeals before you, I must say that you yourselves are not immune from this charge.

I venture to say that except for applicants whose projects are approved, the public who cares to participate with a lot of sacrifice in the process is not satisfied with the results most of the time feeling that it was not "heard". This means that there are fundamental improvement which need to be instituted beginning with ways to encourage wider public participation! However, when the public perceives that its input is ineffective as it has been, you are disinviting it rather than inviting it.

Complex staff reports ought to be available to the public for at least 10 working days prior to a hearing if the P.C. were really interested in valuable public input. Applicants make a presentation, the Commission asks questions, the applicant replies. The public speaks, the applicant addresses its points but the public has no way of rebutting the applicant's explanations. Nor does the public have the opportunity to address points the Commissioners make among themselves. The process itself is wanting in basic structure not just in terms of expediency.

If you really aspire to a system which delivers a better product, you need to assemble a study group which involves business interests as well as the public. Expediting, "streamlining" the process should be way down the line of considerations.


Bill Hocker - Jan 24, 2018 7:08PM

The pushback against projects coming before county boards is the natural result of an industry beginning to degrade the quality of county life that residents treasure in its search for more profits to be made by more development. But the proposal to formalize the parameters of public feedback at hearings seems little more than a codification of the existing pattern. The Chairs of the planning commission and the board this past year have been quite ready to hammer opponents on the 3 minute rule, not allowing one speaker additional time to speak on behalf another, and not allowing community rebuttal to applicant's statements. Applicants are kindly limited to 15 minute presentations (after some jovial bonding between industry reps and commissioners).

The interesting part is that a codification to the bylaws is deemed necessary now. Perhaps it is an attempt to cut a cause for litigation of the current bylaws. It definitely reflects the hardened anti-resident attitude that has taken place in county government (and the wine industry) since APAC and the election of a developer-majority board.

Allowing community input has always been an act of due diligence on the part of government, a legal necessity, with little intent to change minds. Rarely is there a clear instance of a commissioner making up his/her mind based on community input at the hearing. (Although Comm. Pope did seem to do so at the first Yountville Hill hearing only to be corrected durning a comfort break and eventually booted out of his position for his lapse in judgment.) Continuances do result from community input and it is clear that the industry and some commissioners see this as gumming up the development pipeline.

It is optimistic to think that community opposition in last-minute 3 minute, or 2 minute, speeches at a public hearing will change the outcome of decisions months and many thousands of dollars in the making. The real problem is that the County restricts community participation in the process until the last few days before the approval is to be made. Residents do need to approach the planning department and individual commissioners at private meetings earlier in the process to make their concerns known and their mitigations accepted. And they need knowledgeable advocates for their positions to help with an unfamiliar process. That means that the real changes that need to be made in planning Commission Bylaws involve creating a process that involves impacted citizens throughout the design process and gives them real tools to counter the self-interested conclusions of paid consultants who are always able to massage the numbers to prove that a project will have less-than-significant impacts on residents, their community and the county at large. Unfortunately no one is talking about that kind of bylaw reform.

Daniel Mufson - Jan 23, 2018 6:08PM

I have confirmed with the COB’s office that one or more supervisors has already requested that this item be pulled from consent for discussion so you do not need to submit a request. Also, the rules have not been approved or adopted by the Commission yet. They recommended adoption of the revisions but the Board must approve the bylaws and the Board may wish to make changes or provide further direction.

Hotel explosion rocks Napa on: City of Napa

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

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
NVR 9/06/17: Napa, developer start talks on new City Hall, housing and hotel
NVR 8/18/17: Napa planners approve 5-story Black Elk hotel in Oxbow district

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.

AND Black Elk Hotel is up for its use permit on Thursday

On Thursday, Aug 17th at 5:30, the City Planning Commission will take up the Black Elk Hotel Use Permit. The project, a 4 story barnish block of a building cutting off the Oxbow district from the rest of the city, is shown in the rendering below. The staff report and documents are here.
[approved, alas, 4-1 by the Planning Commission 8/17/17]

Update 7/14/17
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!!

Rector Reservoir is Drying Up (update) on: The Rector Watershed

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

click to enlarge
Update 2/26/18
The subsequent article in the Yountville Sun notes that siltation has decreased the volume of Rector Reservoir from 4500 to 3100 acre feet in the last 70 years. Which means that in addition to the potential loss of spring water into the reservoir from groundwater pumping for vineyards, that siltation from the creation of those vineyards since the 1980's (1500 acres) is reducing the capacity of the reservoir and the water available for use. Which also means that it takes an ever diminishing amount of water to fill the reservoir each year, giving a false sense that agricultural development and a warming climate have not had an impact on water levels. The siltation shown in the photo in this post from last year is from a vineyard re-planting a bit up from the road crossing.

Again Rector Reservoir, given the high ratio of vineyard acerage to watershed area is proving to be an interesting indicator of the potential effects of ongoing vineyard development in the other watersheds of the county. This story just keeps getting more interesting.

NVR 2/21/18: As Yountville reservoir falls, state studies supply – and possible water purchases from Napa

An article in this week's Yountville Sun was pretty arresting: "Rector Dam water could Run out in Aug". I was both surprised, and, given concerns over climate change and the enormous amount of ground water being sucked out of the Rector watershed for vineyard development in the last 25 years, not surprised.

The prospect of Rector going dry, if indeed that is the case, will raise a couple of questions: What impact is vineyard development in the watersheds going to have on water availability, both surface and groundwater, as climate change happens. When it comes to apportioning water for residents, agriculture or tourism who gets preference?

Rector water level and watershed development

The Rector watershed is the most heavily cultivated of Napa's 5 watersheds with approximately 21% of its surface area in vines. The amount of ground water being pumped must be enormous. Does that pumping result in lower levels in the Rector Reservoir? Ground water and surface water are an integrated system, each impacting the other. The Rector Reservoir is over 1000' below the vineyards on the watershed and is undoubtedly augmented with the water of numerous springs from the sides of its steep canyon. While vineyard developer's consultants may try to make a case otherwise, the decreasing water table created by groundwater pumping undoubtedly contributes to a reduction in water reaching the reservoir. The water table is falling on the Rector plateau - I know that from changes in the water level of our spring-fed pond which no longer overflows into the canyon each winter and now dries up completely in the summer. Whether from less rainfall or from increased ground water pumping is impossible to say. Both have been happening since we moved there 25 years ago.

I have always felt that the Rector watershed, given the acerage of vines that cover it, should be a test case for all of Napa's watersheds, illustrating how continued development of the watershed for vineyard use will ultimately impact the water all Napans rely on. The fact that it is the first water supply experiencing the possibility of drying up, should be of concern to all.

Rector water level and tourism development

On the same page of the Yountville Sun, there is an article about a proposed rate hike for water and sewer services in the town. (The city of Yountville gets its water from Rector Reservoir, under contract from the State Dept of Veterans Affairs which owns it and the Veterans Home.) In the article and in LTE's in the same issue, there is a great deal of consternation among city residents that they should be asked to pay for the infrastructure costs of water and sewer systems when, as they rightly surmise, it is the continual increase in the tourism population that necessitates the upgrades. The resident population of Yountville has decreased slightly in the last 30 years from 3200 to 3000. By contrast, the hotel population, 460 rooms or so, has increased the daily population by 900 people, almost all since 1990. In addition, the day-tripper population has grown considerably as the valley has exploded into a good-life mass-tourism destination. The amount of water used and sewage generated has increased proportionately. In fact, high-end hotels and restaurants are high water users compared to residences. Residents are right to ask why they should pay. One frustrated resident recommended raising the TOT instead, stoking a huffy response from Visit Napa Valley's Clay Gregory, Napa's official tourism promoter, saying that the costs are fairly prorated based on water use. Which, of course, still means that residents are paying a portion of the costs necessary to accommodate the tourist population.

The problems of a drying Rector Reservoir highlight the tradeoffs that all Napans may eventually have to make between residents, growers, wine makers and tourists (as well as fish). In reading an article on the drying up of Cape Town's water one comment struck me: "Letting a well-heeled German tourist use some [water] to rinse beach sand off his bottom probably does more good for the economy than spraying it on a wheat field." At what point will the TOT be prioritized over the vines on the basis of the most profit for the available water? Perhaps not soon. But tourism is definitely a more profitable use of land than agriculture, and a water shortage will only accelerate the transfer from an agriculture to tourism economy. At some point, as I tried to bring out in my bit on Bali's water shortage, tourism and agriculture will be on a collision course over water as they are now over the county’s economic soul.


Bill Hocker - Feb 20, 2018 1:59PM

There may be other issues to this story. Amber Manfree reminded me that there have been a series of lawsuits against Napa water districts forcing compliance with state environmental law regarding fish habitat protection which may play a part here. The suit against the State Dept of Veterans Affairs over the Rector dam is reported on here. She also warns there may also be issues with the accuracy of the data used to calculate the rates of inflow and outflow of the reservoir. More info is obviously needed from the State engineer that issued the advisory, and a report on the meeting of concerned parties mentioned in the NVR article. [see updated NVR article at top of post]

Cindy Grupp - Feb 20, 2018 10:31AM

Let see . . . we told the county that Soda Canyon has a long history of devastating wild land fires and that the canyon was over due to burn. And it did. We told the county (and the town of Yountville) that the Rector Watershed was over developed and the continued development threatened the water supply for the town of Yountville and the Vet's Home. And it has. We've also told the county that Soda Canyon Road is dangerous, over burdened, in deplorable condition and that increased tourist/wine visitor traffic on the road makes deadly traffic accidents (i.e. tourist bus plunges into the ravine) much more likely.

There is no satisfaction in "I told you so" when the consequences are deadly.

Rethinking self interest on initiatives on: Watershed Initiative 2018

Christine Tittle - Feb 26,18  expand...  Share

I am reading with a lot of empathy Leslie Caccamese's letter regarding the Oak Woodlands Watershed Initiative (“Initiative will further enrich the wealthy,” Feb. 20) wherein she bemoans the fact that she received approval for planting only five acres of vines instead of nine on her 12-acre property in the watershed because of a variety of setbacks from historic walls and streams.

As a result, she opted to sell as she "watched her dream fade away." A valued argument at first glance voiced by others as well until one looks at self interest from a wider perspective.

As a Realtor in the Hollywood and Beverly Hills for over 20 years, I devoted five of them contributing to the development of the Mulholland Scenic Corridor Specific Plan, which imposed regulations on the design of homes in order to preserve the spectacular viewshed from this unique 24-mile ridge road that dissects the Los Angeles basin. Try it at night.

Due to the resulting building on the slopes below to preserve views, construction costs increased, causing vacant land owners to cry foul. How wrong they were. Due to the singular views the specific plan preserved, property values reached unprecedented levels in just a few years.

For over 20 years, Bill Hocker's spring-fed pond atop Soda Canyon, above the Rector gorge - the watershed that feeds the Rector reservoir and the town of Yountville - was a unique feature of his property. But in the past few years, the spring kept running dryer and dryer until the pond is now an empty hole. Only a few days ago, the State Water Resources Board sounded the alarm on the diminishing Rector reservoir water levels and on the prospect of imminent water conservation measures in Yountville.

Vineyards are no longer dry-farmed as they were when the Ag Preserve was established; neither were the hordes of tourists and resulting hotels invited by the supervisors when they redefined agriculture to include them just seven years ago. Depending on yields, vineyards of today typically require roughly 50,000 gallons of water per acre or 250,000 gallons for Leslie's five-acre vineyard. Had she been allowed to fulfill her dream, it would have been 450,000 gallons.

Myopic criteria by which increased wine production permits are approved by the Planning Commission relying on environmental impact reports do not consider wide range, long-term impacts. This strains our water infrastructure to unsustainable levels on; not to mention carrying road capacities and other resources.

When the city of Yountville will need to purchase water from other sources (assuming they are available) for tourists’ showers and irrigated vineyards, it will have to pass those increases on to its residents. Calistoga and St. Helena have already done so. Is such a trade-off for Leslie's dream an equitable one?

It is fair to assume that when Leslie sold her property, she did so for a substantial profit. What conditions facilitated this profit? Might the restraining regulations have anything to do with it?

This is where the Mulholland Corridor paradigm comes into play. In that case, it is the preservation of beauty that added value, just as the balanced interplay between vineyards and forests in the Napa Valley does. In the same vein, a helipad at a neighbor's mansion would in the short-term add value to that property while diminishing that of its neighbors and ultimately the entire valley's, including that neighbor's, when dozens of private helicopters start crisscrossing our skies.

Bill Hocker watched his spring-fed pond dry out and his property value decrease. What would Leslie's property be worth if her well were to run dry?

Preserving tree canopy in the watershed helps replenish our water table. Admittedly, limiting the intrusion of agriculture into our forests is only one leg of the puzzle. Limiting the influx of tourists is another. At this critical time, they all point to a rethinking of our personal interests, including financial ones by realizing that our very investment in this valley, however small or large hinges on the preservation of its resources.

The Napa Valley has reached the tipping point where maximizing shortsighted self interest at the expense of the whole diminishes its return.

NVR LTE version 2/26/18: Rethinking self interest on initiatives

Preserving our water resources on: Watershed Initiative 2018

Norm Manzer - Feb 23,18  expand...  Share

While it is well documented that the Ag Preserve has been a remarkable protector of Napa County, it was not always so. We moved to the valley in late 1968 when there were still naysayers about the potential benefit of this first-of-its-kind zoning attempt. Family farming partnerships were at odds with each other as to the eventual outcome, and yet, 50 years later, everyone wants to say they supported it.

During those 50 years, it has been a struggle to try and retain the integrity of this so-called act of preservation. Certainly the most crucial of all threats to that preservation and the ability to care for the residents of Napa County is the availability of adequate water – water for our personal use as well as for continued success of agriculture.

In spite of enforced conservation by St. Helena and Calistoga and subsequent huge increases in their water rates for the next five years, a recent Napa Valley Register story announced that Rector Dam is running out of water for the residents of the Veterans Home and Yountville. Here we are in the middle of winter, and barely a drop of rainfall for January and February with little predicted in the future.

How do we overcome this dilemma? There is no crystal ball that will give us the answer, but only a pragmatic solution can help us through this current problem and into the future. And that solution is the preservation of our watershed areas of Napa County – watersheds that have been removed and destroyed all in the name of agriculture. Where do we get the water to sustain our agriculture if we degrade and destroy the very watersheds that can sustain it?

Enter the current June ballot measure titled the Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative as a means to achieve just that, a sustainable method of collecting and storing water as nature intended. And yet we have a similar group of naysayers, as we did 50 years ago, who can only see limitations looming before them that they feel will hurt their personal bank accounts.

And while the Watershed Initiative was originally drafted by a coalition of concerned citizens with the participation of the Napa Valley Vintners, controversy prevails just like it did when a similar group tried to implement the Ag Preserve.

Fortunately for all of us, a very responsible and respected group of our growers and vintners have stepped forward to praise and recommend a 'yes' vote for the Watershed initiative.

Perhaps you read the Letter to the Editor a few days ago from Warren Winiarski, Andy Beckstoffer, Beth Novak Milliken, Randy Dunn, Dick Maher, Bob Dwyer, Joyce Black Sears, Tom Clark, Yeoryios Appallas and Robin Lail, all urging a 'yes' vote on the Watershed Initiative. What better representation of what Napa County agriculture is and should be than the testimony of this outstanding group of growers and vintners? Thanks to each of them and all of you who recognize the need for the further preservation of Napa County and its agricultural success.

NVR LTE version 2/23/18: Initiative will preserve our water resources

Save Rural Angwin Quarterly Update on: Other Groups

Kellie Anderson - Feb 21,18  expand...  Share

photo: Duane Cronk
Save Rural Angwin publishes a quarterly update on the progress of development issues there, and now as a member of Napa Vision 2050, focusing on development issues throughout the county. The Dec 2017-Jan 2018 update is here

It includes the sad news of the passing of Duane Cronk, profiled in this 2006 Star article. Duane's website, chronicling events and history in Angwin since 2006, is here: The Angwin Reporter.

Duane Cronk LTE 12/28/17: For the right reasons
A fitting last post for a life spent on conservation.

Protecting our Oak Woodlands: the movie on: Watershed Initiative 2018

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

click to enlarge
Transition Berkeley and others are hosting an opportunity to meet the co-authors of the Napa Watershed and Oak Woodlands Protection Initiative and view their film Protecting our Oak Woodlands and Water Future

Thursday, March 1st, 2018
6:30 pm Meet and Greet
7:00 pm Film, Presentation and Discussion

Historic Fellowship Hall
1924 Cedar St

Who saved the Napa Valley since 1968? on: Growth Issues

George Caloyannidis - Feb 16,18  expand...  Share

When Senators and House members run for reelection, they invoke the number of successful bills they have sponsored. Such bills, for better or for worse shape the future of our country and our lives. If you think about it, why would anyone run for office if it were not for this privilege?

Sean Scully's recent article “The benefit of hindsight,” (Feb. 11) got me thinking about who has stewarded the Napa Valley in the past 50 years to the jewel it is, one embodied in the balance between development, agriculture and nature.

Following the protection of agriculture from development, agriculture itself had to be restrained from devouring nature as it has done from Bordeaux to the Douro valley and in the famous wine countries everywhere. The unique balance in the Napa Valley is owed to the citizens who developed and pursued the important ideas on the ballot or convinced the supervisors to adopt them.

Among them, the Ag Preserve itself 50 years ago, which was predicted to bring gloom and doom and plummeting property values but today is being claimed even by its naysayers as their own.

Measure A, (Flood Protection and Watershed Improvement), Measure J (Agricultural Lands Protection) and P to extend it. Measure N (Growth Controls) and U (Protect Rural Angwin), ordinances to protect the hillsides, the view shed, stream setbacks and to prevent winery tourist by helicopter, to name a few.

They all originated from the citizens, not from the supervisors’ ideas. This extraordinary, in fact unique citizen engagement has been and continues to be the result of millions in donations in both money and time in the face of fierce opposition by special interests, lobbyists and campaign donations.

When in 2010 having taken control of the supervisors agenda, these forces of greed transformed an agricultural economy into a tourist economy, they then took aim at nature itself pushing our collective quality of life into freefall ever since.

In 2017 alone, 892,000 additional gallons of wine production have been approved even for use-permit violators. This translates to 65 million gallons of water with one more year of drought lurking. New vineyard conversions in our forests and watersheds to satisfy rampant production are now in peril. In the meantime such permits are doled out just for the asking with no comprehensive guiding standards as to how they impact a sustainable future for this valley.

Once again, doom and gloom and declining property values are invoked in the face of the Oak Woodland and Watershed Protection initiative. I challenge the naysayers to show me another county anywhere in the country where a piece of rural land in its forested hillsides purchased for just building a home - not developing a vineyard - has a value to rival that of the Napa Valley. Such windfall is solely owed to the balance between agriculture and nature won by the citizens of this county. If we sacrifice it to the insatiable greed of the few, all of us, even they will lose everything.

We cannot keep increasing wine production and visitors ad infinitum, we cannot compromise our water quality, we cannot allow wealthy owners to fly their helicopters for recreation at the expense of their neighbors and the general ambience of the valley. Imagine the kind of valley we would have today had citizens not put a stop to helicopter tourism among our 400 wineries in 2004. But these were times when government welcomed citizen ideas and was willing to act in the common interest with an eye into the future.

Sadly, the forces of greed and campaign contributions have tipped the balance where now Grand Jury recommendations are tossed, voices of the wine world icons who put this county on the map in the first place are ignored and, most disturbing of all, good citizen ideas and activism which created this jewel are considered a nuisance.

The proof is in the latest effort by the unelected Planning Commissioners to "streamline" the permitting process by limiting citizen input at hearings from an already laughable three minutes and to an offensive two.

In the past 50 years, neither the planning commissioners nor the supervisors have been able to lead, but to their credit they were willing steward partners of the citizens who did. Now, oblivious to the debt they owe to them for filling the void of ideas, they are trying to silence them. When the checks and balances are gone, when government abdicates its duty, the jewel goes up in smoke.

NVR LTE version 2/15/18: Who saved the Napa Valley since 1968?
NV 2050 email promotion of the LTE

Walt Ranch in Court on: Walt Ranch

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

Update 3/1/18
A hearing participant reports that on day two of the court hearing, the Circle Oaks attorney and the attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity each made their points to Judge Warriner, but that he seemed somewhat bored by the proceeding and left as quickly as possible after the presentations were made. The hearing lasted just over an hour. Let’s hope this isn’t the whimper of an end to four contentious years.

Update 2/14/18
On Feb. 13th the Circle Oaks County Water District and CO Homeowner's Assoc, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club, and the Living Rivers Council began presenting their CEQA lawsuit against the County for approving the Walt Ranch development. After testimony from attorneys for the Living Rivers Council the Circle Oaks Water District, the hearing was continued to March 1st, 2018. Prior to the hearing, the Judge in the case had already issued a tentative ruling in favor of the County.

Text of Tentative ruling by Judge Warriner prior to the hearing

NVR 2/13/18: Tentative court ruling sides with Napa County and Walt Ranch

Sue Wagner's notes from the hearing

NVR 1/21/17: Walt Ranch approvals head to court

More development, more infrastructure, more taxes. on: Traffic Issues

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

NVR 2/12/18: Proposed Bay Area bridge toll hikes could benefit Napa County projects

The title of the article might also be "Bridge toll increase needed to facilitate urban growth in Napa County". In many places urban growth may be desirable and unavoidable. In Napa, nominally committed to preserving agriculture, the anthesis of urban development, the necessity of urban growth has been answered with "no" for 50 years. Yet, developers are irrepressible, and projects keep coming, and the traffic keeps increasing. As the flyover attests, the infrastructure lust to support future development (in the name of alleviating existing ills) is really, well, ramping up.

NV 2050 on Walt Ranch and Mountain Peak on: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Feb 6,18  expand...  Share

Napa Vision 2050 has just issued a Call to Action regarding the upcoming Feb 13th Walt Ranch court date and the more distant Mountain Peak court hearing.

The email is here.

Ag Preserve's 50th Anniversary on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Feb 6,18  expand...  Share
From the EPA Integrated Climate and Land Use Scenarios website with Napa County boundary added. Click on maps to enlarge.
NVR 2/4/18: Will Napa's 50-year-old agricultural preserve continue to protect the Napa Valley?

The EPA apparently thinks so. Residents who are experiencing the impacts of booming tourism and industrial development currently happening in the county aren't so sure.

It is worth noting that the EPA doesn't see the construction of Napa Pipe or Watson Ranch happening in the next 50 years. Let's hope they know something we don't. Of course they also don't anticipate the construction of the Meritage Resort, Napa Valley Commons or the airport industrial area (definitely suburban rather than ex-urban uses). In fact, there is almost not a single change shown for Napa in the next 50 years. Either development ceases entirely after 2020 - and in some cases reverts! - or Napa’s development data was inadvertently purged along with the global warming data.

Napa Ag Preserve website

The Ross Workman archive on: Open Comments

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

NVR LTE 1/3/18: What are the planners trying to protect?

Ross Workman has been writing Register letters-to-the-editor since at least 2002. After his stint as foreman of the 2014-15 Napa County Grand Jury, which focused on the compliance issues wineries have had with their use permits, his letters have often been some of the most articulate and succinct arguments for the preservation of a rural Napa County in the face of ongoing wine industry development pressure. The links to other letters are here:

NVR LTE 10/06/17: What do we want to protect?
NVR LTE 9/6/17: Grand Jury report pointed the way
NVR LTE 5/2/17: Sell the wine or sell the winery
NVR LTE 6/6/16: Enough to focus minds?
NVR LTE 10/25/15: Question: What's in it for Napa County?
NVR LTE 9/28/15: Why the bombast and ad hominem attacks?
NVR LTE 8/28/15: Wine industry should work for transparency

New Napa County Website on: Open Comments

Bill Hocker - Dec 29,17  expand...  Share

NVR 1/3/18: Napa County tries to cut bureaucratic clutter with new, intuitive website

The County of Napa has just put up their new website at

As an enthusiast playing around with data-based websites myself, I have been amazed at the transformation of the County site over the last 4 years in bringing its many disparate services, documents and data systems online into a consistent portal. As with anything that grows organically there was a level of eccentricity that made finding some things a challenge, but the fact that the most obscure information was available at all is a miracle.

The new site will probably create a more logical hierarchy and ease the ability to find stuff. It is presumably the first step in beginning to manage all of the documents being digitized in the coming years.

The "branding" has changed. Just like the Register, it now has a bunch of very big (and unnecessary) photos taking up space on its home page. And its livery is now blue and purple instead of green and yellow. Green seems a more appropriate color for a county committed to agriculture. Perhaps the change shows a change in commitment: note that "A Tradition of Stewardship" has been eliminated under the logo. I know it's human nature to want to redecorate periodically. Still, consistency over time should be a hallmark of a substantial institution. As the post about the new Napa City logo Indicated, I'm not a big fan of rebranding.

The downside of the change for me is that I have hundreds of links to county webpages and documents on this site. Many of them are now broken. The county webmaster has made some effort to "redirect" old main page addresses to the new pages, (and is doing so as I write). But many of the documents and sub pages may be harder to relink. For example, all of the documents related to the 2008 General Plan DEIR and FEIR are not yet findable on the new site. Not intentionally, I trust. In time I will do my best to repair the broken links.

Contact me if you find a link that you particularly want reestablished.

More tourists please on: Tourism Issues

Bill Hocker - Dec 21,17  expand...  Share

NVR 12/27/17: B Cellars wins Napa County permission for more visitors

On Dec 20th, the County Planning Commission approved the visitation expansion of the B Cellars winery on Oakville Road. No change in wine output, just 79% more tourists and 87% more traffic, and 6 more employees in need of affordable housing. 3 similar requests for visitation-only increases were approved in 2017, and 2 more are on the calendar for the first commission hearing on January 17th. Is it a trend? As I have mentioned before, producing vineyard acreage has barely budged in the last decade, but winery tourism requests have increased by at least 2.4 million visitors slots. (Side note: average visitation slot requests each year more than doubled after 2010 changes to the WDO allowing food to be served at tastings.)

There is an argument to be made that the transition from a wine producing economy to a tourism economy is the easiest direction for "growth" in Napa county. The amount of plantable acres of vines has become limited by a variety of constraints. The number of tourism venues that can be built is only limited by the number of wealthy individuals seeking a winery-of-their-own and the willingness of politicians in need of campaign contributions to allow their construction.

One difficulty is that such tourism development was never really considered in the impacts presented in the EIR for the 2008 County General Plan. And tourism has impacts: an increased daily population, increased burden on the utility infrastructure, increased work force needing housing and services, increased traffic, increased need for lodging, dining, and shopping venues for the transient population. And there's the loss of community character as towns and rural neighborhoods go from resident-centric to tourist-centric: the loss of small town life as density increases; the loss of the rural landscape as more wine-tourism venues occupy once-unobstructed vineyards and wooded hillsides.

James Hickey, the Napa County Planning Director at the heart of the General Plan that grew out of the Ag Preserve ordinance, has just died. I met him only once, at Volker Eisele's memorial. The two together had much to do with the preservation of a rural economy in Napa County for the last 50 years, and their skills, unfortunately, have never been more needed than they are now. A new era of urban development is under way in the county and the clear foresight and political skill that they brought to the table are sorely missed. Housing development was their bogeyman. And they managed to thwart it better than every other community in the bay area. Tourism is now the prime urban development threat in the county (along with south-county industrial development). Tourism development, of course, ramps up the demand for more housing development, and every other kind of urban expansion. Yet in an era of developer's dominance in governmental affairs, local to national, it is difficult to make the case that maintaining a rural-small town place in an urban world is a worthwhile endeavor.

Many of the stories making the news this year have revolved around the pushback of residents to increasing urban development in the county. Our own battle over the Mountain Peak winery, and the commercialization of the remote rural parts of the county, began at the first Planning Commission meeting of 2017. The Woodland Initiative petition garnered 6000 plus signatures for the second time. Some see it as anti-wine-industry. I see it as preserving the natural landscape from vineyard estate development. The helicopter initiative, spawned by the visceral reaction to the Palmaz proposal and the prospect of helicopters flying to all those vineyard estates, is headed for the ballot. Unfortunately the Raymond Winery decision represented the clearest transfer from agriculture to tourism urbanization. And concern was continually voiced over the pace of hotel development and its impact on the character of small town life in the City of Napa. The Napa Oaks project was one of the few actual victories, probably only temporary, for those lamenting the loss of Napa's natural landscape.

In 2015 the Board of Supervisors recognized the concern of residents about the proliferation of tourism development and they created APAC. But the process seemed to harden the resolve of the "wine industry" in their push to seek more profits from tourism than from wine. The recommendations to curtail winery proliferation were at first watered down by the committee and then ignored altogether by the Board. Recommendations to rectify abuse of use permits have been placed on a slow track process to legalize all abuses. The concerns about tourism urbanization were un-addressed.

Back to B Cellars: Several tour operators spoke in favor of the project - It was just the kind of high quality wine pairing experience they want to bring their customers to. (My previous rant about the food-centricity of B Cellars is here.) One person, a neighbor, spoke about the undesirable impacts that a tourism facility has on the quiet enjoyment of their property. Ironically it was Paul Woolls, whose own Woolls Ranch project has threatened to destroy the quiet enjoyment of the property owners on Mt. Veeder Road since it was proposed in 2011.

Human nature, not hypocrisy, may be the best expression for the behavior of many in the "wine industry" who turn a blind eye to the rising impacts of tourism until it's the peaceful enjoyment of their own properties that is being invaded. Such was the case on Yountville Hill, on Raymond, on Girard, on Flynnville, on Melka and on B Cellars. My guess is that most vintners want to live and make their living in a beautiful slow-paced rural place. Yet their concern fades when it's someone else's backyard that is being despoiled. Without the support of the wine industry, any effort to curb the urbanization of Napa County will be impossible to achieve. Pretending that winery event-centers are "agriculture" isn't good enough. Unfortunately, beginning with two projects at the Planning Commission that are only about tourism expansion, and under a Board of Supervisors that seems determined to approve any construction project that comes before them, this year does not bode well for our rural character.

Napa City's Oaks - not yet gone! on: City of Napa

Bill Hocker - Dec 21,17  expand...  Share

Napa woodland slated for urban development
Update 12/28/17
NVR 1/31/18: Council vote on Napa Oaks II homes delayed after release of new quake maps

Update 12/28/17
Duane Cronk 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: Anderson 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

The Plutocoptor Initiative on: Heliport Issues

Bill Hocker - Dec 17,17  expand...  Share

Text of the initiative to disallow private heliports

Update 9/6/17
On Feb 27th, 2018 the BOS placed George Caloyannidis' Heliport Ban initiative on the June 2018 ballot as Measure D. While numerous people spoke in favor of the initiative, there was no one to speak in opposition. The BOS had the option of simply adopting the initiative but chose to place it on the ballot. Sup Dillon specifically invoked the will of the voters in passing measures J and P requiring no less than a vote of the people in making land use zoning decisions. (Oddly this did not seem as important to her later in the afternoon as she voted in the 3-2 majority to set a precident by bypassing the voters and adopting the Blakeley Initiative as an ordinance.)

Heliport Ban Initiative 2018 Election Resolution: Measure D

Update 2/22/18
On Feb 27, 2018 the BOS will receive the "9111" Report on the initiative after which they will have 10 days to decide whether to adopt the initiative as is or to place the Initiative not the June 2018 ballot. The 9111 report describes legal shortcomings in the Initiative as seen by a consultant hired to review it.

Heliport Ban Initiative 9111 Report

Update 12/17/17
George Caloyannidis NVR 12/17/17: When you know Napa Vision 2050 has arrived -- by helicopter

Update 12/12/17
NVR 12/12/17: Planned Napa heliport ban measure puts Palmaz proposal in new light
NVR 12/10/17: Napa County private heliport measure supporters turn in signatures

NVR 9/3/17: Calistoga resident plans to launch Napa County heliport ballot initiative

George Caloyannidis has begun the effort to make sure, whether Christian Palmaz is successful or not, that there are no more personal heliports for wealthy residents being proposed in the county. He was instrumental in the original effort to halt helicopter use for winery visitation in 2004. Now is the time to finish the work.

Napa County Land Trust (updated) on: Watershed Issues

Bill Hocker - Dec 15,17  expand...  Share

(click to enlarge)
Update 2/7/18
NVR 2/7/18: Conservation easement made on historic property outside Yountville

Update 12/16/17
NVR 12/15/17: Napa Land Trust announces large Lake Berryessa ranch preservation

Kudos to vintners willing to protect rather than exploit the remaining natural environment of Napa County! (Location guess for Montecello Ranch is circled on map)

Update 8/1/17
NVR 8/1/17: Napa's Circle R ranch to be permanent part of wildlife corridor

Sometimes a map helps with these things: As you can see on the map, Circle R Ranch and Walt Ranch together form a massive potential barrier to wildlife, (and hikers) along the spine of the Vaca mountains that form the eastern edge of the Napa Valley. This granting of a conservation easement for such movement is a huge act of civic responsibility and environmental consciousness. One can only hope that the Halls on the Walt property might become similarly concerned about a legacy of environmental stewardship of Napa's wild lands, in contrast to their urban development potential, and recombine the 35 developable parcels into a single property with appropriate conservation easements. Their proposed vineyards would still be a source of produce for their wines (or of profit for resale) as was their stated intention in the EIR.

Update 1/20/17
NVR 1/20/17: Large swath of Napa County land near Calistoga protected

NVR 9/4/16: Effort underway to protect 856-acre forest in Angwin

Land Trust CEO Doug Parker is quoted as saying “We’re interested in building a corridor of contiguous, protected land across the ridge on the east side of Napa Valley.” On the map above it would appear that the stretch from RLS State Park to Lake Hennessy is looking quite promising. From Lake Hennessy to Skyline Park it seems like a much more difficult proposition. A trail down the ridge just below the huge Atlas Peak Sutro Ranch Preserve is blocked by two private estate developments, Circle R and Walt Ranch. The Circle R development has discussed the possibility of a 500+ acre conservation easement. Would that include a public trail? The Walt Ranch developers have yet to weigh in on a conservation easement.

Land Trust of Napa County Website Napa County Land Trust Map
NVR 11/28/15: Land Trust receives 110-acre donation near Chiles Valley
NVR 6/18/14: Land Trust acquires 1,380 acres on Atlas Peak

A prescient letter to the editor on: After The Fire

Bill Hocker - Dec 6,17  expand...  Share

It is worth re-reading this very prescient Register letter-to-the-editor by Yeoryios Apallas published 3 days before the Oct 8th fire in response to a previous fire on Soda Canyon Road:

NVR LTE 10/5/17: Soda Canyon fire was wake-up call

In the first hours of the Oct 8th fire, a fallen tree backed up fleeing traffic on the road, with burning hillsides all around, until a couple of trucks were able to pull the tree enough to allow passage. It could very well have been a major disaster.

Residents know of and accept the dangers of the road as the price of living in such a desirably remote place. Many residents on the road lived through the 1981 fire. The County, however, as we attempted to present in much testimony and many documents during the Planning Commission and BOS Appeal hearings for the Mountain Peak project, has a more substantial responsibility to insure that commercial users of the road are not put in harms way. In that respect the Supervisors, in approving a large tourism facility at the end of the road, with numerous dangers and access constraints, have abrogated that responsibility.

A Developer's Progress on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Dec 5,17  expand...  Share

NVR 12/6/17: LAFCO opens door to piping Napa water to Carneros resort

How does urban development continue even within a set of regulatory constraints specifically tailored to inhibit that development? One very small step at time with the unflagging persistence of a developer's ambition.

12/12/03: The Carneros Inn Opens in Napa Valley's Winegrowing District
1/1/09: Urban Land institute Case Studies: Carneros Inn
Simms, Kahn LTE 8/26/02: Slow-growth groups oppose Lodge
NVR 9/4/02: Carneros Lodge plan slashed, then approved

Protest of Relic Wine Cellars ABC license on: Relic Wine Cellars

Bill Hocker - Dec 4,17  expand...  Share

Update 1/11/18
On January 11, 2018, attorneys for opponents of Relic Winery appeared before the Appeals Board of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and requested that the visitation and on-site retail sales components of Relic's license be eliminated due to public safety concerns. Relic opponents do not oppose the operation of wine-making activities. Unfortunately, even after the Atlas Fire, the Appeals Board did not appear to be very sympathetic to protestants' concerns during the oral arguments, and it is anticipated that the Appeals Board will rubber stamp the ABC's decision to grant the license without restrictions. If this occurs, opponents of Relic Winery will have the option of appealing the decision to the Courts.

Update 12/7/17
Due to the absence of one judge, a continuance of the appeal hearing to a date uncertain was asked for and granted.

Update 12/4/17
On Apr 15th 2017 the Judge overseeing the hearings on the ABC licensing of Relic Wine Cellars issued a ruling against the residents protesting the granting of that license. The appeal of that decision will take place by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board on December 7, 2017 at 9:00 a.m. at the Holiday Inn Sacramento Downtown location 300 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.

The decision and appeal documents are here:

Update 11/16/15
The continuation of the hearing will take place at 10:00 am on Feb 9th, 10th and 11th, 2016 at the Napa City Hall. NVR 2/12/16: Neighbors appeal to ABC to stop rural wine tastings

Update 9/10/15
The continuation of the hearing will take place at 10:00 am on
Nov 16th and 17th, 2015 at the NCTPA offices, 625 Burnell, 1st floor board room Napa.

Update 7/17/15
After a full day of testimony the hearing was continued to be taken up in the fall. To my discomfort it was conducted more in the manner of a court trail than was the previous hearing attended on the Caves last year. It promises to be an equally lengthly process when it continues.

12 members of the Atlas Peak communities have written protest letters to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control protesting the granting of a winegrower license to Relic Wine Cellars at 2400 Soda Canyon Road. Several are reproduced on the SCR Relic page. The ABC has scheduled a hearing so that the protests may be heard and a decision on their merits may be made. Only those that have submitted protest letters may speak, but all members of the community concerned about the continuing development of wine tasting rooms on Soda Canyon Road are encouraged to attend. The application is for a 02 Winegrower license.

Date: Thurs, July 16th, 2015, 10:00am
Location: Auditor's Conference Room, basement of the Napa County Building at 1195 3rd St

Fire Stories on: After The Fire

Bill Hocker - Dec 4,17  expand...  Share

Update 12/4/17
Napavision2050 12/4/17: After the Fires: Who "first responded" to you?

In response to the less-than-significant safeguards in place to notify and protect people in the recent emergency, Napavision2050 questions the wisdom of the county's desire to develop the fire-hazardous Soda Canyon and Atlas Peak roads for public commercial use. Included is a link to Dan Mufson's own story of his loss in the fire and his invitation to others to share their stories:

SF Chronicle via NVR 12/5/17: Wildfires emphasize need to improve emergency alert systems
SF Chronicle 12/5/17: Unlike in North Bay, Ventura County officials issued wide alert

Stories in the Register
NVR 12/16/17: Sounding the alarm: How Napa County residents learned of Oct. 8 fires
NVR 12/4/17 (Denise Rosselli): Burned out of her house, Napa Valley College professor deals with loss of her old life
NVR 11/3/17 (Chris Malan's Family): Napa family with special needs begins long road to recovery
NVR 10/29/17 (Larry Carr and Lisa Hirayama): One resident helps Napa's besieged Circle Oaks neighborhood survive the Atlas Fire
NVR 10/26/17 (Ed and Kristi Grant): Napa artists cite the 'miracles' that saved them in the fires
Ed Grants' account of his escape from the fire on Soda Canyon is THE cautionary tale that residents have been presenting as the county has endeavored to encourage more tourism up the road with the development of The Caves and Relic wineries and the proposal of the Mountain Peak winery. In the first hours of the fire, a fallen tree blocked the exit down the canyon. What may be an acceptable risk to residents, much like the agricultural hazards we must sign off on when paying property taxes, becomes an unacceptable risk to uninformed tourists and raises ethical and legal questions for the county government that approves such activity.


Shelle Wolfe - Dec 7, 2017 4:31PM

We live 6 miles out Soda Canyon near the mailboxes. Sometime around 9PM the winds started going crazy… the solar panels were crashing up and down on the roof and I was trying to keep the 3 dogs calm. About 10-10:15 we received a call from a friend on Loma Vista (who later lost his house) saying he was evacuating and we should think about it also. I told him the power was probably going to go out soon and to call me back on my landline once he knew something. (Cell phone doesn’t work here without power and WiFi, so I plugged in an old princess phone so we had a line).

And yes, the power did go out and my friend called back about 10:25 telling us to get out! At the same time I could hear a helicopter flying above saying something, but I couldn’t understand what. From my window, I could see it circle around the grape pickers out at Stagecoach and in seconds, I could see their headlights speeding down Soda Canyon, so it was easy to determine what the helicopter was saying. I wonder if they spoke Spanish?

I ran around and woke up my 81 year old dad and got my housemate out of bed. We were all out of the house in 3 cars about 5-6 minutes later with 3 dogs in my car. I was first out of our driveway, then my housemate and then my dad.

This is a photo as we started driving down the hill and it looked like the entire road and canyon were in flames!

Our neighbors from above were stopped along the steep part of the road so I pulled up next to them and asked them if they were going down… he said no, he was going home.

So, I started down the hill… soon there were flames and embers leaping from both sides of the road. The wind was crazy and carrying burning objects through the air in front of us. We had to drive around a downed tree that was on fire too.

I heard we were the last people to come down the hill that night. Everyone else was told to go back. SODA CANYON ROAD DOES NOT HAVE AN EXIT OR OTHER WAY OUT. A few evacuated from Antica Winery and some from the top of Soda Canyon by helicopter.

By the time we got to the Soda Canyon Store… my dad was not behind us any longer. i was going crazy! I should have driven him, but he insisted on taking his car. After about 20-30 minutes we got a call from him saying he turned back. He spent part of the night at the end of our driveway where he had cell service and the rest of the night at Antica winery, whose gates were opened by a local fireman I believe.

My sister and I came back up the next afternoon to get my dad. It was like a war zone… charred remnants of homes, cars … telephone poles and trees on fire, downed power and phone lines, trees in the road, etc.

Another neighbor, two doors down, slept through the entire thing Sunday night and didn’t have a clue anything happened until she got in her car to go to work Monday morning and headed down the road! She sped back home, grabbed her husband and dog and they made the dangerous drive through flames and downed electric wires. No one came to her home and she didn’t hear the helicopter.

The friend who called me to tell me about the fire,heard about it from a friend of his on Dry Creek across the valley… he could see flames in our area. My friend called his landlord (also lost their home on Loma Vista) and they called several people who called other people. A GOOD NUMBER OF THE MIDDLE SODA CANYON ROAD RESIDENTS escaped because of this ONE PHONE CALL from someone on Dry Creek! What happened to our Fire Wise “Call em All”? NIXLE? Emergency alert on a cell phone such as when there are flood warnings? We had NOTHING! There should absolutely be some sort of Tsunami warning type of system in remote areas and where there is no exit other than the way in. There USED to be a road through Antica to Atlas Peak, and there was another road over the hill to Silverado Trail. But neither of these exist any longer. We need an exit plan and we need a warning system.

The watersheds after the fire on: After The Fire

Bill Hocker - Dec 4,17  expand...  Share

headed for the ax
Update 12/4/17
Gary Margadant's letter to Supervisors Ryan Gregory and Diane Dillon regarding the removal of redwoods on Mt. Veeder Road:

Ryan and Diane

A huge problem is brewing up here and we need some help from the County Administration to manage the issue and preserve the neighborhood. This subject could get out of hand and result in major problems for PGE and Napa County.

Teams of Tree cutters and arborists from out of state are here to work on the right of way/easements for PG&E power line, and they are increasingly seen as mercenaries who have been designating the Redwoods as hazards to the above ground power lines. They are entering private property and dropping trees without even attempting to speak to the owners of the property. Funny, but the trees of major interest are the Redwoods, the money $$ trees, of high value when hauled in mill lengths off the property. No Oaks, Madrones, Pines and Firs have received such treatment. It is turning into Grand Theft Redwoods. How much is each Redwood worth? $1,000, $2,000, $3,000????

The major headache is the Arborists who have shown up from States that do not have Redwoods in their lexicon. Only California, Oregon, and Nevada have redwoods, so how is an Arborist from outside these states familiar with the FIRE Resistance of the Redwoods. I know that you passed around, with Steve Lederer of Public Works, a criteria list for burned tree evaluation, but the very fact of the Redwood fire resistance and recovery ability does not seem to be considered or paramount in the current decisions being made on the Slopes of Mt Veeder. These wood cutters have $$ signs in their eyes, not the welfare neighborhood and collaboration with residents and property owners. It is simply a rape of our neighborhood.

I will point you two to the Redwood Trees in the City of Napa, especially on Franklin Steet between Pine and Laurel as an example of a neighborhood that has preserved their Redwoods and revier them, protecting them against any attempt by PGE or the City to cut them down where they interfer with the PGE easements. Just have a look at the wires passing through the limbs and branches of the trees. PGE and the Residents have made compromises to keep the trees: PGE has put up insulated wires as they pass through the trees and most of residents have put their Electrical Service connections underground, all to retain the trees in the neighborhood.

Not so on Mt Veeder. Residents have been staying up here, even if PG&E has not recovered power to their homes, staying just to protect the Redwoods and keeping the tree cutters off their's and others property. One resident is in touch with the lawyers who handled the PG&E disaster in San Bruno. Others are experiencing simply high handed logging in the guise of Right of Way protection. Nothing about this is collaborative.

The downed trees are hauled off on flatbed trailers, not logging trucks, the very trailers that transported Excavators to Mt Veeder, which they use to load the large logs. This loading and transport is not completed with logging equipment, so they are not passing any smell test in their efforts to reap the $$ from the Trees. And to add insult to injury, they are using the south end of Mt Veeder to transport their equipment and the recovered logs, all passing over the restricted culvert with a load limit of 12 tons, easily surpassing the load limit for that road section. If that stone culvert collapses and cuts off the south access to Mt Veeder Road, another burden will be placed on the Residents. Steve Lederer knows well about this culvert limits after protests by neighbors when Mayacamas Vineyards transported a 40 ton Tractor, all after the Road Dept gave the hauler permission for access delivery across the culvert: so why the limit and the road signs?? Is this just a Cover Your Ass moment that does not include concern for the Residents?

And Why Now? How come PGE has not tried to cut down these Redwoods in the past 30 years? Why, all of sudden is it imperative to do the cutting now, on trees that have maximum fire resistance and fire resilience and have not been a big bother or danger to the above ground power easements? Other trees are also cut down, Oaks, Madrone, Pine Fir, Laurel but none of these species are being transported out of the area for milling. Most have been cut into small sections and left by the roadside for disposal by local and county residents. Another Smell test.

This situation deserves investigation to make sure the $$ are not clouding the issues of Right of Way rights and resident property rights. You need to document just what is going on. Send some investigators from the DA's office and Sheriff Deputies up there to document the efforts of these tree cutters, PG&E and the Residents.

I do not want this situation to escalate any further. PG&E and their wood cutters are increasingly seen as extremely unwelcome predators. Do something If I was cutting down the trees in your front yards and along the streets as is happening on Mt Veeder, you would not be happy at all and have the same questions I have posed here in.
If assistance from the Napa County is weak and unresponsive, then any attempts by Public Works to manage the trees in their roadway Rights of Way will be imperiled.

Be swift.


Update 11/10/17
NVR 11/10/17: Napa County, PG&E removing trees in wake of wildfires

Gary Margadant takes issue with the desire to fell redwoods that have lived through many previous fires in the era before life on earth revolved around potential litigation.

NV2050 take on the issue: Don’t cut those trees!

NVR 10/19/17: Napa County wildfires bring water quality challenges

The Great Napa Fire of 2017 has changed the landscape of Napa's watersheds. Over 100,000 acres of woodland areas on both sides of the Napa Valley burned in the Napa and Sonoma fires. What impact will that have on the silting of Napa's reservoirs this winter? Will there be an impact from the millions of gallons of fire retardant sprayed on the fires? Will there be enormous pressure to plant vineyards as a way to restore the hillsides? Will the fire encourage or discourage more vineyard estate development? Will the concept of a watershed initiative to protect woodlands be more or less important now that much of the woodlands are gone? Time will tell.

The 10/18/17 aerial of the of the burn areas in Napa and Sonoma Counties is here.

Watershed protection for the long term on: Watershed Initiative 2018

Mike Hackett - Nov 27,17  expand...  Share

NVR 12/1/17: Proponents file signatures for new Napa watershed and oak woodland initiative

Often times, the loudest voices seem to dominate the conversation and coverage in the news media. We are in an age when disinformation and personal attacks drown out rational discussion and collaboration. We trust that the citizens of Napa County can see through and rise above this.

As the authors of The Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative, Jim Wilson and I are guided by a set of principles, not politics or personal gain. We are focused on sustainability of resources in this valley, and providing a healthy future for residents and winegrowers alike. We are guided by the science and take a long view.

Local voters understand that water affects the quality of life of every resident here. Napa Valley residents understand that we are on the precipice of climate change, and solutions are needed now. The Initiative, slated for inclusion on the June 2018 ballot, represents a step in the right direction. Its purpose is to complement the environmental protections the county wisely established decades ago for agriculture and open space land. It will protect the water quality, biological diversity and economic and environmental health of Napa County’s streams, watersheds and forests and help safeguard the public health, safety and welfare of our residents.

We will be sharing the science, impacts, and stories from our community as we go forward. We have reached out to a broad set of interests in the development of this initiative, working with forestry experts, hydrologists, water experts, government officials, and leading members of the winemaking community to shape the details. While some of the wine grapegrower organizations in the valley might not support our effort to protect the watershed, that does not mean that perspective of the winemaking community is unanimous. Many longstanding farmers in our community, including wine makers, believe that we need to better manage our resources for a sustainable common future, and are in support of this Initiative.

As part of the research that went into writing the Initiative, we listened to the citizens of the valley, and know that the vast majority of residents share our concern for the sustainability of water resources and the need to increase protections of our watershed.

Over the last several weeks, more than 80 supportive volunteers, along with a handful of professionals, have been collecting signatures around the community. Approximately 3,800 valid signatures are required to qualify for the ballot, and in this case more than 7,000 voters energetically stepped forward to sign. The response from our citizens was amazingly supportive. We are optimistic about the success of this Initiative because our residents care about the future of our region. Our residents understand this is about the legacy they want to leave their grandchildren.

We maintain close relations with the winemaking community, and know the majority are concerned for the sustainability of the watershed. They, too, are long-term residents who take the long view about managing our shared resources.

Mike Hackett LTE 11/27/17: Citizens and science take the long view for sustainability of Napa Valley
Nadean Bissiri LTE 12/1/17: The Napa County Oak Woodland Watershed Protection Initiative of 2018

SCR At&T land line update on: After The Fire

Michael & Marieann Perri - Nov 27,17  expand...  Share

Just got off the phone with AT&T to fine out when our land lines will be fixed and they tell me January 2018. Thought you all would want to know.

Consumer Information regarding fire insurance on: After The Fire

Barbara Guggia - Nov 20,17  expand...  Share

A friend gave me information about this consumer group that has a very detailed web site about California homeowners insurance and policy holders’ rights and laws, specifically as it applies to fire losses. If you would like to post it on Soda Canyon Road, it might be helpful for people who are having a less than pleasant experience with their insurance company:

United Policyholders website

A Learning Experience on: Tourism Issues

Bill Hocker - Nov 15,17  expand...  Share

Michael Bernick LTE 11/14/17: Beyond the fires: what the Napa Valley economy can teach us

I have tried not to get worked up about this puff piece in support of the head of the Napa tourism industry's lobbying organization, Visit Napa Valley. It is a yeoman effort at boosting tourism after the fire by a credible author, who, as someone uninterested in drinking wine, at a time when the landscape is a mess, encourages tourism just to appreciate the hand-craft nuts-and-bolts involved in winemaking. It is an extension of the dubious "educational" mission of winery visitation, enshrined in the WDO, that allows wineries to become very profitable restaurants and party venues in all respects but their code definition, and legitimizes a proliferation of wineries and inducement of visitation despite little actual increase in wine production.

As Clay Gregory is probably happy to tell you, the percentage of revenues from tourism vs wine is increasing each year. It will not be long before tourism (an inherently more profitable enterprise than wine making) will be the dominant economic engine with wine production less and less important as an actual industry. Boutique, hand-crafted wines will still be necessary to give a reason for the tourism trade, but the production of Napa wine will come under increasing stress as land is developed to return higher profits than wine making alone can sustain.

The problem is not that Napa will become a tourism economy rather than a wine making economy. It is what a tourism economy does to a place. If successful, it will become, as Las Vegas has become, an urban tourist trap, filled with high rise hotels and glitzy event centers referred to as wineries rather than casinos. And more and more entrepreneurs will continue to arrive to try to cash into the success. Napa may not look like Las Vegas in my lifetime. But the trajectory is already upon us, in the many hotel projects in the works and the monthly stream of new winery venues and winery visitation expansion being approved.

The Compliance Ladder of Travesty on: Compliance Issues

George Caloyannidis - Nov 15,17  expand...  Share

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

Don't blame the trees on: Watershed Issues

Patricia Damery - Nov 13,17  expand...  Share

My husband and I have had vineyards in Napa County for over 35 years. Our Dry Creek Road ranch was one that did not burn, thanks to the many first responders and to the temperamental wind. We are certified biodynamic organic farmers and believe agriculture and the native local ecology can co-exist in healthy balance, but only with active respect for the needs of the larger ecological system.

To this end, I want to address fire in our zoning-designated Ag Watershed Open Space lands. Even though our own ranch did not burn, we know it’s only a matter of time until it does. Fire is an important part of the ecology of Napa County. Our warming planet means we will have even more fire—and we need to plan for it. We need fire, but it needs to move through quickly and with less intensity.

While vineyards acted as firebreaks in a number of circumstances in this last fire, how many of those vineyards were irrigated? In a time of change of climate, water will become increasingly scarce, as it has been these last years. Do we have enough water in our Ag Watershed Open Space lands, which have a different geology from the valley floor and much less ground water, to realistically consider using irrigated vineyards as firebreaks?

Farming with the environment means growing what can co-exist with the facts on the ground of water, soils, and temperature. At least 80 percent of our vines in Napa were dry farmed before the French blind tasting in the 1970s. Pushing vines for production by irrigation is something we need to reconsider into the future. Do dry farmed grapes perform as well as irrigated vines for firebreaks?

Our Ag Watershed Open Space lands are key to the water supply of our cities. Oak woodlands and forests restore ground water; irrigated vineyards use it. The reason we had such a catastrophe was not because we have oak woodlands and forests but because we have not managed our so-called wild lands for two centuries, ever since the white man arrived, allowing underbrush and understory to build up. The health of Napa County environment is dependent on how we manage the forests and oak woodlands.

Oak woodlands and forests do not contaminate our surface and ground water with agricultural fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. As important organs of the watersheds, they protect the water supply from silt and erosion. Pure, abundant water for our population is dependent on the health of our watersheds.

The fires necessitate that we rethink our approach to the watersheds. There is so much scientific research that says do not cut these burned areas, let them recover — that the best action is no action. This is a time for our governing officials to bow their heads to scientific research, not succumb to political pressure for business as usual.

The health of our beautiful valley begins at the top of the mountains in the Ag Watershed Open Space lands. Our water supply is dependent on this health. Oak woodlands and forests are important components to aquifer recharge, to the health of the Napa River and our reservoirs, and to clean and abundant water for all of us.

Water and Fire remind us of our connection to each other. What we each do on our own land affects us all. Advocate that our county officials pause, allow our burned lands to regenerate, and take steps to manage the understory of our oak woodlands and forests that have not burned. Our population is dependent on it.

Vineyards don’t save lives; water does.

NVR LTE version 11/13/17: Don't blame the trees

After the fire photos on: After The Fire

Bill Hocker - Nov 10,17  expand...  Share

Update 11/10/17
SR Press Democrat 11/101/7: Displaced Sonoma County residents wrestle with rise in post-fire visitors to burned neighborhoods

I have been taking photos after the fire and have been putting them up on my photo website here. I will keep adding them as I take more. Some show burned homes, and may be painful for their owners to look at. I will remove any that owners may object to. Contact me here.

The article in the Press Democrat presents a split opinion by residents to have outsiders view the destruction. A resident next to us on Soda Canyon Road calls it a purient interest. I think of it as witnessing (and recording) a significant historical occurrence. I am a bit of a hypocrit, of course. When it involves tourists coming up the road on a daily basis to view our (normal) homes and lifestyles as part of a Napa winery "experience", I become less philosophical.

Other photos on this site taken of the fire and its aftermath are here and Amber Manfree's here.

Memorial Service for Sally Lewis on: After The Fire

Bill Hocker - Nov 10,17  expand...  Share

Sally Lewis' daughter, Windy Tirados, extends an invitation to a Memorial Celebration of Life to be held for Sally who perished in the fire on Soda Canyon Road.

November 18th , Saturday from 12:00-4:00
At the Paradise Valley Golf Club
Fairfield, Ca

Draft Rebuilding Regulations on: After The Fire

Bill Hocker - Nov 10,17  expand...  Share

The County Planning department has produced a draft "Urgency Ordinance" governing the rebuilding of structures destroyed by the October fires in Napa county. There will be a meeting on Nov. 13th, 2017 to discuss the draft ordinance aimed at the building professionals (including those who will be working for homeowners) that will be governed by its conditions. County Planning Manager Vin Smith's email:

I have reserved the Board of Supervisors Chambers for Monday, November 13th at 10:30 to discuss the recommended Urgency Ordinance we are preparing for the Board’s consideration. We are working on Draft Language that I have attached to this email for your review. Keep in mind this is a work in progress, but it represents a bulk of the changes we are proposing to accommodate efficient and swift building permit processing for those who have suffered loss as a result of the fires.

I have focused this invite on industry professionals (Civil, Architect, Contractors, Planners, Attorneys) not to exclude but to ensure our dialogue is about the Urgency Ordinance itself, as the ordinance provides recommended process changes to streamline building permit issuance and you are the local experts.

For time planning purposes, I anticipate this meeting taking 90-minutes or less. I hope you can free-up a part of you Monday for this meeting.

Draft of the Urgency Ordinance

Also this - NVR 11/10/17: Fire rebuilding challenges availability of Napa area contractors

How To Help a Friend Who Lost Their Home in a Fire on: After The Fire

NV2050 Admin - Nov 7,17  expand...  Share

For all of us who witnessed the devastation of the North Bay Fires last month, it was kindness from those near and far, friends and strangers, that created beauty in the midst of ugliness and healing in the midst of despair.

KQED News shares this insightful piece written by Carolynn Spezza, who lost her home to the 2015 Valley Fire:

How To Help a Friend Who Lost Their Home in a Fire

Carolyn offers 15 tips to those longing to support friends or loved ones navigating the treacherous path of rebuilding a life after home loss.

Among these ideas, we hope you find a way of reaching out that feels meaningful.

Well protected watersheds benefit all on: Watershed Initiative 2018

Yeoryios Apallas - Nov 6,17  expand...  Share

Much has been written about the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2018, and the chicanes it has driven through to become an effective tool for the protection of Mother Earth.

I am a grape grower and a member of the board of the Napa County Farm Bureau (NCFB). My comments reflect my personal views and not those of the NCFB.

For too long now, the promiscuous grant of winery permits has made the Napa Valley a difficult place to navigate by car or other transportation means. Tourism has been a priority for the Valley Board of Supervisors and the Napa City Council. Hotel construction and winery event centers have dominated the agendas of our county and city politicians.

It is undeniable that much, if not all, the available AP land has been already planted and some which has been planted (although a small amount) is now being paved over for event centers. It is also undeniable that pressure will continue the AW zone to remove oak woodlands for vineyards and other construction -- a potentially disastrous policy for the long term economic viability of the Valley.

Meanwhile the temperature of the Earth is undeniably getting higher through global mismanagement. The initiative is trying to right this process.

So, what is the goal of initiative? The proponents of the Woodlands Initiative strongly believe (and I agree with them as a farmer, grape grower, and grandfather) that natural areas along streams and wetlands play a critical role in protecting Napa County water resources by reducing erosion, alleviating flooding, and improving water quality. Trees and vegetation along streams and wetlands, filter water for municipal, rural and agricultural use, reduce water pollution, and provide important habitat for fish and wildlife.

The initiative provides enhanced protection for these areas by preserving forest and riparian habitat along stream corridors and wetlands within the AW zoning district.” See, Purpose and Findings of Initiative.

These are important goals for any civilized and balanced agrarian/commercial/industrial society. If Napa County citizens can do their part while balancing the interests of other affected stakeholders, good for us all. Enlightened government would normally attempt to balance various environmental, commercial, and agricultural interests for the advancement of the public health and welfare.

The Napa County Board of Supervisors, and the Napa City Council have failed miserably in meeting their task. Their myopic, exuberant, and single-minded approach to winery and event center development has hurt us and will continue to hurt us all on so many levels. Thus, the citizens had to take matters into their own hands -- not to girdle the healthy growth of agricultural and commercial enterprises, but to provide much-needed balance.

I wanted to provide another perspective to this debate so that my grape grower and farmer friends can understand what the attempt and goals of the authors (and most recently the enlightened leadership of Napa Valley Vintners) are all about when they crafted this initiative. It’s not always about the “Benjamins” --it’s about the health and sustainability of Mother Earth for the current and future inhabitants of the Napa Valley.

NVR version 11/6/17: Not always about the “Benjamins”
[Editor's note: is it intentional that the titles of the LTE's in the Register are always so cryptic or generic that one can't possibly guess what they're about - BH]

Debris Management & Rebuilding Informational Meeting on: After The Fire

Barbara Guggia - Nov 1,17  expand...  Share

Greetings to Soda Canyon Neighbors & Friends:

I attended the meeting at the Silverado Country Club on 10/30 and felt it was a worthwhile, with reps from FEMA, Army Corp of Engineers, EPA, Fire, Bill Dodd, and Napa County Planning Department in attendance. It appeared there were close to 300 people at the meeting and I had to wonder how they were all notified. Without the email from Anne, I would not have known at all about the meeting. Thanks Anne!
Reps from each agency made a brief presentation, with staff from these agencies available to answer individual questions afterwards.
Main points:

  • If you are considering using the the Government Removal program, you need to fill out the paperwork ASAP. Army Corp of Engineers is lining up private contractors to do the work. Whether or not this program is right for you depends on your personal situation and insurance policy. The head FEMA rep said there was confusion regarding the program and explained how it worked. It made more sense to me after he explained it, so if you need clarification, call and ask questions.
  • If you are using a private contractor for debris removal and wondering where the hazardous waste, ash, and other materials will go, this wasn’t answered. FEMA said they are still working with landfills to figure this out.
  • Napa County Planning Department has set-up a Special Building Permit Center dedicated to homeowners who want to rebuild. There will be three full-time staff to help with developing the simplest process and fastest building permit process for rebuilders. The center is in the basement of the admin building at 3rd & Coombs. Phone number: 707.299.1350 Vincent Smith of the Planning Department appears to be the one in charge.
  • Throughout the meeting, all the officials emphasized how supportive and helpful the county and government agencies were going to be regarding rebuilding process. Some of the quotes I heard…"flexible, we will get out the way, we will be your advocate, quick process, simple process, we are here to help you through the process”…etc. David Morrison said “our goal is to move you into your home as quickly as possible” and Bill Dodd offered to “be your advocate” if needed.
  • EPA is inspecting all homes that were damaged and should be done soon. Debris removal permits will be issued within 24 hours of being filed.
  • The fire could have possibly damaged home foundations, the concrete and steel. foundations should be tested.
  • Bob Fenton from FEMA reported that 200 staff members from his department are here to help and said in his presentation that he acknowledges “the need to protect watersheds”, which is very encouraging.
  • After the meeting, AP and his wife Brenda were hosting a wine reception on the deck outside of the ballroom.

County recovery documents updated on: After The Fire

Bill Hocker - Oct 28,17  expand...  Share

Sup. Pedroza sent out a couple of documents about programs that the county is undertaking to help with the recovery process. I will add more at the top of this page when I find them.

Potential property tax-reduction notice
Final Household Hazardous Waste Removal & Debris Removal Program with forms


Dan McFadden - Oct 26, 2017 11:58AM

I have downloaded and read carefully the Right-of-Entry (ROE) form requested by before they will initiate hazardous waste removal. This ROE form does not differentiate between Phase 1 (no-cost hazardous waste removal) and Phase 2 (debris removal). Supervisor Pedrosa circulated the "Hazardous Waste & Debris Removal Fact Sheet, Issued 10/18/17" that states that owners will have two options in Phase 2, either debris removal by the county (Option 1) or by a private contractor (Option 2). However, the ROE appears to give the county an unrestricted right to exercise Option 1 in Phase 2. The ROE under Phase 2, Option 1 seems to give the county virtually full control over what happens to your site, including things like bulldozing retaining walls and foundations of historical buildings, gives them the right to leave behind for you to deal with anything that they choose, and gives them the right to bill you and your insurer for all of their Phase 2 work, with no announced timetable or fees. My reading of the terms is that there is no public subsidy for Phase 2 for owners who have fire insurance, and my claims adjuster stated that charges for debris removal by county-sponsored contractors usually equal or exceed the allowance in your policy for debris removal.

To put it mildly, this legal document does not appear to have been drawn up for the benefit of residents burned out by the fire. I will not sign it, and instead will ask for a ROE document that covers Phase 1 only. I encourage you to read the current ROE carefully before signing.

The End of the Trail on: Soda Canyon Road

Bill Hocker - Oct 27,17  expand...  Share

Update 11/5/17
NVR 11/5/17: Reynolds Family Winery wins Napa County expansion approval

Update 11/3/17
The expansion of the Reynolds winery was approved 4-1 by the planning commission on Nov 1st with Comm. Cottrell (and Comm. Gallagher) concerned about the cumulative impacts of ever-expanding visitation demands by wineries.

Planning Manager Vin Smith (a new county position?) repeated the mantra that the number of new wineries is still within the parameters laid down in the 2008 General Plan EIR - so no problem. The number of new wineries predicted in the 2008 DEIR was 150 from 2005 to 2030. (page 3.0-23 of the DEIR - page 120 of the pdf . This was inexplicably raised to 225 in the "Preferred Plan".) The reality is that 108 new winery permits have been issued since 2006 (88 through 2015 and 20 since) . Continuing at the same rate will mean 245 new wineries by 2030.

Of course the EIR only quantified the number of new wineries, not the expansion of existing wineries. And it said nothing about the impacts of visitation generated by each.

Allowed visitation continues to grow at a much faster rate than the historical trend before 2008. The Reynolds approval is an example of the trend: a 100% increase in capacity and 350% increase in visitation. (The Reguschi modification, approved two weeks after Reynolds, really emphasizes the trend: 100% increase in production, 5000% increase in visitation.) The DEIR does not have one reference to the impacts that the growth of additional winery visitation will have on the environment of Napa County. In that omission, the EIR for the 2008 General Plan was a farce. We are now facing not only the significant and unavoidable impacts recognized in the DEIR, but the significant impacts of the growth of the tourism/visitation/hospitality industry (the most expansive industry in the county) not even mentioned in the DEIR. And our County government, controlled by development interests as local governments always are, is quite content to pretend that as long as tourism is defined as agriculture, the impacts are simply an unregulated and unobjectionable "right-to-farm" issue, beyond the purview of cumulative impact analysis.

The Reynolds Family Winery will be up for a modification at the Planning Commission on Nov 1, 2017 to add 12,500 more tourism slots, 16 more parking spaces, and 5 more employees. (Agenda item 8B here). it is the last of the proposals around the Soda Canyon Junction under review in the last few years. The Krupp Winery was approved in June 2012. The Corona winery was approved in Nov 2013. The expansion of the Beau Vigne was approved in Sep 2016. The Sam Jasper Winery and the Mountain Peak winery were approved in Jan 2017. The Grassi Winery was approved in Feb 2017. And now finally the last of the pending projects, Reynolds, will no doubt also be approved. (Approved 4-1)

It will not be the last. Just north of the Reynolds winery a new "estate" is being constructed for the very un-residential appearing Ellman Family Vineyards brand.

The junction map is a sad predictor of the direction that the rest of the Silverado is headed. Somewhere near 35 wineries have been approved along the Trail since 2010. Most have not yet been built and their tourists and employees and deliveries have not yet arrived to further clog up what is already becoming a continuous stream of traffic at times of the day.

In all of the development projects that the county has continued to approve each year, each project was given a "negative declaration" from the county staff relying on consultants who massage numbers to certify that project impacts, such as the traffic they generate, will be less-than-significant as defined by some arbitrary metric. And yet, can anyone deny that the Trail has become significantly impacted? As long as the wine industry and the Supervisors continue to lust after the money to be made by urbanizing Napa's open spaces those spaces will be urbanized, one lest-than-significant project at a time, until they are all gone.

A similar but more extensive rant on the death of the Silverado Trail is here.


Anthony Arger - Oct 31, 2017 7:28PM

[Statement to County Planning Department re. Reynolds Winery]

Dear Ms. Balcher,

Attached please find my comments on the Reynolds Winery Major Modification (P14-00334) that I would like to be submitted as part of the public record in advance of tomorrow's continued hearing on the matter. Please note that I am including seven (7) exhibits along with the letter, which I will try to attach to this email. However, if they do not fit, I will send in separate emails. Either way, please include them with my letter and confirm receipt once everything is received.

Please do not hesitate to let me know of any questions or concerns and thank you in advance for your assistance.

Sincere regards,

Exhibit 1: Wineries at the SCR-Trail junction

Exhibit 2: Traffic at the SCR-Trail junction

Exhibit 3: Incidents at the SCR-Trail junction

Exhibit 4: CHP incident report SCR at the Trail
Exhibit 5: Sheriff Calls for service on SCR 2014-17
Exhibit 6: Calfire Incident Summary 2005-17

Fire feedback to the BOS on: After The Fire

Gary Margadant - Oct 27,17  expand...  Share

Mt Veeder Neighbors

Napa County Planning and Building Dept is organizing a forum for feedback on Building Permits procedures during the Rebuilding Phase after the NAPA FIRES. Essentially to: how the County can adjust the Napa County processes to best address the needs of the property owners while continuing to protect the health and welfare of the community as a whole. (see below)

If you Cannot Attend, Please forward any feedback on your observations and desires for change in the processes, Directly to Vin Smith: .
If you want to forward any of your ideas to me, I will be more than happy to pass them on to Vin and his PBES colleagues.

FUTURE ITEM for the Board of Supervisors (BOS) concerns, but they might be yours also...our FEEDBACK on the Emergency Response, Community Notification, Priorities and Coordination during the Fire Storms by Napa County and their Emergency Services. Many thanks to First Responders who risked their lives to save our homes and forest, thanks to them and extraordinary neighbors who stepped up.

This is a Feedback loop that needs to be discussed in a similar forum or as an Agenda Item on the BOS Agenda.

1. Nixle messages missing during the first 24 hours...Attributable to the loss of Cell phone towers in the initial hours, but a missed scenario by the Emergency Coordinators.

2. No backup for 1, including the use of Social Media: Facebook, Next Door, twitter, Text, etc. Missed opportunities in the emergency scenarios and emergency protocols: SM was not used.

3. Land Use Priorities for Access. Residents were on the bottom of the priority list and this must change. Ag operations were allowed in, with permit, during the Mandatory Evacuation to tend to their investments (vineyards, grapes), but home owners were not allowed to enter to check their water sources, tanks and water lines in preparation for a return. Workers who do not live on the mountain were allowed in, but those who's home was their major investment/wealth were not allowed in to attend to their investment. Granted, some residents were allowed in for Animal Welfare, but all were not accorded the same investment privileges as Ag operations. THIS HAS TO CHANGE. There is more $$ invested in homes on the hill than commercial operations, so why the priority disconnect?

4. Residents watched as Bicyclists were allowed into the area yet they were not. (This is an odd one, but there is no reason strangers w/o Local ID, were allowed in for Recreation??

5. The BOS needs to tackle Feedback from Residents as a positive to adjusting their emergency response protocols for future events. The board recognizes 4 major events in the last 4 years: Earthquake, Fire, Rain Storm and....that needed major emergency response.... I suggested Response Drills after the Earthquake, but these suggestions never materialized into any concerted actions by the Board and Response Agencies.

WRITE your supervisor and request a forum for Feedback and Response Protocol changes in light of recent problems/failures. We have to learn from the past to better the future.

Send me your ideas and I will carry them to the BOS..

Best Regards, Gary

Save Rural Angwin Quarterly Update on: Other Groups

Kellie Anderson - Oct 27,17  expand...  Share

Save Rural Angwin publishes a quarterly update on the progress of development issues there, and now as a member of Napa Vision 2050, focusing on development issues throughout the county. The Aug-Oct 2017 update is here.

The update index is here

County stakeholder fire loss meeting on: After The Fire

Bill Hocker - Oct 26,17  expand...  Share

MEETING CANCELLED - to be rescheduled

County Planning Manager Vin Smith writes:

Good afternoon to all,

The fires were a horrific and unprecedented event and we are truly moved by the devastation but more so the unbelievably strong positive community response. I can say that county staff confronted the events to assist in the immediate emergency needs of the community, and quickly went to work to address the community needs during the rebuilding phase which is ongoing. As such, the Building Official and I are hosting a Stakeholders Meeting next Wednesday, November 1, 2017 at 2pm in the Board of Supervisors Board Room (where the public meetings take place) to provide an update on our ideas and efforts to simplify the rebuilding process and to exchange ideas about moving forward. We will give a short presentation and have handouts, as well as website links, for your use in communicating with those who have suffered property loss. We will also have draft concepts or “Scenarios” to present to you on how the County can adjust its processes to best address the needs of the property owners while continuing to protect the health and welfare of the community as a whole. We are on a tight schedule to get ordinance changes to the Board of Supervisors on November 21st, so we hope that you can process the contents of these handouts and provide feedback at this meeting.

Thank you to all who have assisted and supported the county efforts since October 8th. I look forward to working with you on rebuilding our community.

Vin Smith
Planning Manager
County of Napa
707-259-5934 direct

Watershed and Oak Woodland Initiative on: Watershed Initiative 2018

Jim Wilson - Oct 26,17  expand...  Share

This is an ephemeral stream (Class 3) bordered by oaks - initiative proposes to protect areas like these by establishing "no-cut" water quality buffer zones
Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you're doing well. My heart goes out to our many friends who lost their homes in the wildfires. With the recovery of our human and natural communities brings the need for caution and science and common sense. As we regroup and refocus, what are the lessons? I think what we're asking for our watershed health is not only important preemptively, but more important than ever post-emergency. Now is the time to let the watershed heal.

Thanks for your help gathering signatures last year. As you know, it ran into a technical snafu and had to be pulled. The good news is that our revised initiative represents real progress, positioned for greater consensus as a result of our collaboration with the NVV. I think it gives people hope to see our unwavering commitment to enhanced watershed protections. Passing the initiative would be a perfectly sane step forward, and a wonderful win for future generations.

We'd like to qualify for the June ballot. To do that, we need to gather signatures over the next few weeks and get them to John Tuteur by December 5. Please let me know if you'd like to pitch in. Since time is short, we're hiring help this time around. But your commitment and passion are as important as ever. Even a few signatures from your friends and family would help with with our public outreach. I appreciate your understanding.

Can I get a petition to you? Email me to request a petition.

Here are some highlights:

This Initiative provides vital environmental protections for Napa’s precious oak woodlands and watersheds. It is the product of years of discussions among a wide variety of stakeholders in Napa County, all of whom were interested in finding a common-sense approach to protecting our important natural resources and ensuring responsible development. Your signature isn’t an endorsement, but will enable us get this initiative on the June ballot in 2018.

Here are the general provisions.
  1. It will establish “no-cut” buffer zones for forests along streams and wetlands.
  2. It will strengthen existing standards to require a 3:1 ratio for replacing or preserving oak trees when oaks are lost to development. This is better for the ecosystems that depend on these trees, and better for the climate, too! (because healthy forests sequester carbon dioxide and lock away carbon in woody biomass.)
  3. It will establish an Oak Removal Limit. The limit takes effect when 795 additional acres of oak woodlands have been removed. This acreage limit takes into consideration the historic rate of local woodland removal associated with new vineyard development, in accordance with the General Plan's projection of 10,000 acres of new vineyards to be developed by 2030.
Please note that tree removal in accordance with federal, state and local agencies is allowed for fire protection and other hazards.

  • Healthy forests support a wide range of wildlife (flora and fauna), including ecological biodiversity “hotspots” that host rare species. Trees in all stages of the life-cycle provide important habitat for this wildlife.
    Healthy forests provide the root structure and leaf-litter needed to hold soils in place and prevent soil erosion and flooding, particularly on steep hillsides.
  • Healthy forests provide shade, which cools the local environment and helps retain moisture in the air and soil. This reduces wildfire danger.
    In addition, the shade zone under an oak tree retards the growth of grasses and shrubs that can carry fire.
  • Trees pull groundwater up and transpire it to the air. At the same time, tree roots loosen the soil and increase its capacity to absorb water.
  • Dead tree roots provide a conduit for surface water to enter the soil and water table. Dead tree trunks lying on the ground act as a sponge, absorbing and purifying water and retaining soil moisture under the log.
  • The presence of trees slows wind and air circulation, thus reducing the drying of soils and fire fuels.
  • The trunks of mature trees don't burn readily and actually pose an impediment to low-lying ground fires. You may have noticed that most of our oak trees survived the firestorm, and their presence will be vital in helping to prevent erosion in the coming rainy months.

Attached you'll find the Title & Summary, the initiative, and pointers for signature gatherers.

Sincere thanks, on behalf of all of those pulling together for the common good,

Initiative title and summary
Initiative text
Instructions for signature gatherers

Post fire assessments and debris removal on: After The Fire

Barbara Guggia - Oct 25,17  expand...  Share

Steve [Chilton] spoke with Kelly Gin of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and in addition to providing online information (brochures also available at their information table @LAC) regarding post fire restoration, her office can do post fire property assessments (free of charge). An assessment would provide information about stabilizing the soil, removing dead material and identifying proper seed mix. The assessment should come in handy for insurance purposes. In addition to information, her agency might also be able to provide grants to agricultural properties impacted by the fire. There may be funding for nonagricultural properties for clean up and rehabilitation. We are hoping to get her out to Soda Canyon this week and if you would like her to visit your property, please call her as soon as possible at:

Kelly Gin-707.252.4189 ext. 3114.

We also spoke with someone at the Planning Department (Neil @ the LAC) and through the county, the California Dept of Emergency Services can provide debris and burnt vegetation removal. We don’t have all the details regarding when or how this would happen but this is something worth looking into.

Stuck on Soda Canyon Road on: Soda Canyon Road

Bill Hocker - Oct 25,17  expand...  Share

Update 10/25/17
Two vehicle accident off into the creek at the McFadden curve on 10/25/17. The first responders arrived in force, not taking any chances.

After the fire, just at harvest, the road is busier than I have ever seen it. There are the grape trucks, repair trucks servicing fire damaged properties, utility trucks, and residents in what amounts to an almost continuous stream (by Soda Canyon standards) of vehicles on the road. It will not end anytime soon. All of this activity will be supplanted first by debris loading and hauling equipment and then by construction vehicles as residents rebuild in the coming years. As in the argument concerning tourism traffic, with each new vehicle on the road the potential for accidents on the blind curves and rises increases.

Lauren Griffith's photos stuck on the road.

Update 4/19/17
Some of the members of the Soda Canyon community on their way to the hearing on the very inaccessible Caves at Soda Canyon winery almost didn't arrive because of a typical example of inaccessibility on our road.

Update 3/27/17
Just another day on the road.

Update 2/15/17
Residents send along these photos of an encounter that may become all too familiar along the grade: stranded tour buses awaiting reinforcements in their assault on the Rector plateau.

And the final indignity below: being towed from in front of the Mountain Peak site (probably the first place they were able to turn around after being hauled up the grade?).

It appears that the van was headed to the Beau Vine vineyard as part of a release party at their nascent winery on the Trail at Soda Canyon Road. Approval of modification to the Beau Vingne winery just happened at the planning commission (the hearing is item 9B here) in what one could only consider as a love-fest about what Napa "family" wineries should be about.

The visit to the vineyard in conjunction to a event at the winery does raise a question that I have always had about visitation to vineyards as opposed to wineries. Visitation to wineries is regulated to the nth degree, implying that unpermitted tourism visitation to vineyards might be illegal. Is that true? Even as an opponent of tourism to remote areas of the county, if the allowance of vineyard visitation defuses the need to build wineries in remote vineyards, that is a much preferable alternative. Provided that visits to vineyards don't become events, with food service and large quantities of people, there should be some codification of the process which does not now exist. (Of course, containing the extent of a privilege once codified has been at the heart of problems now confronting the county.)

It begins again, our first for 2015, overloaded vineyard truck dead on last curve, had to be towed with tractor.

Diane Shepp - Oct 20,17  expand...  Share

Something for current Grand Jury:

SF Chronicle 10/13/17: 3 counties hit by wildfires warned long ago about staffing, infrastructure

Updated satellite image of burn areas on: Fire Issues

Bill Hocker - Oct 20,17  expand...  Share

Satellite image of Napa-Sonoma burn areas as of 10/18/17

Also, the Google Earth application currently has clear, and most sobering, images of the fire damage.

The development rush on: After The Fire

Barbara Guggia - Oct 19,17  expand...  Share

SJ Mercury News 10/18/17: Governor Brown issues order to speed up Wine Country fire recovery efforts

I know we are all focused on survival and just trying to get back to our homes and maintaining some kind of sanity as we address all the problems related to this incident. However, if we do not remain diligent regarding environmental issues, I’m afriad the "powers that be" will try to get back to “business as usual” and sneak through more winery proposals as we just try to get our lives back together. Of particular concern is that the county might put into play “shortcuts” to allegedly help fire victims, which will also help wineries and other ag businesses to shortcut the process and get their proposals approved without proper public notification, vetting, and community input.

Is the Planning Commission is still having meetings? How convient if all the “usual suspects” that show up and voice their opinions are now just trying to figure out how to repair their homes or working with insurance companies to deal with the loss of their burned out home.

What have other counties done regarding planning issues following a major disaster ? Oakland fire…Lake County fire…Santa Rosa...Did they have a moratorium on building/variance/modification permits?

This is such a %#$*!#! mess in so many ways.


Glenn J. Schreuder - Oct 19, 2017 11:22PM

At this point it should be abundantly clear to all that upper Soda Canyon and places like it aren't a really great place for the uninformed, out-of town tourist to be hanging out on a hot, dry, windy day.

Not good place for the tourist, not a good situation for local residents.

Tourists belong on and near the Valley floor where they have ready access to emergency services.

We've been saying this all the while, and it turns out the concerns we raised regarding the issues of access, fire safety and the like were not only 100% valid but painfully accurate.

Anne Palotas - Oct 19, 2017 5:06PM

This is a big concern!

Already in the news (TV- yesterday?) Jerry Brown has made it so that the "Wine Industry" can get immediate and easily granted variances on re-locating tasting rooms and production facilities that have been affected by fire. There was some other very negative things mentioned which escape me right now. Could this have been championed by Bill Dodd?

Glenn J. Schreuder - Oct 19, 2017 4:20PM

Residential rebuilds need to be the top priority for the Planning department for the foreseeable future. Glenn

Toxic waste cleanup on: After The Fire

Gary Margadant - Oct 19,17  expand...  Share

SR Press Democrat 10/17/17: U.S. EPA to oversee toxics cleanup after fires in Sonoma and Napa counties
Household Hazardous Waste Removal & Debris Removal Program

Here is something I put together about Milliken Reservoir and the Runoff from the Sill Winery that was destroyed in the fire. The runoff from the winery will make it into Milliken Creek @ 2929 APR, above the intake to the City of Napa Water System. If the rains come before CalRecycle can clean up the mess, then the Napa River Water Quality and Wildlife is certainly going to suffer.

Sill must not be allowed to try and clean up the mess himself unless he has the approval of State Cleanup Officials. So we need to closely follow his activity at the Winery.

The contamination is not limited to destroyed Wineries, but also Ag Buildings, homes, etc. anything that might store toxic materials (even wine that leaks out into the watersheds).

We need to find and document these structures so we can follow the activity of owners, residents and Lead Cleanup Agencies.

DO YOU KNOW of any such structures???? Send me a note (but do NOT reply to all).

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