Eternal vigilance is the price of preserving the Napa Valley.
 - Former Planning Dir. Jim Hickey 2008
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, 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 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)

Wed, Feb 22, 2017

County Planning Commission

Agenda and Documents

Wilkerson/Bin to Bottle Custom Crush New Winery
County Bin to Bottle page
Custom crush facility in industrial area.
[approved 5-0]

Black Sears Winery Major Mod
County Black Sears Page
no production increase, 6124 vis/yr

Fortunati Vineyards New Use Permit
County Fortunati page
12,000 gal/yr small winery exemption
Thu, Feb 23, 2017

WICC Climate Action Plan Workshop

Meeting Agenda
The announcement with addresses to send comment letters
(but note that comments are now due before 4:45 p.m. on Mar 10th, 2017)
The County's Climate Action Page is here
The Draft Climate Action Plan is here

Location: Napa County South Campus
2751 Napa Valley Corporate Drive, Building A First Floor, Conference Room, Napa CA 94558
Wed, Mar 1, 2017

County Planning Commission: Palmaz Helipad

Hearing on the Final Environmental Impact Report for the Palmaz Helipad project.
Hearing notice
The County Palmaz Heliport page Palmaz Heliport post
Napa Vision 2050 Palmaz petition 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.

Cakebread makes a valiant efforton: Traffic Issues

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

NVR 2/21/17: Cakebread Cellars ends experiment to get employees off Highway 29

While 2 weeks is not enough time to gage the workability of any pilot project, much less something as game-changing as getting people to stop using their cars, the attempt is to be commended.

$440/day per bus? The County spends $6 million dollars each year to bring more tourists here, resulting in the need for ever more workers to tend to them, ever bigger traffic jams on Hwy 29 and ever more taxes to beef up the infrastructure. If they reallocated funds for just one year, they could fund about 4 free 50-person buses for the next 10 years, while slowing the tourism binge that is adding to the traffic, housing and infrastructure problems.

That would be pilot program with a chance to succeed.

Urgent: Last Chance to Make your Public Comment on the Climate Action Plan!on: Vision 2050

Jim Wilson - Feb 21,17    Share expand...
URGENT: Napa County's Climate Action Plan is nearing completion. If it becomes a reality, we'll be stuck with yet another "half-way measure" that places short term profit over the long term health and well-being of our dangerously compromised climate. This is outrageous.

Thursday, February 23, is the final public meeting on Napa County's Climate Action Plan (CAP). The county has contracted with Ascent Environmental to prepare a Climate Action Plan detailing measures that the county will take to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in alignment with state targets. This document can be critical to our efforts to control regional warming or it can be a drain on time and resources if it supports business as usual.

Unfortunately, our CAP is being finalized using antiquated measuring standards at a time when both the State and our regional air district (Bay Area Air Quality Management District) are shifting focus to “short-lived climate pollutants” which have a much greater warming effect than CO2 ((e.g. Methane, Black Carbon, F-gases and Ozone). Methane is 34 times more powerful and black carbon 900 times more powerful than CO2. Their global warming potential is even higher in the near term (ten years) when we still have a chance to postpone irreversible climate tipping points. We need to focus where GHG reductions can be most effective because the CAP will determine what future measures developers take to reduce emissions-- so let's make sure we get it right!

The CAP will require projects to comply with a dead-on-arrival GHG Consistency Checklist. Projects that comply are eligible for CEQA streamlining and need not analyze their GHG emissions. But this Checklist will not be prepared in time for in-depth public comment. Nor will it comply with recent GHG laws and regulations.


CAP fails to provide feasible forest conversion mitigation.
CAP fails to account for any wetlands and soil conversion GHG emissions.
CAP fails to fully account for winery and vineyard operations GHG emissions.
CAP fails to fully account for visitation GHG emissions.
CAP fails to provide adaptive management monitoring standards as required by CEQA.
CAP fails to comply with Senate Bill 1383 methane, black carbon and hydrofluorocarbon emission reduction standards.
CAP fails to comply with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District GHG emissions accounting standards.
CAP fails to set measurable targets for.reducing Vehicle Miles Travelled
CAP fails to set standards for new project emissions.

Take a look at the Public Review Draft, also attached, come to the meeting, and ask questions.

• Why does measure LU-1 target retaining only 30% of the existing tree canopy? What would emissions reductions be if 50% and 70% were targeted?
• Is planting 2500 trees each year realistic in terms of space and manpower available?
• How will measure LU-3, prevention of burning 80% of trees removed during land conversion, be enforced?
• How will the Napa CAP pursue the state Air Resource Board's 2018 goals for reductions in methane, black carbon, and F-gases when the CAP inventory does not separate out emissions contributed by these pollutants?
• How will the CAP Consistency Checklist determine the emissions of a project and the decrease in emissions by the CAP measures taken?
• Why don't the transportation measures set goals of reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled as a measurable target?
• What amount of emissions is allowable for a new project? What Threshold of Significance standard will Napa County adopt?


The solution we offer is to hire an expert ASAP to address the inadequacies of the proposed CAP and secure the best possible protections. The critical knowledge and action needed is within our grasp. Please make a generous donation today.

We have a right to a livable climate for a livable planet, now and for our children. Join us in demanding decisive action.


Thursday, February 23, 2017, 3pm

2751 Napa Valley Corporate Drive, South Campus, Building A
First Floor, Conference Room, Napa CA 94558

County Draft Climate Action Plan (updated)on: Open Comments

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

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

Jim Wilson's analysis of shortcomings in the Climate Action Plan.

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

The announcement with addresses to send comment letters is here. (note that the written comment period has been extended to Mar 10th 2017.)

The County's Climate Action Page is here

The Draft Climate Action Plan is here

The breakdown of GHG's in the county includes 31% generated by buildings and 26% generated by transport, the 2 largest producers of GHG's. The Plan itemizes the 5 greatest GHG reducers in the plan:
  • power domestic hot water heating with renewables
  • replace carbon-powered with electric-powered ag equipment
  • replace carbon-powered with renewable-powered recreational watercraft
  • Preserve Oak Woodlands! (a bit ironic that)
  • Pool employee commute trips
The relationship between building reductions and transport reductions came up in the LEED presentation for our Mountain Peak project on Jan 4th. A great effort was made to reduce energy use (and GHG production) in the design of the building using a LEED scorecard to spur conservation. 70% of the power was to come from the solar panels proposed for the project. Cave air was used to cool the tasting room. There are to be electric automobile chargers and bicycle racks, operable windows, LED lights. The building is LEED platinum, the highest score.

But there was one large LEED category that the building probably didn't score too well in - dealing with the transport GHG's necessary to access the building. The First LEED scorecard topic is "Location and Transportation", described thus:

    "Surrounding density and diverse uses - 5 points - Intent: to conserve land and protect farmland and wildlife habitat by encouraging development in areas with existing infrastructure. To promote walkability, and transportation efficiency and reduce vehicle distance traveled. To improve public health by encouraging daily physical activity."

    And "Access to Quality transportation - 5 points - Intent: To encourage development in locations shown to have multimodal transportation choices or otherwise reduced motor vehicle use, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and other environmental and public health harms associated with motor vehicle use."

Mountain Peak, like more and more tourism venues (few will actually add to the grapes grown in the county and many actually pave over vineyards) are moving into the watersheds of the county, meaning that the tourists and hospitality employees that are necessary for their financial justification must be transported ever greater distances - with ever greater generation of GHG's.

Given this interest in reducing transport GHG's in the LEED process and the large proportion of transport GHG's in the CAP pie chart, I was expecting some discussion in the CAP about the wisdom of continuing to approve industrial and commercial facilities, requiring transport of ever increasing numbers of tourists and employees, in remote areas of the county. While the emphasis in the CAP seemed to be on reducing commute distances by van-pooling employees, there was no mention of trying to keep the jobs and impacts in the winery and tourism sectors located near transit corridors in the future. Of course, in Napa many of the employees are farm workers, and a vanpool system for farmworkers is essential to maintain the true agriculture in the county. But most wineries and the hospitality workers they employ, now approved in the watersheds, will be generating a fair amount of carbon-based traffic around the county, and they are not mentioned.

And how much does this remote dispersal of the tourism industry cost in GHG's?
Well, the EPA estimates here that the average vehicle produces .00042 metric tons of GHG gas (MTCO2) for every mile traveled (based on hwy mpg) . The Mountain Peak project anticipates bringing 44000 trips (120 trips/day) up and down the 6 mile length of Soda Canyon Road each year. Were the winery located on the Trail, the GHG's saved would be 44000 x 6 x .00042 = 111 MTCO2/yr from this one project alone.

Looking at the chart of "remote" wineries in the county here we can make a horseback guess about the GHG's expended to make deliveries (of goods and people) to these existing remote wineries. Using averages, the visitation per winery is 5459 and the distance is 4.4 miles from a major highway and the number of vehicle "trips" each day is 37 or 13505 trips/yr. There are 70 wineries in the sample so the GHG's saved if all those wineries were located on major highways would be 13505 x 4.4 x .00042 x 70 = 1747 MTCO2 /yr. If they were located in the industrial zones, or the Hwy 12 corridor rather than up valley, the amount saved would be considerably more. These 70 wineries represent the GHG's generated by about 400,000 visitor slots. But the county currently has perhaps 120 new or expanded wineries, approved or under review, representing some 2,000,000 visitor slots yet to be occupied. And there is no sign of the proposals abating (or of interest on the county's part to reduce approvals.).

While the CAP looks at several ways to reduce GHG's, making a real effort to curb traffic in the county by not locating development in the watersheds is not one of them. It is not just a winery problem - resorts and housing subdivisions (masked as vineyard developments) are happening in the remote corners of the county as well. Unfortunately, in creating a climate action plan, the county's attitude is to suggest technological solutions to reduce the impacts that further urban development will continue to bring to the county. But there is no attempt to reduce the amount of development that is creating those impacts, and in fact by proposing only technological changes to reduce existing impacts the impediments to future development will only be reduced.

The original ag preserve efforts, which remain the soul of the county's self image if not the reality, used zoning and ordinances to limit urban development in the county. That same commitment is again needed in an era where developers don the cloak of the county's agricultural heritage while they build on the open land that remains as a result. The CAP was an opportunity to take on the ever expanding urban development continuing to pump up GHG's in the county. Unfortunately the CAP proposals are just aimed at making that urban development more palatable and probable.

Transient Party Town! (updated)on: City of Napa

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

The Big City comes to sleepy Napa
Update: 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


Daniel Mufson - Feb 1, 2017

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!!

Shelle Wolfe - Feb 1, 2017

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.”

Carl Bunch - Feb 1, 2017

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.

Glenn J. Schreuder - Feb 2, 2017

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

Apocalypse Now! (updated)on: Palmaz Heliport

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

UPDATE 2/17/17:
The County Planning Commission Hearing for the Final Environmental Impact Report on the Palmaz Helipad Project will happen on Mar 1st, 2017, 9:00am at the County Building, 3rd Floor, 1135 3rd St Napa. The notice for the hearing is here

Comments may be submitted to project planner Dana Ayres at

County's Palmaz Heliport page including Final EIR is here

The conclusion of the FEIR: "Project operation would result in helicopter noise associated with approaches and departures occurring at the heliport...This impact would be significant." Duh!

The SCR Palmaz page is here
The NapaVision 2050 Palmaz petition page is here

Pass a ban on private helipads (updated)on: Vision 2050

Daniel Mufson - Feb 17,17    Share expand...

UPDATE 2/17/17:
County Planning Commission Hearing for the Final Environmental Impact Report on the Palmaz Heliport Project will happen on Mar 1st, 2017, 9:00am at the County Building, 3rd Floor, 1135 3rd St Napa. The notice for the hearing is here

The Board of Supervisors chambers were full last week [one year ago now] for the meeting on the Palmaz Heliport ("Proposed Palmaz helipad sparks big turnout at meeting," Jan. 17). It is difficult to understand why the non-essential pleasures of one individual can trump the health, safety and welfare of ALL of his neighbors.

We have collected more than 500 signatures on a petition against the heliport. Neighbors from Hagen Road, Coombsville and beyond came to protest this intrusion. The question asked by many was why even go through the environmental impact report process, isn’t there anyone (Supervisor) who can step up a demonstrate leadership and put a stop to this?

We understand that a proposed ordinance has been submitted to the Supervisors to change zoning regulations to prevent private helicopter landings. It would be marvelous if they could promptly act on this and save everyone lots of time and effort to deal with the environmental impact report process.

Helicopters are not safe. The Register carried a story (“FAA seeks industry help as helicopter bird strikes increase,” Dec. 28, 2015) about the FAA’s concern about bird strikes on helicopters. With so many large birds, including eagles, herons and geese, residing in the proposed flight path and about Mt. George it is inevitable that there will be an air strike and tragedy.

I recently suggested that if this heliport is approved, there will be many more applications and we will see the proliferation of Uber helicopters for the Uber rich. We have now learned that Airbus is working with Uber to supply these air taxies (Wall Street Journal, Jan. 18). So I say to the Supervisors, if you don't stop this project, we will be inundated with helicopter traffic. “HELI-NO!"

Oh, and while you’re at it, let’s ban delivery drones.

NVR version 1/23/16: Pass a ban on private helipads
NapaVision2050 Palmaz Petition page
SCR Palmaz screed

And coming to a theater near you! The Invasion of the Ubercoptors.

"Brownie, You’re doing a heck of a job!”on: Vision 2050

Daniel Mufson - Feb 17,17    Share expand...

Napa Valley Sustainable Groundwater Alternative

In late December Napa County filed a so-called Alternate water Plan with the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). It basically said in hundreds of pages, costing taxpayers at least $634,200 in consulting fees alone, that the county had done sufficient monitoring of the Napa Valley Sub-basin water supplies over the past ten years to be able to demonstrate that everything would be just fine over the next 20 years, thank you very much. Or in other words, told the state to leave us alone.

Napa Vision 2050 and our affiliates filled comments taking exception with this conclusion as did:
  • The Union of Concerned Scientists;
  • US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service;
  • The Nature Conservancy.

Two trade groups, the Napa County Farm Bureau and the Napa Valley Vintners praised the report as in, it was a heck of a job!

Our key problems with the county’s report are:

  • Cherry-picked data from a few monitoring wells, errors in calculations.
  • The role of drain tiles in dumping ground water from vineyards was not appropriately accounted for.
  • The report assumes that cities will not need to use any ground water as sufficient water will be available to the them from the State Water Project and the city’s reservoirs for the next 20 years even in the face of prolonged droughts and raising temperatures.
  • Assumes that current use of ground water by vineyards and wineries will be sustainable.
  • Report assumes minimal growth of population and agriculture over 20 years.
  • The Alternative claims groundwater is sustainable yet the Sub-Basin has undesirable results such as: sea water intrusion, groundwater level declines, declining groundwater quality and land subsidence.
  • The county does not have, nor desires to have, a mechanism for dealing with well owners and neighbors who are experiencing loss of water supplies. Currently, they want to study the problems...... avoiding any direct help.
  • The public was afforded minimal opportunity to comment-there was no stakeholder engagement.
  • Details on these comments can be found here.
More Links to Napa's Sustainable Groundwater Alternative can be found here

Napa County Climate Action Plan

We wonder just how much it has cost the County (we taxpayers) to fund this report over the several years of its development in consultant fees and staff time? We feel that the County’s current development of a Climate Action Plan (CAP) is taking a similar approach; using a consulting company that is trying to minimize the largest sources of GHG production--

Come see for yourself at the WICC Climate Action Plan Workshop next Thursday February 23rd, 3PM at 2751 Napa Valley Corporate Drive, South Campus, Building A, First Floor, Conference Room, Napa CA 94558.

We’ll have more on this soon.

Flynnville: what is an appropriate winery?on: The Winery Glut

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

NVR 2/15/17: Worried about size, Napa County delays proposed Calistoga winery
2/15/17 hearing agenda and documents

Napa County Planning Commissioners sent the Flynnville Winery proposal back to staff indicating that the "size and scale" of a winery of 60,000 gal/yr, 25 visitors and 15 employees/day located on Hwy 29 next to the Castello di Amorosa on a brownfield site was inappropriately large. A month and a half earlier 3 of those commissioners approved a winery of 100,000 gal/yr, 60 visitors and 19 employees/day 6 miles up a mountainous dead-end road in an area with virtually no previous tourism, on a site that a requires the removal of 10% of existing vineyards to accommodate the project. I don't disagree with their decision on Flynnville. I strenuously disagree with their decision on Mountain Peak.

Despite many proscriptions in the county's winery definition ordinance, there is no definition of appropriate capacity or visitation. County Planning Dir. Morrison attempted to reduce the arbitrariness with Proposal X in the APAC hearings last year tying both to parcel size, an idea pooh-poohed by the wine industry members and eventually shot down by the Supervisors. Applicants are free to propose capacity and visitation based on their "business plan" which itself is never scrutinized. Staff shows the commissioners comparable existing wineries with similar capacity to assess the appropriateness of visitation. There is no metric to assess the capacity. The grapes grown on the gerrymandered Flynnville site might be enough for 2500 gallons of 75% wine each year. 60,000 gal/yr is just an arbitrary number.

As shown in the county crop reports, the number of acres in vines in the county have not increased since 2006. Some 6mil gallons of capacity have been approved in that same period. At present all new wineries and winery expansions in the county will have to poach grape sources already used to make wine elsewhere, merely shifting the location of grape processing. Winery capacity, a permanent entitlement that "goes with the land" is often justified on the basis of grape contracts that developers claim to have. Those contracts may have been owned by someone else in the previous year and can be bought by another (desperate) new winery developer before this winery is even built.

The capacity and visitation decisions are left to individual commissioners' sense of appropriateness. (They are given the discretion to deny a project as well but have done so in only one previous project - the original, over-the-top Flynnville proposal made in 2013.) The arbitrariness of their decisions often leaves one shaking one's head in despair as tourist venues continue to proliferate in the agricultural zones.

Most new projects and expansions are in fact being proposed simply to provide additional venues for wine tourism. Unfortunately the growth of the tourism industry has much different impacts on the environment than agricultural processing. By presenting the marketing and sales of wine ( i.e. tourism) as "agriculture" in the 2008 General Plan (policy AG/LU-2 on page 13 here), the analysis of the impacts of tourism development were conveniently avoided in the EIR leading to 2008 General Plan adoption.

A wine-tourism economy has impacts. It inflates rural land values and labor costs and urbanizes the rural environment, undermining the profitability of an agricultural product that must compete in a global market to exist. Winery tourism brings an ever increasing labor force into rural areas and an ever increasing number of tourists to be housed and fed and transported by ever more employees in the municipalities. It is a cascade of urban development impacts that we were already feeling in traffic, loss of affordable housing, infrastructure taxes, natural resource degradation and the changing rural and small town character so important to us all.

NVR 7/19/17: Napa County Planning Commission delays winery decision amid flood concerns

The Flynnville proposal was continued just before lunch. Surprisingly, it was not to be the major time-consumer of the day. That honor fell to the tiny, 10000 gal/yr, no-visitation Whitehall Lane Winery, a proposal so modest that it was hard to imagine any controversy given the now weekly approval of multiple wineries at the planning commission. The difference? The project is surrounded by respected resident growers and winery owners who don't want another building project (particularly one done by a spec developer) in their neighborhood. Yes, many of the complaints revolved around the drainage issues of Bale Slough that flows through the site (just as the depletion of groundwater became an issue for a respected neighboring vintner on Flynnville.) But as we know, and as Comm. Scott mentioned earlier in the day, these battles must be fought on the technical nitty gritty, and not over the real concern: the increasing development that is destroying the rural character that residents, growers, vintners and weekenders alike, all treasure. It is that concern that (IMHO) brings forth the energy and money necessary for the fight. Technical issues can be negotiated with technical fixes. There is no mitigation for the loss of a treasured rural character and way of life.

One of the great disappointments in the ongoing proliferation of winery projects these last 3 years has been the unwillingness of growers and vintners to confront the urbanization of agricultural lands until the buildings are proposed in their own backyard. Growers and vintners ("people who don't normally come to speak to us" in Chair Gill's words) have a great deal more power in convincing county officials than other residents. By remaining quiet they are insuring that eventually their backyards will be filled with building projects, and the rural character of the county that they appreciate and that is their livelihood is sure to disappear. [The project was a continued]

Napa Vlley Groundwater Sustainability Alternativeon: Watershed Issues

Gary Margadant - Feb 15,17    Share expand...

This is a summary of documents and posts on Napa County's sustainable groundwater management alternative plan, titled Napa Valley Groundwater Sustainability - A Basin Analysis Report for the Napa Valley Subbasin, in response to the State's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

State Links:
Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)
Sustainable Groundwater Alternative Plan description
List and Map of all water district SGM Alternatives with comments
Comments specifically on the Napa County Plan

County Links:
12/13/16 Staff Presentation of supporting documents for the Napa Valley Groundwater Sustainability - A Basin Analysis Report for the Napa Valley Subbasin to the California Dept of Water Resources (DWR), Item 9A on the Board Agenda.
The County's Groundwater Basin Analysis page
The Nov 3rd WICC workshop and draft report
Napa Grand Jury 2014-15 Report on groundwater

Individual Responses:
Gary Margadant:
What is Happening to Our Most Precious and Irreplaceable Resource: Our Water
Letter sent to the BOS on Dec 19th 2016
Chris Malan, Mike Hackett: Napa's Sustainable Groundwater alternative
Dan Mufson: got Water? Will you have water?
Responses to the Draft Napa Valley Basin Analysis Report

got Water? Will you have water?on: Vision 2050

Daniel Mufson - Feb 14,17    Share expand...
Comments submitted to the DWR:
February 14, 2017

Bill Brewster
Senior Engineering Geologist, North Central Region
California Department of Water Resources CA
3500 Industrial Blvd, West Sacramento, CA 95691

I am submitting comments on behalf of Napa Vision 2050 regarding the “Napa Valley Ground Water Sustainability-A Basin Analysis Report for the Napa Valley Subbasin (large file)” submitted to the Department of Water Resources (DWR) by Napa County on December 16, 2016. Napa County suggests that the basin is being managed sustainability and therefore no Groundwater Sustainability Agency nor Groundwater Sustainability Plan is required.

We do not agree for the following reasons.

§354.10 Notice and Communication

Napa County claims to have held numerous public meetings. They held meetings but they were not exactly robust town hall meetings. I was at several where there were just a few people in attendance. You should ask the county to provide data on the number of citizens who attended these meetings. Typically these meetings would have two presentations, one by the Natural Resources Conservation Manager and then by the county’s engineering consultant, Luhdorff & Scalmanini. These slide presentations were voluminous, not readily comprehensible and typically took the entire allotted time: At one meeting 11/23/15 at the Napa Public Library, chaired by a County Supervisor, due to these prolonged presentations, there was no time for ANY public input or questions. Similarly at other so-called workshop meetings only three minutes of public comment was allowed per citizen and often the comments were not responded to. The feeling was that they were not seeking public input or discussion: It wasn’t democracy in action.

§344.18 Water Budget

SGMA is intended to strengthen the connection between land use planning and water management. However, the report submitted by Napa County does not address likely future conditions: prolonged drought and increasing temperatures in California. Currently Napa County relies upon three sources of water:
• Ground Water (GW)
• Surface Water
• State Water Project (SWP) via the North Bay Aqueduct.

The Report states that groundwater pumping has provided a substantial contribution to the overall water supply for the Subbasin since at least the late 1980s. Land use mapping by DWR indicates that a shift occurred from predominantly surface water to groundwater as the source of supply for agriculture between 1987 and 2011. “Local supplies have also been augmented since 1968 by water imported for municipal use from the State Water Project along the North Bay Aqueduct and more recently through the use of recycled water”. Augmented is a curious word to use here as it does not reflect that SWP accounts for 50% of municipal water usage in Napa County today.

And more importantly, while residential units in the unincorporated county and agriculture are now the primary users of the GW, the report does not address the possibility of municipalities within the basin needing and using GW extraction to survive. Instead they use a model that says the cities will use surface water:

“…land use units within City water system boundaries of Napa and Yountville were modeled to be supplied by surface water, with the exception of a number of parcels near Yountville which are known to have been supplied by recycled water since 1977”. [Section 6.5.2/Page101 of the Napa County Report]

In the Napa Valley Subbasin, the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that the population is increasing, growing across all four of the incorporated municipalities in the Subbasin (City of Napa, City of St. Helena, City of Calistoga, and the Town of Yountville). And while Napa County’s second largest city, American Canyon, is not included in this Subbasin analysis, it must be considered in terms of the prolonged drought scenario that may require all municipalities to switch to GW. In order to protect its citizens, the county government is responsible for contingency planning.

SGMA requires that each agency shall establish a sustainability goal; specifically: Each Agency shall establish in its Plan a sustainability goal for the basin that culminates in the absence of undesirable results within 20 years of the applicable statutory deadline.

The report states that GW levels have been stable over the hydrologic base period (1988-2015). But as noted above, during this period of growth, significant quantities of water began to be obtained from the SWP to meet the needs of the municipalities. This suggests that the Subbasin system has not been truly sustainable.

During the recent prolonged drought, California has markedly lowered the SWP allocations and mandated water conservation measures from the municipalities and issued guidance documents such as, “Safeguarding California Implementation Action Plans 2016” to ensure that people and communities are able to withstand the impacts of climate disruption:

• “Loss of snowpack storage may reduce reliability of surface water supplies and result in greater demand on other sources of supply”.
• “As climate change reduces water supplies and increases water demands (as a result of higher temperatures), additional stresses are being placed on the Delta and other estuaries along the California coastline.”
• “Each local water agency will have to contend with impacts to their local watershed, as well as upstream and downstream watersheds that influence local water supply or water quality constraints.”

This Napa County GW Report does not address the likely impact of prolonged hot, dry weather on the ability of the state to deliver SWP water; for the surface water sources in Napa to be able to supply sufficient pure water and therefore the impact of the (at least) four municipalities demanding GW to protect the health, safety and welfare of their citizens.

A sustainable yield analysis by Napa County established that the maximum amount of water that can be withdrawn annually from the Subbasin groundwater supply without causing an undesirable result is within 17,000 acre-feet-per year (AFY) to approximately 20,000 AFY. The average municipal use in the Subbasin has been 17,300 AFY over the 1988 to 2015 study period. Thus, this analysis predicts that if the municipalities were required to use GW, the Subbasin would become unsustainable.

At the hearing on this Report (Agenda item 9A) before the Napa County Supervisors on December 13, 2016 using data from the consultant’s slide presentation, I raised concerns about how the county would protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens if the projected water budget were on the negative side as the consultant presented data slides which do not appear in the final report that showed a projected water budget (2016-2025) deficit of 14,300 AFY, projected for hot and low rainfall conditions. There was also an assumption made that the State Water Project allocation remains at an average of 42%. This doesn’t seem realistic as the allocation has been dramatically cut in recent years to as low as 5%. I raised the possibility of our municipalities needing to use ground water for their supplies under these conditions. No one, no Supervisor nor Public Works employee attempted to answer these issues and none have provided answers as of the submission of this comment letter.

It is important to note that, in earlier county documents the possible need for GW use by municipalities was discussed, and apparently forgotten. In November 15, 2005 a report, “2050 Napa Valley Water Resources” prepared by West Yost & Associates was presented to Napa County Flood Board:

“As municipalities consider potential increases in GW use, they should exercise caution, so that they do not adversely impact existing GW users”.

“An increase in Unincorporated [Water] Demands is possible, primarily due to an increase in vineyard demand [due to densification of vineyard plantings].” Various scenarios for municipal water supplies were presented that showed shortfalls by 2020 or 2050. To mitigate these shortfalls it was suggested that they use GW, purchase entitlements from other cities, purchase additional SWP entitlements, construct additional municipal GW wells, recycle water.

In response to the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, Napa County has submitted an Alternative Submittal, Basin Analysis Report, where an analysis of basin conditions presumes to demonstrate that the basin has operated within its sustainable yield over a period of at least 10 years. However, this has been accomplished through extensive utilization of state surface water by the municipalities as they used less surface water. This suggests an unsustainable water balance especially as hotter, drier weather is forecast.

Napa County Grand Jury Report

In addition to the 2005 report cited above, it must be further noted that the Napa County Grand Jury issued a report, “Management of Ground Water and Recycled Water: Is Napa County in Good Hands?” on March 31, 2015. [They] investigated Napa County’s management of groundwater for the following reasons:

• Continued drought
• Napa County’s reliance on agriculture and its need for water
• Many newspaper articles expressing concern over increased
development and asking, “Where will the water come from?”

Despite the efforts by the County, this Grand Jury does have some concerns that we believe need to be addressed:
• The differences between what the well drillers and the geologist stated
and what the County believes is happening on the Valley floor with
respect to groundwater levels and aquifer recharge.
• Most well owners have groundwater extraction limits that cannot be
enforced by the County. With the exception of the MST, their
groundwater usage is not monitored, even for large water users. There are
provisions in the new SGMA that would allow the local agency to
impose fees to fund the costs of groundwater management, including the
costs of monitoring users’ groundwater usage.
• The County does not have a groundwater management contingency plan
in place should the drought continue.

This Grand Jury would stress that there are some troubling issues and that the County would be better served planning for a potential future disaster vs. waiting for it to happen and then trying to put a plan together quickly. Citizens should expect their governmental officials to be prepared for all potential outcomes and have procedures or policies in place that they may rely on when needed.

R1. By December 31, 2015, the Napa County Public Works Department to
develop a contingency plan, approved by the Board of Supervisors, that lays out the major steps to be taken in the event of severe drought conditions.
R2. By June 30, 2016, the Napa County Public Works Department to require major groundwater users to meter and report their water usage on a quarterly basis to ensure all well owners are following prescribed usage rates.
R3. By June 30, 2016, the Napa County Public Works Department to adopt policies to encourage all other groundwater users to meter and monitor their well water usage.

The Board of Supervisors responded that they would evaluate these recommendations, in the context of the Alternate Groundwater Sustainability Plan in their correspondence with the Superior Court Judge Stone on August 11, 2015 but they have not.

§354.34 Monitoring Networks

However, the Supervisors have not developed a contingency plan regarding GW allocation in the face of a prolonged water emergency affecting this Subbasin.

The Supervisors had promised the Grand Jury and the Superior Court significant outreach to and input from the public on Grand Jury Recommendations 2 and 3 regarding water metering and monitoring. No one can say that there has been significant outreach to the public on this topic or the Basin Analysis Report as evidenced by the non-existent turnout at “public” sessions. There is no plan to meter and monitor GW usage.


We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the Alternate Submittal proposed by Napa County. Napa Vision 2050 asks that you do not approve the Report as it does not address the likely scenario of prolonged drought conditions in the state and the Subbasin which will likely culminate in undesirable results within 20 years. It does not address how the municipalities, with the largest populations centers, are to survive if the SWP supplies and surface supplies are curtailed and/or degraded in their quality.

Daniel Mufson, Ph.D., President
Napa Vision 2050
PO Box 2385
Yountville, CA94599

Concerns over Milliken Damon: Watershed Issues

Chris Malan - Feb 14,17    Share expand...

Holes in Milliken Dam
NVR 2/14/17: Holes are the key to protecting concrete dam outside Napa

From: Chris Malan
Date: Mon, Feb 13, 2017 at 8:50 AM
Subject: Milliken Dam
To: Mary Luros, Juliana Inman, Peter Mott , Jill Techel, Keith Caldwell, Alfredo Pedroza, Brad Wagenknecht, Diane Dillon, Ryan Gregory, Belia Ramos, Scott Sedgley

Orville Dam failure reminds us of our own aging Milliken Dam and it’s lack of full structural integrity since 1924.

Several years ago, the State Division of Dams and Safety (SDDS) ordered the owner of Milliken Dam, the City of Napa, to lower the water surface level in the reservoir such that the pressure against the dam would be reduced due to unacceptable long term ‘cracking' in the dam’s concrete structure.

It took many years for the engineers to come up with a design remedy short of lowering or removing the dam itself. The State engineers accepted the City of Napa’s remedy to bore 5 holes in the face of dam in hopes of keeping the water surface level 16 feet below the rim of the dam.

Given the winter storms and the earthquake in Angwin a few days ago I have these questions about Milliken Dam:

  1. How long has the dam been spilling this year? If so, for how long? Do you expect the dam to spill if it hasn’t yet? If so, when?
  2. Are the 5 holes bored in the dam efficiently keeping up with the volume of water coming into the reservoir such that the water surface elevation is kept the required 15 feet below the dam’s concrete rim to reach as required by the SDDS
  3. Are there any new structural failures of the dam? If so, what are they?
  4. When was the last time the Division of Dams and Safety inspected Milliken Dam? When was the last time new recommendations were made? If so, what were they?
  5. Who is the official at the SDDS that inspects Milliken Dam? When did SDDS last inspect the dam? Are the SDDS’s monitoring reports available to the public? If so, please provide a link.

Above Milliken Reservoir
These questions should be answered in a publicly noticed town hall meeting or put on the Napa City Council’s regular agenda.

Not only is public safety of utmost concern, but there is unique and valuable aquatic habitat below the dam. Both interests must be protected ahead of any dam failure possibility.

Given climate change (deluge to drought), increased erosion and runoff from watershed degradation (vineyards in the hills above Milliken Dam), and the age of this defective Dam, I would like to request that this issue be put on the City Council’s agenda for full public disclosure about the status of Milliken Dam.

Please advise.

Thank You,
Chris Malan
Institute for Conservation Advocacy, Research and Education,

Executive Director

What is Happening to Our Most Precious and Irreplaceable Resource: Our Wateron: Vision 2050

Gary Margadant - Feb 13,17    Share expand...

Editor: This interesting read researched and written by Gary Margadant and Elaine de Man describes why we need to think carefully about Napa County's alternative plan for groundwater management. In the next days we will post some of the public comments on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act alternative submitted by our Board of Supervisors to the California Department of Water Resources. It is critically important that citizens become aware of the stakes involved to our future water supply.

The number of wineries in the Napa Valley has more than doubled over the last twenty years—from about 280 in 1996 to around 570 now--all using free water from the ground. This growth is unsustainable, yet local government and wine industry trade groups continue to fund and market Napa Valley, attracting visitors from around the world at a rate that increasingly overburdens our roads and resources. What we don’t see, however, is what is happening underground to our water supply.

In 2014 Governor Brown signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) to address the alarming depletion of regional groundwater. Among other things, this act requires local governments to form a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) to create and implement a Groundwater Management Plan for water basins that have been designated as medium- or high-priority. The floor of the Napa Valley from Calistoga to Napa, more formally known as the “Napa Valley Sub-Basin,” is considered a medium-priority water basin.

Sustainable Water Management?

Instead of following SGMA’s plan, the Napa County Board of Supervisors opted to take an end-run by submitting an “alternative” plan to the GSA. Napa County claims that the groundwater in the Napa Valley has been sustainably managed for the past 10 years. To support that idea, the County hired consultants Luhdorff and Scalmanini (LSCE) to prepare a report on the state of the Napa Valley Sub-Basin and county’s management of it. The report, entitled Basin Analysis Report, was completed late last year and claims that the Napa Valley Basin has been ‘stable’ for the last 10 years, eliminating the need for a Groundwater Sustainability Agency or the Groundwater Management Plan that would otherwise be required by the state.

Careful examination of the LSCE report determined that there could be catastrophic errors in acting on the conclusion that the Napa Valley Sub-Basin has been adequately managed over the past 10 years. Recommendations by citizens were made to the Board of Supervisors that more study was needed. Nevertheless, this report was accepted, approved, and submitted to the State of California by the Napa County Board of Supervisors.

Factors not considered in this report:

* The report does not consider the impact of the changes in climate that we already are experiencing on groundwater supplies, including the impact of hot days, the effect of drought on groundwater and the diminution of water supplied by the North Bay Aqueduct (NBA).The NBA is a pipeline carrying water from the Sacramento River to Napa Valley and Solano Valley. The NBA water supply is dependent on the Snow Pack in the Sierra Mountains. In a drought, the amount can be reduced to 5% of normal, requiring cities in Napa County to rely only on their limited water reservoirs, Hennessey and Milliken (Napa City), Bell (St Helena), Rector (Yountville, Veterans Home), Kimball (Calistoga).

*Most of the grapes grown in the Napa Valley are grown on the valley floor. These grapes are grown using groundwater extracted from wells drawing on our aquifers.

*The amount of water extracted through these wells is not metered.

*Some well owners are not required to report groundwater extraction at all.

*Some are required to self-report to the county the amount of groundwater extracted.

*Water use estimations are part of a winery use permit, yet the water amount actually used is never verified.

These groundwater extraction reports are not available to the public. The bottom line is that no one really knows how much groundwater is being extracted from our aquifers. If the county is successful in dodging the establishment of a Groundwater Sustainability Agency, business will continue as usual and groundwater extraction will continue to go unmetered and unknown.

An Uncertain Water Budget

Part of the flawed LSCE analysis includes a “water budget”: a determination of how much water flows into the valley through rainfall versus how much water is removed from the valley or captured in ponds and reservoirs before reaching the valley floor for consumption by residents or agricultural irrigation. The chart below, not based on water meters, calculates that there should be a net gain within the aquifer of 6,000 acre ft/yr.

But, the data collected over the last 10 years does not show that to be the case. The aquifer has remained stable, not grown and will not grow in the future.

How can that be? As the LSCE chart indicates, uncertainty in the individual budget components (italicized) of “Upland Runoff” and “SW Outflow and Baseflow,” which represent the greatest amount of water flowing into and out of the aquifer, bear the greatest degree of uncertainty.

As some of these conclusions are based on hypothetical, calculated information, we might conservatively assume they may be off by 2%. And if we take a worst case scenario which is less input AND more outflow than shown we might see that:

Upland Runoff is actually 145,000 minus 2,900 (2%) or 142,100 ac-ft/yr
and, SW Outflow and Baseflow are 176,000 plus 3,520 (2%) or 179,520 ac-ft/yr

If that is the case, we would have an annual change in Subbasin Storage of negative 37,420 ac-ft/yr.

What the LSCE report fails to state is the actual margins of error in the calculations. So the question is, is the 2% margin of error we estimate a risk we are willing to take?
If the answer is yes, it would 1. save the county money by not having to create a new agency (GSA) and 2. avoid more bureaucracy. But we believe the answer is No. Ongoing monitoring of our water supply is paramount to the future of the wine industry and residents of the Napa Valley. Vineyard development of our hillsides and watersheds is rampant with more applications in the pipeline at the County’s Planning Department. No data has been presented to back up the LSCE report assumption that hillside vineyard development will not impact the “upland” flow of water into the subbasin. Although data may be available from wells that are already located in strategic areas, the groundwater levels are subject to the impact of hillside development. If those wells are not identified and we don’t have access to the data, we have no way of knowing what the negative impacts of the conversion of hillside forests to vineyards might be.

The consequences of the County’s current course of action are too high: lowered groundwater levels, degraded water quality, land subsidence, and saltwater intrusion into groundwater. These are the same undesirable results that SGMA was designed to curtail! It is imperative that we take the long view in this time of global climate change and inform the State of California of the serious errors in the County’s report and the dire consequences to our Napa Valley if we do not establish accurate groundwater data by metering. The fate of our water supply is in the State’s hands now.

Please use this link to comment to the State of California Department of Water Resources by February 15, 2017.

Talking points:

1. Although the County report prepared by Luhdorff and Scalmanini claims the Napa Valley Sub-Basin has been adequately managed over the past 10 years, there appear to be serious errors that could be catastrophic to the county’s water supply. More study is needed before such an alternative plan is granted.

2. The report does not take into consideration the impact of the development of the hillsides on the groundwater in the subbasin.

3. Until we have more available hard data on groundwater levels, water quality, land subsidence, and saltwater intrusion into groundwater wells, we cannot make responsible decisions on groundwater management. Recommend that use permit holders be required to monitor wells and to submit data to the county.

4. Any abuse of water use, when metered and identified, must be corrected.

Please also contact our Board of Supervisors and encourage them to support and enact this crucial monitoring of groundwater to fully understand the impact of hillside planting and wells on our groundwater supply.
From the Water Balance charts in the NV Basin Plan.

The so-called wine industryon: Tourism Issues

Bill Hocker - Feb 7,17    Share expand...

Google Maps definition of "Napa County"
NVR 2/5/17: At Napa Valley wineries, the visitor is king

This article is one of the most forthright explanations of the "wine industry" in Napa, an industry no longer driven by the production of wine but by the production of visitor experiences.

Rob McMillan hits on an essential point. “What we have planted right now in Napa is effectively what we’re going to have.” Since 2006 the number of Napa acres in grapes has remained level - no doubt with new vineyards in the hills offset by covering valley vineyards with wineries and parking lots. (view the crop reports here).

Most of the limited supply of Napa wine will continue to be sold by major winery distribution throughout the world, because that's probably where the real money is for Napa's real wine industry. The minor percentage left is being divided into ever smaller pieces by the ever increasing number of brands too niche-market for wholesale distribution, targeted specifically at the direct-to-consumer tourist and wine club trade. It is this fraction of the industry that has become the preoccupation of residents, county government and the industry alike. The building projects and the influx of customers for such retail commerce have impacts on everyone in the county.

Even given the limits on grape production, the number of new wineries and winery expansions being approved is greater than ever before. Since 2006 the county has approved some 175 new or expanded winery permits (from this county report), most of which have not yet been built. There are currently about 50 new or expanded winery requests in the planning department (my own chart here). The Planning Commission is beginning to hold 3 sessions per month to deal with the logjam of applications. Together these new production facilities will increase county wine-making capacity by 6 mil gallons but wine output by nothing. They must use grape sources that are already being used elsewhere to make Napa wine, with no net impact on the Napa brand "wine industry". (Actually there is an impact: niche vintners outbidding everyone to fill their new tanks are raising grape prices and undercutting the competitiveness of Napa's wines on the world market.)

Thus the necessary redefinition of "wine industry", based on wine tourism rather than wine making (actually made in 2008 changes to the County General Plan) . Most of the applications since 2006 have been predicated on the 2.4 million added visitor slots (from the county report) which developers are depending on for their business models to succeed. The object is to increase the amount of money that can be made per bottle on an ever dwindling amount of wine to be sold.

Rob McMillan pointed out in a 2014 presentation that visitors are willing to spend more sitting down than standing up. This latest NVR article mentions wineries that are cutting back on wine production while increasing more pampered visitor experiences, or cutting back on visitation to increase the quality of the experience. In 2010 revisions to the winery definition ordinance, "tours and tastings", the bulk of winery visitation, were for the first time allowed to include food service (more here). Since then wineries have moved toward more intimate seated tastings with expensive wine pairings, turning wineries into defacto restaurants to supplement the parties previously allowed as "marketing events".

But one can imagine, even without another recession, a leveling off of tourism as well. Short of more freeways, anathema to all concerned about urban sprawl, the pain of getting here both for tourists and workers is beginning to take a toll. And the touristic nature of experiences here is already becoming a turnoff to aficionados looking for authenticity. The competition for the tourist trade as well as for grapes, as the new wineries and expansions come online, will be ferocious. It will be interesting to see how well the new wineries will fare against the well funded corporate players as grape and visitor scarcity increases. For those that can't sell out to the corporations (who may already have their own bundle of niche wineries), the pressure will only increase to allow brew pubs, b and b's, weddings, yoga retreats, resorts, amusement parks, casinos, anything to prop up the existence of buildings and jobs and business models that never should have been created. At worst (or maybe best) we will end up with another generation ghost wineries.

Unfortunately the NVR article is strictly about the wine industry conversion to a tourism industry and not about the broader impacts of wine tourism on the character of Napa County and the lives of Napa residents. Wine tourism has impacts that wine making does not, and that difference is a large part of the resistance that the industry and governments have received from residents all around the county in the last couple of years. The increasing traffic; a prized rural landscape filling up with buildings and parking lots and clear cut hillsides; the loss of local businesses, affordable housing and community consciousness in the towns. the need for ever more taxes and bond measures to pay for the infrastructure of an ever increasing workforce and number of visitors; the demand on limited water resources for ever more development.

The essence of the original ag preservation ordinances was to severely limit urban development in the county to insure that agriculture can survive. The conversion of the economic base from wine making to wine marketing through tourism, requiring as it does an urban infrastructure to support millions of visitors, will eventually destroy the rural character of the county and the goal upon which the Ag Preserve was based. The visitor is king, but of what? As the Google Map default image for "Napa County" shows, Napa is already becoming an ersatz Magic Kingdom. How appropriate.

"Too Egregious"on: Vision 2050

Daniel Mufson - Feb 7,17    Share expand...

Milliken Reservoir leading up to the Walt Ranch at the top of picture under the wing. Photo by Napa Vision Aerial Photo Team
Napa Vision 2050 applauds the decisions of five groups to sue Napa County over the permitting of the Walt Ranch development.

The litigants include the Center for Biological Diversity, the Napa Sierra Club, and three local groups: Circle Oaks County Water District, Circle Oaks Homeowners Association,
and the Living Rivers Council.

“Lawsuits are a last resort, reserved when all other options have been exhausted. This project, which would destroy 160 acres of woodland, more than 14,000 trees, was just too egregious. We had to challenge it by any means available.”
— Nancy Tamarisk, Vice Chair of the Napa Sierra Club

This project has certainly stirred so much concern. Thanks to everyone who has shown up at hearings and on the streets, made public comment and written letters, imploring our elected officials to listen to expert witnesses presenting conflicting data from with applicant's studies. Besides tree destruction, objections have been raised against the potential for pollution of Napa City's Milliken Reservoir. The project also presents hazards to our threatened species, the groundwater source for the Circle Oaks community, ground instability, and dewatering of Milliken Creek.

Stay tuned...We'll keep you up to date on the latest!

Napa Nostra? (updated)on: Vision 2050

Bill Hocker - Feb 3,17    Share expand...

Update Dottie Lee LTE 2/3/17: Don't denigrate good citizenship
NVR 1/18/17: Napa's wine battles turn to pizza skirmish

From the NVR article: 'Stults called Vision 2050 “a small, divisive group of people with the ambition of taking down the Napa Valley wine industry.”'

I don't speak for Napa Vision 2050, but there are many people in the county who are concerned about the changing nature of the wine industry, and the impact of that change on the rural character of the county and the quality of their lives, and that have no interest in "taking down the wine industry". Quite the opposite; the wine industry, built by resident vintners and growers that valued not only the success of their industry but the preservation of their rural communities has always had the respect of the other rural residents that benefit from the maintenance of a rural environment and small town life that was its product.

But the industry, as the industry itself constantly mentions, is changing. And the nature of that change is toxic to residents that treasure the bucholic pleasure of an agricultural economy. It is difficult to know whether the wine industry is becoming, or is just acting as a cover for, the tourism, entertainment, real estate and consturction interests that are beginning to engulf us all with development. Traffic is only a symptom of a development boom that is filling the vineyards with buildings and parking lots, and clearcutting hillsides for estates, resorts and more vineyards to replace those paved over on the valley floor, and for the tourism conversion of the municipalities that eliminates affordable housing and decimates the sense of small-town community life. And for the mining of parklands to build it all.

In a previous generation the wine industry fought the urbanizing trajectory that those industries represent. Urbanization is the death of agriculture. One is left to wonder why now, after 40 some years of the wine industry being the defender of a rural environment, it is now up to the residents, against all odds including the bullying of the wine industry, to try to save the rural environment which an agricultural economy needs to exist.

A year and a half ago, the Napa Valley Vintners launched a PR campaign dubbed Our Napa Valley, casting the urban impacts as solvable with wider roads and more housing, i.e. more development. Until the wine industry returns to the notion that curbing development is in its own best long-term interest, as well as the interest of all citizens concerned about preserving the rural character of this place, skirmishes will no doubt continue.

The pizzagate archive:
NVR 2/3/17: Don't denigrate good citizenship
NVR 1/30/17: Wealth, power and entitlement
NVR 1/20/17: Redefining Vision 2050
NV2050 1/22/17: Give pizza a chance
NVR 1/18/17: Just say no to bullying
NV2050 1/15/17: The wine industry strikes back
NVR 1/18/17: Napa's wine battles turn to pizza skirmish
NVR 1/10/17: Suffering a lack of leadership
NVR 12/310/16: No. 1 story of 2016: Wine industry under fire

Honor and Verificationon: Compliance Issues

Geoff Ellsworth - Feb 1,17    Share expand...

[Statement made at the Planning Commission hearing for the Raymond Winery Major Modification on Feb 1, 2017]

I am Geoff Ellsworth, speaking as a resident of St. Helena. I have concerns regarding cumulative impacts from after-the-fact approvals such as this. Impacts including traffic, greenhouse gasses, safety issues on our roadways and water uses. I believe not addressing the impacts from overages is unfair to our citizens and also is detrimental to our democratic process. To issustrate this I'll make the point that while citizens had a chance to weigh in on the original permitted levels, they had no chance to weigh in on the unpermitted overages and the associated impacts. By allowing after-the-fact approvals we lose all undrstanding of what kind of impacts we are trully looking at. Particularly when looked at cumulatively with other overages we're seeing around the county.

I believe a proper compliance and enforcement program must be in place before we continue with further approvals so that we can start to get an understanding of what type of impacts we are truly dealing with, the effects on our community and also to prevent the further escalation of overages

-we need a system to verify visitation numbers.
- regarding the WDO the policy that food service revenue is limited to cost recovery only, we need a system in place to verify this.
- also we need a water monitoring system - where the use is capped based on the permit and metered - to make sure that everybody is honoring our honor system.

One thing that is becoming clear - democracy is an honor system. In order to protect our democratic process we as citizens must stand up to insure the rules are adhered to, rules set in place to protect our community.

Napa City's Oaks - Once they're gone, they're gone (updated)on: City of Napa

Bill Hocker - Jan 31,17    Share expand...

Napa Oaks Development

Update 1/31/17: 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
City of Napa: Napa Oaks II Draft EIR Released for Public Review*
(there is a 45 day review period for the DEIR but since the city offers no date for the release it's impossible to know when the comment period ends. Intentional?)
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.

Update 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

Stand up for your rightson: Watershed Issues

Mike Hackett - Jan 29,17    Share expand...

    "The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any." - Alice Walker

At the women’s rights and anti-Trump rally on Jan. 21, we were all energized by the size, unity and spirit of the assembled citizens. When our congressman, Mike Thompson, spoke of conviction, courage and determination that this is the time to “stand up,” we all roared with strong approval and understanding. We were there to stand up for the rights of women to control their own bodies, the right to adequate health care for all Americans, the right to marry whomever one may choose and the right for all people, of all colors, ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs and socio-economic status to determine their own future; in other words, the right to self-determination without influence from the corrupt and small greedy segment of the one-percenters. These rights are bestowed to all our citizens from the basic structure of our bill of rights and our democratic system of government. They should include every race, gender and class.

I feel compelled to point out that the balance of power is off-kilter not only in Washington, but right here at home in the Napa Valley. I was shocked to read that a wine industry lobby spokesman felt compelled to call Forge Pizza with a “courtesy call,” to tell the owners they shouldn’t be getting in the middle of a dispute between Napa Vision 2050 and the Napa wine industry.

Yes, Vision 2050 is providing the needed resistance to expansion of vineyards into our hillsides, where the future of our water will be determined by whether we can enact and enforce sufficient protections for our watersheds. The environmental groups that comprise Napa Vision 2050 are totally supportive of the wine and tourism industry, but not at the expense of the citizen’s rights to a healthy, sustainable and quality future.

Vision 2050 understands that with climate change, we don’t have the time to allow any more mistakes. 2016 was the hottest year on record, for the third year in a row. If we want to ensure that there’s adequate water supply in the future, we must protect our County’s watersheds at all cost, even if that means capping the allowable deforestation on our hills for more wine grape production.

Portions of the wine industry lobby are, unfortunately, led by that small greedy segment of the very wealthy; by the same kind of bullies that many of us feel are stealing our rights at the national level. The wine industry creates thousands of jobs and donates millions to needy causes. But now some in the industry are turning a blind eye to residents’ rights and are seemingly interested in turning Mother Earth into a toxic, unlivable planet in the name of quarterly profits.

Is our level of democracy at risk right here at home? Yes it is. Last year, when the Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative was drafted and more than 6,300 citizens “stood up” to get it on the ballot, County Counsel mandated it be pulled at the last minute due to a supposed “small legal technicality.”

Most disturbing is that the other two measures that the county actually helped get to the voters, contain these same “legal technicalities.” Why was the watershed initiative jerked from the ballot? It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that the long arm of the bully segment within the wine industry reaches deeply into our county political machine, perhaps because some within the industry saw this initiative as a real threat to their continued vineyard expansion into our hillsides, at the expense of our watersheds. The issue will be decided in the Court of Appeal this summer.

One need look no further than the friends who have filed in support of the watershed initiative to understand what’s at stake: California Native Plant Society, California Wildlife Foundation, Corporate Ethics International, Environmental Defense Center, Forest Forever, Forest Unlimited, Greenbelt Alliance, Save the Bay, Planning and Conservation League, Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks, Environmental Protection Information Center and Sierra Nevada Alliance.

This watershed initiative example and the fundraiser show that democracy is in trouble in Napa County. If a small group dedicated to a sustainable future can’t even hold a fundraiser without being attacked by big business, we need to “stand up.” Local businesses should not be forced to pick a side when it comes to supporting a sustainable future for Napa County. Why would holding a fundraiser for a small community group alienate the wine industry lobby?

This is a clear illustration of the over-sized influence this industry has in our community. Local residents have a right to organize and share information about a sustainable vision for our community. What’s at stake on the national level is exactly what’s at stake here at home. So let’s all “stand up,” right here, right now, to ensure our democracy shines with a brilliance never seen before.

NVR LTE version 1/29/17: Stand up for your rights

Happy Birthday Napa Vision 2050!on: Vision 2050

Daniel Mufson - Jan 25,17    Share expand...
Jan 20, 2015
It's been two years since our first meeting as
"The Grand Coalition."

25 people were invited and 50 showed up and it's been non-stop activity ever since to advocate for clean air and water; public health issues; compliance of wineries to their use permits and protection of our watersheds.
In two short years we have matured and grown, a coalition of 14 citizen groups who want to protect our valley from corporate pillaging of our environment. We are vintners, growers, doctors, lawyers, psychoanalysts, artists, teachers, and educators working to protect and preserve #OurNapaValley for future generations.

Join with us also on Facebook.

Redefining Napa Vision 2050on: Vision 2050

Harris Nussbaum - Jan 24,17    Share expand...

In a recent front-page article in the Napa Valley Register "Wine Battle Now A Pizza Fight," Rex Stults from the Napa Valley Vintners is quoted as describing Vision 2050 as "a small, divisive group of people with the ambition of taking down the Napa Valley wine industry."

That troubles me because it so far from the truth. Vision 2050 is actually a coalition of 14 local groups that got together because they saw our political leaders approving every winery and vineyard development, without regard to its impact on the environment, water, residents, and the wine industry itself. It has a great appreciation for all the wine industry does for this valley and wants it to succeed.

It is actually a very large group of local citizens from 14 significant organizations including Get A Grip, Sierra Club, Mt. Veeder Stewardship Council, Save Yountville Hill, Protect Rural Napa and others. It consists of grape growers, vintners, doctors, lawyers, educators, business people, and many other professionals. They are bright and articulate local residents who have a concern for the future of this Valley.

The wine industry here is changing. Locally owned wineries are often being bought up by international conglomerates with little connection to the valley. Most follow the rules laid down when they were approved. As in most industries there are a few bad apples that greatly violate the conditions of approval. A problem was that so many new wineries were being approved the county could not provide oversight to what they were doing.

Each group in Vision 2050 has an issue they are concerned about and it has split the power of the group, but there have been changes because of their efforts. Now is not the time for us to fight over pizza or to call each other names. I believe we all want the wine industry to succeed, but many fear that without some foresight it will destroy itself.

I want to thank Vision 2050 for its efforts to bring many Napa residents together and to the wine industry for supporting many worthwhile programs.

NVR version 1/20/17: Redefining Vision 2050

Give pizza a chanceon: Vision 2050

Daniel Mufson - Jan 22,17    Share expand...

    "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
    - Mahatma Gandi

So here we are a week since this unsavory “Pizza Money” story began. Thank you all who said hello at the magnificent Women’s Rally and talked to me of “pizza rights!”

The Good News: You-- the #Real Napa Neighbors-- stood behind us and we raised more money than months of Sunday pizza dine & donates.

Now the bad news is we missed having a fun time with you, our Neighbors, and we haven’t received an apology from the Napa Valley Vintners for scuttling our dine and donate scheduled for today. Rex Stults, an NVV executive of spoke for that organization when he said “I would have a hard time believing that a local restaurant wants to do a dine & donate for Vision 2050 and alienate the Napa Valley wine industry who they rely upon for a large part of their business.”

The bottom line is we had an agreement with Forge which they backed out of after getting a “courtesy” call from the Napa Valley Vintners, interference pure and simple. So the Napa Valley Vintners, who profess in their propaganda to be part of the community in our Napa Valley, would force local businesses not to serve the #RealNapaNeighbors ? Neighbors who are for wineries complying with their permits and not destroying the watersheds?

Gandi got it right - first we were ignored, then we were laughed at, now we're being attacked.

Napa County Land Trust (updated)on: Watershed Issues

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

NVR1/20/17: Large swath of Napa County land near Calistoga protected
NVR 9/4/16: Effort underway to protect 856-acre forest in Angwin
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


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 below 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 S and Walt Ranch. The Circle S development has discussed the possibility of a 500+ acre conservation easement. Would that include a public trail? The Walt Ranch development has yet to weigh in on a conservation easement.


The Napa County Land Trust map with other projects superimposed in pink.

Just Say No to Bullyingon: Vision 2050

Kathy Felch - Jan 17,17    Share expand...

Sometimes things just take your breath away. This time it was the long powerful arm of the wine industry reaching out to snatch pizza funds from our nonprofit, Napa Vision 2050, a two-year-old organization devoted to protecting the health and environment of Napa County. This is the wine industry that won the nation’s top place in direct-to-consumer sales in 2016. Napa county’s wine industry sales are expected to surpass $1 billion dollars for the second year in a row, according to the Napa Valley Register.

Saturday evening I got a call from an administrator for a new local restaurant trying to build their business here by connecting with our community. On behalf of Napa Vision 2050, I had arranged a Dine and Donate event at this restaurant for January 22 – supporters come in, show the restaurant’s flyer about the event and a percentage of their bill comes to our organization as a fundraiser. We had worked out a monthly Dine and Donate schedule through November of this year.

The announcement for our first event on January 22 went out to the Napa Vision 2050 mailing list, which includes many representatives of wine industry trade organizations and wineries. Evidently we tipped them off to something they did not like. Within twenty-four hours, the restaurant had received so many calls from wineries and the industry objecting to its partnering with us that the restaurant cancelled the events.

I think your readers ought to know what this industry is capable of doing. Our Napa County belongs to us all… not to any one industry. Do they think they own the county? Our events would have helped this restaurant reach into our community and it would have helped us raise money to make Napa a better place for all of us. Jeepers, a pizza fundraiser?

Kathy Felch
Vice-President, Napa Vision 2050

Mountain Peak: not remotely appropriateon: Mountain Peak Winery

Bill Hocker - Jan 16,17    Share expand...
On Jan 4th 2017, the Mountain Peak Winery was approved by a 3 to 1 vote at the Napa County Planning Commission. Comm. Cottrell, heeding the interpretive guidance given by Supervisors in the 2010 WDO (from Exhibit A, Item III here) to consider the remoteness and access constraints in determining marketing and visitation numbers, decided that she could not support the visitation and marketing requested. The location is 6 miles up a winding dead-end road, up a steep grade and pass, the only access to the isolated plateau of the Rector Reservoir watershed. The project is proposed to be a 100,000 gal/y winery with 14575 yearly visitors and 19 employees.

In the last year, in a reasonable effort to provide some objectivity to the arbitrary requests for visitation that applicants make in presenting their projects, the Planning Department has begun providing charts to the planning commissioners comparing the applicants requests to wineries of similar capacity, similar siting, and in the same locality. The charts presented to commissioners regarding Mountain Peak are here. In addition, the applicant provided several "comparables" of their own on page 14 of their project narrative here.

At the Jan 4th Planning Commission meeting, Deputy Director of Engineering Rick Marshall, the chief county road engineer, drew a distinction in the Mountain Peak decision for Commissioners to consider when looking at comparable wineries: "I think a tough decision for you today is the distinction between roads that are dead end versus those that are not." He elaborated on the funding difficulties that the county faces in maintaining its roads, indicating that dead end roads might be rather low on their repair priorities as funding comes available in the future. (There is more on the road issues raised in the hearing here) He concluded by asking: "Is it appropriate to put this land use on this dead end road?... I hand it back to you at that point."

In our Jan 4th 2017 community presentation to the Planning Commission, we looked at the details of those comparables with particular emphasis on the dead end nature of the road. Soda Canyon Road is one of the longest dead-end roads (along with Atlas Peak road) in the county. This presentation, highlighting the dead end nature of the road, was made by Glenn Schreuder and is included here:

[Presentation given to the Planning Commission on Jan 4th, 2017 at hearing for Mountain Peak Use Permit P13-00320]

Honorable Commissioners,

My name is Glenn Schreuder and my family has lived in upper Soda Canyon continuously since 1956. I would like to present some comparisons to the Proposed Mountain Peak Project that have been made which give some context to the appropriateness of the size and visitation requested for the project.

Comparison 1: from applicant
I wish to respectfully draw your attention to the “Comparative Analysis of Daily Visitation” contained on page 14 of the 18 page applicant's Project Statement, as revised on March 15th, 2016. Five Wineries are listed in “Comparative Analysis of Daily Visitation”: Chappellet, Ladera,Oakville Grade, Schramsberg and Somerston.

Purportedly selected for their location on “Hillside Roads”, well sort of hillside roads, but I’ll get to that shortly. The analysis also represents that the daily visitation for MPW is 58% of the norm when compared to these five wineries of similar Gallons per Year.

Mountain Peak
100000 g/y
Road Configuration
6.1 miles, Dead End Road

As shown in the above chart, the analysis clearly cherry picks 100K Gallons per Year (GPY) “hillside” wineries with material visitation entitlements that are not located on dead-end, one way in and one way out rural, residential roads:
  1. Chappellet: Located on CA Hwy 128 (aka Sage Canyon Road, NOT on a dead end road and NOT in the heart of a rural neighborhood, it’s actually a driveway on a state highway toward Winters, CA.
  2. Ladera: Located on two-way in/out White Cottage Road a short distance from Angwin (a census-designated place with a population of ~3,000)
  3. Oakville Grade: Located on the two-way in/out Oakville Grade, not a dead-end.
  4. Schramsberg: Located up private Schramsberg Road off of CA Hwy 29 (not a neighborhood, a private road to the winery).
  5. Somerston: Located again on CA Hwy 128 (Sage Canyon Road) NOT a dead-end road and NOT in the heart of a rural neighborhood).
As a result this analysis is, in essence, comparing five apples to one orange which is misleading.

Comparison 2 from County:

Further, in regard to the County-created Exhibit F “Updated Winery Comparison, 100,000 GPY”, of the 18 wineries listed in the comparison, 14 are indicated to be on the “valley floor” and only 4 are indicated to be “hillside” wineries.

Mountain Peak
100000 g/y
Road Configuration
6.1 miles, Dead End Road

According to Google Maps:
  1. Kent Rasmussen Winery has its tasting room in the Napa Valley Corporate Park.
  2. Pahlmeyer Winery has its tasting room at 811 St Helena Hwy #202, St Helena,CA
  3. Trinchero Napa Valley also its tasting room at 100 Main St, St Helena, CA, and
  4. Moss Creek Winery is located at Moskowite Corners, at the corner of Hwy 128 and Steele Canyon Rd

None of these four wineries appear to really be ‘hillside’ wineries at all, like the MPW project is. While some of their vineyards may potentially be somewhere in the hills, three have tasting rooms on the valley floor and Moss Creek, while remote to the valley floor, is right off CA Hwy 128 on the way to Winters and Davis, CA.

While all 18 wineries appear have use permits for 100,000 GPY, and varying levels of annual visitations, none of these 18 wineries are substantially similar to the MPV project in terms of (a) being in a very remote dead-end box canyon location and (b) having very limited access in terms of a safe, properly maintained roadway to serve it. I’m really unclear what conclusion can be drawn from this exhibit other than if MPV were on this list it would be a non-homogenous member by way of its inherently out-sized proportions in comparison to roadway access.

Comparison 3: Atlas Peak

A more appropriate comparison would be to compare wineries up another long, dead-end road in the county, Atlas Peak Road:

Mountain Peak
100000 g/y
Road Configuration
6.1 miles, Dead End Road

  1. Kongsgaard 9.4 miles up Atlas Peak road, 12,000 GPY, no visitation allowed.
  2. Alta 9.0 miles up Atlas Peak road, 5,000 GPY, 208 visitors allowed per year.
  3. Ripe Peak 8.8 miles up Atlas Peak road, 1,500 GPY, 1,456 visitors allowed per year.
  4. Vin Roc 8.1 miles up Atlas Peak road, 18,000 GPY, 416 visitors allowed per year.
  5. William Hill 1.4 miles up Atlas Peak road, 720,000 GPY, 13,000 visitors allowed per year.
(Note that William Hill Winery is almost on the valley floor, adjacent to the Silverado Countyr Club, and even then only has only 13K/year visitors allowed. It is almost certainly not by accident that a winery of this scope and scale is not 6+ miles up a dead-end road like Atlas Peak or Soda Canyon).

Comparison 4: Soda Canyon Rd

And another more “apples to apples” comparison would be to compare MPW to other wineries on the dead-end Soda Canyon Road itself:

Mountain Peak
100000 g/y
Road Configuration
6.1 miles, Dead End Road

With the exception of Antica Napa Valley, which owns approximately 1,200 acres of contiguous land at the very end of Soda Canyon Road and therefore can only be compared in terms of its parcel size to production and visitation ratios, all of the wineries on Soda Canyon Road have production levels of between 12,000 and 30,000 gallons. And all, including Antica, have visitation levels from none to about a third of the Applicant's request.

In summation

It is clear from this comparison that the wineries selected for comparative analysis in the applicant's project statement are only comparable to the extent that they have the same GPY and varying degrees if visitation, otherwise their locations are far away in terms of distance from Upper Soda Canyon and are not remotely comparable in terms of the traffic impacts that Soda Canyon road (as a dead-end road) and its residents would suffer.

The conclusion from this number crunching: There are no comparables in these examples to the size and visitation requested by Mountain Peak on dead end roads. The 100,000 gal "hillside" wineries presented by the county in fact were on state highways or had tasting rooms on the valley floor. The Applicant's examples included large wineries accessed directly off highways and major through roads. Of the examples on Atlas Peak Road, the only winery with equivalent visitation was near the flats next to the Silverado County Club. And on Soda Canyon Road the only winery with more than 30,000 gallons on the road had one third the visitation requested by Mountain Peak.

At the hearing Mr. Marshall added this in terms of comparables: "I was trying to think of - you know as soon as I say it, likely somebody will disagree - an example to me that’s similar is Diamond Mountain. It’s a similar narrow windy, mountainous terrain, and it’s a dead end." He didn't know its capacity or visitation, however. It is 10,000 gal/y and 1500 visitors per year.

A more extensive comparison of appropriateness
Comparables can be used in 2 ways, of course. They can encourage excessive requests to be scaled back to more "normal" values. But they can also be used to justify excessive requests based on a few perhaps excessive examples, guaranteeing an ever increasing upward trend. As more remote watershed wineries are added to the list the degree of excess becomes more apparent.

While looking up the location of Diamond Mountain Winery I realized that a comparison could be made to many other "remote" wineries (more than about a mile from a highway) in the county. Using the NVV's excellent map here I have made this list of other wineries using data from the County's winery database here. I have included all of the applicant's examples here even though Schramsburg, with a private drive directly off Hwy 29 could hardly be considered remote.

Click here or on the map to view the "Remote Wineries" analysis.

Analysis: The list linked above shows wineries located in the Napa watersheds. It was made to compare the capacity and visitation proposed for the Mountain Peak project to that of other remote wineries in the county as a whole.

Mountain Peak, when compared against these 71 watershed wineries falls within the upper 10% for capacity and visitation. It has:
  • 2 x the average capacity (3 x if the 2 huge pre-WDO wineries are excluded)
  • 5 x the median capacity
    Only 6 wineries have larger capacity, all pre-WDO wineries.
  • 2.5 x the average visitation
  • over 7x the median visitation
    Only 7 wineries have larger visitation, 4 pre-WDO with public tasting.
  • is 2 miles further from a major highway than average, and 3 miles further up a dead end road than average.
  • 3 x the average trips per day generated
  • 9 x the median trips per day
In summary, while the applicants on the Mountain Peak project argued that their numbers fell in the middle range of the comparable wineries that they selected and that were presented by the County, the reality is that, as the particulars of selected wineries are looked at and as watershed wineries are looked at as a whole, the Mountain peak capacity and visitation numbers are at the extreme upper end. It should also be noted that:
  • Mountain Peak is the first tourism-centric winery on the Rector Plateau, with 3 times the visitation of the much larger Antica Winery. The only other winery on the plateau was specifically denied tours and tastings by the ABC because of access difficulties.
  • It also has at least 3 times the average visitation of all 8 existing wineries of Soda Canyon Road, and visitation equal to the sum of allowed visitation of all those wineries.

Comm. Cottrell was certainly right to question those numbers in making her decision.

The Wine Industry Strikes Backon: Vision 2050

Daniel Mufson - Jan 15,17    Share expand...

Saturday Night Massacre: Goliath Gobbled our Pizza Money

A note from Napa Vision 2050 President Dan Mufson:

I have a disturbing story to tell you. This is a story of bullying and intimidation - the kind you read about in coal country. You don’t expect it here in Our Napa Valley.

On Friday we sent you an email newsletter describing the Register’s No. 1 story of the year, “Wine Industry Under Fire” and we told you of our January 22 fundraiser wherein we had partnered with Forge Pizza restaurant for a dine and donate event where they would give us a percentage of each check when you showed the Napa Vision 2050/Forge flyer.

That was Friday. Well, by Saturday night apparently enough wine industry reps and wineries had called the Forge to complain about our Dine and Donate agreement that Forge cancelled the fundraiser. Let’s get this straight, the billion dollar wine business objected to our nonprofit, dedicated to the health and environment in Napa, Our Napa Valley, collecting some donations from the pizza that its supporters purchased. The wine industry’s fingerprints are clearly all over this episode.

So now you have it, the magnanimous, gracious, “community-minded” wine industry steps in to deny us our pizza money—it would be hilarious if it weren’t true. Rest assured, Napa, we’re not going to be bullied away. We are your neighbors from all over the county. We have spent over $200,000 out of our own pockets fighting for sanity in growth, fighting for clean air and water. We’re continuing the fight against the expansion of the Syar Mine and its carcinogenic pollutants, the Walt Ranch deforesting Atlas Peak, digging into why Napa County has the highest rates of cancer among all California counties, shining light on the wineries who violate their permits and the County government that allows all of this.

You know we always look to Our Napa Valley to come together in these efforts. We’ve got a big lemon here. Let’s make a lot of lemonade. Big Bully Wine scuttled our Forge Dine and Donate so we’ll have to do our fundraising elsewhere. Scratch the Forge Dine and Donate on January 22 -- we’ll let know real quick when and where our Napa Vision 2050’s Fundraising Pizza Party will be.

Yours respectfully,

Dan Mufson
Napa Vision 2050

The road not widened (updated)on: Traffic Issues

Bill Hocker - Jan 14,17    Share expand...

UPDATE NVR 12/14/17: Supes choose Pedroza to bring home transportation dollars

The comments below (one of many posts on the SCR Traffic Issues page devoted road widening) highlight why transportation improvements will not relieve the congestion they are touted to fix but will, in fact, cause the pace of urban development to increase, increasing the congestion and eventually encouraging urban uses to swallow up agricultural land. Napa agriculture has survived this long in the bay area because the road widening mania of the 60's and 70's was thwarted by resident vintners and growers interested in preserving their industry and way of life. With the wine industry now dominated by corporations and good-life entrepreneurs promoting tourism, traffic problems have become a major obstacle. Increasing urban development in Napa County is, of course, what Bill Dodd and now Sup. Pedroza were placed in office to do.

Dec 12, 2015

Derek Anderson, running for supervisor against Mark Luce in the next election, has just penned an interesting editorial asking taxpayers to "widen our main transportation arteries thought the valley, from American Canyon to Calistoga" in order to "fix" our traffic problems.

The road widenings necessary to mitigate the anticipated traffic in 2030 were, in fact, enumerated on this page of the draft environmental impact report (obtained by George Caloyannidis) prepared prior to the 2008 modification of the County General Plan Circulation Element. (This element is currently again under review by the County.) To achieve an "LOS D" level of service in 2030 (on an A-F scale) the following road widths would be needed:

Southern Crossing - 8 lanes
Hwy 29 - 6 lanes throughout
Silverado Trail - 4 lanes throughout
Soscol from 29 to downtown- 6 lanes
American Canyon Rd - 6 lanes
Six Flags to Am Can Rd - 6 lanes
Green Island Rd - 6 lanes
Deer Park to Angwin - 4 lanes
Hwy 128 - 4 lanes throughout

The DEIR rejected these mitigations saying "While the above roadway improvements would reduce the peak hour and daily levels of service to acceptable levels, [these] improvements are not considered feasible given the environmental effects associated with the roadway widening and these improvements world be inconsistent with the vision set forth in the General Plan Update. The following statement from the Summary and Vision section of the proposed General Plan Update summarizes the Coutny's provisions: ' This General Plan will preserve and improve the quality of life and the rural character of the County by proactively addressing land use, traffic, and safety concerns in addition to sustaining the agricultural industry.' Widening of these roadways would result in more severe environmental impacts (beyond what is addressed in this DEIR) associated with visual resources, water quality, noise, air quality and growth inducement."

In all probability the wine industry exists because of road widenings that were opposed in the 1970's, leaving only the orphaned stretch of freeway along the west side of Napa CIty, the only bit of freeway in the county. While road improvements are often promoted as relieving congestion, their actual function is to make further development possible and inevitable. (We need only look at the recent widening of Jameson Canyon and its impact on the intersection with Hwy 29 pictured in the map at the top of the page, or the 29/Trancas underpass, to realize that widenings don't relieve congestion - they just bring more traffic.)

Had freeways been built into and through the valley as originally envisioned it is highly unlikely that the agricultural use of the land could have held out against the pressure for more urban development. The people and government of Napa county have long recognized the role of road building as a precursor to urban development and wisely shunned it even in the knowledge that, as the 2007 DEIR indicated, the unmitigated impact of traffic congestion will result.

In Mr. Anderson's call for road widenings, we begin to see the shift in development interests that continuing tourism development is beginning to bring. While traffic congestion affects all, it has become a major impediment for the growth of the tourism industry, a constant complaint in travel articles written about the county. So far many vintners seem to believe that they can have it both ways, the financial benefits of ever increasing tourism without a development impact on the agricultural resource that is the base of their industry. They feel that the development impacts can be contained with in the RUL's of the municipalities while they continue to develop their wineries, pretending that their new buildings and parking lots are a part of an agricultural process, when they are in fact an urban expansion of tourism venues into the vineyards. The need for more wineries to process Napa grapes has long been fulfilled. The need for more roads to access the ever increasing winery venues is becoming critical to the tourism industry.

There is a need for alternatives to begin to confront the congestion we have, a light rail system, a realistic bus system, worker or tourist shuttle systems (and not helicopters!). But those will only help if the amount of development currently occurring stops. Just as with road widenings, transport systems will never keep up with developers. It is time to visualize a stable economy and amount of development that the county's agriculture can support, and reject an ever expanding economy that will eventually consume agricultural land to keep the expansion going.

The call for road widenings is not really to relieve existing congestion but to allow further tourism development to proceed. A cascade of further development will come in its wake. The traffic problems will never be "fixed". If Mr. Anderson's vision of road building is realized, as has been feared and rejected in the 1970's through 2007, it will be the end of Napa's great experiment in maintaining an agricultural preserve in an urban world.

Suffering a lack of leadershipon: Vision 2050

Daniel Mufson - Jan 13,17    Share expand...

The title of the No. 1 story of 2016 ought to have been: Local Governments Under Fire, as it highlighted many issues: watershed destruction, public health, campaign finance and a lack of stewardship by the Board of Supervisors. As such, we, the members of Napa Vision 2050, think the title of the article, “Wine Industry Under Fire,” (Dec. 31) is somewhat misleading.

We participated in each of the stories mentioned in this article: Napa Vision 2050 has been the leader in raising awareness of the out-of-control growth of the wine and wine tourism industries. However, our focus is not the industries nor the associations and institutions whose mission is to promote their expansion. We welcome responsible winery development, which enriches the life of every Napa Valley resident and contributes to its brand in the best possible way.

At the same time, there are the problems that stem from lack of oversight by our government officials. Too often, there is little or no consequence when wineries violate their use permits or escape environmental review. As the valley floor becomes increasingly planted out, wineries bully themselves into hillsides, destroy neighborhoods, build in inappropriate locations that need to truck soil and water and export sewage in order to operate, and mow down tens of thousands of mature trees to plant vineyards. This all contributes to an overgrowth of wineries whose visitors and workers flood our streets.

When such enterprises are promoted to the detriment of a healthy infrastructure, our common resources and the environment, something is dangerously out of balance. And it is not just the wine industry that is responsible for such offenses. The proliferation of hotels and resorts and the expansion of carcinogen-spewing mining operations contribute to conditions that increasingly make our home county inhospitable to those of us who live and work here.

Who is watching out for the interests of the general public?

We are supposed to have “a sheriff” in town who has been elected to safeguard our collective quality of life. Unfortunately, our Board of Supervisors seems to have become beholden to the interests of these industries, neglecting the commons. Our supervisors accept campaign contributions from these industries, then consistently vote 5 to 0 in favor of their projects. We suffer from the lack independent leadership.

This is the void Napa Vision 2050 fills. Our mission is to promote the health and environmental sustainability of our community and to inform the public and raise awareness of these circumstances that affect us all.

Daniel Mufson

Napa Vision 2050

1/10/17 NVR version: Suffering a lack of leadership

Round one to Mountain Peak (updated)on: Mountain Peak Winery

Bill Hocker - Jan 12,17    Share expand...

Video of the hearing
NVR 1/4/17: Napa County Planning Commission approves Mountain Peak Winery

After almost three years since the fateful day that neighbors on Soda Canyon Road discovered a tourism winery was planned for their remote rural community, the County Planning Commission has approved the project, their first approval of 2017. The vote was 3 to 1 with Heather Phillips' seat still unfilled.

Comm. Cottrell voted to deny, arguing that the level of visitation was inappropriate for the remote location, following the Supervisors direction to planning commissioners to consider the remoteness and access constraints in determining visitation numbers. It was, I think, a courageous vote in support of residents interests and the county's rural legacy in a county government and in an era that is ever more dominated by developers.

There will be an appeal to the Board of Supervisors. Perhaps they can summon a bit of that courage as well.

The approval came despite 900 county-wide signatures of opposition to the project, including the majority of the Soda Canyon Road community. Unfortunately, the interests of many concerned citizens in the preservation their rural communities appear to count for very little against good-life entrepreneurs and a tourism industry pretending to protect agriculture with ever more buildings and parking lots.

In perhaps one of the few unexpected moments of the day, Comm. Basayne asked County Road Engineer Rick Marshall about the comparison made by the planning department between this project and several other 100,000 gal wineries on mountain roads in the county. My thoughts on his very informative responses are related separately here.


George Caloyannidis - Jan 12, 2017

How far have we come when we consider Cottrell's vote "courageous"!

Woodland Initiative Update, Jan 2016on: Woodland Initiative

Jim Wilson - Jan 11,17    Share expand...

Dear friends of the Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative,

Our heartfelt gratitude goes to amici standing with us, and to all those who have worked so hard over the last several months preparing our appeal. Amici letters are attached. Please let me know if you haven't seen the opening and reply briefs and would like to.

On August 22, our attorneys at Shute Mihaly & Weinberger filed a Notice of Appeal with the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco. Yesterday, the Court granted our request to hear our case on an expedited basis, which means it will be heard and resolved prior to August 29.

Here's a summary of the amici letters:

1. Eric Biber, UC Berkeley School of Law, on why oak trees matter, and why their protection under current law is inadequate. In particular he explains why the concept of best management practices (BMPs) for oak woodlands requires that BMPs be able to be modified to reflect changing conditions and scientific information.

Amici are:
California Native Plant Society
Center for Biological Diversity
Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC)
Sierra Nevada Alliance

2. Robin Johansen of Remcho Johansen & Purcell LLP, on why the initiative complies with the full text rule, and why upholding the trial court's reasoning seriously distorts the full text rule in ways that would gravely affect the initiative process statewide.

Amici are:
California Wildlife Foundation
California Native Plant Society
Corporate Ethics International (CEI)
Environmental Defense Center (EDC)
Forests Forever
Forest Unlimited
Friends of Harbors, Beaches, and Parks (FHBP)
Greenbelt Alliance
Planning & Conservation League (PCL)
Save The Bay

3. Nielsen Berksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni LLP, on why the initiative fails to comply with the full text rule.

Amici are:
Winegrowers of Napa County
Napa Valley Vintners
Napa County Farm Bureau
Napa Valley Grape Growers

4. Cota Cole LLP, on why cities and counties believe the appellant's position is unworkable and would cause confusion among election officials statewide.

Amici are:
League of California Cities
California State Association of Counties (CSAC)

Chronology of events, taken in part from SMW legal briefs, is below:

In 2015, proponents began work on a countywide voter initiative to protect forests and tree canopy near streams, wetlands, and oak woodlands in Napa County. A primary goal of the initiative is to complement the County’s landmark 1990 initiative (Measure J) by establishing critical additional water quality buffer zones in the County’s Agricultural Watershed zoning district. The initiative aims to strengthen protections for Napa County’s threatened streams, forests, and oak woodlands.

In January 2016, proponents formally commenced the initiative process by filing with the County a Notice of Intention to Circulate Petition, along with the full text of the proposed initiative and a request for County Counsel to prepare the official ballot title and summary. County Counsel reviewed the entire Initiative and prepared the required title and summary.

On March 1, 2016, proponents published the official ballot title and summary in the Napa Valley Register, thereby notifying the public of the initiative’s chief points and purposes.

Proponents and their volunteer supporters then began circulating the Initiative Petition among County voters for signatures. Ultimately, proponents collected 6,298 signatures, well in excess of the 3,791 valid signatures necessary to qualify the Initiative for the ballot. On May 11 the signature packets were provided to the Registrar of Voters.

On June 6, 2016, the Napa County Registrar of Voters issued a certificate that the initiative had qualified for placement on the ballot. Three days later, in an abrupt turnaround, the Registrar announced that he was rejecting the petition because County Counsel had advised him that it did not comply with the “full text” requirement of Elections Code section 9101.

Because this action violated the Registrar’s ministerial duty to certify qualified initiative petitions, proponents promptly filed a writ action asking the trial court to direct the Registrar to place the initiative on the ballot for the November 2016 election.

On June 15, 2016, appellants filed a mandamus action in the trial court challenging the Registrar’s ministerial action.
On July 15, 2016, the writ petition was denied in Napa Superior Court.

On July 27, appellants filed an “emergency” petition for writ of mandate with the First District Court of Appeal, which was summarily denied.

On August 8, appellants filed an “emergency” Petition for Review with the California Supreme Court, which was denied.

On August 22, 2016, appellants filed a Notice of Appeal with the First District Court of Appeal. Proponents are asking this Court to find that: (1) the Initiative Petition complies with the Elections Code’s “full text” requirement; (2) the Registrar’s refusal to certify the petition violated the Elections Code; and (3) the initiative must be placed on the ballot for the County’s next general election in June 2018. To avoid irreparable harm to their constitutional rights to have their initiative placed before the voters in a timely fashion, proponents are asking the Court to issue its decision in this case no later than August 29, 2017.

By this appeal, the proponents of the Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative seek to safeguard what our Supreme Court has repeatedly described as “one of the most precious rights of our democratic process.” Elections Code section 9101 provides that initiative petitions submitted to county election officials must contain “the full text” of the proposed measure. The Initiative provisions at issue require the County Planning Director, in reviewing oak tree removal permits, to determine if an applicant’s proposed remedial measures are consistent with “best management practices” set forth in the County’s Voluntary Oak Woodland Management Plan. The trial court found that the Initiative’s cross-reference to these best management practices effectively “enacted” them by implication and that the “text” of the Initiative therefore should have included the language of the BMPs in their entirety. Because the Initiative Petition did not include this language, the trial court held that the Petition did not satisfy the Elections Code’s full text requirement.

Our attorneys hold that the trial court’s decision radically departs from existing full text jurisprudence. In reviewing the validity of voter-sponsored initiatives, the courts have emphasized “the fundamental nature of the people’s constitutionally enshrined initiative power” and “the well-established judicial policy to apply a liberal construction to this power wherever it is challenged.” Consistent with this well-established policy, the courts have repeatedly rejected attempts by hostile legislative bodies and officials to transform the clear-cut provisions of the Elections Code into a labyrinth of arcane requirements.

The end of the Trail? (updated)on: Soda Canyon Road

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

black: existing wineries & left turn lanes
red: proposed or approved
The Silverado Trail, along the east side of the Napa Valley, is still a great ride (for cars and bicycles) at times other than the afternoon rush hour. Well banked curves and maintained surface allow a meditative, almost zen-like, cruise through the rolling landscape of vine rows and valley vistas. It is the ride that defines the Napa Valley as an Eden, a paradise on earth, for visitors and residents alike. It is a last local vestige of America's great passion for the open road. And it is about to disappear.

Two more wineries on the map are coming up before the Planning Commission: The Sam Jasper winery willl be reviewed by the Planning Commission this Jan 18th, 2017. And the Grassi Winery is scheduled to be reviewed on Feb 1st, 2017. Together they will add another 50 trips/day going through the Soda Canyon intersection, adding to the 15 trips/day approved for the Beau Vigne in September and 130 trips/day just approved for Mountain Peak. The applications call attention once again to the issue of continued development on this most iconic of Napa's highways.

This particular section of the Trail is becoming quite impacted by proposed wineries. It is a harbinger of the development sprawl happening along the Trail and throughout the county. (As we use every opportunity to point out, there are currently some 100 new or expanding wineries approved, most not yet built. There are some 60 more in the planning department awaiting review (18 more added in 2016). As we have seen lately, the department and commissioners seem invigorated since the election to begin moving as many projects as possible through the pipeline, as they must in their failing attempt to keep up.

Above is a map of the Soda Canyon intersection. There are now at least 8 existing or proposed left turn lumps on the Trail in the 2 minute drive between Hardman Drive and Black Stallion Winery. Little will remain of the 2-lane Trail. It will now be a section fraught with the driving angst of merging traffic. Will all of these turnouts make it safer? Maybe for those forced to become familiar with the concept of middle lane refuges. For most drivers there will still be the heart attack (and involuntary swerve), as a car dashes out from the left straight at their car and at the last second turns into the refuge lane.

The number of vehicle trips generated by the proposed wineries is adding up. Counting the Mountain Peak project, up Soda Canyon Road next to me, there are now almost 360 more trips/day planned of this bit of the Trail. That's only 3% of the 11,000 daily vehicles that use the Trail at this point. Is the increase significant? Soda Canyon Road is already rated at Level of Service (LOS) F on weekday and Saturday afternoons and traffic signals are already warranted on weekday afternoons. They will shortly be needed on Saturdays as well. It is harrowing to make the left turn into the continuous stream of 55 mph traffic at rush hour. The traffic backs up behind the Soda Canyon stop sign waiting for one's rendezvous with fate. Perhaps all the left turn bumps and merging traffic will slow things enough to make the turn less dangerous? I doubt it.

The Soda Canyon intersection, like many intersections along the Trail and Hwy 29 already requires signalization for safe operation. The cost of those signals are contributed to by mitigations fees added to the use permits. The signals don't get put in, I think, not just because that mitigation fees aren't enough to cover the costs (and the money is needed elsewhere), but because everyone knows what signalization means - a rural place is becoming a suburb. It is the death of the open road.

This map begins to give a sense of the winery strip mall that the rest of the Trail will become in the future. There are still 3 or 4 parcels in this stretch available for wineries . Given the present trajectory, projects will be proposed soon. (The property just north of the Reynolds Winery has recently sold.) It is logical that the lower part of the Trail will reach winery buildout the earliest. Looking up into the valley from Skyline Park, one can sense the urban landscape oozing north. The widening of the Trail, now being done one left turn bulge at a time, reflects that flow.

Is it too late to save the Silverado Trail? The openness of the landscape along its route defines Napa County to the rest of the world. As the area around Soda Canyon Road shows, that iconic image will become screened and diminished by development if more protections are not put in place. It is past time to realize that the Trail is more important to Napa than just an access route to ever more wineries or just traffic relief from Hwy 29. The expansive views from the road are the mental images that everyone retains of this place.

If the present development trend continues, the enjoyment of the Trail as the meditative cruise needed to be at one with the rolling majesty of the valley and its bounty, a single experience more important than all the winery "experiences" combined in maintaining Napa's image as a premier wine making region, will soon be gone.


My other take on a similar theme, the visual damage to the Trail's Edenistic landscape caused by winery construction, is here.
Also related: The Trail at Soda Canyon is drying up.

[Email sent to Dep Planding Director John McDowell regarding this]

Mr. McDowell,

Sorry for this rambling note - I know you are busy.

I wanted to thank you for going out on a limb to voice your concerns yesterday about the potential for art advertising to become a big issue in the future and the need to get on top of it now. You know better than everyone else, the policy seems to come only after irreparable damage has been done. Director Morrison's disinterest in confronting the issue was disappointing. It is obvious that with the branding success of the rabbit, every vanity vintner in the county will want to put their personal artistic stink on the Napa landscape to drag in tourists.

This relates to a concern that has been brought up by the Reynolds Winery. I will probably be sending in this screed in some modified form to commissioners when the time comes. As usual not too much about the specific project, more about the trend that the project is contributing to. The area around the Soda Canyon junction is beginning to reach buildout levels

My question - is it too late to save the Silverado Trail? - is one that needs to be asked of the planning department. I would argue that the openness of the landscape along the Trail defines Napa County to the rest of the world. As the area around Soda Canyon Road shows, (and the Titus winery showed) that iconic image is becoming screened and diminished by development. And now we have billboards masquerading as art to worry about. The Trail is not on the state's list of eligible scenic highways. (Incredibly, only the most urbanized roads in the county are eligible). Has anyone at the county proposed the Trail as a scenic highway? What is necessary to get that process started? I hope that the visual importance of the Trail to the identity of the Napa Valley is discussed in the revision of the circulation element.

The art as signage issue also brought up another concern that has always bothered me. I assume that the 600' setbacks were initially put in place to protect the agricultural character of the county - buildings set in an agricultural landscape. (Any documents that you know of that explain the thinking behind the setback ordinance?) Yet houses, outbuildings, parking lots or signs (particularly billboard sized pieces of sculpture) have just as great an impact in obstructing the agricultural landscape as a winery building. Why can't the ordinance be expanded, particularly along the Trail, to exclude all urbanization within the setback? (Just as housing is now being proposed to be included in allowable building development area?)

I took up David Heitzman's request to google "Napafication'. It seems to be synonymous, whether in positive or negative articles on wine around the world, with wine regions becoming tourist traps. I think I have been very naive in thinking we can protect a place from a fate that has already occurred.

Groundhog Day at the Planning Commission. Again.on: Vision 2050

Patricia Damery - Jan 9,17    Share expand...

Anyone who sat through the presentations by the neighbors at the Mountain Peak Winery Planning Commission hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 4, must also be appalled at the apparent ignoring, again, by the commissioners of significant comments from informed and thoughtful neighbors about traffic, road conditions, safety and the meaning of building such an event center (and yes, this is an event center, not just a winery) six and a half miles up a substandard dead-end road originally built for residential use 60 years ago.

Videos of speeding cars passing trucks on double lines, photos of lines of trucks and trucks and trucks, and of flash floods inundating the road, water as deep as a foot, were shown. Residents raised the specter of the county’s liability. Who will be responsible when the county approves a project on a road they know is substandard and there is loss of life due to lack of safe egress during a fire?

Two commenters addressed the impact of the spoilings from the caves on the pristine, blue line creek that serves Rector Reservoir. When it silts in, when the county is sued, we, the taxpayers, pay— not Mountain Peak Winery.

Going to Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings is like watching Groundhog Day over, and over, and over. The same things happen: The applicant is helped by the Planning Department to fit their project into the rules, planners recommend approval, certifying that all impacts of the project are "less than significant." The citizens, noting that the impact on their lives and on the future of the county is significant indeed, protest the recommendation of the planning department to the Planning Commission, as they did yesterday.

The commissioners listen but ignore citizens’ data. When the commissioners okay the project, it is then appealed to the Board of Supervisors, where this process happens all over again: informed citizen comment (three minutes only, please!) and then, as if it didn’t happen, slam, bam, thank you M'am, it is rubber stamped. Those impacted, and that includes all of us in the Napa Valley, are given the choice: Do we spend thousands or tens of thousands to sue the county?

Our county’s elected and appointed officials continue to ignore the cumulative impact of these projects on our environment, on our roads, on the quality and quantity of our water and on the fabric of our community. If you have enough money, you can do anything. First step is to fund the campaigns of the Board of Supervisors, then do some modifications to your initially inflated plans to show you really are a responsible winery and/or vineyard owner.

You’ll be allowed to use mitigations, exceptions and variances to make your square project fit into the round hole of the “rules,” rules, that are, it should be noted, crafted by the wine industry to its own advantage. And then you say to those of us who are looking at the larger picture: I followed all the rules and now I deserve the permit.

The question is no longer can these projects, which increasingly infiltrate our watersheds and hillsides, be done, but should they? Our governing officials appear to lack the will, intelligence and moral courage to really take this on. Bullied by big (big!) money, they have fallen captive. In an issue as important as the spread of development into our hillsides and watersheds, we citizens need to wake up.

Write or visit your supervisor. Demand that he or she act for the common good of the people and the environment, not of that of a few corporate and wealthy interests.

NVR version 1/9/16: Groundhog Day at the Planning Commission. Again.

18. Alternative transport solutions (updated)on: Solutions

Bill Hocker - Jan 8,17    Share expand...

Update 1/8/17:

NVR 1/8/17: Wine Train willing to explore employee commuter service

It appears that since the sale of the Napa ValleyWine Train to a new owner in 2015 (it never should have been sold to a private entrapreneur in the first place) that the sensible idea of using the tracks for commuter and tourist cars is now a consideration. One inexpensiive solution is field tested here. While the talk is only of a commute line between Napa and St Helena, the line really needs to be able to run from the Vallejo ferry terminal, to an airport parking structure to Calistoga.

But one thing should be made very clear in all these discussions of alternative transportation: they will only, at best, serve to reduce the rate of increase in road traffic in the future, not decrease it. Development projects representing thousands (if not tens of thousands) of new trips each day have been approved or are in the planning pipeline, and more will continue to be proposed. Effective public transit projects take decades to realize, and will always lag the urbanization they attempt to mitigate.


NVR 4/21/15: Transportation plans face financial roadblocks

Most of the article was devoted to the issue of cycling (and walking) as a solution to traffic problems and the paucity of funds to make it a reality. I rode a bike to work during my 15 year professional career and I'm not unsympathetic to the idea of using bikes where possible. But as a transportation solution to reduce the hundreds of thousands of daily portages necessary to make society function, predictably in all weather, bicycle lanes are really just a sop built to placate the roomful of vocal activists that show up at every meeting seeing their spartan self-righteousness as a planetary solution. Accommodating bicycles costs a lot of money that might be devoted to real transport solutions - like the use of the wine train tracks as a cable car-styled people mover up and down the valley (feasibility tested here), or a wine-industry-subsidized hospitality-, winery- and farm-worker transport van system linked to parking structures at the airport. Or perhaps for the education and support necessary to reverse population growth and the need for ever expanding transport networks (my own self-righteous planetary solution).

A discussion on one solution with very long odds of success, building affordable housing for the workforce in Napa County, was discussed at a community meeting here:
Panel looks at ways to keep Napa affordable. They saw no easy solutions. Napa Pipe, in one of the most ambitious efforts to add affordable housing to the county, will actually be creating more low paid commercial, hotel and nursing home employees in the project than than can fit in the 190 affordable units proposed.

One proposal not brought up: having developers pay for the real costs, in housing needs, community and transport infrastructure, community services etc, etc, that their development schemes create, but which remain unfunded. The full impacts of development need to become part of the developer's decision to add more people to the county.

Mountain Peak: the road issueon: Mountain Peak Winery

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

Tourbus stranded on the Soda Canyon Grade
A surprise witness

In perhaps one of the few unexpected moments of the Jan 4th, 2017 Planning Commission hearing to consider the Mountain Peak winery project, Comm. Basayne asked County Road Engineer Rick Marshall about the comparison made by the planning department between this project and several other 100,000 gal wineries on mountain roads in the county. His very informative response:

    " I think a tough decision for you today is the distinction between roads that are dead end versus those that are not. And so some of the roads that were mentioned in the testimony [on the planning dept's list of similar wineries and the applicant's own list of similar projects] are not dead end roads. They are otherwise very similar, they’re narrow, they’re windy, they’re mountainous terrain, but they’re not dead end. This one is. It’s not the only one. I was trying to think of - you know as soon as I say it, likely somebody will disagree - an example to me that’s similar is Diamond Mountain. It’s a similar narrow windy, mountainous terrain, and it’s a dead end.."

He then concluded by saying "Is it appropriate to put this land use on this dead end road?... I hand it back to you at that point." which drew more than a few laughs in the room. But, of course, he did express his opinion in making the distinction between the two types of mountain roads: this road is different to him, and should probably be treated differently by the planning commissioners.

He didn’t know how big or what the visitation of the Diamond Mountain winery was. We had to look it up: Diamond Mountain Winery is a 10,000 gal/yr winery with 1500 visitors/yr, a tenth the scale of Mountain Peak.

Unfunded impacts

Rick Marshall also provided additional words of discouragement for the project. Some of the commissioners have been trying to push road improvements on Soda Canyon Road to the top of the county's priority list in an effort to dampen residents concerns over the dangers of the road shown in their testimony of opposition to the project.

Mr. Marshall gave no offers of support. The county will not have significant funds until 2019 (from Measure T taxes) to begin major repairs on all of the county's 450 miles of roads, and there are many more significant roads on their priority list before the lightly used mountain roads (particularly dead end roads that serve a very small population).

The lack of funding to maintain the county's roads, an obvious sore spot for Mr. Marshall, raises the issue that I have often mentioned on this site: the unfunded costs of development. (see here as well)

At every planning commission meeting, in the county or in the municipalities, the point almost always comes up that new development, whether buildings or vineyards, will increase the amount of tax revenues flowing to government coffers based on the more productive use of the properties, a good reason to approve the projects.

Unfortunately Mr. Marshall's situation shows what a lie those claims are. An enormous amount of vineyard development has gone on in the county in the last 25 years, a substantial amount on the Rector plateau. 1500 acres of vines and numerous high end homes have been developed here. Taxes on the high-end wines made from those high-end grapes, and the TOT from tourists here to drink the wines, and the increased value of the properties, and the fees charged to permit the developments, should be contributing to a budget surplus in the county used to provide basic services like road maintenance for property access. The reality is that that new tax money flowing in can't keep up with the costs of dealing with the impacts created by the development.

On Soda Canyon Road the (literal) impacts of heavy equipment traversing the road to create and tend all those vines has taken a substantial toll. Yet the county doesn't have the money to repair the road and must depend on tax bonds levied on all of the county's citizens to pay the costs. Everyone living in Napa County is essentially subsidizing the few owners profiting from the vineyards, as they would to provide safe access to Mountain Peak. At the July 20th hearing, Dan McFadden, the road's biggest brain, brutally assessed the issues facing the County in approving a commercial winery at the top of the road.

There is an argument to be made that governments (and the taxpayers that fund them) would be financially better off by not allowing development in their domains and letting nature have its way wherever possible, or at least by charging the substantial fees that would really cover the long term impact costs of development, fees that would make developers much more careful in their development decisions. Of course that is not the American way, a culture built on unencumbered land speculation over the last two centuries. Unfortunately, we must continually pay the price, perhaps especially now in a new era of developers, to subsidize that speculation.

A question of liability

And finally Mr. Marshall addressed the rate of accidents on the road. He indicated that he monitors carefully all accidents on Napa County roads to determine places that need mediation to insure the health and safety of the public. Soda Canyon Road does not stand out in its rate of accidents on the mountain roads in the county. It is different, however, in that most roads have individual accident prone points that the county can focus on in their remediations. Soda Canyon road has a much more even distribution of accidents along the road, and is much more difficult to remediate with a single fix.

After our extensive public campaign to point out the dangers of Soda Canyon Road, with hundreds of pages of testimony and graphic and tabular exhibits in both the Relic winery ABC hearing and the Mountain Peak hearings, one thing is abundantly clear: as an access for a tourism facility like Mountain Peak, and with the county's acknowledged lack of resources to mitigate any dangers, the county will have clear and documented liability in approving this project should a tourbus fall into the canyon on the grade.

Mountain Peak: Winery Comparisonson: Mountain Peak Winery

Glenn J. Schreuder - Jan 5,17    Share expand...

[Presentation given to the Planning Commission on Jan 4th, 2017 at hearing for Mountain Peak Use Permit P13-00320

Honorable Commissioners,

My name is Glenn Schreuder and my family has lived in upper Soda Canyon continuously since 1956. I would like to present some comparisons to the Proposed Mountain Peak Project that have been made which give some context to the appropriateness of the size and visitation requested for the project.

Comparison 1: from applicant
I wish to respectfully draw your attention to the “Comparative Analysis of Daily Visitation” contained on page 14 of the 18 page applicant’s Project Statement, as revised on March 15th, 2016. Five Wineries are listed in “Comparative Analysis of Daily Visitation”: Chappellet, Ladera,Oakville Grade, Schramsberg and Somerston.

Purportedly selected for their location on “Hillside Roads”, well sort of hillside roads, but I’ll get to that shortly. The analysis also represents that the daily visitation for MPW is 58% of the norm when compared to these five wineries of similar Gallons per Year.

Mountain Peak
100000 g/y
Road Configuration
6.1 miles, Dead End Road

As shown in the above chart, the analysis clearly cherry picks 100K Gallons per Year (GPY) “hillside” wineries with material visitation entitlements that are not located on dead-end, one way in and one way out rural, residential roads:
  1. Chappellet: Located on CA Hwy 128 (aka Sage Canyon Road, NOT on a dead end road and NOT in the heart of a rural neighborhood, it’s actually a driveway on a state highway toward Winters, CA.
  2. Ladera: Located on two-way in/out White Cottage Road a short distance from Angwin (a census-designated place with a population of ~3,000)
  3. Oakville Grade: Located on the two-way in/out Oakville Grade, not a dead-end.
  4. Schramsberg: Located up private Schramsberg Road off of CA Hwy 29 (not a neighborhood, a private road to the winery).
  5. Somerston: Located again on CA Hwy 128 (Sage Canyon Road) NOT a dead-end road and NOT in the heart of a rural neighborhood).
As a result this analysis is, in essence, comparing five apples to one orange which is misleading.

Comparison 2 from County:

Further, in regard to the County-created Exhibit F “Updated Winery Comparison, 100,000 GPY”, of the 18 wineries listed in the comparison, 14 are indicated to be on the “valley floor” and only 4 are indicated to be “hillside” wineries.

Mountain Peak
100000 g/y
Road Configuration
6.1 miles, Dead End Road

According to Google Maps:
  1. Kent Rasmussen Winery has its tasting room in the Napa Valley Corporate Park.
  2. Pahlmeyer Winery has its tasting room at 811 St Helena Hwy #202, St Helena,CA
  3. Trinchero Napa Valley also its tasting room at 100 Main St, St Helena, CA, and
  4. Moss Creek Winery is located at Moskowite Corners, at the corner of Hwy 128 and Steele Canyon Rd

None of these four wineries appear to really be ‘hillside’ wineries at all, like the MPW project is. While some of their vineyards may potentially be somewhere in the hills, three have tasting rooms on the valley floor and Moss Creek, while remote to the valley floor, is right off CA Hwy 128 on the way to Winters and Davis, CA.

While all 18 wineries appear have use permits for 100,000 GPY, and varying levels of annual visitations, none of these 18 wineries are substantially similar to the MPV project in terms of (a) being in a very remote dead-end box canyon location and (b) having very limited access in terms of a safe, properly maintained roadway to serve it. I’m really unclear what conclusion can be drawn from this exhibit other than if MPV were on this list it would be a non-homogenous member by way of its inherently out-sized proportions in comparison to roadway access.

Comparison 3: Atlas Peak

A more appropriate comparison would be to compare wineries up the one other long, dead-end road in the county, Atlas Peak Road:

Mountain Peak
100000 g/y
Road Configuration
6.1 miles, Dead End Road

  1. Kongsgaard 9.4 miles up Atlas Peak road, 12,000 GPY, no visitation allowed.
  2. Alta 9.0 miles up Atlas Peak road, 5,000 GPY, 208 visitors allowed per year.
  3. Ripe Peak 8.8 miles up Atlas Peak road, 1,500 GPY, 1,456 visitors allowed per year.
  4. Vin Roc 8.1 miles up Atlas Peak road, 18,000 GPY, 416 visitors allowed per year.
  5. William Hill 1.4 miles up Atlas Peak road, 720,000 GPY, 13,000 visitors allowed per year.
(Note that William Hill Winery is almost on the valley floor, adjacent to the Silverado Countyr Club, and even then only has only 13K/year visitors allowed. It is almost certainly not by accident that a winery of this scope and scale is not 6+ miles up a dead-end road like Atlas Peak or Soda Canyon).

Comparison 4: Soda Canyon Rd

And another more “apples to apples” comparison would be to compare MPW to other wineries on the dead-end Soda Canyon Road itself:

Mountain Peak
100000 g/y
Road Configuration
6.1 miles, Dead End Road

With the exception of Antica Napa Valley, which owns approximately 1,200 acres of contiguous land at the very end of Soda Canyon Road and therefore can only be compared in terms of its parcel size to production and visitation ratios, all of the wineries on Soda Canyon Road have production levels of between 12,000 and 30,000 gallons. And all, including Antica, have visitation levels from none to about a third of the Applicant's request.

In summation

It is clear from this comparison that the wineries selected for comparative analysis in the applicants project statement are only comparable to the extent that they have the same GPY and varying degrees if visitation, otherwise their locations are far away in terms of distance from Upper Soda Canyon and are not remotely comparable in terms of the traffic impacts that Soda Canyon road (as a dead-end road) and its residents would suffer.

American Canyon Under the Buson: South Napa County

George Caloyannidis - Jan 1,17    Share expand...

Where Your Napa Valley Experience Begins
For some time now, many of us have been pointing out both in the press and in testimony at the Board of Supervisors what is now evident to anyone living in the Napa valley that the protections mandated by the State throughthe California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) have been falsely applied byNapa County and our up-valley cities in as much as they have consistently been applying very limited radius of impacts and neglecting to observe the mandated cumulative impacts of "future, likely projects" labeling them as"speculative". How speculative is it that one day someone will build a home,a winery, a hotel on an appropriately zoned property they own when a neighboring property has received similar approvals?

Anyone doubting the effects of this failure, can experience the nightmare of Napa valley traffic as compared to just a decade ago. And yet, though through-traffic has remained steady below 10%, our officials have been telling the public that all the projects they have been approving from winery visitations to resorts and hotels have "less than significant"impacts or that their impacts have been mitigated. At this point, only ourSupervisors continue to live under this illusion. And it is not just traffic. This extends to less obvious impacts on the rest of the general infrastructure which will come home to roost at the cost of tens and hundreds of millions.

From a wider county-wide perspective, the motivation is also that of any given jurisdiction bullying itself to infrastructure share advantage. Which brings us to the victimization of American Canyon.

As an example, just the two approved Calistoga resorts will generate 2,900 daily vehicle trips, added to the County's bit by bit tens of thousands of winery and events visitors. These approvals never cared to factor in their impacts on American Canyon as they should have. Now a mere 6,300 peak hour vehicle trips the three American Canyon projects will generate, pose almost insurmountable CEQA mitigations thanks to years of myopic government policies.

If one were to roll back the clock by several decades and had considered where most residential, commercial and industrial development in the county ought to have been, it is obvious American Canyon would have been the choice, leaving agricultural lands in true conservation status and the three small up-valley towns as true to character as possible. Most large commercial activity as the Napa Airport Corporate Center and the Napa Logistics Park and the 1,250 homes and apartments at Watson Ranch and space for others for affordable housing in sufficient numbers, would be in the least impacting location. That model would have required leadership towards some revenue sharing, a leadership we never got.

Now as late comer to the game, American Canyon realizes it has been duped by the up-valley gradual, massive accumulation of fake "less than significant impacts" now strangling its ability to develop regionally wise projects, all of which diversify the vulnerable, fluctuating, monoculture-tourist economy we rely on and provide much better paying jobs than it does.

Where has visionary government been?

When will County policies stop being beholden to the wine-tourism special interests? Who will take the lead to develop the comprehensive vision which will safeguard the remaining resource? The already compromised quality of life? Who will muster the courage to say "yes" to the right projects and "no" to the ones CEQA is supposed to insure us against?

The sad reality is, we have run out of infrastructure capacity. Building it out to the 6-lane freeway to Yountville and 4-lane freeway to Calistoga and re-designing dozens of dysfunctional intersections as the County Draft EIR predicted years ago with the full knowledge of the Supervisors, will not only cost hundreds of millions but will deliver the final blow to the Napa valley. This will seal the legacy of decades of county governments.

NVR LTE version 1/4/17: Considering the Impacts

Mountain Peak and LEED certificationon: Mountain Peak Winery

Bill Hocker - Dec 31,16    Share expand...

[This is my letter to the planning commission in rebuttal to the LEED presentation made by Mountain Peak's architect at the Jul 20th, 2016, hearing. Despite my best efforts, some commissioners still cited the certification while approving the project.]


A very happy new year to you all. My sympathies for having to start out the year on such a controversial project. And my apologies for the usual last minute letter.

Much has been made of the LEED certification on this project. I very much enjoyed Mr. Wilson's presentation on the nature of the LEED process at the last meeting. And especially his appreciation of the beautiful character of the site and of the need for a low-impact project.

Low-impact is a relative term. In an area that is one of the most remote, quite and, at night, dark places in the county, impacts that may be "low-impact" or "less-than-significant" elsewhere are keenly felt. While burying most of the project is a good start, other aspects fall a bit short from the standpoint of those who must live side by side with it. There is nothing low-impact about the 44000 trips up and down the road each year. Or of the many visitors and employees and the festive commotion they will bring that break the quiet of the place, or the sight of the parking lots and solar panels the water treatment refinery now added to the vineyard landscape. Also not low-impact is the vast amount of dirt to be moved around on virtually every square foot the site, and of the mogul landscape of berms that have disfigured the smooth hillside at the top of the site beyond recognition.

I sensed that the Commission was enthused about the LEED certification and that it might be an influencing factor in your approval. It was an important part of the previous presentation and is referred to often by the applicant including in the first sentence of the project narrative. If you do intend to let the LEED certification weigh in your decision, as the applicant seems to assume, the LEED data need to be a part of the public record for all to discuss before a decision is made.

We should all want energy efficient buildings, but LEED certification seems, in fact, to be a very inconsistant predictor of the actual performance. In my first letter to the planning department, I cited this rather extensive article noting that the rating can translate into tax breaks, marketing or public opinion advantage, or a planning commission approval that justifies the high cost of the certificate. Whether the building actually lives up to its LEED certification is often forgotten after the project is built. There's really no penalty for not meeting the standards. In my email to you this morning I also included links to several research papers (below) that show a wide disparity in actual performance compared to LEED predictions and to non-LEED buildings. We and the county should have the opportunity to review the details on which the certificate was given before you render judgement, just as we would for any other consultant's report.

The LEED scorecard is below. Each of the credits on the scorecard are described on the LEED Credit Library here .

Given an opportunity, one might wish to question the reasoning on points awarded in certain areas.

For example, concerning the topic "Optimize energy performance - 18 points": While the use of cool cave air to condition the tasting room space was mentioned by Mr. Wilson, I might want to see how that compares to the energy needed to keep those cave fans running every day, or the energy expended to compensate for those very large windows facing the setting sun that provide so much daylight. I might also want to be sure that a somewhat modest solar array (from what I can guess from the plans), which is probably accounts for most of the points in this category, can provide 70% of the energy needed for an industrial and commercial facility of this scale.

Or on another topic like "Building life-cycle impact reduction - 5 points" which includes historic, abandoned or blighted building reuse, I would wonder why a perfectly good 1992, 4-story "chateau" built and owned by Jan Krupp in his rise to the heights of the wine industry (definitely historic) would be torn down and his impressive cypress-lined driveway bulldozed. The viticulture building probably gets some points but since it is supposed to remain a vitaculture office, that's kind of like GHG credits for not cutting down trees.

The first topic on the scorecard has the most relevance to this project however: "Location and Transportation - 16 points"

It includes sub-topics like :
    "Surrounding density and diverse uses - 5 points - Intent: to conserve land and protect farmland and wildlife habitat by encouraging development in areas with existing infrastructure. To promote walkability, and transportation efficiency and reduce vehicle distance traveled. To improve public health by encouraging daily physical activity."

    And "Access to Quality transportation - 5 points - Intent: To encourage development in locations shown to have multimodal transportation choices or otherwise reduced motor vehicle use, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and other environmental and public health harms associated with motor vehicle use."

It should be noted that this LEED disinterest in remote locations corresponds nicely with the Supervisors injunction to you in the 2010 WDO addendum to consider the remoteness of location in reviewing on-site marketing and visitation, and in the General Plan's policy CON-65(e) to consider "GHG emissions produced by the traffic expected to be generated by the project".

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

There is still one energy reduction technique that LEED doesn't give points for: not building the project in the first place. Note that the applicant's grapes are already being made into wine and that wine is already being sold. Why build another unnecessary winery in the county? The applicant may argue that wineries are now necessary marketing tools, or that there is more control over the product. I would counter with the example of the vintner putting in a vineyard just up the road from the project. Dave Phinney, creator of "The Prisoner", wine has sold two high-end wine brands for a total of $350 million. (an article is here) Both made wines from contract grapes in custom crush wineries. Were the applicant to spend the millions of dollars earmarked for the construction and overhead of a winery on less impactful marketing of his wines, I suspect he could also build a multi million dollar wine business. One without the environmental and neighborhood problems that tourist venues are bringing to residents throughout the county. It would be a truly low-impact solution.

Thank you,

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Road

Articles on the value (or lack of value) of LEED certification:

USA Today 6/13/13: In U.S. building industry, is it too easy to be green?
Newsham et al - Do LEED-certified buildings save energy? Yes, but…
Scofield - Do LEED-certified buildings save energy? Not really…
Scofield - Are U.S. ‘Green Buildings’ Really Saving Energy? The Facts May Surprise You
Scofield - No Evidence LEED Building Certification is saving Primary Energy
Gifford - A Better Way to Rate Green Buildings
Stephans - Do LEED buildings save energy? Yes, no, it depends…
Swearingen LEED-Certified Buildings Are Often Less Energy-Efficient Than Uncertified Ones
Lehrer et al - Occupant satisfaction with indoor environmental quality in green buildings
Diamond et al - Evaluating the Energy Performance of the First Generation of LEED-Certified Commercial Buildings

POWERFULon: Vision 2050

Daniel Mufson - Dec 31,16    Share expand...


Together, we are POWERFUL.

And in 2016, Napa Vision 2050, a coalition of 14 affiliates in Napa County joined together with the citizens of
Napa Valley to bring about 
the Napa Valley Register's #1 story for 2016,
"Wine Industry Under Fire".  


The Number 1 story in Napa in 2016 was the voices of citizens joined together to fight for environmental rights and environmental justice. It was a story of how citizens fought to protect their forests and watersheds. It was a story of citizen voices vs. corporate campaign contributions. It was a story of citizens who live here vs. corporations that don’t. It was a story of citizens who want to be heard by their representatives in county government. It was a story of citizens fighting for their Napa Valley.

Whether it's championing a citizen's rights in our community, delving into environmental issues affecting our Napa Valley and standing up with heart and courage against large corporations from outside our valley looking to alter it, the citizens of Napa Valley are POWERFUL. 

As we look to the new year, the fight will continue on the streets, in the County Government Offices and in the Court Rooms as we fight to regain our lost rights to place an initiative on the ballot and to challenge the lack of concern about toxic emissions and the public health.

Before 2016 comes to a close, you can support our efforts by making a donation today. Every gift will make a difference, and you can give with the knowledge that you are supporting programs that promote quality of life by preserving the agricultural nature of Napa County for the benefit of future generations of residents and visitors.

Donate Now and make a gift to Napa Vision 2050. ( Napa Vision 2050 is a IRC 501(c)(4) public welfare corporation. As such donations are not tax deductible.)

We at Napa Vision 2050 thank you for partnering with us in our mission to promote responsible planning in Napa County. Together we are POWERFUL.

We wish you and your family a very Happy New Year!

Napa Vision 2050

Copyright © 2016 Napa Vision 2050, All rights reserved.

view the email version of this article

The era of the developer is upon us, part 2on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Dec 31,16    Share expand...

NVR 12/31/16: Register reporters anticipate the big stories of 2017

The two urban areas of the county are in for some big development in the coming year, an appropriate trend in the era of Trump. To me the most heartbreaking part of the plans is the return of parking meters to downtown. Since coming to Napa 22 years ago, one of the true signs that I was now part of a rural community was the free parking at its urban core. Downtown Berkeley (we still reside most of the week there) has become a shopping dead zone because of the enormous amount of building over the last decade (and more to come). That development has of course made parking spots unavailable, causing the city in its wisdom to raise meter fees (now up to $3.75/hr) in an attempt to increase turnover and, and of course, pricing out shoppers who now head for other parts of the city to shop (particularly 4th street with its free parking).

Unfortunately for those who envision a more ecological (perhaps über-based) future, free parking is still the life blood of any successful retail business. Also, unfortunately, parking meters are the sure sign that a rural, small town is being urbanized out of existance.

NVR #1: Wine industry under fire!on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Dec 30,16    Share expand...

NVR 12/30/16: No. 1 story of 2016: Wine industry under fire

The title is perfect (or not). At the heart of all of the resident-industry battles over the last 3 years - Woolls Ranch, Yountville Hill, Callistoga Hills, Raymond, Girard, Palmaz, APAC, Walt Ranch, Syar, and many others - is the truth that many residents of the county no longer support the wine industry becuse the industry no longer respects their interest in a desirable place to live. The "wine industry" has become an excuse, a cover, for an exploding tourism industry invading residential communities both urban and rural, and for a real estate industry profiting off a surge in clearcut estate properties and winery venues, and a development industry eager to build it all.

The successful rural economy of Napa county was created by resident-vintners concerned about the quality of their communities as well as the health of their industry. But as is often pointed out, the wine industry has changed. It is now about corporations concerned with the expansion of their brand portfolio and empresarios concerned with the expansion of their entertainment empires and plutocrats concerned with expressions of their wealth, all hoping to squeeze out extra profits from resident-impacting visitation. The opposition of residents will, I suspect, continue until the industry begins to seek increased profits in ways other than dragging hudreds of thousands of tourists into the county - or until the residents, already diminishing in the upper municipalities and the valley floor, are gone.

Mountain Peak at the Planning Commission Jan 4th 2017on: Mountain Peak Winery

Bill Hocker - Dec 29,16    Share expand...

Update 12/29/16: The second day of the Planning Commission hearing on the Mountain Peak project will take place on Jan 4th 2017, beginning at 9:00am at the County chambers at 1195 3rd St, Napa. Please join us there!

Jan 4th 2017 Meeting Agenda and Documents (w/ revised conditions of approval and even more correspondence)
July 20th Meeting Agenda and Docs (w/ meeting pdfs and correspondence)
County website's Mountain Peak page (Mar 2016) (documents)
Applicant's proposed changes to the marketing plan
Staff Agenda Letter
Anthony Arger letter and dossier (35mb file)
Neighborhood powerpoint presentation at Jul 20th hearing
Video of the Jul 20th hearing
Transcript of the Jul 20th hearing
County Initial Study EIR Checklist

The Planning Commission is to decide on the use permit application for the Mountain Peak Winery on Soda Canyon Road on Wednesday, Jan 4th 2017. IT IS NOT TOO LATE TO ACT TO SAVE the Soda Canyon/Loma Vista Community!


The Planning Commission Hearing to approve or deny the use permit application for the Mountain Peak Winery proposal on Soda Canyon Road.
The Planning Commission Hearing Agenda for the Jan 4th meeting with documents is here
The County staff discussion of the project from the Jul 20th meeting is here

County Administration Building, 1195 Third Street, Suite 305, Napa, CA
WHEN: Wednesday, Jan 4th, 2017 starting at 9:00AM

WHY: The use permit sought by Mountain Peak would allow a massive (100,000 gallon) winery event center to be built 6.1 miles up Soda Canyon Road. Developed for the owner by The Reserve Group, this project will attract 18,486 (now 14575) visitors on an annual basis, allow for 78 (now 3!) marketing events per year, add 19-27 employees per day on the road, and construct caves the size of a large Safeway grocery store (more than 33,000 square feet!), making Mountain Peak one of the larger winery projects currently being proposed in the Napa Valley. A project of this size gives unprecedented visitor and event allowances over most other Napa wineries, and especially over all existing Soda Canyon wineries. The community must unite to stop this oversized, aggressive, and unprecedented project that could truly destroy this remote and peaceful neighborhood.

What You Can Do:

1. Attend the continued Hearing. Strength in numbers!
You don't have to speak - just being there sends a message about your commitment to live in a commercial-free neighborhood.

2. Write and submit a letter to John McDowell preferably 7 days before the hearing to be included in the document package for the meeting. (Letters may be submitted up till the end of the hearing and will be included as documents added after the meeting.)

3. Sign and return the Petition of Opposition!

4. Donate to Protect Rural Napa
  • Please donate via PayPal online at
  • Or make a donation check payable to "Protect Rural Napa" with memo line "MPV"
  • And mail your donation to:
      Protect Rural Napa
      c/o Treasurer
      P.O. Box 2385
      Yountville, CA 94599

For more information on this massive project, visit:
If you have any questions, please email,

The future of Soda Canyon Road is up to you!

A complete collection of correspondence to date is among the documents on the County Planning Commission 7/18/16 Agenda item devoted to Mountain peak

The era of the developer is upon uson: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Dec 27,16    Share expand...

At the final Planning Commission Meeting of 2016, Director Morrison gave a recap of the projects reviewed by the Commission during the year. The list included 32 projects. Among them: Reynolds, Frog's Leap, Stag's Leap, Summers, Dakota Shy, SMR, Bouchaine, Caymus, APAC, American Glass, Canard, Opus One, Feather Horse, Mahoney, Sodhani, Mountain Peak, Napa Vault, Taylor, Yountville Hill, Kenzo, Definition of Agriculture, Sleeping Giant, Beau Vigne, Chanticleer, Jessel Prime, Palmaz, Yountville Washington, Sleeping Lady, and Etude.

"Did we do all that?", Chair Basayne remarked voicing the satisfied surprise of Comms. Scott and Gill as well. Prior to this expression of satisfaction in surmounting a heavy workload, Chair Basaye had previously noted the work yet to be done and that the Commission would be "stepping up the pace" in the coming year. There are currently some 60 projects on the Planning Commission's docket, with Mountain Peak scheduled to be the first project of 2017.

Most of the projects the Commission took on this year were wineries. All were approved, save a few, like Mountain Peak, continued for a decision this next year. The approvals included, by my count, 273,000 new tourist slots, somewhat over the average/yr for the last few years based on the planning department's breakdowns here. Looking at the planning department's breakdown shows that after the changes in the WDO in 2010 the rate of visitation requests rises dramatically from previous averages. (The 2007 number is grossly inflated by one approval: 444,000 vis/yr for the Castello di Amorosa, now the face of Napa's alcohholic Disneyland. In fact, Domaine Carneros and the Castello di Amorosa have set the glitz standard for plutocrat fantasies and corporate profit boosting, and the demand for projects with ever more impactful visitation may have been upon us with or without changes to the WDO.)

From the standpoint of those of us who see continued building construction as an inevitable loss to the rural character that we treasure in Napa County, the exortation to "step up the pace" of approvals after this surprizingly productive year was not very satisfying at all. Although we often cite a "tipping point" in talking about projects about to be approved, the point at which the vineyards will eventually be replaced by building projects has probably already occurred. If it did not happen during the 2008 changes to the general plan which lumped the marketing of wine (tourism) into the same definition of agriculture as the growing of grapes and the production of wine, if it was not the 2010 revision to the WDO that allowed wineries to become defacto restaurants and event centers, if it was not the lack of support in 2016 for any meaningful restraint in tourism development by the Supervisors in their evisceration of the APAC proposals, if it was not the Supervisors rejection in 2016 of three major attempts to reign in urban growth in the county (the woodland initiative, Walt Ranch, and Syar), if it was not the election in 2016 of three supervisors committed to a "pro-growth" agenda, then surely the tipping point is just the inescapable momentum of a society in which buliding developers have become the rulers of our environment, our hopes, our lives and our future.

Rural Angwin has been savedon: Other Groups

Kellie Anderson - Dec 27,16    Share expand...

View this email in your browser

* Save Rural Angwin * Special Bulletin *


In a 4 - 1 vote at their December 20, 2016 meeting, the Supervisors agreed to keep the “Green Fields” GREEN in Angwin! This open space area adjacent to Conn Creek and north of the ball fields is considered the heart of the Angwin basin, a key to the rural character of the community.
At the December 20, public meeting, the Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution completing an amendment to the Napa County General Plan to change the approximately 16 acres of the area located southwest of the intersection of Howell Mountain Road and Angwin Avenue from Urban Residential to Agriculture, Watershed, and Open Space (AWOS). This is a decision Save Rural Angwin (SRA) has been working for since 2006!
The decision by the Board of Supervisors completes the General Plan Update process that began in 2006 and ended in 2009 with completion in all parts of the County except the Angwin area, which was being targeted by Pacific Union College (PUC) and an associated developer, Triad, for an urban residential and commercial development called the Ecovillage. There had been widespread resistance to this development in the community, led by SRA. The County opted to hold out the lands that PUC wished to develop until their Ecovillage plan could be presented to the county in final form for evaluation. The Ecovillage plan was subsequently dropped, but PUC still wanted time to come up with their college master plan, and the County was taken up with other concerns such as repercussions of the earthquake and other matters. Thus, it was not until late 2016 that the Angwin issue was again able to find its way onto the Supervisors’ agenda.
Ultimately, on December 20, 2016, four of the five supervisors agreed that they had given the college enough time and flexibility to update their 40+-year-old master plan. Since the college still did not have a plan to put forward, the Supervisors denied yet another request for more time from PUC, and they decided that a designation of AWOS for the green fields would be the best “starting point” for any future college plans. The College should be able to determine its future, but any plans should include input from the community, with a focus on the value of open space to Napa County.
Prior to the December 20 meeting, SRA met with PUC representatives several times. We were able to compromise on a mix of AWOS, Public Institutional and a small Urban Residential area for the lands near the airport and co-generation plant. PUC backed off their desire to have all the held-out 100 acres, including the Green Fields, remain Urban Residential. After these meetings, only the Green Fields remained contested, with the College requesting Public Institutional, SRA supporting AWOS. On December 20, Save Rural Angwin and the Angwin community prevailed.
The Save Rural Angwin Steering Committee hopes sincerely that this decision spurs the PUC Board of Trustees and leadership to see the open space in the Green Fields with new eyes and value it for its rural character and riparian importance to everyone on and off campus.

Kellie Anderson

Duane Cronk

Michael Hackett

Susan Leick

Virgil Morris

Paula Peterson

Allen Spence

John Tully

Marsa Tully

Jim Welsh


Jon-Mark Chappellet

Lauri Claudon

Randy Dunn

Guy Kay

Robin Lail

Dick Maher

Robert Redford

Dario Sattui

John Shafer

Mel Varrelman

Barbara Winiarski

Warren Winiarski

In Memory of
Volker Eisele

Copyright © 2016 Save Rural Angwin, All rights reserved.


Duane Cronk - Feb 1, 2017

A better future for Angwin

I have come across a story in the Napa Valley Register in 1985. That was 31 years ago. In those days, Napa County planners expected Angwin to become a city. But times were changing and those who looked ahead realized that a larger population in a remote community that had no jobs for newcomers was not a good idea. Almost everyone would have to commute to St. Helena, or join the traffic jam to Napa or Santa Rosa.

In addition, Angwin does not have the infrastructure to support growth. Half the households depend on a private well and a septic system in the back of the property. There are only a few feet of sidewalks. No doctor’s office. No bus service to anywhere.

So in 1985, the five county supervisors said, “Time to turn the page, Joe.” They looked at 4,566 acres in Angwin and Deer Park, which were zoned mostly for new subdivisions and they voted unanimously to change that zoning to agriculture.


The Register reported that “Chairman Mel Varrelman praised the rezonings as conforming to slow-growth wishes of Angwin and Deer Park residents.” Supervisor Jay Goetting agreed. “The basic feeling – almost unanimity – is that the rezoning plan is a very good one,” he said.

A few days ago, the county supervisors considered that a small area of Pacific Union College land in the heart of the village had been in agriculture for more than a hundred years and by a vote of 4 to l, they erased its obsolete designation for urbanization. The vote was for just about 16 acres, but almost everyone is celebrating.
Particularly the supporters of Save Rural Angwin, who now see a safer future for that mountain-top community.

There could not have been more joy after the decision in 1985 saving 4,566 acres than this one protecting just 16.

A few years ago, the college wanted to build 580 houses on the land surrounding the campus, including the 16 acres for which the supervisors have now said, “No, Joe.” So we must shout “Thank you” to the planners and elected officials who wrote another chapter in a long struggle that began 31 years ago.

Ring the church bells. Have a party. Enjoy.

2/1/17 NVR LTE version: A Better Future of Angwin

The Prisoner among us (updated)on: The Rector Watershed

Bill Hocker - Dec 24,16    Share expand...

Update 12/27/16: Notice of Preparation of the EIR for 114 acre Erosion Control Plan on rector plateau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walt Ranch Appeals Deniedon: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Dec 20,16    Share expand...
Moving ever closer
Day 4

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

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

Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gordon Evans' statement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former Supervisor Ginny Simms' statement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos from day 1 protest

Walt Ranch post-hearing truthon: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Dec 14,16    Share expand...

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

The traffic will only get worse (updated)on: Traffic Issues

Bill Hocker - Dec 7,16    Share expand...

NVR 12/28/16: No. 4 story of 2016: American Canyon faces major growth issues

Update 12/7/16: At the Dec 7th Planning Commission meeting during the often very informative commissioner comments at the end, Comm. Cottrell referenced Gary Margadant's cumulative traffic impact comments earlier. Dir. Morrison jumped in to point out the the general plan has a traffic element which looks at cumulative impacts and that the county is in the process of updating that element due to be finalized next year. This prompted Comm Scott to ask if there aren't some steps that the Commission or the Board could be taking to alleviate the concerns over cumulative traffic impacts that are going to be brought up during all the development projects they will unquestionably approve going forward. Is there a congestion trigger that would allow the county to begin working with the state to come up with solutions?

Dir. Morrison, always the realist, said that there is no threshold on traffic congestion beyond which action must be taken. Look at Los Angeles. In any case, the congestion at major intresections in Napa is a State issue to be taken up with the NVTA, and beyond the purvue of the County Board. (Comm. Scott, perhaps injudiciously, did mention that Napa now has one of its own in state government who might help.)

Comm. Gill, always with a bon mot in favor of more development, added that traffic in Turlock is even worse, and while Napa's broken finger may hurt, think of the poor people suffering a broken leg. Get over it.


NVR 12/1/16: Napa traffic: The commute will only get worse
NVR 12/19/16: Planned Napa resort objects to VINE bus yard relocation

The county has just issued their mitigated negative declaration for the proposed movement of the Vine Transit bus yard from central Napa to a location near the airport. You've got to get way down to the end of the document to go through the traffic numbers. The NVTA project page is here.

The congestion at intersections around the airport (and through American Canyon) are already at level F (the worst on the traffic scale). Reasoning that the project will only add 345 vehicle trips/day (less than a 1% increase to the backup), and won't change the F designation, the project traffic impacts are deemed "less than significant". It is the kind of head-in-the-sand rationalization that is made for each and every development project taking place in the county: one less-than-significant impact after another adding up to one hugely significant traffic jam.

Barry Eberling indicates some of the future projects in the immediate vicinity that will be contributing to the congestion. But he neglected to mention the Napa Pipe project (with its 950 housing units and a Costco) and the huge expansion of the Meritage Resort both at the Soscol junction. And he also didn't mention the dozens of building projects now in the works further up the valley that will require hundreds of employees and thousands of tourists. All are approved without a thought to the interchanges around the airport.

This project is different from all others, of course. The purpose of the buses is to reduce traffic congestion. And this is where the real failure of imagination in this project lies, because it is not seen as an opportunity to highlight the need to reduce congestion in a meaningful way.

For what it's worth (not much I suppose) I would like to propose an expanded vision of the project: Empty busses going to and from the bus facility are just a (rather lengthly) addition to the traffic jam and the county's GHG's. If those busses were full of workers or tourists when they leave the facility, they would be actually taking vehicles off the road in the rest of the valley. I would propose that instead of the 75 at grade employee parking spaces, what is needed is a 750 car parking sturcture. Purchasing an all-day parking slot would come with a free all-day pass on the Vine buses.

The parking structure and pickup station could be located on some other nearby property, preferably next to the potential light rail corridor a few hundred yards to the west, and this project would remain as it is. But the time to be thinking about a longer term solution to the Napa Valley traffic problem and a decent public transport system is long past due. Noisy, cumbersome, diesel buses are frankly a pathetic solution to our transport problems, and must be considered only as a stop gap measure. Perhaps, the sleek trams that bring visitors into the pedestrian-oriented city center of Strasborg, enjoyed on a visit this last summer, can inspire greater imagination.


A Woolls Ranch footnoteon: Mount Veeder

Bill Hocker - Dec 7,16    Share

Dir. Morrison gave an update on the current status of the Woolls Ranch Winery project at the Dec 7th BOS meeting: The neighbors, who opposed the project and are the owners of the easment needed to access the Wools property, sued to claim that the easement does not grant access for commercial activities (like a toruism winery). Their claim was upheld in Napa Superior court and the project has been put on hold until an appeal by the Woolls is heard. The process may take a year.

Standard conditions of approval (updated)on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Dec 6,16    Share expand...

UPDATE 12/6/16

PBES has just released updated Standard Conditions of Approval for non-residential development in the county with markups of changes made since the Aug 3, 2016 presentation to the Planning Commission:

    Hello Regular Customers of Napa County Planning, Building and Environmental Services,

    On August 3, 2016, staff presented the following new set of proposed standard conditions for Commission consideration and recommendation to the Board of Supervisors: (1) Winery projects; (2) Other Non-Residential/Residential projects; and (3) Specific Plan Area (Napa Valley Business Park) projects in an effort to make the conditions more streamlined and triggered by project milestones. In response to the comments received by stakeholders, the general public and elected/appointed officials, staff requested a continuance of this item to allow additional time to address comments received to date before the Commission makes its final recommendation. Furthermore, staff presented a proposed outline of how the conditions would be reorganized in order to get consensus from the Commission and the public on the new format before updating the draft standard conditions and presentation to the Commission for final consideration. A copy of this outline is also attached for your review and staff was directed to follow this outline when updating conditions.

    Attached, please find the revised proposed changes in “tracked change” format which staff will be bringing to the Planning Commission on December 21st for review and recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. Please note that the staff report, revised proposed draft conditions, and prior public comments for this item will be posted on the County website by December 14th. Upon completion of the Commission’s review, the recommended Standard Conditions will be presented to the Board in January/February for their consideration and adoption. Please note that Commission and the Board of Supervisors will take public testimony on this item.

    Once again, the proposed wording of the Standard Conditions have been modified to standardize language, ensure consistency and clarity, and to avoid any duplication. Furthermore, Staff has standardize project specific conditions that have been applied to projects over the years, and have added conditions from the Building Division and Fire Department to provide more information regarding the permitting process and expectations when applying for such permits.

    As for any significant changes, staff has proposed new language for the “Ground Water Management – Wells” in response to stakeholder comments, as well as, modified other conditions to respond to stakeholder/public comments with exception to those requested changes that would incorporate new policy direction for projects. Lastly, Staff modified the proposed condition and procedure that would carry over previous conditions of approval for Major Modification applications only at this time based upon Commission direction received on August 3rd.

    If you have any questions, comments or suggested changes, please contact me.

    Best Regards,

    Charlene Gallina
    Supervising Planner
    Napa County Planning, Building, & Environmental Services Department
    (707) 299-1355

    Markup Draft Winery Conditions of Appproval
    Markup Draft Other-project Conditions of Approval
    Markup Draft Special-plan-area Conditions of Approval


At the Aug 3rd 2016 Planning Commission Meeting Senior Planner Charlene Gallena presented her revisions of the the county's standard conditions of approval for winery projects (in addition to the conditions for other development projects) submitted to the planning department. These are the conditions that applicants can expect to be imposed when they submit their applications for approval. Normally this would be somewhat boring stuff, the very definition of boilerplate. But, of course it becomes very important boilerplate considering the contentiousness of winery development in the county.

The proposed conditions of approval are here.
The County 8/3/16 PC agenda item 10A with links to documents and the staff report is here.

The NVV's lawyer, Richard Mendenhall raised some points about the winery conditions, one of which set off some bells. The new standard conditions of approval regarding wine sales stated that "Retail sales shall be limited to only those persons visiting by appointment or attending marketing events. No drop-in retail sales shall be permitted." This is entirely consistent with the fact that tours and tastings have been allowed at wineries only by appointment in new use permits since 1990. Mr. Mendenhal sought to remind everyone that wine sales have never been restricted by the "by appointment" provision ot the WDO. I don't know if anyone else was struck by this revelation but I was immediately agog. (Much as I was finding out that the supervisors and mayors could agree to city annexation of county land without the voter approval required under Prop P). A whole bunch of questions were suddenly raised. Anyone at any time can drive into every winery in the county to buy wine. How does the county monitor whether a patron is a buyer or a taster? Is someone buying wine not allowed to sample the goods? How does a neighbor know whether the vans arriving next door are there to taste wine or just to buy it? It makes the "appointment only" provision a bit meaningless. And it opens an entirely new strategy to reduce the barriers meant to keep a rural industry from being overwhelmed by urban commerce. Does it matter whether the winery is being used as a bar or as a liquor store when it comes to neighborhood impacts? Most interestingly, Mr. Mendenhal wished not to discomfort the commissioners with this revelation by pointing out that the number of people dropping into a winery just to buy wine would be very small, so no problem. He didn't think it so small, however, to think it not worth mentioning. So when it comes to the direct-to-consumer function of wineries, so touted as the reason that the modern winery with its neighborhood impacts is built, it is not being built to sell wine to visitors but only to sign them up on a wine club list?

(As an aside, in a somewhat interesting admonition to the department, Mr. Mendelson advised not repeating a lot of verbiage in the document and "don't restate the law, just refer to it." It is interesting in that an entire legal case is being built against the county in regard to the county's invalidation of the Watershed Protection Ordinance for the November ballot on the basis that one document was referenced rather than reprinted in the initiative.)


Gary Margadant - Aug 31, 2016

The Planning Department is revamping the Conditions of Approval (COA) and the subject will return to the Planning Commission in October. First Blush was 8/3/16, second meeting scheduled for 9/7/16 but this will be pushed into October. A notice to stakeholders will be out very soon.

Funny, but the main comments have come from NVV and NVGG. Stakeholders - Architects, Engineers, planners, etc. have yet to offer feedback.

The COA, if helpful with direction to the owner and Stakeholders and should include references to County Code and other directives that help the reader interpret and act on the Conditions of their USE Permits. Especially for the employees of the Planning Dept (including enforcement): Their efficiency, clarity and time is our money and their reputation.

Ease of communication and enforcement should be the guiding goals of the new COA, something supported by the Industry Groups, see the attached letter.

The COA is in 3 parts, Winery, Non-Winery and Other. I have included the Winery portion. The other parts are available at Item 10A:


Date: Wed, Aug 31, 2016 at 5:03 PM
Subject: Napa County Development Process - Standard Conditions of Approval Update for Discretionary Projects (Status Update)
From: "Gallina, Charlene"
Cc: "McDowell, John" , "Morrison, David"

Hello Regular Customers of Napa County Planning, Building and Environmental Services,

On August 3, 2016, the proposed Standard Conditions of Approval Update for Discretionary Projects were presented to the Planning Commission for their recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. Based upon public testimony received, the proposed new outline for organization of Standard Conditions, and direction by the Planning Commission, staff recommended at this meeting that this item return to the Commission on September 7th. To date, staff is still working on revisions to the standard conditions and has been meeting with stakeholders to address issues associated with this revision and will not have this item ready for the September 7th meeting. To accommodate this work effort, it is likely that staff will be returning to the Planning Commission sometime in October. Once I have a designated meeting date, I will sent out notification.

If you have any question, please contact me or John McDowell.

Best Regards,
Charlene Gallina
Supervising Planner

Protect our watersheds alreadyon: Vision 2050

Daniel Mufson - Dec 5,16    Share expand...

Over 6,300 Napa County registered voters petitioned the Board of Supervisors this year to put a watershed protection initiative on November’s ballot. Following that, a majority of Napa County voters (24,000, or 64 percent) voted for an increase in our sales tax to provide protection for our water and hillsides through enactment of Measure Z.

While it appears that not enough voted in favor of this measure (66 percent required), the message is that citizens want our watersheds protected. Many of our government representatives including all of the county supervisors, most mayors, and city council members along with Congressman Thompson and Assemblyman Dodd publicly supported Measure Z.

Thus one would think that the supervisors would act to protect our watersheds and open space from development. The proposed Walt Ranch project would be the antithesis of these watershed protection goals as development threatens Napa’s drinking water source; threatens water quality and quantity; threatens wildlife habitats and the biodiversity of the Atlas Peak area. It would force agriculture into the MST watershed and open space of Atlas Peak.

There are two major issues here: first to determine whether a given land-use project can be predicted to be compatible with the environment (does the environmental impact report demonstrate less than significant damage to the environment), and second, is it compatible with the needs of the community.

Four groups have appealed the Walt Ranch Vineyard Conversion project. They are the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Living Rivers Council and the joint appeal of the Circle Oaks Home Owners Association and Circle Oaks County Water District. They oppose the current project by urging the Board of Supervisors to overturn approval of the Walt Ranch erosion control plan because of serious flaws in the environmental impact report that they believe will harm the watershed and the biota.

There are many Napa County voters who believe that the county needs to act now to protect and defend community rights to clean air and water. Let’s be clear here, the Walt Ranch sits just above land that the city of Napa carefully guards to maintain the quality of the drinking water coming down the hills into Milliken Reservoir for city water users. They don’t let you get anywhere close to that water supply—it’s been said that birds are not allowed to fly over it. With a city of Napa water supply at risk, we must ask why county staff would believe it to be all right to cut down over 300 acres of trees, and disturb this watershed by deep ripping, blasting, and grading the Walt property located just above the reservoir.

NVR version 12/05/16: Protect our watersheds already

Walt Ranch's unresolved issueson: Vision 2050

Nancy Tamarisk - Dec 4,16    Share expand...

There are good reasons for Napa residents’ unprecedented level of opposition to the Walt Ranch project. Five organizations are appealing the project to the Board of Supervisors. These include the statewide Center for Biological Diversity, and local organizations including Napa Sierra Club, Living Rivers Council, Circle Oaks Homes Association and Circle Oaks Water District. While it is impossible to summarize all of the issues in contention, these are some of the major ones.

Water: Circle Oaks is a small rural community of about 500 residents, almost surrounded by the Walt project. Its water district relies on wells adjacent to the Walt property. Circle Oaks is concerned that irrigating the Walt vineyards will deprive Circle Oaks of water, a worry supported by the findings of expert hydrologists. If Circle Oaks wells run dry, residents will not only be unable to supply their needs, but will also be unable to get homeowners’ insurance, because they will lack water for fire protection. Circle Oaks property owners would lose their investments in their homes.

The Walt project does not require any action if Circle Oaks wells run dry. The water district would have to prove that the Walt project caused the water shortage, a requirement virtually impossible to fulfill.

Napa City water is also at risk. For example, Patrick Higgins, a fisheries biologist, asserts that the Milliken reservoir, a Napa City water resource, is in danger of being overwhelmed by algae blooms with any increase in pollution from vineyards. While the City of Napa has reached an agreement with Walt, it requires only monitoring. It does not require Walt to take any remedial action if pollution exceeds predictions.

Regarding sediment, the Walt proponents maintain that vineyard installation will actually decrease sediment runoff. Our experts maintain that this is impossible: their calculations are incorrect.

Opponents also contend that the Walt could decrease flows to Milliken Creek, threatening downstream salmon and steelhead.

Greenhouse gases: Under its current incarnation, the Walt project would clear-cut over 14,000 trees, destroying the ability of those trees to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and producing “super-pollutants” such as methane when they are disposed of, either by burning or chipping.

The project proposes to “mitigate” this woodland destruction by establishing a conservation easement on other trees on the property. However, this is not mitigation! The protected trees will not magically absorb twice as much carbon dioxide to make up for the lost carbon storage of the destroyed trees. In the real world, greenhouse gases will increase.

Climate change is a crisis, both globally and for Napa. Already we have more wildfires, infrastructure (Highway 37) threatened by rising sea levels, less reliable water supplies, and even speculation about whether Napa can remain a premier grape-growing region. The contention that there will be no impact on greenhouse gases by the removal of 14,000 trees is a farce, and Napa County cannot be a party to it.

Special Status Species: Numerous species of concern are affected by the Walt project. Much of the opposition has focused on red and yellow-legged frogs and pond turtles. These species are the canaries in the coalmine, the first to go down as expansion of human development and climate change disrupt the natural world.

Experts’ testimony has noted that the environmental impact report provides such minimal information on the species studies that they are unable to even determine their adequacy. Two egregious examples include a watershed survey that was supposedly completed in only one day, when an adequate survey would actually require a minimum of one to two weeks to accomplish. Then, there are the surveyors of red-legged frogs, unable to tell the difference between a young frog and a tadpole, or to identify the frog species they encountered.

In addition, the limited buffers around the streams will be inadequate to protect anything approaching the actual habitat of special-status frogs and turtles. These creatures often over-winter hundreds of feet from streams and travel more than a mile to a new habitat or population.

NVR version 12/4/16: Walt Ranch's unresolved issues

Walt Ranch needs better environmental evaluationon: Vision 2050

Patricia Damery - Dec 3,16    Share expand...

I’m writing to supplement several important facts from the hours of testimony from the Walt Ranch hearings, in the articles “Napa’s Walt Ranch vineyard hearings open with protest” and “Proponents of Walt Ranch make their case”.

The Halls, the applicants for Walt Ranch, have applied to convert 316 acres of a large, 2,300-acre tract of land in the Ag-Watershed into vineyards. Although the project has been modified following the protest of various environmental and local groups, it still involves cutting over 14,000 mature trees, the equivalent of cutting 62 percent of the trees on the city streets of Napa.

As this project started moving through the EIR process, the Halls began contributing large sums of money to various local lawmakers’ campaigns. As these hearings began, Chair Alfredo Pedroza asked the Supervisors for “disclosures.” They responded by stating any meetings or correspondence they (recently?) had. Not one disclosed any campaign contributions from the Halls. Can our supervisors make an independent decision that is for the benefit of the community and our environment when the project’s applicant has contributed thousands of dollars to his or her campaign?

One of the biggest dangers of this project is the fact that it is a large part of one of the five remaining biologically diverse areas in Napa County in which the original native plants, animals, and soil structure supporting them still thrive. As we face the uncertainties of climate change and a warming earth, it is critically important that we protect areas still intact and not further exploit them. This project includes cutting the oak woodlands, which will impact the entire ecosystem these remaining animals and plants populate.

Four different groups, appellants, found fault with the EIR and want the Board of Supervisors to protect our environment by sending the project’s contested EIR report back for future study. I was disappointed to see a lack of reporting on the appellants’ many reports from biologists, hydrologists, earth scientists, geologists, which took serious issue with some of the findings of the Walt EIR.

Attorney Tom Lippe also questioned the process of the EIR in terms of CEQA compliance. Former supervisor Ginnie Simms also pointed out that the project’s 35 blocks of vineyards, each with roads and water supplied to them, are a thinly veiled real estate development, ready to be sold separately for lifestyle vineyard estates— and wineries. The EIR’s responsibility is to anticipate the consequences of such possible future trajectories. This EIR did not consider such future development, which would have significant impact on water, traffic, and on ecology of the region.

We heard that four novice biologists spent only one day evaluating Walt Ranch for reptiles and amphibians when only one of them is a herpetologist and others could not identify a tadpole from a frog. And hydrologist Greg Kamman reported the proposed deep-ripping of the thin top soils in order to plant vines, a process recommended by Walt Ranch consultants, does not improve soil infiltration rates, thereby limiting runoff, but in fact destroys soil structure which naturally handles water infiltration. Even the Regional Water Quality Control Board says there is no evidence deep-ripping increases infiltration rates. These are only a few of the many counter claims.

There are too many discrepancies and the stakes are too high. Insist that the EIR be redone. Contact your supervisor to come down on the right side on this: send the EIR back for expert evaluation.

NVR 12/1/16 version: Walt Ranch needs better environmental evaluation

Ignoring key part of the environmenton: Walt Ranch

Donald Williams - Dec 1,16    Share expand...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why You Should Care About the Definition of Agricultureon: The WDO

Eve Kahn - Dec 1,16    Share expand...

[letter first published in this NapaVision2050 newsletter]

Prior to the 2008 County General Plan (GP) update, the definition of Agriculture in our County ordinance was quite simple: Agriculture is the growing of crops, trees, and livestock. Many other uses may be permitted/allowed but must remain related, subordinate, and incidental to the main use.

We are a county that has valued our Ag lands. In 1968 the Napa County Board of Supervisors (BOS) put in place the Ag Preserve, the first ever in United States, which protects most of our lands outside of cities and towns from development.

However, the huge success of the Napa wine industry during the 80’s necessitated an ordinance to keep winery development consistent with the protection of Ag Preserve. On January 23, 1990, the Board of Supervisors (BOS) approved the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO). This ordinance defined a winery as an “agricultural processing facility” for “the fermenting and processing of grape juice into wine.” The ordinance also allowed for wineries to sell and market wine, but such marketing activity must be “accessory” and subordinate to production.


Every 10 years the Napa County General Plan (GP) is updated. The Steering Committee for the 2008 update was comprised mostly of industry representatives and winery owners eager to expand their business options. The updated GP, approved by the Board of Supervisors on June 3, 2008, expanded the definition of Agriculture to include not only the raising of crops, trees, and livestock, but also the production and processing of agricultural products and related marketing, sales and other accessory uses. Agriculture now also includes farm management and farmworker housing.

The second event began with the economic downturn of 2008. The wine industry pressured the BOS to include direct marketing as an accessory use of agriculture. The BOS approved this in 2010. This means that VISITATION, WINE AND FOOD PAIRINGS, AND RELATED EVENTS, are consistent with “accessory use of agriculture”.


For parcels zoned Ag Preserve (AP) or Ag Watershed (AW), agriculture is a use “by right” (without a use permit). And the Right-to-Farm ordinance (signed by everyone buying property in Napa County) states that the County will not consider the inconveniences or discomforts arising from agricultural operations to be a nuisance. If you live next to a vineyard or winery, you have to accept the noise, odors, dust, chemicals, and operation of machinery which go along with agriculture. If you object, your alternative is to go to court.


What happens, then, when visitation, wine and food pairings, often four or five course meals, and outdoor marketing events are included in the Definition of Agriculture— not just accessory uses?

Are these marketing events provided the same level of protection under the Right-to-Farm as those of actually farming? Are these uses consistent with the protections of Measure J, the 1990 initiative amending the Napa County general plan that sought to preserve all agriculturally designated land? Any change in agricultural land use must be with voter approval. RESTAURANTS ARE SPECIFICALLY CITED AS GROWTH THAT HAS TO GO INTO THE CITIES OR ONE OF THE VERY SMALL URBAN NODES IN THE UNINCORPORATED AREA, UNLESS VOTERS ARE WILLING TO ALLOW AN EXCEPTION.

What about Housing on Ag lands in this Change of Definition of Agriculture? Who really qualifies as a Farmworker – often called Agricultural Workers? Are the chefs or kitchen/wait staff at wineries and event centers the new Farmworkers? Can high-density housing be built on our Ag Preserve and Ag Watershed lands to accommodate them?

Changing agricultural lands to include expanded commercial uses (by right) violates the intensity of uses and protections under Measure P, which extends Measure J’s protections until 2058.

One of the key phrases in Measure P: to protect the County's agricultural, watershed, and open space lands, to strengthen the local agricultural community and preserve the County's rural way of life. By expanding what is allowed (whether by right or by permit), the rural way of life is/can be destroyed. The number of unintended consequences is significant.

This issue will be coming to the Board of Supervisors soon. Please contact your Supervisor requesting that the definition to Agriculture not be modified until all the unintended consequences are understood.

Diane Dillon
Alfredo Pedrosa
Mark Luce
Brad Wagenknecht
Keith Caldwell

A Read Worth Sharingon: Vision 2050

Carl Bunch - Nov 28,16    Share expand...

A Read Worth Sharing

Environmental activist Mike Hackett,
writes on the recent Napa land use fights reprised.

In this great read, Mike shares the perspective of
 Land Trust of Napa County pioneer and life long environmental activist, Duane Cronk.

Duane is vehement about the similarities
between national politics and the political climate
here in Napa County, California


We encourage you to share this with your friends
and help spread the message of responsible growth and development here in Napa Country out to our community and beyond. 

Other California wine country wars (updated)on: Other Groups

Bill Hocker - Nov 22,16    Share expand...

SB Independant 11/22/16: Santa Barbara Wine Country Ordinance Shot Down

Wine regions all over the state are running into the same concerns that the residents of Napa have long had - a wine industry drunk on tourism and rural communities being turned into tourist skid rows.

NVR 6/30/15: Napa not alone facing winery growth issues
New Times (San Luis Obispo) 10/16/15: Trouble on the wine trail
LA Times 12/02/15: San Diego Co law could change the meaning of 'local' wine
NVR 6/30/15: Napa not alone facing winery growth issues
SB Independent 6/26/15: Vintners Dominate Subdued Winery Ordinance Hearing
SB Independent 6/17/15: Debate Continues on Santa Barbara County’s Proposed Winery Rules
SB independent 1/17/13:First Look at New Winery Rules
SB Independent 8/30/13: A tale of two valleys

Not to mention Sonoma

The feeling is universal: the wine industry is supported when it is seen as contributing to and enhancing a livable community. It is opposed when it is seen as a destroyer. The conversion of the wine industry into an entertainment industry diminishes the value and quality of life that is the treasure of living in a rural community in an urban world.

Note in the long, Jan 2013, article, "A tale of two valleys", that Rex Stults of the Napa Valley Vintners holds up our 2010 WDO as an example of the success of winery rules. A year later Napa Valley residents began to explode over the same tourism impacts that Santa Barbara was reacting to.

There is a cautionary tale in the drop off of community involvement in the last Santa Barbara meeting. After 4 years of meetings it is those who stand to make money rather than those trying to protect their neighborhoods that still have the energy to show up. Protecting a rural community against the constant pressure of development money is an eternal task.

Save Rural Angwin Aug-Oct 2016 Quarterly Updateon: Other Groups

Kellie Anderson - Nov 22,16    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 2016 update is here.

The update index is here

Deforestation in the time of droughton: Walt Ranch

George Caloyannidis - Nov 21,16    Share expand...

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

Dear Napa County Supervisors:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


George Caloyannidis

Mark Wolfe's Sierra Club summation 11/18/16on: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Nov 20,16    Share expand...

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

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

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

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

Well, THAT was awesome! Let's do it again!!on: Vision 2050

Daniel Mufson - Nov 20,16    Share expand...

An update from Napa Vision 2050:

People waged the Walt Ranch battle in the
Napa County Board of Supervisors chamber
and on the street Friday.

Upwards of 100 people joined together to rally against the cutting down of 15,000 trees in WALT Ranch for wine grapes! #HALLNo #HaltWalt

Photo credit:J.L. Sousa

Photo credit:J.L. Sousa

Local New Coverage

KTVU Channel 2 News : Nov. 18th, 2016

KTVU Channel 2 News: Nov. 17th, 2016

National news wires are listening!

As reported today in the New York NetWire. "The City of Napa estimates
it could cost its water ratepayers $20 million dollars
to deal with agricultural pollution from this single project." 

Get out! Stand up! Join Us!

Napa County Administration Building
1195 3rd St,
Napa, CA 94559

Tues. Nov. 21, 2016

These meetings are an opportunity to connect
with your Napa County Supervisor.

There is no rally Tuesday.

We ask you to spend some time with your supervisors. 

Use the contact information below
to schedule an appointment with your representative.
We encourage you to sit down with them
and clearly define your views on this issue.

Together we are stronger.

See you Tuesday!

Brad Wagenknecht   

District 1
Tel:  (707) 253-4828
Tel:  (707) 253-4386
Fax: (707) 253-4176

Mark Luce        

District 2
Tel:  (707) 738-7319
Tel:  (707) 253-4386
Fax: (707) 253-4176

Diane Dillon                      

District 3
Tel:  (707) 944-8280
Fax: (707) 253-4176

Alfredo Pedroza, Chair

District 4
Tel:  (707) 259-8278
Tel:  (707) 253-4386
Fax: (707) 299-4141

Keith Caldwell, Vice Chair

District 5
Tel: (707) 259-8277
Tel: (707) 253-4386
Fax: (707) 253-4176

Jobs increasing faster than employees (updated)on: Growth Issues

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

Update NVR 11/19/16: Napa restaurants making extra effort to find workers

Glenn Schreuder just sent this article in the North Bay Business Journal:
NBBJ 9/30/16: Record Napa Valley hospitality job openings challenge employers

A main argument propounded on this site is that the hundreds of construction projects being approved in the county will create more commuting employees, requiring more urban infrastructure and services and place greater pressure for housing development in a never ending cycle of urbanization that will leave Napa county looking like the rest of the Bay Area in the next generation.

Based on the above article, I may have been wrong. Given the jobs boom occurring everywhere at present, the hassle of commuting to Napa Valley to work is apparently not worth it. And as I've said before, affordable housing in Napa is a pipe dream.

This lack of desire on the part of employees to work in Napa may presage another trend that has also been mentioned before: the incredible expansion of tourism venues now approved and scheduled to be built in the next decade may suffer the same reluctance by visitors who also don't want the hassle of gridlocked traffic and overpriced digs.

Napa County, thinking the attractive charm of a rural agricultural community can be visited by the world without the charm being destroyed, is rapidly building itself into a box. It appears we are headed for the worst possible outcome - turning a rural environment and way of life that has proven economically viable into an urban environment that can't support itself.


Glenn J. Schreuder - Sep 30, 2016

Hello, like this wasn’t a completely predictable course of events!

Our “industry-leaning” local governmental bodies are gradually turning the Napa Valley into a parking lot.

The North Bay Business Journal is a great source of information regarding the economic issues the county faces which I think could be referred to as the “Napa Valley yield management equation”.

All these issues are related, you can bet they see they need more concrete…

Mike Hackett - Sep 30, 2016

All minimum wage jobs for people that have to commute. The corporations have stolen our valley. This ongoing master no-plan sucks.

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