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.

Despite vast increases in vineyard acreage, 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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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.

Shepp MPV statementon: Mountain Peak Winery

Diane Shepp - Oct 11,16    Share expand...

11 October 2016

John McDowell, Deputy Planning Director
Napa County Planning, Building & Environmental Services Dept.
1195 Third Street, Suite 210
Napa, CA 94559

Re: Mountain Peak Vineyard [Winery] application Use Permit #P13-00320-UP Dear

Deputy Planning Director McDowell,

Since the last Planning Commission hearing regarding Mountain Peak Vineyard [Winery] (MPV) of July 20, 2016, several more incidents of note have occurred on Soda Canyon Road that pertain to my request to deny or substantially reduce the scope of the MPV proposal.

A refresher: Soda Canyon Road is a poorly maintained, two lane, dangerous, dead-end road that winds its way up Soda Creek, over a steep grade and ends on a high plateau at the edge of Rector Creek Canyon. The plateau is the watershed of Rector Reservoir on the eastern side of the Napa Valley. There are three ends to Soda Canyon Road [one is paved, the other two are dirt and lead to residences and vineyards].

This area, described in the Napa County General Plan as a dark- sky environment, is remote from the light and noise of the Napa Valley. Until recently, the area has been entirely residential, agricultural or undeveloped watershed. Only two commercial wineries have been on the road in the last half century: the small White Rock Winery on Loma Vista and the large Antica Napa Valley set in its own 1000 acres on the Rector Plateau.

As of today’s date, Soda Canyon Road has eight (8) wineries approved or in the application process. The MPV proposal
brings the total to nine (9).

UPDATE WILDFIRE: July 26, 2016 Soda Canyon Road blocked by emergency vehicles all morning. Thankfully the wildfire was contained quickly, however there was no ingress/egress for the entire morning for anyone [residents, winery personnel, tour buses, visitors or the mailman].

The Soda Canyon Road area has the second highest number of emergency incidents in Napa County. Wildfires are an unfortunate occurrence throughout the year and pose significant safety issues for anyone visiting the area [including proposed MPV visitors].

Stranded tourists waiting to be rescued on their way to the Beau Vigne vineyards at the top of Soda Canyon.
UPDATE TRAFFIC INCIDENTS: Tour bus breaks down on Soda Canyon Road, while visiting the Beau Vigne vineyards not winery.

Date: September 24, 2016 Three tour buses visiting the vineyards of Beau Vigne Winery (winery approved on September 7, 2016, by the Napa County Planning Commission*) transport their winery visitors to their vineyards located on the dirt portion of Soda Canyon Road in Foss Valley (~7 mile marker). One of the buses broke down on the steepest part of the paved grade (~5 mile marker). The other two buses continued to the vineyard...kicking up a lot of dust. One of the tour buses later returned to the broken-down bus and transported the remainder of visitors to the vineyard.

Breakdowns of this nature are frequent and not limited to tour buses. Many vineyard and delivery trucks likewise breakdown at the steepest part of the paved road, sometimes blocking traffic in both directions.

While Beau Vigne visitation and production may be modest, it is just one of several projects approved or in the pipeline right at the base of Soda Canyon Road that will change the character of the Trail in this location and increase the amount of traffic we have to deal with at the Soda Canyon junction and on the mountain.

This brings up another topic: Was the visitation of Beau Vigne tourists to their vineyards at the top of Soda Canyon also included in the permit? Do winery use permits include vineyard visitation as well? This is very relevant to the MPV application in that they also have vineyards located down the dirt portion of Soda Canyon Road which is not a county maintained and one lane. Not a safe place to be in an emergency.

*Beau Vigne Winery is located at 4057 Silverado Trail, Napa; 625 feet north of its intersection with Soda Canyon Road. Their vineyard is located on Soda Canyon Road (dirt road section).

At the left is one of the other tour buses that did not break down entering the Beau Vigne vineyard. Please note all the DUST.

There is great concern regarding travel on Napa County dirt roads and its negative impact on our water resources, siltation and degradation of our environment.
This practice certainly does not protect our agricultural lands from an invasion of tourists among the vines. Or is this merely marketing and therefore defined as agriculture?

Is this the next phase we are to expect of tourism posing (and imposing) on agriculture in the Napa Valley?

REVELANCE to the MPV proposal:

Safety/Danger: The historic danger of wildland fire on the Soda Canyon Road is a given. Soda Canyon is a dangerous, dead-end place for a huge, industrial strength, visitor center/winery with many employees and thousands of visitors. The recent increase in the number of wineries and related winery traffic on Soda Canyon, increases the potential of putting visitors, residents and wineries at increased risk and having to shelter-in-place during an emergency.

Current road conditions are not going to change: The road has not been improved and has in fact deteriorated at an alarming rate. The County has indicated it is not going to improve the paved road anytime soon, and they are not going to pave the dirt portions of the road probably ever.

Proximity to significant water resources and dirt roads: MPV’s proposed site is located at the junction of the paved and gravel road at the 6.1 mile marker; and sits in proximity to Rector Canyon and Reservoir. MPV’s second vineyard is located down the dirt road another 2-3 miles. If a precedent is set with the Beau Vigne example, then MPV could begin conducting tours down the one-lane, dirt road (not county maintained or owned) which then poses potential significant negative impacts and degradation of the Rector watershed and siltation from dirt-country roads.

The scale of the MPV proposal and its ambitious tourism marketing plan mark the true negative impact of wine tourism in a remote corner of the county. The MPV project promises to change the character of life on Soda Canyon Road and not for the better. If successful, it will not be the last such project to cash in on the bucolic remoteness of the rest of Soda Canyon...and that remoteness will be irreparably destroyed.
The MPV as proposed only adds to an already existing difficult and dangerous situation and adds more risk to anyone ‘visiting’ Soda Canyon Road; risk to our County’s valuable water resources; and the safety of tourists and residents alike. It adds nothing of real value.

The final indignity, the broken down tour bus being hauled away later that night in front of MPV.

The proposed MPV is not a small family winery designed to be consistent with the immediate local environment. In fact, it is quite the opposite. A winery of the proposed size and scope does not belong in a remote area on a dead-end road.
Please protect our fragile environment and homes from unwarranted, industrial strength, mega- wineries in remote locations in Napa County. I’m counting on you to represent and ensure the health and safety of local residents. If you truly wish to create a Napa County where our children and future generations of Napa citizens will live, and raise their families, then the choice is clear.

I respectfully request that you deny the MPV application. Short of that, please significantly reduce the number of allowed public tours, events, winery size and production levels.

Thank you,

Diane Shepp

Mountain Peak at the Planning Commission
Nov 16th
on: Mountain Peak Winery

Bill Hocker - Oct 10,16    Share expand...

County website's Mountain Peak page (Mar 2016) (documents)
July 20th Meeting Agenda and Docs (w/ meeting pdfs and correspondence)
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, Nov 16th 2016. 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 with documents is here
The County staff discussion of the project is here

County Administration Building, 1195 Third Street, Suite 305, Napa, CA
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct 19, 2016 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 the Wednesday, Nov 16th, 2016 at 9am! 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 before 5pm on Oct 11, 2016 to be included in the document package for the meeting on the 16th. (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

Is a restaurant agriculture?on: The WDO

George Caloyannidis - Oct 6,16    Share expand...

Is a restaurant agriculture?

At least this is what Napa County wants them to become.

In the current Napa County Code, "Agriculture and Right to Farm," defines Agricultural Operation to "Include but not limited to...the production, cultivation, growing, breeding, harvesting or processing of any living organism having value as an agricultural commodity or product and any commercial practices performed incident to or in conjunction with such operations on the site where the agricultural product is being produced (emphasis mine), including preparation for market, delivery to storage or to market, or to carriers for transportation to market.”

Hinging on the words "but not limited to,” the County amended this definition in 2010 to include winery on-site sales and events in response to winery claims that marketing conditions had changed. The definition of Agriculture as it was and as it has evolved, makes all subsequent changes in what agricultural operations are, also a right. Quite of note is that any changes in that definition, also become part of the "Disclosure Prior to Transfer of Real Property" which states that: "No person shall transfer real property of or adjacent to agricultural lands without following disclosure as defined (in the Code)…"

Under the guise of "Agriculture,” the alcohol-tourism model has evolved -- whether we like it or not -- with all its associated problems from the lowest wages paid by it and by the booming hospitality industry, to commuters and traffic congestion, water rationing and exorbitant rates, insufficient sewer capacities, all increased infrastructure costs ultimately borne by the public.

Now we are faced with a new wave of changes in the code initiated by pressure from the alcohol-tourism industrial complex.

The most serious changes included in the proposed language as a right are: "The production and processing of agricultural products and related marketing, sales and accessory uses.” Note that the "on-site" agricultural product requirement is removed. Included in the new definition is also "farm worker housing.”

Two issues arise:

1) Housing developments are only permitted in the cities. If we allow farm worker housing in the Ag Preserve, the demand is in the thousands. Apartment buildings in the hills? Sorry, you were warned in the Transfer Disclosure Statement. And who exactly is a farmworker? One who works during harvest with a family of four and stays here employed elsewhere the rest for the year? Make no mistake, this is a backdoor to affordable housing in the Ag Preserve because the cities have consistently stonewalled it.

2) Now that the on-site production of agricultural products will no longer be required, beef, tomatoes or any agricultural product may be imported from anywhere, processed and sold here. Why not the manufacturing and sale of qualifying beauty products, leather goods or even biofuels? Staff argues that the price of land guarantees this will not happen. But relying on "the likelihood of something happening" is not a credible criterion by which narrowly defined activities would be inserted in the Code, which is what an ordinance does.

Which brings us to the certainty of restaurants in the Ag Preserve. What are they if not facilities that "process agricultural products" even though they may be imported from every corner of the earth? And that will be by right.

While the county's use permit process may modify or condition a right, I doubt it has the ability to deny it altogether. Undoubtedly, the courts will have a field day.

The supervisors and everyone living in the Napa valley ought to be apprehensive of opening Pandora's Ag Box of widening the permitted uses with their incremental degradation. It will be the second death nail in six years to the coffin of our Valley as we know it.

NVR 10/6/16: Is a restaurant agriculture?

Geoff Ellsworth for St Helena City Councilon: Campaign 2016

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

St Helena Star 10/1/16: Candidate profile: Geoff Ellsworth

At each public governmental meeting Geoff Ellsworth gets up to defend the interests of the county's residents and restate the reality that city and county officials don't acknowledge with each new project they approve: the rural, small-town character that makes Napa County a special place for residents and visitors alike is being urbanized into extinction through their actions, one "less-than-significant" project at a time.

The Geoff Ellsworth SCR posts are here.

Hello all,

As you may be aware, I've decided to run for City Council in St. Helena.

This is a challenging time for St. Helena and Napa County. We are facing serious issues regarding growth, water, quality of life and fiscal management.

For the past three years, I have attended as many St. Helena City Council and Planning Commission and Napa County meetings as possible. I wanted to fully grasp what is going on and as a result I believe I understand what is needed to move St. Helena forward to a strong and balanced future.

I am hoping to have your support in the upcoming election.

If elected my main focuses will be:

- Fiscal oversight - making sure measures are in place so we don't have a repeat of the financial missteps of recent years.

- Quality of life for residents and support for local businesses.

- Water security for our community - both availability and quality.

- Protection of the environment we all share.

- Interaction with the other municipalities in Napa Valley and with Napa County offices to work towards better communication and working relationships to meet all of our common goals.

- Truly listening to our community to further understand concerns.

The election is Tuesday Nov.8 and mail-in election ballots go out this coming Monday October 10th.

Often people don't return these until the last week or day and so it's very important to continue connecting with voters and bringing awareness over the next month.

These are some ways you can help:

- Walking neighborhoods door to door with campaign flyers
- Calling friends and contacts to discuss the upcoming local election
- Hosting a gathering at a home or public space
- A modest donation to defray campaign costs
- Putting up a yard sign
- Forwarding on this email

I am also available to meet with people separately to discuss concerns and can bring signs and brochures.

I will send a further email announcing upcoming speaking engagements and hope to hear from you as things go.

Please keep in touch about concerns you would like me to address. Let me know if you would like flyers and/or a yard sign.

Together we can make a change

Best, Geoff Ellsworth

Highway improvements will increase trafficon: Traffic Issues

George Caloyannidis - Oct 4,16    Share expand...

Dignitaries always flock to ribbon-cutting photo ops, but established traffic findings throw a damper on the champagne.

Research at UC Davis -- one of the best in the nation on traffic studies -- has shown that the widening of traffic arteries does not alleviate traffic congestion. In fact, as Professor Susan Handy who was a contributor to that research explained during her last April's presentation at the Forum on the Tourism Economy, the widening of traffic arteries alleviates traffic congestion for between one and two years and then makes congestion even worse than it was before. Though Caltrans has not yet adopted that policy, it has posted it on its website. In the face of overwhelming evidence, it will surely follow in time.

That the widening of arteries alleviates traffic congestion is intuitive but the reason why it makes it worse is more complicated.

During the congestion easing phase, all traffic increasing projects which undergo CEQA review evaluate current traffic conditions and are given a green light on their traffic impacts which they might not have gotten had those improvements not taken place. In other words, more traffic-increasing projects are approved than would have been otherwise. This facilitates more traffic until the previous saturation point is reached. But the net effect is that more traffic is dumped on the side streets of communities and overall congestion gets worse. Not to mention increased parking requirements.

A great example of this pattern is the Highway 29/Trancas Street underpass. For those who remember traffic conditions before those improvements more than a decade ago, there was a bottleneck at that location but nowhere else further Upvalley. That ribbon cutting celebrated the easing of traffic congestion. But here we are today, the percentage of pass-through traffic remains at less than 10 percent, but additional development was facilitated by valid CEQA review and here we are with the intolerable conditions of today.

It is great that the eyesore utilities have been placed underground and that the easier left turns will facilitate better traffic flow for a while, but overall traffic will increase because of them. When the rest of the developed world is abandoning traffic lights in favor of roundabouts, St. Helena will get one more of those traffic-delaying relics to facilitate an unwise development project. Make no mistake; even more development will slip under the CEQA radar during the coveted window and the quality of life of local up-valley communities will suffer.

Sip the bubbly with caution!

Weekly Calistogan 10/4/16: Highway improvements will increase traffic

Jobs increasing faster than employeeson: Growth Issues

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

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.

Napa Winery Development Industry seminaron: The WDO

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

Napa County’s Winery Definition Ordinance
and Implications for Other Winery Markets
Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - Napa, CA

The Seminar Group, a for-profit legal and professional education provider of sponsored seminars, is hosting a seminar on Napa's Winery Definition Ordinance. It's expensive, geared to those attorneys, winery owners & operators who will be making money from their better understanding of the County's unique definition of a winery (and of agriculture!). The organizers and several speakers are lawyers and consultants that have been promoting and defending the current winery development boom, a lead part of the building boom going on in the county.

Lester Hardy, program co-chair, lays out the gist of the seminar: the winery development industry is concerned that approval of applications for new and modified winery use permits has become significantly more difficult. What can be done? (This, despite the fact that 100 such approvals have been made in the last 6 years with more approved at each planning commission hearing.)

For those feeling the unwanted impacts of that development boom, in traffic, affordable housing loss, infrastructure taxes, and the loss of a rural quality of life, it is an another (albeit expensive) opportunity to see how developers use, interpret and modify ordinances and the general plan to promote the continued urbanization of the county.

Information about the seminar and registration forms are here.

The future of Soda Canyon Road.on: Soda Canyon Road

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

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

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

It appears that the van was headed to the Beau Vine vineyard as part of a release party at their nascent winery on the Trail at the Soda Canyon Road. Approval of modification to the Beau Vingne winery just happened at the planning commission (the hearing is item 9B here) in what one could only consider as a love-fest about what Napa "family" wineries should be about. The visit to the vineyard in conjunction to a event at the winery does raise a question that I have always had about visitation to vineyards as opposed to wineries. Visitation to wineries is regulated to the nth degree, implying that unpermitted tourism visitation to vineyards might be illegal. Is that true? Even as an opponent of tourism to remote areas of the county, if the allowance of vineyard visitation defuses the need to build wineries in remote vineyards, that is a much preferable alternative. Provided that visits to vineyards don't become events, with food service and large quantities of people, there should be some codification of the process which does not now exist. (Of course, containing the extent of a privilege once codified has been at the heart of problems now confronting the county.)

The Definition of Agriculture Returns! (updated)on: The WDO

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

Update 9/23/16: The vote was 4 to 1 (Comm. Phillips voting no) to send the revised definition on the BOS with recommendations for some staff clarifications on the verbiage.

NVR 9/26/16: Napa wrestles with definition of agriculture

Correspondence received at or prior to the meeting is here. The correspondence, particularly the two legal letters, reinforce the points made by Norma Tofanelli below. It has become obvious that, from the 2008 General Plan revisions on, there has been a consistent effort on the part of corporate development interests to weaken the protections that have allowed Napa County to remain an agricultural economy and kept it's agricultural lands free from development. Following the squashing of community concerns in the APAC hearings and the election a development candidate in the Supervisorial primary, re-defining the meaning of agriculture to allow urban development in its name is a principal part of the process, as James Hickey recognized in the quote at the top of the WDO page.

Update 9/21/16: Today, Sept 21st 2016 public comments will be heard on the proposal for changes as shown in Dir. Morrison's email below to the definition of agriculture as set out in Napa County ordinance 18.08.040

NVR 9/19/16: Napa planners to discuss agricultural definition

While my initial view was that the additional convolutions generated by the changes will just create more uncertainty about the definition of agriculture (an uncertainty that tourism entrepreneurs and real estate developers will continue to milk), Norma Tofanelli has shown just how easy it will be to create milking stations going forward - the probable intention of the changes. The new definition, if adopted, will give the legal basis to claim that winery event centers, country stores and other tourist venues (Nut Tree comes to Napa) no longer need use permits to be built. They will be allowed "by right" just as real agriculture (you know, the growing and harvesting of crops) currently is.

She writes:
    If the additional uses (ag production facilities, ag product sales, marketing events, farm worker housing) are added into the base definition of §18.08.040 you will be mandated by at least §§18.16.020 and 18.20.020 to allow such uses without a use permit:
      §18.16.020 - Uses allowed without a use permit.
        The following uses shall be allowed in all AP districts without use permits: A. Agriculture;

      §18.20.020 - Uses allowed without a use permit.
        The following uses shall be allowed in all AW districts without use permits: A. Agriculture;

    In addition, the uses will be protected by:
      §2.94.010 - Definitions.
        "Agriculture" shall have the same meaning as "agriculture" as defined in Section 18.08.040 of this code.
Her complete (and compelling) argument is here

At the coming planning commission on Sept. 21h, 2016, Planning Director David Morrison is asking for public comments (and commissioner recommendations to the BOS) on a revision to the Napa County Ordinance 18.08.040 definition of agriculture, to bring it into alignment with the Napa County General Plan policy AG/LU-2, the County's prime definition of agriculture. It seems to go a bit further than just alignment by clarifying that the "related marketing sales and other accessory uses" mentioned in AG/LU-2 are "incidental and subordinate" to agricultural production uses. "Related accessory uses" are defined in other parts of the county code as being incidental and subordinate to production, but omission of that clarification from the two principal definitions of agriculture has been a lingering concern. The notice for the subsequently re-noticed Sept 7th hearing is here.

Director Morrison sent along the email below which shows proposed changes (in red) to the principal county ordinance defining agriculture. He also sent along a second email modifying the changes (shown in blue), cobbled on at the recommendation of staff and the county council.

From: "Morrison, David"
Subject: Agricultural Definition Ordinance
Date: August 26, 2016 at 5:29:19 PM PDT


The Napa County General Plan includes the following:

Policy AG/LU-2: “Agriculture” is defined as the raising of crops, trees, and livestock; the production and processing of agricultural products; and related marketing, sales and other accessory uses. Agriculture also includes farm management businesses and farm worker housing.

Action Item AG/LU-2.1: Amend County Code to reflect the definition of “agriculture” as set forth within this plan, ensuring that wineries and other production facilities remain as conditional uses except as provided for in Policy AG/LU-16, and that marketing activities and other accessory uses remain incidental and subordinate to the main use.

This Policy and Action Item were also reviewed extensively by the Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee, Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors over the past year. In April of this year, the Board unanimously reconfirmed their support for this Policy and directed staff to implement the Action Item. As a result, I will be presenting the ordinance change shown below to the Planning Commission on September 7 and will be asking that they recommend approval to the Board of Supervisor (amended text is shown in red font and 9/4/16 additions in blue):

On the same meeting, I will be recommending that the Planning Commission accept a PBES department policy establishing guidelines for the use of variances.

If you have any questions or would like additional information regarding this item, please contact me directly.




Section 18.08.040 - Agriculture

"Agriculture" means the raising of crops or livestock and includes the following:

A. Growing and raising trees, vines, shrubs, berries, vegetables, nursery stock, hay, grain and similar food crops and fiber crops;

B. Grazing of livestock and feeding incidental thereto;

C. Animal husbandry, including, without limitation, the breeding and raising of cattle, sheep, horses, goats, pigs, rabbits and poultry and egg production, except as provided in subsection (I) of this section;

D. Production and processing of agricultural products, including agricultural processing facilities notwithstanding requirements for obtaining a conditional use permit;

E. Marketing, sales, and other accessory uses that are related, incidental and subordinate to the main agricultural use, notwithstanding requirements for obtaining a conditional use permit;

F. Farmworker housing as defined in Section 18.08.294;

G. Sale of agricultural products grown, raised or produced on the premises;

H. Farm management uses meeting all of the standards in subsections (H)(1) through (H)(6) of this section. Farm management shall mean the operation, maintenance and storage of farm machinery, equipment, vehicles and supplies used exclusively for agricultural cultivation and harvesting where all machinery, equipment, vehicles and supplies are leased or owned and operated by the farm manager whether that manager is an owner, tenant, or agricultural contractor, and regardless of whether properties managed are contiguous or under similar ownership, provided that at least seventy-five percent of the managed acres are within Napa County. Farm management shall not include manufacturing for sale or retail sales of any kind and shall not include businesses devoted to equipment storage, rental or repair rather than farming. Farm management shall not include the operation, maintenance or storage of equipment used for construction of structures, even if those structures are in support of agriculture;

    1. Offices used for farm management shall meet the definition of accessory uses in Section 18.08.020;

    2. Farm management activities established or expanded after June 30, 2006, alone or in combination with any wineries subject to Section 18.104.220 shall not occupy more than fifteen acres or twenty-five percent of the parcel size, whichever is less;

    3. No single farm management building or structure newly constructed or expanded after June 30, 2006 shall exceed five thousand gross square feet. Multiple smaller buildings are permitted as long as they conform to the lot coverage standard in subsection (H)(2) above;

    4. Uncovered storage areas shall be screened from preexisting residences on adjacent parcels and from designated public roads defined in Chapter 18.106. Screening shall generally consist of evergreen landscape buffers;

    5. Farm managers shall possess all applicable local, state and federal permits and licenses;

    6. All exterior lighting, including landscape lighting, for farm management uses shall be shielded and directed downward, located as low to the ground as possible, and the minimum necessary for security, safety, or operations. Additionally, motion detection sensors must be incorporated to the greatest extent practical. No flood-lighting or sodium lighting of buildings is permitted, including architectural highlighting and spotting. Low-level lighting shall be utilized in parking areas as opposed to elevated high-intensity light standards. Prior to issuance of any building permit for construction, two copies of a separate detailed lighting plan shall accompany building plans showing the location and specifications for all lighting fixtures to be installed on the property shall be submitted for department review and approval.

I. Agriculture shall not include the raising and keeping of more than twenty-five roosters per acre, up to a maximum of one hundred roosters per legal parcel, except as may be permitted pursuant to Chapter 6.18.

Focusing a light on ordinance 18.08.040 frankly raises more questions than it answers. Agriculture "means" the raising of crops and livestock which "includes" a bunch of other things that are not the raising of crops and livestock? Huh? The ordinance begins with the lofty goal of defining "agriculture" but then spends 75% of the text in the weeds of farm management and roosters. If farm management is so well covered what about other agricultural uses. Wineries get entire additional sections of the code. But it seems like canneries, dairies, slaughterhouses, tanneries are also allowed under this wording. As well as their incidental and subordinate accessory produce stands, produce/dairy grocery stores, butcher shops, leather apparel stores, seed or hay supply stores. As will be, I assume, the facilities needed to process and market marijuana in the (near?) future.

The blue additions add even more confusion. Although there may be a different legal meaning, the dictionary indicates the word "notwithstanding" is synonymous with "in spite of" - meaning what?, that the requirements for obtaining a conditional use permit contain a different definition of agriculture? Are these the requirements? Shouldn't the requirements be changed to reflect this prime definition, rather than this definition be qualified to accommodate inconstancies elsewhere? Should the conflicting requirements have to be stated here as well? (Recall also the county's recent dismissal of the Oak Woodland Initiative for not including the text of referenced documents.) More questions about the County's definition of agriculture seem to be raised than answered here.

Independent of the eccentricities of 18.08.040, the effort to introduce one more repetition of the "incidental and subordinate" nature of marketing to production into the county code is greatly appreciated. It would be even better if that language was also included in AG/LU-2 itself. But I have to admit that the concerns over the definition of agriculture now seem to be a somewhat academic exercise. There is nothing incidental or subordinate about the impacts that the "marketing of wine" is having on the quality of life and rural character of Napa County. Those impacts, whether in traffic, housing shortages, deforestation, infrastructure costs, are beginning to dominate life in the county, just as they threaten to dominate our lives in the remote area at the top of Soda Canyon Road. Nothing in the General Plan or Code of Ordinances has been altered enough in the last year to change the trajectory of urban development that threatens the rural character of the county.

Last year, in the public angst that led to the formation of APAC, and before Sup. Pedrosa received his developers' mandate, there was some optimism that those impacts might be engaged with an expectation of abatement. And that the continuing winery proliferation that is the leading edge of the transfer of a resident-based agricultural economy into a corporation/plutocrate-based tourism economy might be slowed. As the three winery use permits that will probably be approved on Sept 7th may attest, that transfer continues unabated.

Many articles on this WDO page fret over the definition of agriculture.
APAC posts on the definition of agriculture are here and here and here and here

Napa red-tags Bremer soil-hauling vineyard creation project.on: Vision 2050

- Sep 18,16    Share expand...

Dear fans and supporters of Napa Vision 2050,

We are updating you on the latest from the Bremer Vineyard project in Angwin. Save Rural Angwin representative, Kellie Anderson, shared some details.

"The Vineyard development at the Bremer Family Winery has been red tagged by Napa County for multiple environmental violations.

The violations being investigated involve grading with out permit, planting vineyard inside creek setback, constructing water tanks in creek Chanel. The project involves the placement of imported river spoils dredged from the Napa River and trucking to the Deer Park site. Questions remain as to the quantity of spoils possibly exceeding approved permit, and construction outside of approved areas.

Neighbors have been complaining for two years about trucking, dust, noise and creek destruction. Downstream residents fear increased flooding and silt from project damaging Canon Creek habitat."

Napa County red-tagged the project on Sept. 8 to halt construction. Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said "what’s been built on the ground so far doesn’t match the county-approved plans."
This is not news to the people on the ground, says Kelli. Images below show the current view of the project. We will keep you up to date on this issue.

You are also invited to visit us on Facebook for the latest updates.

A day at Hall Wineson: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Sep 11,16    Share expand...

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

Walt demonstration at Hall Wines Sept 10thon: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Sep 9,16    Share expand...

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

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

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

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

There will be three public hearings later this fall-- three opportunities for public commentary. The appeal and all supporting documents may be found on the DENW website, at

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Craig launches into why the protesters are completely off base.

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

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

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

Napa Vision2050 September Newsletter: Acorns to Oakson: Vision 2050

Bill Hocker - Sep 8,16    Share

Napa Vision 2050 publishes a monthly email newsletter, Eyes on Napa, devoted to the impacts of ongoing development on the residents of Napa County.

Eyes on Napa September 2016 Newsletter: Acorns to Oaks
The newsletter index is here
To receive the newsletter join here

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

Bill Hocker - Sep 6,16    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.

Another winery expansion on the Trail is up before the Planning Commission on Sep 7th 2016. It is the Beau Vigne Winery on the Trail just north of the intersection with Soda Canyon Road; the requested increases in production and visitation are modest, but the application does 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 50 more in the planning department awaiting review. 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.)

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.

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

Bill Hocker - Sep 4,16    Share expand...

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

Napa Oaks Development

Stop Napa Oaks petition

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.

Non-compliance rocks the boaton: Compliance Issues

Geoff Ellsworth - Sep 2,16    Share expand...

[statement made during the 8/17/16 PC hearing on Frog's Leap U-P mod.]

This is very tough because obviously Frog’s Leap does many good things with organic farming, dry farming, charitable events. It’s the kind of winery that is a true part of the community, It’s a winery that I can say I would be proud of being part of Napa Valley.

But we haven’t really addressed the impacts on rural areas of someone doing all these types of events. The problem is cumulative impacts: not that one winery is pushing more visitation and events, but that hundreds are, with more continued approvals and proposals in the works. You know, we have two two-lane roads that feed the up valley. At what point do tourism impacts fatally disrupt our ag preserve and the quality of life of the residents who really are the true treasure of the Napa Valley - because the residents keep the ag preserve in place. So I think we have to make sure that the people that live here are happy with the balance.

My concerns are that we need to have an established compliance program in place before we continue approving any new projects or modifications. If, instead of a true compliance program, we continue after-the-fact approvals, we bypass addressing the impacts of the overages, and I’m talking about many, many wineries. And we bypass the CEQA mitigations of the original approvals, creating cumulative impacts that lose any true baseline for where we are. And much of this has to do with visitation. The rules are in place not to be a hinderence to someone’s sucess but, rather, as protection for the more vulnerable within our environment and community. The reason we want to follow the rules is not because of some abstraction or disconnected reason, but because by staying within them we stay in balance with our community and environment.

So the idea of a proper enforcement/compliance program is not about punishment. It’s about balance. If we don’t stay in balance our little boat will tip over. And it is a little boat here.

I believe such a compliance/enforcement mechanism must include production and visitation levels on projects such as this, including water use and adherence to WDO food and hospitality stipulations.

I believe it also must address and include transportion issues, such as bicycle use, tourbus use and levels of alcohol consumption for people leaving a property. The entire system must be included if we are to understand the impacts. Until such a compliance/enforcement program is in place, I urge the planning commission not to approve any new projects or modifications because it’s a question of how we balance the whole system.

Napa's tourism revenue - the other sideon: Tourism Issues

George Caloyannidis - Aug 28,16    Share expand...

Earlier this year, I visited Florence - generally regarded as one for the most beautiful cities in the world - for the third time since 1965. Its hotels, restaurants and stores are packed with tourists - 14 million of them. Its metropolitan area has a population of 1.4 million but all tourists descend only on its historic core where 380,000 make it their home.

One would think that with all its revenue, the city would be thriving, but the lawns and landscaping of the Boboli Gardens of the Pitti Palace ($16 entry fee) are brown, the giant 150-year old cypresses in the Santa Maria Novella court yard are dying because, though the Arno river runs through it, Florence is running out of water. Many of its narrow streets smell of raw sewage, indicating that its sewer treatment capacity has exceeded its limits. And the ability of its roads to carry its traffic was compromised decades ago.

Obviously, the massive revenue created by tourism is not enough to maintain its magnificent buildings and monuments, its slowly decaying sandstone columns, widow surrounds and railings of its historic bridges. Yet these are the assets that make Florence the attractive city that it is. The fiscal equation, while sufficient for providing immediately needed services to 10 times the people who live there, falls short in the long term capital costs they create.

Florence is not alone. The same fate is evident in all of the most attractive places in Europe including Ibiza - part of the Balearic islands - which professor Mendlinger had touted as one of the few successful models of a tourist economy at last April's Napa Valley forum on the tourist economy. But as Spain's minister of tourism recently reported, Ibiza has reached the limit of a variety of resources, including water.

If you ask the people who live in Florence, Ibiza, Santorini or Bruge whether they like it, they answer: "No, but this is where we make our living"!

Switching to the Napa Valley; if we are not there yet, we are awfully close. The percentage of tourist revenue the cities and county receive is somewhat in the order of a paltry 10 percent. All additional costs to maintain and expand the infrastructure its 3.5 million visitors require (25 per resident), in roads, sewer capacity, water treatment, administration, police, emergency services, cleanup, trash disposal etc. fall on the general population in the form of taxes, bonds and never ending funding measures. Despite the $50 million in Transit Occupancy Taxes, and more in sales taxes, we keep falling behind.

Calistoga and St. Helena are under orders to update their sewer plants, water is diverted from streams having to be defended in lawsuits, water and sewer rates are getting higher and everyone is aware of the sad condition of our roads, sidewalks and some 80 intersections at service level C or worse.

The reality is that the major winners of the tourist economy are the very few international corporations who have discovered the Napa Valley golden goose with their multi-million-dollar hotels and resorts but take their profits elsewhere, leaving behind the associated costs of services, the staggering long-term costs of infrastructure maintenance and expansion, the lowest paying jobs ($22,000 median for a single person) which create commuters and subsidized services - including grants for affordable housing - all spread among the wider population.

This is an unfair equation that satisfies mostly self-created immediate needs and ignores long-term costs. It is an ingenious cost-shifting vortex impossible to escape from.

There is no question that tourism is highly beneficial on many levels up to a certain point, but over-reliance on it has devastating fiscal, environmental and social impacts.

Because reliance on a tourism-based economy can never be scaled back until it reaches the point of collapse, I once again urge the county and the cities to commission a joint study before we get there.

NVR 8/28/16: Napa's tourism revenue - the other side

James Conaway on the Woodland Initiativeon: Woodland Initiative

Bill Hocker - Aug 25,16    Share expand...

James Conaway on the bulldozing of the Oak Woodland Initiative in his blog "Nose":
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in comely Napa Valley?

And from 4/23/15
Geoff Ellsworth sends this link to the Napa Broadcasting radio interview with author James Conway who is no doubt beginning to work on a third book documenting the forces that have shaped and will shape Napa County. The interviewer is Jeff Schechtman.

A Walled Garden of Eden – Jim Conaway talks about Napa’s winery growth and the ideal of agriculture

A quote in an interview filled with quotes: "Go back to agriculture. The more of this [tourism] you have, by definition, the less agriculture you have. You have to take land out of agriculture to accommodate these changes. There's no way around that now. Napa is too small."

Conaway just wrote this article remunerating on Jefferson and wine, perhaps as a lead-in to the issues that might be covered in a new book:
Napa Valley and the Jeffersonian Ideal

His two previous books on the Napa Valley:
Napa: The Story of an American Eden
The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley

The NBBJ Golden Goose conferenceon: Tourism Issues

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

The North Bay Business Journal hosted their 9th annual Impact Napa Conference at the Meritage Resort on August 7th.

NBBJ 8/22/16: Wine tourism: ‘How do we safeguard Napa without loving it to death?’
NBBJ 8/5/16: Tourism drives Napa Valley economy amid growing pains
NVR 8/8/16: Conference asks: How does Napa Valley cope with success?

Dan Mufson's recap of the conference is in the August Napa Vision2050 Newsletter
And Dan Mufson's powerpoint presentation at the conference is here

And then there was this recently in the Register: More rooms, upmarket venues drive Napa Valley hotel tax revenue lest anyone at the conference came away with the notion that the Napa economy is still about winemaking. (Note the Google map vision of Napa County pictured above.)

Aug 17th Planning Commission Reviewon: Tourism Issues

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

NVR 8/20/16: Frog's Leap Winery wins visitor expansion and jamming rights
The hearing video is here

In one of the more overt examples of tourism boosting, the planning commission granted Frog's Leap Winery an additional, say, 45000 visitor slots/year to sample their jams and jellies. Frog's Leap seems to be a model citizen in the wine community, and like other good stewards (e.g. Long meadow Ranch and Hudson) it is adding a variety of agricultural products to its offerings. There would seem to be a trend here, not necessarily unhealthy, in that it diversifies the agricultural base of the county (albeit modestly) and reminds us that the ag preserve and ag watershed designations are not just about grapes. All of the commissioners seems pleased to be able to approve the project,

But there is also an area of concern, one that Comm. Phillips touched on by asking to be assured that all of the jams would be produced from produce grown on site. The concern is that we are headed toward a Nut Tree business model in winery development. The diversification in products really does little to increase agriculture in the county (will the watersheds now be cleared to replace the plum orchards lost to vines on the valley floor?), but it gives a new end-run to the WDO if it is used to justify significant increases in visitation at "wineries" and a greater incentive to continue building and expanding them with no link to wine production. (In an ominous comment from Comm. Gill concerning winery visitation comparison numbers, she pressed the point that the WDO is "silent on numbers, setting no limitation on number of visitors or events. Just as the wineries eased their way into becoming restaurants competing with in-town offerings, this approval represents the potential to edge into Dean and DeLuca territory for the classier brands and Knotts' Berry Farm for the real entrepreneurs.

In a related bit of research, the WDO would allow a "jamery" to be built: "Uses permitted upon grant of a use permit: Facilities, other than wineries, for the processing of agricultural products grown or raised on the same parcels or contiguous parcels under the same ownership;" Why is this specificity about the source of the crops to be processed not applied to grapes as well, I ask myself?

In commissioner comments at the end of the meeting, Comm. Gill, seconded by Comm. Scott, took issue with a column title in the planning department's annual review of pending winery applications. The planning department keeps referring to "new annual visitors" being requested in the use permits. Citing an industry canard, brought up in many use permit presentations, the commissioners restated that visitors to new wineries will only be tourists that are already in the valley looking for other venues to frequent, a redistribution of existing visitors (just as Sup. Luce indicated that that the $6 mil spent on Visit Napa Valley was just to even out visitation rather than increase it) and that the wording of the column should not imply hordes of new tourists arriving to frequent the wineries they are approving. There will be, they seem to imply, no more increases in the number of tourists in the county resulting from the hundreds of thousands visitors needed to fulfill the new wineries business plans. "Less than significant" impacts here folks. Fortunately Director Morrison disagreed, beginning what Chair Basayne would describe as a "lively discussion". Assuming that new wineries contribute nothing to new tourism is just as erroneous as assuming that every visitor request will result in a new visitor to the valley, he implied. How much they add is an open question. In any case, he pointed out, CEQA requires the planning department and the commissioners to consider worst case scenarios in their review: 1 person/winery/trip.

The connection of new visitors to the valley and new visitation slots might be somewhat quantifiable. Based on the 2014 NV Visitor Profile average of 3.3 wineries/visitor the 677,000 new visitor slots/yr under review (as of Aug 2016) would require 200,000 new visitors to the valley each year to fill the slots. It’s either that or poach visitors from other wineries (which doesn’t seem to be a wine industry concern) or increase the visitation rate to 5 wineries/visitor (unlikely since wineries now serve lunch).

Napa Vision2050 August Newsletter: Citizens' Voiceson: Vision 2050

Bill Hocker - Aug 15,16    Share

Napa Vision 2050 publishes a monthly email newsletter, Eyes on Napa, devoted to the impacts of ongoing development on the residents of Napa County.

Eyes on Napa August 2016 Newsletter: Citizens' Voices
The newsletter index is here
To receive the newsletter join here

The Agricultural Preserve Archiveon: The WDO

Bill Hocker - Aug 15,16    Share expand...

There has always been a question in my mind, as the various stakeholders get up at meetings to proclaim the primacy of wine industry tourism over the interests of the residents of the county, what the real intent of the Ag preserve ordinance was back in 1968. I will start to amass the documents here as I come across them. Is it an academic exercise? Does it matter any longer what the original intent was? Any more than it matters what the intent of the drafters of the Constitution was? That was then - this is now.

1968: L. Pierce Carson NVR article on the approval hearing
2008 L. Peirce Carson NVR article on the Ag Preserve 40 years later
2012 Oral Histories of Napa County's Agricultural Preserve

Save Rural Angwin May-Jul 2016 Quarterly Updateon: Other Groups

Kellie Anderson - Aug 9,16    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 May-Jul 2016 update is here.

The update index is here

Standard conditions of approvalon: Tourism Issues

Bill Hocker - Aug 5,16    Share expand...

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

The return of Yountville Hillon: Yountville Hill

Bill Hocker - Aug 4,16    Share expand...

NVR 8/4/16: Napa County taking another look at Yountville Hill Winery

At the Planning Commission meeting of Aug 3rd, 2016, Commissioner Heather Phillips announced in disclosures that she would be recusing herself from the review of the Yountville Hill DEIR. She read a statement (transcribed here) indicating that council for Yountville Hill would challenge her right to hear the project based on the fact that a member of her family had participated with a neighborhood group opposing the project, allegedly representing a conflict of interest. She chose to recuse herself rather than bear the intimidating legal costs of a defense. The video of the hearing is here.

As she notes and as you can read here, this is not an isolated incident. Heather Phillips, as the most outspoken commissioner concerning the negative impacts of continued winery proliferation, has been challenged now three times by those interested in furthering a development agenda in the county. In a one-industry place like Napa it is unlikely that everyone who serves in a public capacity will have no connection to the wine industry or be free from its impacts. As an example noted before, one commissioner has been an officer in a limo company that will ultimately benefit from each new winery and winery expansion approved, yet he has never had his ability to make a fair judgement challenged. This is an attempt to influence commission decisions through strategic legal intimidation and is another indication how aggressive the industry has become in response to community opposition to the ongoing destruction of the county's rural character.

An extension for the comment period to the DEIR was granted by the commissioners through Sept. 29th. The hearing was lightly attended and the opponents' attorney was brief in her remarks, which seemed to indicate that the extension was a predictable decision.

My most recent rant on the project is here. This project should really not be built.

Our disappearing pondon: The Rector Watershed

Bill Hocker - Aug 3,16    Share expand...

My concentration on this website has been on the impacts that continued urban development is having to all of us living in Napa County. I haven't spent a lot of time in public comments on the specific impacts that the Mountain Peak project next door, the fountainhead of all my angst over the future of the county, will have on our lives. But I will do so here because it is a modest example of the larger issue of water depletion in the watersheds that we first heard about on Woolls Ranch, and in many of the watershed projects coming before the county in the last 2 and a half years.

Upon our return from a 3 week hiatus on July 15th we discovered two new occurrences on our Napa property. 1. Another oak had fallen dead, the second this year in addition to one major limb lost. This brought to 6 the number of oaks within a 200' radius of our pond that have died in the last 10 years, with the one large valley oak adjacent the pond on its last legs (roots?). 2. The spring-fed pond had dried up completely for the first time in our 22 years here.

To be sure, for the last 10 years the surface of the pond at the end September has been getting lower and lower. But this year by mid-July it had dried up completely - hard dry. I have probably been less concerned than I should have in the diminishing water level over the 10 years. It has been a period of drought. I should have been especially concerned over the last 2 years knowing that a large winery was being planned next door. It was not until I was staring at the completely dry hole that I thought, this could be serious.

Our property is surrounded on 3 sides by a gorge. The fourth is our property line with the Mountain Peak project. Any water that makes its way to our spring and to the 100' deep well just adjacent to it has to pass under the Mountain Peak site. They are planning to add a second well on the property. How much more will they be pumping to accomodate a 100,000 gal winery, 80-100 visitors and 19-27 employees per day? The water availability analysis for the project indicates they will be using less than is currently used. No amount of number crunching will convince me of that.

The current irrigation on the Mountain Peak site is probably not a whole lot more than it was 20 years ago (although a portion of the site was replanted in narrow rows thus increasing water use). There are some low areas of the site that may have had drainage lines put in which may have diverted the water table that feeds the spring. Just as important, many more vines have been planted uphill from us in the last 20 years in addition to Mountain Peak. And, although last winter's rains should have done something to improve near surface springs, the drought is still with us. Whatever the cause, extracting more water from the area has to be considered a reasonably foreseeable contribution to an already ominous situation for our continued water availability.

Our pond and the dying trees may not rise to the level of a canary in the coal mine when it comes to changes in water availability in the eastern watershed. But it is a real example of a water source drying up. As such, in an era of global warming and continued exploitation of groundwater for ever more agricultural and urban development, it is an occurrence worth noting.

Annual in-law pond cleaning, Aug 2008
The pond on July 16th, 2016


Yountville Hill and the No Project Alternativeon: Yountville Hill

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

NVR 8/4/16: Napa County taking another look at Yountville Hill Winery

As part of the CEQA process, the Draft EIR for the Yountville Hill project offers a "no project" alternative to the project being proposed. The purpose and content of the "no project" alternative is described in the CEQA guidelines section 15126.6[e] here

Although the "no project" alternative is discussed in more detail in the DEIR, the county's executive summary gets more immediately to the issue:

    "Under this alternative, the project would not be built on the project site, and as a result, none of the approvals that would be required by the County under the project would occur. The project site would remain in its existing condition, with the unoccupied residence/bed and breakfast and 2.2 acres of vineyards continuing to operate under their existing use permits."

and the summary concludes:

    "The no project alternative is the environmentally superior alternative, as all of the significant impacts of the project would be avoided. However, the no project alternative would not meet any of the project’s objectives because a winery would not be constructed on-site."

I have always been a bit mystified by the "no project" alternative, since it seems to be immediately dismissed in every CEQA review as not meeting the project objectives defined by the developer. Why is it even discussed as an alternative if it's such a non-starter?

The basic purpose of CEQA is to inform officials and the public about the environmental impacts of development projects so that they can make an informed decisions in approving (or denying) them. Questioning the developer's objectives doesn't seem to be a part of the process, however. But it should be. In almost every case, the "no project" alternative is the "environmentally superior alternative" - just as this DEIR notes. Why shouldn't we always consider the environmentally superior alternative rather than letting environmentally inferior project after project get built?

In the Yountville Hill project what are the objectives - really? A winery capable of producing 100,000 gal/yr. Even if it does make wine, for what purpose? It will be making wine that will otherwise be made in an existing winery. It will sell wine that will otherwise be sold in other ways. It's addition to the county's agricultural economy will be marginal if not non-existent.

Of course "agriculture", as we found out in the APAC hearings last year, doesn't just mean growing grapes and making wine, it means the "marketing of wine", the industry-approved euphemism and excuse for wine tourism. - In fact, much of the "wine industry" has become just an extension of the Napa tourism industry. The county knows this - they spend $6 million a year not to promote the exportation of wine to a world market, but to promote the importation of a world of tourists. One real reason for this project's existence is the 55,000 more tourist "experiences" it will provide each year. If the tourism industry is to continue to expand, more venues are needed, just as more events and hotels and resorts and upscale shops and limousines are needed and just as more parking lots and workers and worker housing and shopping centers and ultimately more freeways are needed to make the industry possible. It is a cascade of urban development that will eventually consume the agricultural base. But this is no longer really about protecting agriculture - is it?.

Much of the wine industry has also become an extension of the real estate industry. You know it - Napa ag land prices are no longer based on the return expected from grape production, even expensive Napa grapes. They are based on the return expected as building sites to house the haute couture brands of wine corporations or the ego statements of the world's plutocrats. This county is no longer about farm land and crops, it's about the development potential of the open space left from 48 years preserving land for an agricultural economy and a rural way of life. Now, in the age of Trump, the time has come to make a deal. In this new age even vineyard development, as Hall Ranch in Sonoma shows and as Walt Ranch here portends, is no longer about agriculture - vineyards are just another feature used to sell housing estates and trophy properties.

With the links to tourism and real estate embedded, much of the wine industry has also become an extension of the construction industry. What is the wine industry's response to the many impacts of the high end real estate and tourism booms? More housing construction and better transportation infrastructure. And much more gravel to build it all. One supervisor promoted heavily by the wine industry, even shows houses on the hilltops of his campaign poster.

In many instances "the wine industry" has now become the voter-friendly metonym for the collection of urban development interests whose goal everywhere and at all times has been to convert raw land (and agricultural land) into construction projects. Many places may welcome such a transformation - the push for urban development throughout the world is driven not just by the expansion of populations, but by the increasing standard of living that cities promise. But in the 1960's the resident growers and vintners of Napa County, in an early example of pushback against the development orthodoxy that built America, established an agricultural preserve to fend off urban development. It was done to preserve an industry dependent on agriculture but also to preserve a desirable rural way of life disappearing in suburban housing tracts throughout the bay area. That commitment to preserving "the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure" is still a part of the vision statement of the Napa County General Plan. But for how much longer?

Two and a half years ago, the Yountville Hill project kicked off a debate about the impacts that tourism was having on the rural character of the county. In the last year the wine industry, through APAC and an election, essentially beat back opposition from community groups and individuals all over the county whose confrontation with development projects in their backyards revealed a much more urban future ahead. And developers now seem to be pushing ahead wth a renewed sense of entitlement. Is this the end of an era for the protection of the rural character left in the county?

The Yountville Hill project may again be a weather vane to see if there is still a breeze propelling the rural preservation movement. The project is unnecessary to support real agriculture in the county. It damages a significant woodland viewshed on a major highway with parking lots, retaining walls and an ominous protruding box. It exacerbates the traffic on an already congested road, its visitors will further strain the water and infrastructure resources throughout the county, a tab that will eventually be picked up by residents. It's tourism ambitions strain the confines of the its parcel. It WILL further diminish the "rural character we treasure" here. The goal of the project is not to build a 100000 gal winery. It is to provide a hilltop vantage point for 55,000 visitors each year to enjoy an expensive sip of wine and bite to eat. This project should not be built. The "no project" alternative, the "superior environmental alternative", is there. It is time to accept it.

Yountville Hill DEIR Hearing Aug 3rd (updated)on: Yountville Hill

Bill Hocker - Jul 28,16    Share expand...

The DEIR for the Yountville Hill tourist attraction is on the county's Yountville Hill page here. All significant environmental concerns mitigated to less-than-significant on paper, of course. An Executive Summary of the DEIR is here

A Planning Commission public hearing on the DEIR will be held on August 3rd, 2016 beginning at 9:00am. Letters of concern may be addressed to County planner Sean Trippi through Aug 15th, 2016 (extended to Sept 29th)

Latest email:

Together with the law firm, Shute Mihaly & Weinberger, we have been preparing our comments on the recently released Draft Environmental Report (DEIR) for the Yountville Hill Winery project.

We plan to address the Planning Commission with oral comments at the August 3rd Planning Commission hearing of the DEIR, and are preparing written comments for the current August 15th deadline.

County staff is recommending a 15-day extension to the August 15th deadline, but due to the complexity and volume of the DEIR, in addition to the demands of this year’s early harvest, we are asking for a 45-day extension to adequately review the document. On August 3rd, the Planning Commission will decide on whether they will grant an extension. We encourage you to email your request for a 45-day extension to the Planning Commission and/or speak to this point at the hearing.

We also strongly encourage you to attend the August 3rd Planning Commission hearing of the Yountville Hill Winery DEIR at 1:30pm at 1195 Third Street, Suite 210.

Staff will introduce the project.
Applicant will provide an overview of the proposal
Ascent Environment consultants will present the various sections of the DEIR, including their analyses and conclusions.
Public will be provided an opportunity to comment on the adequacy of the DEIR.

If you are interested in speaking at the August 3rd public hearing and would like assistance in preparing talking points, please feel free to contact us via email at

Again, thank you for supporting Save Yountville Hill’s efforts and we hope to see you next Wednesday, August 3rd.

Save Yountville Hill

Walt Ranch LTE'son: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Jul 23,16    Share expand...

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

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

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

Bremer Family Winery ECPon: Watershed Issues

Kellie Anderson - Jul 22,16    Share expand...

[letter to County Planner Brian Bordona, head of the Conseration Division]

Good afternoon Brian,

Thank you for your ongoing assistance with the Bremer Family Winery problem.

I am requesting you deny the application to modify the approved Erosion Control Plan (P11-00317ECPA) which was submitted on 6-28-2016 as P16-00271. As you know, the existing foot print of the as built project differs from the approved plan. In addition your agency and RCD have documented failure to implement critical conditions of approval, which have resulted in erosion off project site and sediments entering creek channel. The Bremer's were red tagged by your staff on 6-27-2016 for failure to remove trellis within creek set back, despite their assurance that this had been completed. The list of non-compliance issues is lengthy and well documented in file, including letter from County Council.

Currently the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is investigating the denuding of creek under the stream bank alteration program. Further, a public records request to the Agricultural Commissioners office documented a failure to submit required monthly pesticide use reports. Your files document herbicide strip spray in violation of conditions of approval, which is a critical element of the temporary erosion control measures.

The project site is near sensitive receptors that are being negatively impacted by the importation of dirt spoils. The spoils haul route requires trucking thru the small community of Deer Park and requires dump trucks to pass directly by the Foothills Elementary School, the Adventist Community Services Center and is a block from both St. Helena Hospital and Health Center and the entirely senior citizen occupied Munds Mobile Manor, and the Deer Park Community Hall utilized by church and youth groups.

The modification must be rejected and a full Environmental Impact Report must be conducted to evaluate the impacts on biological resources, geologic hazards, changes to hydrology, ground water, traffic impacts, air quality impacts and green house gas emissions. The project is additionally subject to View Shed ordnance and tree clearing required to accommodate proposed terraces warrants additional biological assessments.

Further, notice to neighbors identifying the source, character, potential toxicity of imported spoils is mandated due to the sensitivity of vulnerable populations in the community. ( A community that has been denied any information of the potential harmful impacts of the past permitted dirt dump of 30,000 cubic yards of spoils in their immediate neighborhood.)

Known flooding in the area of Deer Park Rd. could be exacerbated and potential spoils contamination into Canon Creek must be analyzed.

Lastly, modification of the existing Erosion Control Plan constitutes piecemealing as applicant fully anticipated multiple project phases that were not evaluated in the initial study, and has submitted modifications after the fact on at least one occasion. The original project evaluated under the initial study is vastly different that the proposed project build out and did not evaluate the proposed trucking of an additional 45,000 cubic yards of potentially contaminated spoils.

I request the modification P11-00317 be denied and an Environmental Impact Report including the scope of the entire project be conducted.


Kellie Anderson

Woodland Initiative bulldozedon: Woodland Initiative

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

NVR 7/22/16: Napa Superior Court ruling keeps oak woodland measure off ballot

The Court has ruled against the backers of the petition judging that the full text of current voluntary best management practices, slated to become binding law if the initiative were passed, were referenced but not included in the petition materials and that the 6300 signatures are thus invalid.

The decision is here.

A sad day for the survival of the woodlands and the will of the people.

The initiative is not quite the naive exercise that opponents wish to portray. It is part of a larger discussion going on here, in Sonoma County and in San Luis Obispo County on the impacts that continued conversion of watershed lands, lands that act as a filter for the water in streams supporting aquatic life and for the water we drink, will have on water quality if the conversions continue.

In the specific case of Walt Ranch, the city's Water General Manager, Joy Eldredge, has taken issue in this letter with the developer's EIR, and the County's support of it, regarding the potential impacts that the project will have on the water quality of the Miliken Reservoir that supplies a portion of the city's water. She is just as concerned about the extensive amount vineyard conversion about the Hennessey Reservoir that supplies most of the city's water. She is not naive about the threats to her city's drinking water.

And the State's Regional Water Board is right now in the process of vetting a major Environmental Impact Report related to the "proposed General Waste Discharge Requirements for Vineyard Properties located in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds (WDRs)" in the face of ever increasing amount of watershed vineyard conversion. The documents related to this EIR are here. The request for comments is here and the EIR is here.

And these concerns are at the heart of the documentary "Russian River: All Rivers" that has been making the rounds this last year showing the impacts that vineyard conversion is beginning to have on the Russian River.

The Woodland Initiative was probably challenged and scuttled not at the insistance of the county that had already certified it for the ballot, but at the prodding of the Napa wine and development industries, which, in their concern for ever increasing profits, have begun to promote vineyard conversion in ever more remote areas, just as they promote new winery construction, as a means to increase property marketability rather than a need to supply and process grapes. These industries seem more intent and aggressive than ever, following the year spent on due diligence at APAC and the election of their supervisorial candidate, to continue the development trend that promises to suburbanize the watersheds and urbanize the valley floor in the next 50 years.

NVR 7/18/16: Napa judge to decide fate of oak woodland protection initiative
Wine Spectator 7/20/16: A Battle Over Vines and Trees in Napa Valley?
SLO Tribune: 6/14/16: SLO County pursues oak protections after hundreds of trees removed for Justin vineyard


Mountain Peak at the Planning Commission Jul 20th on: Mountain Peak Winery

Bill Hocker - Jul 21,16    Share expand...

NVR 7/21/16: Napa County grapples with remote winery proposal

On July 20th the Mountain Peak project was presented to the Planning Commission by the planning department and the applicant. In a surprise move (at least to me), the applicant's representative, Donna Oldford, proffered a reduction in the tourism component of the project. Gone were the 6-per-month evening events. In this subsequent email the exact proposed reductions were itemized to exclude 3911 visitors/year from the previous 18486 bringing visitation down to 14575/yr. The elimination of the frequent evening events were a significant and beneficial change to the marketing plan.

As Chair Basayne opened the meeting to public comments, vintner Stu Smith barged to the front of the line to voice his law-and-order support given to every tourist attraction to come before the county, and then the residents of Soda Canyon Road spent most of the day voicing their concern about the changes to their rural lives that a tourism facility in their midst will bring. The commissioners expressed some displeasure at the amount of material added to the administrative record at the last minute (see the Arger dossier linked below) but agreed that a continuance was needed to insure due process, and their day of decision was continued until Oct 19th.

The word "remote" in the NVR article is the key to understanding what this project really represents. As tourist attractions are being proposed all over the county, promoted as necessary for the survival of the wine industry but really representing just an expansion the tourism industry, with new projects continuously being reviewed (46 at present) and approved (97 since 2010) by the planning commission, this project still raises the question: are there places so untouched by the county's commitment to tourism that we should even ask if maintaining their living community of residents is more important than retooling them as a tourist experiences.

County website's Mountain Peak page (Mar 2016) (documents)
July 20th Meeting Agenda and Docs (w/ meeting pdfs and correspondence)
Staff Agenda Letter
Anthony Arger letter and dossier (35mb file)
Neighborhood powerpoint presentation at hearing
Video of the hearing
Transcript of the hearing
County Initial Study EIR Checklist

Walt Ranch Protest at Hall July 31ston: Walt Ranch

Geoff Ellsworth - Jul 21,16    Share expand...

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

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

Ho MPV Statement 7/20/16on: Mountain Peak Winery

Mui Ho - Jul 20,16    Share expand...

Dear Planning Director,

We are property owners adjacent to Mountain Peak Winery and we are appalled that a new entertainment/event winery of such size is proposed next to our house. This 25 employees establishment is not the family owned winery which was characteristic of Napa Valley that we all love, it is big business - the kind of big corporate winery that is crowding out the traditional family owned wineries.

Our major worries are :

1 Noise pollution - the continuing industrial noise from the condensers and exhaust fans etc is not the usual farming noises like harvesting trucks happen during harvest time. It is continuous, 24 hours a day. This humming noise will pollute the whole area all the time and will destroy the serenity of our homes. That is the reason why cities have zoning laws, industries are zoned away from residential areas. Or in the event of highway noise, Cal Trans has 20 feet walls to protect the residents from the continuous traffic noise.

2 Well water - water from our wells have been drying up. With the new anticipated flushing from visitors in the new winery, the usage will be way above normal vineyard need. Our spring already disappeared. The massive earth moving to make the new caves and relocating the dirt will definitely change the natural water flow. The County should bear responsibility to protect the existing neighbors.

3 Car traffic and safety issues - on this windy road, it is dangerous for all residents and their children to have so much more car traffic. Many of us residents have already had a few near missed accidents from workers coming down the hill at end of the day driving at fast speed. This mountain curving road is not designed for so much traffic and for large tourist buses.

Napa will lose its charm and livability if the County continues approving of the construction of these large corporate event wineries. Thank you for your attention.

Mui Ho
3460 Soda Canyon Rd

Chilton MPC 7/20/16 Statementon: Mountain Peak Winery

Steve Chilton - Jul 20,16    Share expand...

[letter sent to Deputy Planning Director McDowell]

July 19, 2016


Dear Deputy Planning Director McDowell,

My name is Steve Chilton and I reside on Soda Canyon Road, Napa, CA 94558. My wife and I constructed our home on a small acreage that has been in her family for nearly 100 years. While designing the house we worked around the 100+ year old oaks and Soda Creek. No oaks were removed for the house nor was the creek impacted. We practice positive environmental stewardship and expect the County and others on the Road to do the same. I strongly oppose the Mountain Peak project and request that you deny or significantly reduce this use permit for the following reasons.

• The size and scope of the project dictates that an Environmental Impact Report following the requirements of CEQA is mandatory. A negative declaration for a project this large and with its concurrent impacts upon water quality and quantity, wildlife, traffic, public safety, noise and vegetation cannot be supported by the facts. That the proponents have decided to proceed with this environmental disclosure document is an affront to county staff and the public.

• The permit request is for 100,000 gallons, which would require ~700 tons of grapes to satisfy. The project parcel has only 28 acres of planted vines, producing a maximum of ~80 tons of grapes per year (a mere 11% required to produce 100,000 gallons!). The staff report states that the additional tonnage will come from owned or under contract acreages nearby. Unfortunately “nearby” is not defined and could be on Silverado Trail. The County needs to identify where the grapes will come from in order to properly review a valid traffic report.

• As the County is aware of, Soda Canyon Road is narrow, steep in places, wet and foggy at times on the steepest section and used extensively by bicyclists. Deer and other wildlife frequently cross the road, especially at night. A hoard of tasters, leaving the event center at 10:00 PM after one last toast, must navigate this dark, unforgiving road without hitting a deer, a tree or a resident. It is only a matter of time.

• Fire danger is always discussed and seems to be dismissed by the County every time a project like this comes up. The risk of a man-caused fire on Soda Canyon Road is great now and with this project will become much worse. Cal Fire has sent extensive resources to the Canyon when there has been an incident and we applaud their efforts. As each fire season begins and continues through the summer and fall, other fires in the state drain our local resources. Cal Fires’ ability to respond fully becomes more limited and the risk of a small car fire becoming an inescapable inferno becomes greater. Soda Canyon has a history of major fires. Because Soda Canyon Road is a dead-end road, there are significant public safety concerns with regard to fire, and all emergencies. There is essentially zero cell service on Soda Canyon Road, offering the potential of a small incident such as a vehicle accident, a tossed cigarette, or a jackknifed or otherwise stuck truck becoming a disaster that would impact the entire county.

• A routine tactic of developers and their consultants is to present a grossly over stated project and when confronted with opposition, to seemingly, reluctantly, reduce the project to 75 or even 50% of the initial proposal. I fully expect that to happen here, while keeping the visitor numbers high. Your planning department and planning director have seen this before and should not be fooled into believing this was not the proponents’ intent all along. The project in its present form and when reduced will still qualify for the CEQA requirement of an EIR because there are unmitigatable, significant impacts to transportation, public safety and water quality and quantity.

For all of the reasons above, among many others, the County must deny this project and reduce the size to one that fits the rural environment and road conditions. Please protect our community’s safety and preserve the quickly dwindling natural resources that Napa has left, particularly in the remote hillsides.

Steve Chilton

Mc Fadden MPV 7/20/16 Statementon: Mountain Peak Winery

Dan McFadden - Jul 20,16    Share expand...

Mountain Peak Winery, P13-00320-UP Letter from Resident Daniel McFadden

My name is Daniel McFadden. My wife Beverlee and I have lived at 2362 Soda Canyon Road since 1991, where we operate a small vineyard. I am a professor of health economics and policy at USC, and an emeritus professor of economics at UC Berkeley. I have served as President of the American Economics Association, and have testified before the Federal Trade Commission on the economics of direct wine sales. I am the recipient of a Nobel prize for my work in transportation economics.

The MPV proposal includes a visitation program for 18,486 visitors annually, adding more than 2000 nine-passenger tourist bus trips per year, or even more private vehicles, to the traffic on Soda Canyon Road. This 7.8 mile dead-end road is narrow, steep, and winding, without shoulders or guardrails, poorly paved, with crumbling margins and more than 500 filled potholes. Heavy truck and vineyard worker traffic is already degrading the pavement and creating traffic hazards. The additional wine tourist traffic on this road from the MPV proposal would create enormous risks for Soda Canyon residents and for the taxpayers of Napa County. When wine tourist buses accidents on this road inevitably happen, the County will be called to account for gross negligence if it permits this visitation program without requiring safe access. The only prudent way to accommodate the MPV tourist traffic on Soda Canyon road is to widen, regrade, and repave the road to the standards the county currently requires for industrial projects. One can show with a simple economic calculation that property and business taxes from the MPV operation will be insufficient to cover the cost of this road upgrade. MPV should either withdraw their proposed visitor request, or pay for the 7.5 mile road upgrade needed to make their visitor program safe. It is an unreasonable burden on the taxpayers of Napa County to ask them to subsidize MPV operations by paying for the road upgrade and liability for safe access to their plant.

MPV argues that their proposed visitor program is an important element in their business model. However, Peju-Provence Winery located on Highway 29 with easy access and extensive wine tourist facilities says direct wine sales are about 15 percent of total wine sales. The percentage for a remote plant like MPV would certainly be less. Calculation shows the income from direct sales originating in an on-site visitor program at MPV will be far below the cost of upgrading Soda Canyon Road to provide safe access. The MPV visitor proposal makes economic sense for them only if the taxpayers of Napa County subsidize them by assuming the enormous cost of upgrading the road, or assuming the liability for gross negligence if the MPV visitor program is approved without assuring safe access. Napa County government should not impose a massive, unfair burden on Napa County taxpayers to subsidize the business operations of a private industrial plant.

Daniel McFadden, July 20, 2016

Hocker MPV 7/20/16 statementon: Mountain Peak Winery

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


My name is Bill Hocker, 3460 Soda Canyon road. My wife and I are next door to the proposed project. We‘ve been there for 22 years.

We have concerns about the impacts of a large event center in our backyard. Ours has been, until now, a remote residential, agricultural community.

We ‘re concerned about the 6-mile road that links us to the outside world. More traffic will only make an already degraded and dangerous road more so. Much is made of the 88 truck trips to be saved. Little is made of the tens of thousands of trips up and down the road each year to bring equipment and goods and employees and tourists to such a remote place.

As immediate neighbors, we’re concerned about water. A second larger well is being added. A 100,000 g winery and a 100 people/day will consume water not consumed before. Efforts to recycle some of that water won’t mean much when our well runs dry.

We’re concerned about the amount of earth to be moved - enough to cover a football field 20 feet high. We’re concerned about dust covering our properties and the grumbling and beeping of construction equipment for a couple of years. And we’re concerned about the spillage and erosion of all that dirt into adjacent creeks on our property and theirs.

We’re concerned about the waste water treatment plant proposed on our property line: 2-100,000 gal, 25 ft high storage tanks and a large treatment machine. We’re concerned about the noise of the motors and pumps operating every day.

We’re concerned about the noise of cave ventilation fans always humming, and the noise of vans and cars coming and going in the parking lot, and the noise of revelry and clinking tableware long into the night. In this remote place there is often absolute silence. Noises are very noticeable here.

We're concerned about the sweep of headlights from the parking lot, and of the outdoor lights needed for a factory and nighttime events, and of the glow from the large tasting room windows. You can still see the milky way and satellites passing overhead here. We’re concerned about a light polluted future.

And we’re concerned about the planet. Much is made of this LEED certified building. LEED, of course, doesn’t measure the energy spent for a couple of years to build this massive project, or that needed for the tens of thousands of trips up and down the 6-mile road each year, or, that needed to build and demolish the relatively new mansion on the property, and probably not even much of the energy needed to keep all those pumps and motors and fans going all year long.

And we’re concerned about the precedent this project sets: about other entrepreneurs building wineries here to make wine that is already being made elsewhere and to sell wine that is already being sold elsewhere whose real purpose is to add profit from the remoteness of our neighborhood as a tourism experience. It will not take many tourists before the remoteness and rural character are gone.

We, of course, have many more concerns - more than we have time for here.
Given all these concerns, we can’t support this project. We respectfully ask that you refuse this application. Thank You

Why build Watson Ranch? (updated)on: Watson Ranch

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

Update NVR 7/18/16: American Canyon project would further congest traffic on Hwy 29
Duh! Napa Pipe just up the road, on the other hand, with almost as many homes and much more commercial including a Costco, is mitigated with a couple of left turn lanes!

Update NVR 3/30/16: Watson Ranch traffic: Which way will it go?

A minimum of 3500 more cars/day moving north into an already packed corridor. Again the same argument that is made over and over. The road is already at LOS F. It will still be at LOS F even with our project, so it is a less-than-significant impact. Unbelievable

NVR 12/10/15: Mammoth American Canyon project prompts traffic, water concerns

The project is currently proposed to have a 200 room hotel in addition to the 1250 housing units.The City Manager pointed out that without the hotel, the city would lose about $1.2 mil/yr providing infrastructure and services to the homes. With the hotel, if it attracts high end guests and is filled (big ifs), there will be a $1.2 mil/yr revenue surplus. Someone then asked, of course, "Why build the houses? Just build the hotel."

A city official (I neglected to get his name) looked a little struck by the question. And then he answered: "This is the vision of our general plan - to have a larger city." The general plan was, no doubt, written by developers.

The residents of American Canyon already have shortages of school space, parks and playgrounds. This project underserves its own residents and will not relieve the shortages in the rest of the town. One person said that it is already hard enough to find jobs in the town. Why import 4-5000 new residents that will only put a greater strain on overstrained budgets and facilities, not to mention traffic and water.

One questioner suggested that the city wait until 2022, when ABAG will ask for another batch of affordable housing, to build Watson Ranch. They may have found another water source by then. The traffic, unfortunately, from the vast amount tourism and industrial development happening throughout the county in the next decade will continue to come. It will not be handled by 2 extra lanes and timed signals, and a freeway, I'm afraid, bisecting the town is inevitable.

Seeing that there is only one access road connecting the project to Hwy 29, creating an enormous choke point, I thought that it was done to align with the one freeway offramp planned for that end of town. While this still may be true it also seems that the developer more likely doesn't want to pay to go under the railroad tracks more than once, just as they don't want to pay to extend Newell Drive north to relieve traffic on Hwy 29 through town. This is a huge project that needs to bring a lot more benefits to the town than it is being asked to do. Why build it otherwise?

SCR Watson Ranch Page

Re: the Blakeley Initiativeon: Compliance Issues

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

Kennedy LTE 7/13/16: We didn't turn Blakeley in to the county, the sheriffs did
NVR 7/18/16: Blakeley Construction to pursue its own ballot measure
NVR 1/31/16: Blakeley Construction must vacate agriculturally zoned land


Once again we have an example of the damage done to the public by the County's lack of timely enforcement and its acrobatics in trying to rectify its bad practices.

In the Reverie case, the public interest was compromised when the environmental damage from multiple violations and illegal slope grading close to a stream was sanctioned by you moving the CEQA baseline forward.
You justified your acrobatics at the time by invoking a "forgiveness policy", one which as it turned out had been revoked a decade earlier.
Now we have a case where the County knew about a zoning violation and failed to act for over 50 years, once again depriving the public of the protections of the CEQA process by moving its baseline forward as the 2014 court decision enabled it to do.
I am not here today to speak on whether a County sponsored initiative has legal standing or not. My interest is once again how irresponsible and damaging your lack of enforcement is. Napa County continues to be the forgiver, the rewarder, the enabler.
This time the acrobatics you consider involve amnesty to all the violators you failed to control prior to 1969 in order to protect one you happen to favor. To make matters worse, you don't even know who other violators are or what they do. If you knew of them, you should have cited them and if you don't know them, they would be taking a huge risk by coming forward. So, you will never know.
As in the Reverie case, It doesn't matter if the Blakeleys and Kikens of the world are nice people or how many supporters they have because any new zoning or use will run with the land.
When you rewarded Mr. Kiken with millions of additional violation value, he turned around and immediately sold his property to an anonymous corporation. A County sponsored initiative will also reward the Blakeleys with the additional violation value of a rare commercial property in the AG zone. When at one point Mr. Blakeley sells his added value property, we will be back here debating commercial Use Permit applications again and again.
And there is this additional consideration: A County sponsored initiative will place the taxpayer on the hook for the costs of a sweetheart deal. That cost will turn out to be prohibitive because it is certain that in the face of the prior Superior Court settlement, the initiative will be contested. It is not that Mr. Blakely has no alternatives. The system affords Mr. Blakely and his supporters ample opportunity to place the initiative on the ballot and see it through himself.
But to be clear, no matter what the outcome, it will never absolve you from the responsibility of having violated the intent of CEQA and the unmitigated damage to the environment Blakeley's actions have caused.
During the Reverie process, I had contacted the Attorney General's office to make them aware of the County's systemic CEQA process violations. They agreed but invoked lack of resources to pursue it. They advised me to file a lawsuit naming the County as defendant or co-defendant when the opportunity arises.
You may be providing this opportunity today.

Thank you.

Woodland Initiative Court hearing July 15thon: Woodland Initiative

Lisa Hirayama - Jul 13,16    Share expand...

WATER, FOREST AND OAK WOODLAND PROTECTION INITIATIVE - Friday July 15th 2016 alert! Please mark your calendar.

NVR 7/6/16: Napa County watershed initiative heads toward July 15 court date

In case you haven’t heard by now, Napa County verified this petition in June and then disqualified it four days later on a technicality even though 6300 signatures were collected.

The backers of the petition filed a lawsuit asking the Napa County Superior Court to require John Tuteur to present the initiative to the Board of Supervisors or place it on the Nov. 8 ballot. The hearing will be held this Friday, July 15, at 9:00 am. The address is 1111 Third Street (the corner of Main and Third) in the Courthouse next to the County Administrative Bldg. It will be upstairs in “F” court.

This is one of those times that a large turnout will be extremely important. Judge Price needs to see that County residents want a chance to vote on this initiative, and a packed courtroom is the only way to convey that message. If you are able to attend, it would be greatly appreciated, and bring extra friends and family.

Thanks for your support and hope to see you Friday.


Jim Wilson - Jul 12, 2016

Dear petitioners and supporters of the Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative,

Hello! Thanks again to each and every one of us, our grassroots support and wisdom and strength. We can all feel good about coming this far, about the time and hard work we've poured into our effort to help provide better protections for our precious watersheds.

In the pause since we qualified our initiative some of us have been working every day getting ready for the campaign. We don't have much time, and there's plenty of opportunity for more volunteers as we look forward to success at the polls in November. Will you please join us?

Community education, letter-writing, recruiting, fund-raising, social media. You name it, we need lots of help with it. Full time or an hour - now's the time. Would you care to sign up?

There is one thing we can all do right now. Show up to our hearing in Superior Court this Friday. Bring your friends. The hearing should take an hour or so. Note: the courtroom is located in the "new" courthouse, not the historic courthouse that was damaged in the earthquake. Here's the invitation Lisa Hirayama sent to a smaller list today:

Here's a link to our website. You can make a contribution here.

and our Facebook page:

Stop Napa's watershed deforestation July 15thon: Woodland Initiative

Mike Hackett - Jul 13,16    Share expand...

Recent widespread news reports concerning controversy over a San Luis Obispo County wine company bulldozing hundreds of acres of oak trees to plant vineyards have left many Napa County residents scratching their heads: The same devastation is taking place in Napa, much faster and on a far greater scale.

This deforestation project by Justin Wines in Central California is heartbreaking, and should help bring awareness to the current onslaught in Napa County.

We are right now confronting project after project calling for deforestation in our watersheds, and residents are alarmed — our county officials have yet to act.

Consequently, a coalition of Napa County citizens has drawn up and collected more than 6,300 signatures on a voter initiative for the Nov. 8 ballot — the Napa County Water, Forest and Oak Woodlands Protection Initiative of 2016.

Its primary aim is to safeguard the county’s watersheds, water sources and forests. We need this ballot measure to restore balance between the wine tourism industry and the rights of local residents and communities, and to provide long-term protections for our oak woodlands and our water future.

This should concern residents of the Bay Area as well. The Napa River is the second-largest freshwater source emptying into the bay—a water body shared by millions. The Napa River has been impaired for decades and we need protections for the water sources that drain into it.

Napa County Planning Department records show nearly 3 million gallons of additional wine will be needed to satisfy the myriad winery expansions on file with the county. That would require an estimated 5,000 additional acres of new vineyards, sacrificing much of the county’s water supply and natural beauty—its forested hillsides and watersheds—to meet the demand.

Right now, we have at least 29 erosion control/vineyard conversion applications on file awaiting approval, according to Jim Wilson, vice-president of Defenders of East Napa Watersheds. “We don’t have any current protections for our oak woodlands, so we need the Initiative for a healthy eco-system,” he said.

“California has lost more than a million acres of oak-related lands in recent decades. These oak woodlands,” he said, “are responsible for water purification and replenishment and are essential to the environment and watershed health. Napa has the highest concentration of oak woodlands of any county in California, and this iconic ecosystem is disappearing at an alarming rate. This is significant because two thirds of Napa County’s drinking water comes from its oak-dotted watersheds.“

Joy Eldredge, Napa City Water Department general manager, has written: “The county should prevent the shifting of vineyard development impacts onto the city and its public drinking water customers.” The water manager goes on to state that “the City has seen a 400 percent increase in the level of effort required to treat Hennessey Reservoir for algae problems.”

This water quality degradation is due to vineyard development and run-off above the reservoir’s watershed. At times, 70 percent of Napa city’s water supply comes from Lake Hennessey.

Large vineyard developments above water reservoirs could require taxpayer money to clean up these reservoirs, if such developments take place.

Napa’s other reservoir faces a large vineyard development above it called Walt Ranch, associated with Hall Winery, which would cut and clear 24,000 trees, and the City of Napa water manager believes it could cost the taxpayers up to $20 million to clean up the reservoir’s water if this project is approved.

“The juggernaut of the wine industry’s encroachment into hillside forests threatens to bring serious impacts for humans, animals and the environment and after five years of drought, it’s only going to get worse,” says Wilson.

Napa Valley, is noted for its ideal terroir and climate for grape growing. More than 40 years ago, visionary Napa County activists such as Volker Eisele pushed through farsighted policies to protect the valley floor for what was considered its highest and best use—agriculture, including wine grape production.

Now, however, the accelerating demand from international corporations and wealthy individuals to convert thousands more forested acres to vineyards is pushing development onto sensitive hillsides and natural areas, threatening Napa County’s microclimates and future water security.

Although the Napa County Water, Forest and Oak Woodlands Protection Initiative recently garnered more than 6,300 petition signatures to qualify for the November ballot, it is currently held up by the county over an alleged minor technical issue.

A lawsuit filed by initiative proponents will be heard in Napa County Superior Court on July 15 and a favorable ruling would allow the measure to go forward on schedule. In the case of an unfavorable ruling, the matter will be appealed to a higher court.

The Superior Court hearing is set for Friday, July 15 at 9 a.m. at 1111 Third St. in Napa.

More information is here

Urban development and in-lieu fees (updated)on: City of Napa

Bill Hocker - Jul 11,16    Share expand...

Update - NVR 7/11/11 Napa to lift parking requirements on six downtown properties
$20,000/stall is the amount mentioned as an in-lieu fee. Since the cost of parking structures is $30,000/stall (the $12 mil, 400 stall structure mentioned in the article) to $50,000/stall (if undergrounded as would be required on the exempted sites) at the $20,000 rate the city and residents will end up subsidizing the profits of the developer.

Update 7/6/16: on July 7th, 2016, the Napa City Planning Commission is reviewing a proposal for a parking exempt overlay on 6 more properties downtown, similar to the Wiseman building with in-lieu fees to be paid instead. The staff letter for the proposal is here. It is highly unlikely that the city will assess the $50,000/stall needed to actually build new parking garages and the residents of the city will be expected to make up the difference, thereby subsidizing developers' profits. In reality the projects will be built now but the parking garages will only come in the distant future (if at all) and parking problems will become a major issue in the city. An exhortation from Harris Nussbaum to attend the meeting is here.


NVR 8/1/16: Napa to seek more parking funds from downtown builders
NVR 4/19/16: Napa planners to weigh downtown buildings, senior home

Re: the Wiseman building, please look at this 2009 cost estimate for a parking structure (now apparently hidden after my link to it). The estimate was $30000 per stall excluding land costs.

The cost of an underground garage was $50000 per stall. If the developer actually were required to provide the parking on the site the costs would probably be higher given the necessity to integrate it into the architecture of the building. And this is 2016. The in lieu fee, rather than $15,500/ stall, should be the actual cost of providing the parking on site.

As in all development projects, whether for industrial or commercial developments or housing projects (or wineries) developers are quite happy to pay in lieu fees because those costs are much lower than actually meeting ordinance requirements or providing mitigations. Guess who pays the cost difference: taxpayers in one form or another. Regardless of the public revenues touted at the planning commission phase, as Volker Eisele said, development never pays for itself, never. Residents are saddled forever with fee increases, tax increases and bond measures to pay for the unfunded costs of urban development. The developers take their profits, including the money saved on parking, and move on to another project - which governments are eager to approve because they need the windfall of new in lies fees to pay for the infrastructure needed for previous projects.

This rant is not about this specific project, which appears to be an attractive addition to the downtown. But urban development is ultimately a costly undertaking for the residents that will eventually be asked to pay more to maintain it. And we never ask ourselves, are we interested in living in a more urbanized world and willing to pay for the privilege? For me, and perhaps for others that enjoy their quasi-ruaral life in Napa, the answer is no.

Sonoma study session on winery events July 12thon: Sonoma County

Bill Hocker - Jul 10,16    Share expand...

On July 12th, 2016 there will be a study session to discuss the work of Sonoma Permit and Resource Management Dept's Working Group that has been studying the impacts of winery tourism activities on the rural character of the county this past year. The results of the Working Group, and a subsequent community meeting, are summarized by staff in this County Supervisor Agenda Report.

As with Napa's APAC committee, the Sonoma Working Group was convened because of the concerns of residents about the changing nature of their rural communities as the wine industry aggressively turns to tourism as a principal marketing tool. It is the same issue occurring all over the state and no doubt in every wine growing region in the world. The Sonoma Agenda Report is an important document in that it defines as the central issue wine tourism's impact on the rural character of the county and takes as its mandate a solution to that conflict. Unlike the final APAC recommendations and Napa Supervisor's reinterpretation of them, which were heavily influenced by the wine industry, the Sonoma report seems to indicate a serious desire to come to grips with the impacts that tourism is beginning to have on the lives of Sonoma's rural residents.

It may play out much as Napa's APAC did with little meaningful change in zoning ordinances to curb the continued development of agricultural lands for commercial use and the diminution of the quality of life for rural residents, but thus far at least the right question is being asked.

Press Release

2550 Ventura Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA 95403-2829
(707) 565-1900 FAX (707) 565-1103

Sonoma County Holds Study Session on Winery Events

Date: June 28, 2016
CONTACT: Maggie Fleming, Communications Manager, 707.565.6196

SANTA ROSA, CA - The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will conduct a Winery Events Study Session at approximately 3:10 p.m. on Tuesday, July 12, 2016 during their public board meeting. This session will explore the County’s General Plan policies that guide winery promotional and event activities. It will take place in the Board of Supervisors’ Chambers located at 575 Administration Drive, Room 102A, Santa Rosa.

During this study session, Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) staff will provide a short overview of General Plan policies related to winery events and key issues that have emerged during the permitting process. According to Board Chair Efren Carrillo, “This study session will provide an overview of policy options to balance wine industry event impacts with the need to protect neighborhood character and address land use compatibility issues.”

In preparation for this study session, the Winery Working Group of stakeholders met for six months to review existing policies and zoning provisions and inform PRMD staff on key issues. Additionally, PRMD staff collected input and comments at winery event public workshops attended by an estimated 500 people. The study session will include a report on outcomes from these events and initial ideas around events, concentration, standards for future wineries, and enforcement.

The Board will not make any decisions regarding winery policies during this study session. Instead, the Board will consider adopting a Resolution of Intention directing PRMD staff to prepare a draft ordinance to amend the Zoning Code to include development criteria and standards for winery events. This ordinance will be considered at a public hearing held on a later date.

Additional information on the County’s work with winery events is available at


Charlotte Williams - Jul 13, 2016

Shepherd Blis adds:

Following are some comments by people who were at the July 12 Board of Supervisors meeting on wineries. I am also including copies of the presentations by Marc Bommersbach for the Westside Community Association (though the excellent graphics did not copy), by Padi Selwyn for Preserve Rural Sonoma County, and a letter by Anna Ransome. These last three documents could be used as talking points for future conversations.

Thank you to everyone who sent emails, showed up, spoke before the board, and shared our plea for emails and attendance.It was very heartening to see so many of our supporters present in this overflow crowd! The wine industry was on their knees yesterday. Their presentations were so weak and Karissa left even before her name was called to speak. Wine folk behaved very differently than they did at the November 16 meeting where they were cocky, confident and arrogant!

There is still much work to do and we need to make sure to keep the pressure on as we can be assured wine interests will be working hard behind-the-scenes. Thanks again for all the time, effort, and energy. Together we are making great progress and together we will continue to work hard to preserve rural Sonoma County!
Paid Selwyn, Preserve Rural Sonoma County

It was wonderful to see and hear so many people who support rural preservation. Our statements were very strong and the supervisors heard us. I was really proud to be there.

And there is a lot of work to do. The last 10 minutes at the bitter end were revealing. Susan Gorin was the only one who seemed to want county wide regulations. The rest emphasized to Tennis, as they were trying to direct him, that they wanted flexibility on regs and wanted to look at events on a case by case basis. Gore lifted both arms up and said he didn't want to worry about every little event. Carrillo and Rabbitt were concerned about protecting the wine industry. So we will see what happens!! And send more emails concerning our positions and words of support to Susan.

Does anyone know Shirlee Zane's position?
Eszter Freeman

I heard it a little different in that Board wants Countywide rules. The "Specific Plan" thing came up as an alternative to solving existing problem in troubled areas. So, I suspect we'll see both 1) amendments to Ord and 2) additions to GP a la specific plan for Sonoma and W. Dry Creek in a year or so.
Ernie Carpenter

I feel that Susan Gorin was the star. I was impressed, but just briefly about some of James Gore remarks. They were anti-food and wine pairings unless local food was highlighted. He back pedaled a little afterwards but felt the new thing in wineries should be multiple crops. CAFF was late and did not get a speaker card in, lost opportunity to speak more on that.

I understand that each area of concentration is different but using the same old case by case approval is only setting up more conflict and special interests. We made some progress but time will tell as we will not hear a thing until September due to the case load by PRMD whose staff was just reduced by 25%. This is crucial as the Supes asked for several studies including traffic and NO ONE SPOKE out about conducting these studies in peak traffic times. PRMD let Bella Winery redo their traffic plan in low traffic periods to get an event permit.

Also I was incredibly disturbed at the insistence that most of the wineries are small! PRMD and the wine folks really hammered on that! PRMD and the supervisors kept saying 92% could be in compliance for events. More back dating of permits like Ratna Ling? Char Vale remember had 3 wineries closest to them openly advertising non-permitted events. We need to get on the make up of the corporate people who own all these small wineries now. This is the new corporate thing to buy up small wineries with limited production so they can charge more. Less than 2 weeks ago one big group bought up 4 or 5 small wineries according to the PD. I am slammed for the rest of the day. Thanks for doing this!
Janus Matthes, Wine and Water Watch

Fred Allebach's comment on PD article
What we are seeing in the county is an internal wine industry war between estate-based, bonded wineries and urban/Plaza-based virtual wineries.

These virtual wineries and associated tasting rooms, bottling facilities and shipping facilities, in urban areas, are what is driving actual estate-based,
bonded wineries into a frenzy of event center panic, to not lose market share to the new central Plaza model.

Then we get mixed up in industry marketing obfuscation about who is a "family-owned winery", when most of them are actually big corporate. In the county
70% of production is from 12 wineries.

The reason the bonded wineries are pushing for so many more events, weddings, food pairings, concerts etc., is because the virtuals are stealing market share. The bonded wineries cry they can’t make a profit, but this is not because of excessive regulation by the government but because of good old-fashioned free market competition and an evolving economic playing field.

And then it comes on the backs of the urban and rural public to endure a bonanza of intensified competition between two conflicting models of making and
selling wine. The old model offers aristocratic countryside mystique; the new model offers a one-stop wine/ food pairing shop in cutesy pie boutique
Plazas which the virtuals have taken completely over.

This internecine wine industry competition threatens to gobble up all county public space with wine, wine, wine and more wine. Maybe the job of government is to protect citizens from this marketing cancer, rather than it feed it more.

Dear Supervisors:

Please act to preserve the rural character of Sonoma County, a characteristic that drew many people to settle here and that still attracts visitors from all over the world. The trend towards placing wineries and event centers on agricultural land, instead of along the major transportation arteries, will pave over our ag land and cause the commercialization of our rural areas, destroying the unique qualities of our county and clogging our country roads with traffic from events and processing.

A June 26 article in the Press Democrat pointed out the growing trend of eco-tourism in Sonoma County. Many of these tourists are bike riders and there is a conflict between this trend and the increase of wineries, winery events, tasting traffic and tanker trucks on roads that are too narrow and winding to accommodate them.

Our General Plan 2020 supports agriculture but does not encourage the commercialization of ag land, including processing, restaurant-type food service and lodging accommodations. PRMD should establish a percentage criteria for processing grapes at wineries, something which has never been done in our county but which is standard in many other locations. Allowing the processing of grapes from other counties and states does nothing to encourage our local agriculture but contributes to more and more truck traffic and road damage.

A strict and standardized policy for winery events needs to be established. Right now, many wineries are holding multiple events, which are freely advertised in local papers, but which are not allowed in their use permits. This creates an unfair advantage for those who have applied and paid for permits that allow events. The PRMD devoted a large amount of resources to getting a handle on the unpermitted vacation rentals, and yet the lack of oversight on winery events, a much greater problem, continues. PRMD should have a weekend phone number for event complaints and a way to enforce use permit violations, no matter when or where.

Action now will avoid a very big problem down the road. There are already huge impacts from the lack of policy and action on the part of our local government to control the profusion of wineries and events on ag land in Sonoma County.

Anna Ransome, Graton CA 95444

July 12, 2016
We thank the BOS for directing the PRMD to develop county-wide standards and regulations that balance the needs of the industry yet protect neighborhoods and the quality of life for residents.

We all want a healthy economy and a beautiful place to live. It is in everyone’s interest -- to preserve rural character --we can have a healthy, vibrant wine and hospitality industry without degrading our primary tourist draw. If we want to have it all – we need to develop a plan for the long term, based on solid land use and economic principles.

We are very concerned about the case by case permitting that’s led to an over concentration of event centers and tasting rooms in Sonoma Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Westside Road. We trust that through balanced planning and your leadership, we will avoid creating new areas of over concentration in the rest of the county.

• PRMD staff has developed a list of options for the Board to consider. We have studied these carefully and advocate for the following:

Event Definition and Coordination must be County-led, not voluntary, through a data based-calendaring system already developed and paid for by the county but never implemented. This would analyze and allocate events to avoid concentration on any one weekend and in any one area to avoid road safety issues and other negative impacts.

• We support the county definition that sales and promotional events are any activity other than drop-in or by appointment tasting, and criteria that can be observed and monitored – ie: are non-employees on site after 5 pm? Is there amplified sound?

Monitoring and Enforcement: Clear criteria are absolutely essential given the County policy that enforcement is complaint –driven. Neighbors and the proposed Compliance Manager need criteria to determine non-compliance. The public cannot be expected to check attendees’ business cards or determine who sponsored the disputed promotional activity. More enforcement staff is needed and should be in the next fiscal budget. Enforcement must have meaningful fines and penalties.

Minimum Site Area and Setbacks: Siting criteria are important to guide development to appropriate locations to avoid cumulative impacts. We oppose reducing the minimum standards and we support siting criteria that includes separation criteria and min. parcel size for wineries holding events, with larger min. for areas of over concentration or projects with outdoor events.

Access Roads: Public safety is of utmost importance – Event activities must have access roads with minimum pavement width to allow safe passing and emergency vehicle access. Owners must have legal easements for access to property and must have safe site distances for turning onto public roads.

Noise Setbacks: We support min. setback standards for daytime outdoor event areas and parking. (sidenote: There is an inherent conflict of interest when an applicant hires and pays a consultant to do noise and traffic studies with specific results required for their permit approval.)

Number of Facilities on any one parcel: Again we are working to address cumulative impacts and degradation of rural character. Limit one tasting room per parcel on ag land and only allow tasting rooms on parcels with at least 6 acres in vineyards and that are accessory to a winery – to ensure Agriculture is primary on the parcel.

Food service runs the risk of event centers morphing into restaurants. Like Napa, if the County permits limited pre-packaged food-wine pairing by appointment only, during tasting room hours – we recommend it be in EXCHANGE for new permits having only a few Ag promotional events with food/ meal service after 5 pm.

In other words, the vast majority of newly permitted events must end at 5 pm. Evening events have the greatest impacts, the wineries become defacto supper clubs on Ag lands - and greatly jeopardize road safety.

• We support requiring a limited number of annual event permits for Private and Cultural events –via a zoning permit.

• Outdoor amplified sound should be limited to venues on large parcels that don’t create neighborhood conflicts. Kendall Jackson is the perfect example of a great venue whose amplified music bothers no-one.

Sonoma County is at a tipping point: Now is the time to address the dis-economies of destructive competition before the impacts from over-development erode the rural charm that tourists crave - causing them to take their business to more charming and less commercial places.

Please heed the advice from wine industry expert and Silicon Valley Banker, Ron McMillan, who challenges us to come together to address the very real problems: “ I believe tourists come to wine country because it is beautiful. Once they come to the wine country, the winery itself benefits from direct sales. If the wine country gets crowded and loses its charm — whether from locals or tourists — we will be killing the goose that lays the golden egg, so the focus for these issues should be on studies to get at the root of the problem.”

Thank you to our Board and PRMD for all the effort to get this right!

Paid Selwyn

Study Session On Winery Events
Presentation by Marc Bommersbach for
Westside Community Association July 12, 2016
Westside Community Associations 1
Everyone Knows Rural Character When They See It
Rural Character Rural Character – NOT!
Viewscapes encompassing open space and agrarian landscapes, low density, low intensity development, with low traffic volumes

Clear and measurable standards in the zoning code that the public and industry can rely on for visitor serving and promotional uses that:
 Manage the growth of visitor serving and promotional uses and facilities  Protect the rural character of Sonoma County especially in areas of concentration
like Westside Road.
 Minimize the impacts to adjacent property owners
 Reduce loss of ag lands to commercial type development (parking lots, hospitality entertainment and dining facilities, lodgings)
 Support General Plan policies and objectives for city-centered growth.

Explosive Growth in Promotional Facilities and Uses
 Over 300 % increase since 2000 - continued growth at this rate could result in 1200 wineries in 15 years.
 Exceeds the assumptions in the General Plan by double --assumed 239 wineries by 2020
 Over 60 applications in pipeline for tasting rooms, wineries and promotional uses and facilities
 Another 88 are existing facilities unspecified for events that will apply in order to hold events
Current Growth Rate of Use Permits for Promotional Uses and Facilities is NOT Sustainable

Westside Road – Becoming a Commercial Byway
 29 permitted facilities accessing Westside Road – one of the highest in the County, and
 10 percent of all of the new proposed projects
Proposed problem projects:
 Multiple wineries on single parcel
 Conversion of existing homes on small parcels to tasting rooms
 Events on parcels with no tasting room or winery  High intensity projects:
  
multiple tasting areas and kitchens Large scale parking lots lounges and overnight accommodations.
Westside Road has become a magnet for promotional/ hospitality centers because of existing concentration of events and visitors.

Planners Must Consider All Visitor Serving and Promotional Uses in Permit Review
 County considers an event any sales and promotional activity other than drop-in tasting or more restrictive by appointment tasting
 Current County and industry practice spell out and analyze the full scope of promotional uses -- type, number, size, time of day, and intensity.
 Eliminating broad categories of promotional uses from the definition of an event would:
   
thwart County’s obligation to assess impacts restrict public’s right to review such uses undermine County’s ability to monitor and enforce use permit conditions unleash explosion of unstudied high impact uses
Sales and Promotional uses have the same impacts regardless of what they are called or who is in attendance

Where Does It End – Is Yoga Agriculture?
 Is any commercial activity now agriculture if it involves serving a glass of wine?
 Spa treatment? Oil changes?
 Competitionfor“experiences”creates pressure for more commercial-type activities.
 Tasting rooms morphing into restaurants and music venues
 Long duration drinking through the cocktail hour and into evening

 Strike a balance for sustainable growth in promotional facilities and uses, while preserving: rural character, and peace, safety, and well-being of our neighborhoods.
 Enact “best in class” zoning standards –Sonoma County has: more wineries than virtually all of the other counties combined (apart from Napa), far more at stake -- visitation is attributed its scenic beauty and rural character.
Sonoma County residents value rural character, and expect County officials to enact zoning code standards to protect it.

1. Pass the resolution proposed by the PRMD to amend the zoning code
2. Direct PRMD to develop measurable standards in the zoning code for:
   parcel size, noise and scenic setbacks, minimum road width, and densities or separation criteria
3. Retain County’s definition of events and specify all visitor serving and promotional uses in permit review
4. Include standards in the zoning code, or planning area policies in the General Plan, for areas of concentration

Ag land lost and savedon: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Jul 8,16    Share expand...

The Good:
Ca Dept of Conservation: State Programs, Napa Land Trust Permanently Shield two ranches from future development.

The Bad:
NVR 7/9/16: Napa sees farmland total shrink slightly over two years
Based on this spreadsheet from the CA Dept of Conservation.

From the article: “Standards for conversion of farmland are pretty tight,” Morrison said. “In the state’s view, if you have a 10-acre parcel and you have five buildings, the entire parcel is urban.” The state's actual definition of urban and built up land is here.

Community Housing Summiton: Affordable Housing

Bill Hocker - Jun 17,16    Share

At the Jun 13th Planning Commission Comm. Terry Scott reported out his attendance at a Community Housing Summit sponsored by the county. (Not very well promoted?) The powerpoint presentations made by participants are here: A COMMUNITY SUMMIT: HOUSING FOR ALL IN NAPA COUNTY Lots of info to look at.

Bad Day for the Watershedson: Watershed Issues

Bill Hocker - Jun 10,16    Share expand...

Item 1:

Napa County Planning Director Morrison has reached a tentative decision on the Walt Ranch Erosion Control Plan: The "reduced intensity alternative" will be approved. There were 3 alternatives being considered in addition to the Mitigated Project represented by the Final EIR - the "No Project Alternative", the "Reduced Intensity Alternative (RIA)", the "Multiple Resource Protection Alternative". The RIA will represent a reduction from 500 acres down to 400 acres of gross development area from the mitigated project. I have had a very hard time actually seeing what the differences in these alternatives meant for the physical development of the property (beyond the never-considered "no project alternative", of course.) There may be a clear summation in map and table form of the differences in the thousands of pages of documents for the project but I couldn't find them even with Dir. Morrison's hints. I assume that somewhat fewer of the "specimen" oaks will be bulldozed down.

In looking at the photo of the Walt Ranch property shown here, it is finally apparent to me why the vineyard blocks on most of the site are linear meandering beads - each of the ridgelines is to be given a flat top. What else could they do given a landscape that is really too mountainous to develop efficiently? A house or winery can now be placed on each of the promontories. And in time they will be.

Looking at this photo gives a sense of the loss of a great opportunity for the preservation of native Napa woodlands for future generations - 2300 acre properties of such character do not come along every day. For such a vast area to be turned into a gated community for 35 plutocrats is truly sad. The Halls paid $8 million for the property. I can't help wondering, given a new level of community consciousness in the county, if the same property came up for sale today a way might not have been found to add it to the public trust.

It is worth noting this co-incident article on the preservation of 1500 acres of land on the east edge of Berryessa to see what owners who understand the value of the natural environment have done to secure the rural character of Napa county for future generations.

I have taken the liberty of adding the Walt Ranch (and the Circle S Ranch estate property development adjacent to it) to the Land Trust map to give an idea of the scale of these parcels to trust lands

Item 2:

As reported in the NapaVision2050 newsletter, the Water, Forest, & Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2016 has been given a TKO by the Napa County Council for not including the complete text of an appendix referred to in the initiative. He had many weeks to alert the initiative sponsors of the discrepancy, but decided to wait until the initiative was ready to be certified by the County Registrar of Voters before killing it. This is a sad day for the 6300 signatories who wanted to see this issue to be voted upon, along with all others who might wish to slow down the conversion of our natural landscape to more financially profitable use. Read all about it here, and in the NVR here.

Item 3:

Alfredo Pedroza has been elected Supervisor for District 4. His opponents, Diane Shepp and Chris Malan, built their campaigns on the protection of the watersheds from the development that is currently taking place in the county. Sup. Pedroza has made a point in his campaign literature of wishing to protect the County's natural beauty and the character of its rural communities at the same time emphasizing the importance of creating jobs and a stronger economy. Jobs and a growth economy represent what Napa has gone through in the last 2 decades and the natural beauty of the county has been clear cut for vines, traffic has become unbearable and unwanted tourist attractions and other building projects have been popping up in the backyards of all of the county's rural communities. It is a bit of a zero sum game. If the goal is ever more jobs and an ever increasing economy (driven by increased profitability of land use), then protecting the natural environment and rural character becomes ever harder to achieve. Sup. Pedroza is obviously a gifted public servant. I hope that he succeeds in both his goals, but I fear the the success of one means the sacrifice of the other, and, you know, those campaign contributions from the growth-oriented among us are hard to ignore.

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

Gerald Cohn - Jun 2,16    Share expand...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Cohn

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

Diane Shepp: a vote for sustainabilityon: Vision 2050

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

Vote! Your voice is critically important to our water supply, our community, and Napa County's future.

Next Tuesday, June 7, 2016 is the Primary. If you haven't mailed in your ballot, please hand carry it to downtown Napa or to a local polling place. Your voice has never been more important!

If you live in District 4, you have several choices for Supervisor, including Diane Shepp. Diane is a local resident who has had years of experience in Napa County in the service sector and on the county Grand Jury. Almost all of her campaign donations come from individuals who want the community, the environment, and business to be in balance. She is not bought by special interests. We need governing officials not beholden to wealthy people or corporations who have voted to get and keep them in office. We hope you give her your vote.

We are in a crisis in Napa County, a crisis of consciousness that is a microcosm of that in our country and in the world. It can be summed up rather simply, although it is a complex problem: are we going to continue to allow economic interests of an increasingly small few, often outside investors, trump the needs of the larger population, the community, and the environment? The drought has pushed the issue: the quality of our Napa City water supply is impacted by the degradation of our watersheds.

Governing for sustainable growth
Ron Rhyno (Published in the Napa Valley Register May 29, 2016)

A 1980s State Water Resources Board report predicted intense competition for water by 2020 between agriculture, industry and homeowners. That same report said California was taking more water from our aquifers than was being replaced. The Central Valley is already there. There are two types of growth: more -- that assumes unlimited or accessible resources to support growth; and Better or Smart -- that recognizes limits and wisely manages finite resources to sustain healthy environments and economies.

The current and future supervisorial elections will determine the sustainable future of Napa County and the Napa Valley. Unanswered questions posed by high Napa County cancer rates for children and white and Hispanic males; unaffordable housing for winery, vineyard, hotel, restaurant, school and college employees contributing to traffic congestion beyond tourism; increasing development in fragile watersheds putting water quality at risk; more wineries creating unplanned competition causing requests for more events, visitations, and production to sustain healthy profit margins; our struggling Berryessa populations; and unseasonable climate variations affecting every aspect of county life, all point to the need for different governance for all the county's people.

Excellent governance has four aspects: governance as an ongoing deep learning enterprise; informed and wise planning and policies toward a sustainable future; intelligent decision making in the present intending a sustainable future; and courage in decisions to fix the mistakes of the past. Intelligent governing and wisdom come from lots of experience, and courage is the product of integrity with toughness on behalf of all those one is elected to serve -- all with constant learning.

In Supervisor District 4, is Alfredo Pedroza, with post-college credit union and banking experience, two years of an uncompleted City Council term and 18 months as a governor's supervisor appointee. The Register "Stark choice" endorsement on April 24 of Alfredo Pedroza as "unquestionably an establishment figure ..." and "He deserves election ... so he can prove his worth on his own terms," raised more questions than provided information. Perhaps insight can be gained from the more than $200,000 his campaign has raised largely from winery and business donors, including from three projects now before the supervisors: a precedent-setting private heliport in a residential area, the Syar pit expansion, and the Walt Ranch watershed vineyard development. Campaign contributions are investments; we contribute because we believe the values and decisions candidates make will support our values, needs and interests. What is it that the donors of over $200,000 to the Pedroza campaign know or believe about the incumbent?

By contrast Diane Shepp has over 25 years of leadership and coalition building for results; extensive life and community-serving experiences, an understanding of the systemic relationships and need for harmonic planning for human, environmental and economic well-being; a personal process leading with inquiry, courage and willingness to dig deep with thoughtful consideration, meeting commitments, keeping promises, investment in our county, not just the valley; and a personal experience with and commitment to diversity in all its aspects. Her campaign contributions tend to be small except for one out-of-state tech company.

With Belia Ramos, attorney, former aide to Congressman Thompson, American Canyon City Council member, running unopposed in District 5, our communities and the supervisors have Hispanic representation with extensive county and legislative experience. Diane Shepp will bring independent community-centered representation and new diversity to the supervisors, creating a board majority of three women for the first time in Napa County history -- women being a majority in Napa County.

In this District 4 election cycle Shepp is the choice toward a sustainable and enduring Napa County future, beyond 2050.

Ron Rhyno

Past president, Mexican American Political Association, Napa County; past Clinic Ole Board;past Solano-Napa County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Board; Foreman, 1988-89 Napa County Grand Jury

Caymus Development Agreement (updated)on: Tourism Issues

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

Caymus Greenhouse

Update 5/27/16
NVR 5/26/16: Camus compliance case wraps up, vintner warns of threat to industry

The Supervisors unanimously approved both the use permit and development agreement. Mr. Wagner complained about the impact that a vocal minority of residents might have if their concerns hobble the continued growth of the wine industry.

This is a good opportunity to say that the vocal minority speaks for residents all over the county suffering the negative impacts not of grape growing and wine production but of the tourism development that the wine industry has embraced as its new global marketing strategy. County residents have always supported the wine industry for the character of the environment and economy it has produced. But that support is eroding as tourism and events have moved from an incidental and subordinate aspect of the wine industry to its reason for being. As the county shifts from resident-based agriculture to corporate/plutocrat-based tourism the impacts are no longer palatable, and the pushback of residents hoping to maintain the rural, small-town character that they grew up with or found here should be expected. Until the industry finds a less destructive way of marketing their goods (and the internet age offers other ways in addition to traditional legwork), until it recognizes the enormous difference in community impacts between grape processing and tourist processing, the industry should expect condemnation from a vocal minority representing those more concerned about the quality of their lives and their environment than the quality of tourism experiences occurring next door.

Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards and the county have worked out a perhaps trend-setting approach to the relationship between wineries and their regulators: the creation of a development agreement with the county that codifies assumed, but never really documented, pre-WDO vested rights for marketing while at the same time recognizing and allowing many of its previous abuses of its use permit, and adding on a whole new development of the site.

Caymus is one of the iconic brands of the Napa Valley. But (perhaps from founding winegrower hubris) it has run afoul of the county in continuing to produce up to 20 times as much wine as the 100,000 gal/yr permitted in their 1988 use permit. In addition it has continued to illegally build and make other improvements on the property without changes in the use permit. In a 2013 settlement it paid the county $1 million in fines for its excess production. This use permit modification and development agreement are an attempt to clarify its vested rights as a pre-WDO winery and agree what its development conditions will be allowed in the future.

I attended the Planning Commission meeting (3/23/16) devoted to the project. Option 1 in the staff report was approved 4-0 (Comm. Phillips absent) and sent on to the Board for review of the development agreement.

I hadn't taken a careful look at the project and now regret not doing so (although the opinions of weekender NIMBY's or Farm Bureau stakeholders alike seem to have little impact in these proceedings.) In addition to recognizing and allowing production capacity and visitation in a 2 phase process, much of the winery site is to be rebuilt with 5 buildings being torn down and a new "Greenhouse" erected.

While the complex history of the use permit and its rectification are a bit beyond me (a Napa Farm Bureau letter addressed to those issues is here), the significance of the "Greenhouse" and the development around it were quite clear, and not really discussed in the planning commission meeting. The greenhouse is referred in the application as an "agricultural building" which in WDO language means it is not considered as production or hospitality in calculating the production/ hospitality ratios. It is presented as an agricultural building in the way that a tractor shed might be. But one look at the size and architecture of the greenhouse and its position at the center of dining patios and event lawns and it is obvious that this is not an agricultural building. It is, in fact, a distinctive tourist attraction, little different in purpose than the Castelo Di Amoroso, or Stirling's arial tram or the Hall's Bunny Foo Foo - just another monumental edifice shouting "Here I am!" to attract more tourist traffic.

The project will now come up before the Board of Supervisors on May 24th. In addition to the trend-setting nature of such a development agreement, it may be trend setting in another way as well. Chuck Wagner has been a substantial campaign contributor to Supervisor Pedroza. It is the first test in a series of decisions that the Supervisors will have to make regarding the projects of their major campaign contributors. Walt Ranch, the Syar Expansion, the Palmaz heliport will all be before the board in the next few months and their owners are big doners. Will Supervisor Pedroza begin a healthy trend in governance by recusing himself from the Caymus decision? We shall know shortly.

NVR 5/27/16: Camus compliance case wraps up, vintner warns of threat to industry
NVR 3/23/16: Caymus Vineyards, Napa County close to settlement
NVR 2/10/16: County wrestles with Caymus Vineyards issues
NVR 8/2/13: Caymus pays $1 million for exceeding wine limit

Napa Farm Bureau Letter
1990 WDO letter referenced in FB letter
Hammonds/Blank Letter
3/23/16 Agenda and documents
3/23/16 Agenda Letter
County's Caymus U-P page

Apocalypse Now! (updated)on: Traffic Issues

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

UPDATE 5/27/16:

A public hearing on the proposed Palmaz heliport on 5/25/16 extended the public comment period for the DEIR until July 15th, 2016:

Comments may be submitted to project planner Dana Ayres at

County's Palmaz Helipad page including Draft EIR is here

The conclusion of the DEIR: significant noise impacts during the permitted "daytime hours between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m."

But also this: "the project would not result in excessive vibration or vibration levels such that any receptors would be adversely affected during construction or operation. Vibration - related impacts are not discussed further in this DEIR." (a couple of neighbors complained at the public hearing of vibration impacts in their homes as helicopters flew at low altitudes above.)

As with most of us, the traffic in Napa is slowing down Christian Palmaz. Unlike most of us, his father, Dr. Julio Palmaz, has the means to do something about it. The county has just sent out this notice of preparation of a draft EIR for a heliport to be built next to the family house. The application is being pursued by Christian, who "lives and breathes aviation" and would like the neighbors to experience his passion as well, albeit from the ground. "What else can you do to alienate the world?" Dr. Palmaz asks in this 2009 article concerning neighborhood opposition to the construction of his winery. (He also alienated the county by filling in Hagen Creek during its construction.)

The county banned helicopters from wineries in 2004. They were probably concerned that dozens of choppers ferrying tourists around the county might be a danger to one another (even before there were drones to worry about). Or perhaps that they would just make a lot of noise. It was a very good decision.

But just like the 600' setbacks for wineries that everyone has been so concerned about this last year, the winery rules don't apply to houses. (Conveniently the house is next to the family winery, a vast underground wine laboratory seemingly inspired by Dr. No.)

There is no end to the ostentatiously wealthy of this world who have or lust after an estate of their own in this prestigious wine capital. The Palmaz family, if the county permits, will not be the only helicommuters. In addition to the numerous conspicuous consumers already here, there are still around 4000 properties waiting to be developed into Xanadus. Helicopters would make commuting to even the most remote estate developments, like Walt Ranch, a breeze.

While the din of the armada traversing the valley might provide a bit of nostalgia for the Yountville vets, it is a catastrophe for those of us, ordinary and wealthy alike, who appreciate the peace and quite of this rural place.

What level of diminishment will the county permit to the quality of life of its residents to appease a few individuals? An entire tourism industry has grown around the exhibitionist desires of a gaggle of good-life entrepreneurs, bringing traffic, the loss of affordable housing, the littering of the valley and its ridges with expressions of ego, and the loss of rural peace and enjoyment to event center noise and lights. Must we also endure the constant thump-thump as those with the means avoid the traffic they have helped to create.

Napa Vision 2050 has already been reaching out to bring this issue to our attention. If you haven't done so yet, sign their petition against this project. And send a letter to the planning department, the planning commission, the supervisors or the whole lot voicing your concern.

County's Palmaz Helipad page
County email to Interested Parties about the project
The full notice of preparation (NOP) with documents is here
George Caloyannidis' analysis of the Palmaz heliport application is here.

NVR 5/26/16: Planners get earful on proposed Palmaz helipad
NVR 5/3/16: Report finds no major impacts for Palmaz helipad
NVR 1/15/16: Proposed Palmaz helipad sparks big turnout
NVR 12/26/15: Proposed helipad creates waves in east Napa (Lots of comments)
Gordon Evans LTE 1/23/16: Consider risk of bird strikes with helipad issue
Dan Mufson LTE 1/23/16: Pass a ban on private helipads
Christine Tittle LTE 1/8/16: Many reasons to oppose helipad
NVR 4/27/07: County sues Palmaz


The Disappearing Watershed (updated)on: The Rector Watershed

Bill Hocker - May 26,16    Share expand...

This screenshot of local urbanization from the The Disappearing West mapping project shows the Napa Valley from Napa to St. Helena. It is interesting to note the development of the Rector watershed due north of Napa city (the entire watershed is outlined) in comparison to the hillside areas in the rest of the watersheds on each side of the valley. The only other area of comparable vineyard development is the flatland of Wooden Valley in the lower right.

There are clear-cuttings going on all over the watersheds, of course, but they have yet to join up into the massive visible deforestation evident here on the Rector plateau. They will eventually, however, if county policies remain as they are and the plutocrats needing a winery of their own continue to arrive.

Update 6/10/16: the night sky is disappearing along with the West. 80% of Americans can no longer see the Milky Way. We on Soda Canyon are among the 20% whose sky has not become so polluted that the Milky Way is no longer visible, but probably not for long. Note in the article that Sedona, Ariz. has become an international dark sky area - it is possible to stop the pollution if communities and their governments have the will.

Crony capitalism in Napa?on: Campaign 2016

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

good ol' boys of the fraternal order of plaid shirts
Napa history has always played out in the flux of development and preservation interests embodied by the Board of Supervisors. Napa is Napa because the preservationists have more often carried the day in board decisions. Unfortunately, like our nation itself, Napa is in a period dominated by financial rather than community interest. The prospects in the upcoming supervisors race are grim for those wishing to preserve the rural character that still exists in Napa today. (District 2 candidate Ryan Gregory, a civil engineering executive, boldly shows houses on the hilltops of his campaign poster!)

In my District 4, appointed incumbent Alfredo Pedroza is running against two thoroughly preservation-minded candidates, Diane Shepp and Chris Malan. Mr. Pedroza is a personable, poised and thoughtful politician. Were he to make a realistic commitment to curbing the development forces that now threaten the county's rural character, rather than embracing them, he would be an admirable champion.

Unfortunately his campaign donations point elsewhere. Several prominent developers in the county, each with major projects before county tribunals, the Halls, Chuck Wagner, James Syar, the Palmaz Family have all been generous contributors, as has the county's major tourism impresario, Dario Sattui and the principal Napa city developer, George Altimura. On the stump his issues are more housing, transportation and "some more development." The difference between the urban developmnt envisioned by his contributors and the preservation of a rural county envisioned by his opponents is (in the word of the NVR editorial board) stark indeed. Supervisor Pedroza has declared his independence from those contributions, but until his decisions prove otherwise skepticism will abound.

Chuck Wagner's Caymus Development Agreement is coming up before the Supervisors on May 24th. He has been a large donor to Supervisor Pedroza's campaign. Will Mr. Pedroza's decision financially benefit Mr. Wagner? The appearance of a conflict of interest is overwhelming - Mr Pedroza should do the right thing and recuse himself. We will see.

[Update 5/24/16: Both the requested use permit and development agreement were approved by the supervisors 5-0.]

Save Rural Angwin Feb-Apr 2016 Quarterly Updateon: Other Groups

Kellie Anderson - May 20,16    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 Feb -Apr 2016 update is here.

The update index is here


Bill Hocker - May 20, 2016

Also this:

NVR 5/9/16: Angwin in the bull's-eye

Pacific Union College seems to never stop roiling the peace and serenity of the community that has settled around it. Like all educational institutions, I suppose, they need money. But they have a lot of land. Thus, much of the rural character that the college has provided for the residents of Angwin over the last century is now for sale, to be converted to something less rural. Angwin residents have battled for years over the prospect of new housing projects in their midst. Sometimes with success. Sometimes not, as in the 2012 measure U. The housing issue is scheduled come up again in the near future. But this time it's a few big homes homes and a lot of forest clear cutting for vines, on $10 million properties destined for 5 plutocrats of the world needing a wine label of their own.

NVR 10/13/12: Land war erupts in Angwin
NVR 7/3/07: Angwin group opposes PUC development plan

The Disappearing Weston: Watershed Issues

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

This amazing mapping study covering the western half the the United States documents how the natural landscape is being converted to human use over time. California, of course, leads the way in natural landscape consumption (but also protection!). Click on the image below to open the interactive map - which sadly doesn't seem to work on older browsers - that shows loss by state, by county and by the acre. (To my biased eyes, the rector watershed in the blank area due north of Napa city really stands out!)

Update 6/10/16: the night sky is disappearing along with the West. 80% of Americans can no longer see the Milky Way. We on Soda Canyon are among the 20% who may still view the Milky Way at night (and passing satellites) but probably not for long as the urban development continues. It was quite interesting to note in the article that Sedona, Ariz. has become an international dark sky area - it is possible to stop the pollution if communities and their governments have the will.

International Dark-Sky Association (Unlike LEED or JDPowers ratings, this purchased certification would seem to have measurable affects)
Sedona earns dark-sky designation

The loss of natural landscape to agriculture, particularly to the life-style recreational agriculture that is now consuming more and more of the forested hillsides of Napa County, needs to be weighed against the value that undeveloped land provides for the sustainability of our species, other species, and for the nourishment of our souls.

All something to think about considering the 2300 acres of natural habitat that are about to be consumed by vineyards and roads and future building sites at Walt Ranch, shown here.

Along with this photo from Jim Wilson came an invitation to Healing Walk Napa Valley: St. Helena to Yountville on Sat, May 21st

Mare Island is the Napa Valley! (updated)on: Solutions

Geoff Ellsworth - May 16,16    Share expand...

Update 5/15/16:
This is a short and cheerful slide show I put together with my Mother after the request from Vallejo friends who want to see alternative proposals for Vallejo other than a heavily polluting cement factory and other impactful industrial uses slated to come up for review in June. Right around the corner.

As a Napa Valley resident I believe it is important for alternative solutions to be found, as the pollution from the industrial uses there will come up the Napa River and Napa Valley with the tides, the fog and the winds and will impact us here.

I also believe that redevelopment of Vallejo/Mare Island, integrated with the wine hospitality industry, could help reduce development pressure on our up valley farming lands and forest/watershed lands, allowing for a better long term balance.


As crazy as this sounds I believe it's worth seriously thinking about the Greater Napa Valley region as our upvalley farming/growing lands are under greater pressure for hospitality development and the situation in Vallejo is under time pressure as a large industrial cement factory is trying to move in.

I think it's important to remember that actual Napa Valley growing lands are limited and we must protect as much as possible for the future. I believe that stripping the hillsides for further vineyard planting will degrade our water sources and microclimate and alternative models for the overall situation must be sought.

The Vallejo residents would much rather be involved with wine country tourism than heavy industry (which would also impact the Napa River watershed) and the Vallejo/Mare Island area has the infrastructure capacity to handle the large scale visitation that causes upvalley concern with encroachment on farming land.

It took some time for it to sink in but is pretty extraordinary. For example, I was born in Vallejo at the Kaiser hospital and it was only months ago that I learned I was actually born in the Napa Valley. Not Napa County, but the Napa Valley.

It would be a longterm redevelopment plan (the best kind in my view) and would take some kind of revenue sharing but I think it bears consideration.

This is a Google map link of the Napa Valley as it connects to the SF/San Pablo Bay and a letter I've shown to a few people about a Mare Island/Vallejo idea presented to me . When you look at it as a whole and disregard the county line it is maybe a natural part of the solution to hospitality/tourism issues that could overwhelm our farming/growing lands.

The really staggering part of this is that I don't think any counties or governments really have to agree on anything, it just IS the Napa Valley.

With the definition of a natural valley and the precedent of places like the Shenendoah Valley that contain many counties, the way I see it somebody could go down there tomorrow and start calling it the Napa Valley and have a pretty good argument in doing so.

I've had recent meetings in American Canyon and Vallejo to try to better understand the south county/region issues.

I believe this area may carry many of the solutions to the issues of development and protection of our fragile upvalley growing regions.

There is ferry/rail connectivity from San Francisco and the Bay Area and Mare Island is a National Historic site reminiscent of the Presidio with historic buildings and beautiful SF Bay views ( if some of the old industrial buildings were dealt with.)

I was taken on a tour by a woman who is a historical architect retired the National Parks and recently worked with the transition team on the SF Presidio and a UN division on historical monuments and sites

Another critical aspect of this that she helped me to understand is the natural and geographic Napa Valley extends through American Canyon to Vallejo and Mare Island where the Napa River and Napa Valley watershed exit into the San Pablo/SF Bay.

If we look at a map and disregard the manmade county line, it is clear that Vallejo and Mare Island are the southern tip of the geographic Napa Valley.
(And we can define valleys geographically and naturally, rather than politically as in the example of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia/West Virginia that has nine counties. The natural valley is something bigger than the counties.)

Might that change perception of the VALUE of such an area as Mare Island/Vallejo for re-development if it were acknowledged as part of the NAPA VALLEY?
And seen not just as a pass through/embarkation point for the upper valley but rather as an area worthy in it's own right of care and re-development that would carry the Napa Valley Brand? Because it is the Napa Valley.

The architect who took me on the tour pointed out the spot where Jack London got off the ferry, she pointed out the true beginning of the Silverado Trail, the actual spot where Native Americans would come down the valley to the Bay at the southern end of the natural and geographic Napa Valley.
This is deeply connected to the history we already know of the Napa Valley and I believe could be tied in.

Vallejo has serious problems but many other cities such as Cincinnati and Portland Oregon have been able to resurrect themselves from industrial pasts, and we're already seeing re-development of other SF Bay waterfront areas like Alameda and Emeryville.
The other interesting aspect is that because of the separation by the river, Mare Island has the potential of being re-developed separately without having to take on the larger issues of Vallejo at the same time.

I believe it is just a matter of a few years before people see the value of re-developing Vallejo and Mare Island, as places like Emeryville and Alameda are being re-developed. If it's going to happen anyway I believe it would make sense to try and engage now to work on solutions that would benefit both that part of the region and our delicate upvalley as well.

Takes a big vision but I believe this is the area that has the capacity and infrastructure to accommodate much of the large scale tourism being promoted for Napa Valley. And it would still be an authentic Napa Valley experience because it is actually in Napa Valley.

The alternative proposal for Mare Island and Vallejo is a heavier industrialization that I believe will negatively impact the whole region, culturally and environmentally.

The alternative upvalley is to lose more Napa Valley growing/farming land to heavy commercial tourism use,
so I think this is an important discussion.

Diane Shepp is fighting for our futureon: Campaign 2016

Ginny Simms - May 13,16    Share expand...

I am going to vote for Diane Shepp for supervisor on Election Day, and here’s why.

Diane has been supporting our art and educational communities for many years, and served two terms on our grand jury. What is important now is that she is thoughtful about future of our neighborhoods , and that she is one tough lady when it involves protecting our water supplies and our agriculture/open spaces.

Unlike some candidates, Diane Shepp doesn’t accept thousands of dollars from a wealthy helicopter owner, nor is she afraid of a big landowner/donor who plans to remove 24,000 oak trees, to replace them with vineyards, a water system and new roads.

These 35 parcels are at the top of the watershed that feeds the Napa City drinking water reservoir, and also feeds a large swath of the Coombsville MST. The city of Napa is concerned that heavy rains will overtake the runoff berms and send pesticides and mud into the reservoir.

These 35 parcels will also be developable as a large housing subdivision.

Diane is courageously fighting the size of the Syar mine expansion, because there is no measurement of the local life-threatening silicates blowing onto nearby homes and Skyline Park. (There are not even plans to measure these deadly particles during or after the expansion!) Diane Shepp supports local industries, but believes that health is most important.

Wine sales at the wineries are essential for success. But what if the 450 wineries have events that draw hundreds of visitors several times a year? Our local roads, even Silverado Trail, are maintained by local dollars, and are threatened by heavy congestion. Diane Shepp believes we should measure the cumulative effects on our health and our taxes before approvals.

Diane is the only candidate who is calling our attention to Napa’s high cancer rate. Are we causing this ourselves?

These positions may not be popular with the other candidates right now, but Diane Shepp is fighting for our future. Speak up, and vote for Diane Shepp.

Save Rural Angwinon: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - May 9,16    Share expand...

NVR 5/9/16: Angwin in the bull's-eye

Pacific Union College seems to never stop roiling the peace and serenity of the community that has settled around it. Like all educational institutions, I suppose, in a nation that seems to be losing interest in an educated citizenry, they need money. But they have a lot of land. Ergo, much of the rural character that the college has provided for the residents of Angwin over the last century is now for sale, to be converted to something less rural. Angwin residents have battled for years over the prospect of new housing projects in their midst. Sometimes with success. Sometimes not, as in the 2012 measure U. The housing issue is scheduled come up again in the near future. But this time it's a few big homes homes and a lot of forest clear cutting for vines, on $10 million properties destined for 5 plutocrats of the world needing a wine label of their own.

Save Rural Angwin is probably the oldest neighborhood group in the county, dedicated, like all those that have come since, to protecting the rural character of their communities against the development interests perpetually attempting to convert the natural and agrarian landscape to more profitable use.

NVR 10/13/12: Land war erupts in Angwin
NVR 7/3/07: Angwin group opposes PUC development plan

Golden eggs or fois gras.on: Tourism Issues

Bill Hocker - May 4,16    Share expand...

"While other Bay Area counties have experienced unprecedented development and urban infrastructure expansion over the last four decades, Napa County’s citizens have conscientiously preserved the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure."
- from the Vision Statement of the Napa County General Plan

Napa's resident-based agricultural economy is dying. It is quickly being replaced by a corporate-based tourism economy. What does that mean for the residents, the government, the physical environment and the soul of the county?

There seems to be agreement that the Napa of today is successful, referred to often as a "golden goose" at many of the planning commission and supervisor hearings over the past year; a state of balanced interests that has allowed an agricultural-based industry to survive and thrive and allowed a rural small town quality-of-life to remain in an urban world.

Unfortunately, such a blissful combination of commerce and community doesn't fit with the "growth-is-good" ethos harbored by the corporate barons and plutocrats now dominating the culture of the valley who know how to monitize a good thing when the see it. The goose has been getting some forced feeding to see if it can't produce more golden eggs.

We already have 120 new or expanded wineries in the development pipeline with over 3,000,000 new visitor slots, 2000 new hotel rooms, a few resorts, several million square feet of new industrial and commercial development all on the verge of being built. They will happen. And even before they are built, many more projects are likely to be approved if the development trend continues. The installation of 3 pro-development supervisors next year will greatly hasten the trend.

The development binge means a lot of jobs coming into the county. According to Cal DOT, job creation has been increasing at 2% per year: tourist development in the valley, vineyard development in the watersheds, wine-related industrial development in the south country. Job growth in the county is forecast at 1.3% for the next few years, mostly in the "leisure and hospitality" sector.

Developers often argue that population growth is inevitable and we need constantly growing economic activity to create jobs for all those people that are coming. But the reality is that the county has been averaging only .7% population growth in the past and is forecast to grow at only a .4% per year increase in the next few years. (Compared to 1% statewide.) The unincorporated county is actually loosing population (perhaps as homes, like the one next to me, are leveled for event centers), as is the city of St. Helena (where homes become short term rentals). This means that job growth in the next few years is forecast to be 3 times the rate of population growth. Meaning also, of course, a whole lot more commuter traffic than we currently enjoy.

No one likes the amount of traffic in the county at present. So, what to do about the housing-jobs imbalance that is a major contributor to it?

One approach is to do nothing, continue winery, vineyard and industrial development and hope to relieve symptoms by building more traffic lanes, a flyover, a light rail system, a worker and tourist shuttle bus system - or maybe staggering employee hours to even out the traffic jams!. The Napa Valley Vintners have suggested this approach. The problem is that these paliatives, given the difficulty in their realization, or the cost, are very unlikely to catch up to existing conditions, much less accommodate the increases in traffic that continued job creation will be generating. It will be a losing battle. The jams will just get longer, the citizens more frustrated and Caltrans will eventually be forced to build the freeways. The politicians will feign helplessness saying they tried their best to protect rural napa.

A second approach is to build more housing, i.e. increase the rate of population growth to match the rate of job growth, the race of housing and jobs resulting in the urban Bay Area we know today. In Napa, of course, most of the new leisure and hostility workers couldn't afford the homes even if they were built. So everyone is talking about building affordable housing. The Napa Valley Vintners have also suggested this approach. But affordable housing is difficult to achieve. When it happens, it usually happens because of fees or taxes generated from other urban development, and it takes a lot of urban development to subsidize a few affordable houses. The 180 affordible units at Napa Pipe, supposedly aimed at existing housing shortages, are subsidized by huge development project that will generate some 900 new, mostly low-paying, jobs. Where will they live? How does this approach solve the housing jobs imbalance?

A third approach, which no one seems to be suggesting but which is quite suited to a county that wishes to limit its urban growth, might be to adjust job creation to match the inevitable population increase. If the projected population increase in the county is .04%/yr why is it not reasonable to propose a .04% allowed increase in job growth/yr to bring potential job and housing growth into some sort of parity. Pushing this reasoning a bit further, perhaps job growth should be reduced slightly to begin slowly, over time, to address the current imbalance in jobs and housing.

Limit job growth!? some may sputter. Job growth is, of course, the holy grail of governments and developers everywhere. It's where the money is and, you know, for some there can never be too much money. But Napan's decided some time ago that money isn't everything. The Ag Preserve was a commitment to a less profitable land use in order to sustain an industry and an environment, and a way of life that provided wealth for the soul at a cost in profits. It was a commitment that has produced a balance of economic activity and quality of life envied everywhere. It is an economy that seems to be working fine. But as the job creators keep descending, and the wine industry continues to morph from resident-based agriculture to corporate/plutocrat-based tourism, that sacrifice of profit for a better community life - at the heart of Napa's history - seems to have been forgotten.

It is beyond time that Napa makes a recommitment to keep urban growth at bay in the county and to reaffirm that Napa wishes to remain a rural, agricultural-based county for the next 50 years - a good place to live and a sustainable place to make a living. The promotion of tourism as an "agricultural" process in the general plan, and the promotion of imported grape industrial development both diminish the probability that the Napa grape crop will continue to be a significant portion of the county's economy in the next 50 years. Once Napa grapes become a minor portion of county's economy, the incentive to convert to more profitable uses will begin to dominate land use. The current conversion of vineyard acres into tourism event centers is just the beginning of that process.

It is time to stop worrying about the ever increasing profits of the major campaign contributors, and the impacts that the pursuit of those profits bring, and to concentrate on a sustainable and livable community with agriculture at its base. We can begin by reducing future development to a point that accommodates the gradually increasing population, and no more. It is a level of development that insures the entire Napa community a steady diet of golden eggs in the future, rather than the current path - just one helping of fois gras for the wealthy, and a dead goose.

Commissioner Gill revisits the 2010 WDO changeson: The WDO

Bill Hocker - May 3,16    Share expand...

[My letter to the planning department regarding Planning Commissioner Jeri Gill's desire, at the Apr 20th PC meeting, to clarify the PC's use of the word "change" in referring to the 2010 WDO activity that has often been described as a "clarification". Ms. Gallina indicated to Comm. Gill that the WDO ordinance language was indeed changed.]


Ms. Gallina and Mr. Morrison,

While perusing this Wednesday's PC video, during the GP implementation report, I was pleased to see that Commissioner Gill brought up the department's use of the word "change" in reference to the activity around the WDO in 2010. Her impression seemed to be that the activity undertaken then was merely a "clarification" and she seemed rather insistent that any mention of that activity should not include the word "change". I heard a similar protest from Bill Dodd at the May 20th 2014 joint PC/BOS meeting which began the county's effort to address the impacts of wine tourism development on the county's residents (unaddressed still, even after the valiant efforts of many at APAC, I'm afraid). I have heard that same insistence on "clarification" rather than "change" (granted, hard to document exactly when) from supervisors Luce and Dillon and from industry spokeswomen Dommen and Benvenuto. And now from Commissioner Gill.

As you no doubt know, the literal changes to the WDO would seem to be spelled out in this county document, one of the documents of item 9A on this 2010 Planning Commission agenda .

Perhaps as a complete outsider I lack an understanding of the subtleties, but I find it difficult to see these changes as merely a clarification. The inclusion of "business events" (which get a substantial new definition of their own) and the removal of the prohibition against "cultural and social events unrelated to such [wine-buyer] education and development" from the wording of marketing of wine is a clear intensification of the amount of activity that is permitted, a change not a clarification.

But more importantly, in the 1990 WDO, the marketing of wine appears to be principally distinguished from tours and tastings by the allowance of "food service" at marketing events. In 2010 the food service provision related to marketing was also added to the tours and tastings definition. Since yearly tasting visitation is typically many times the amount marketing visitation (often over 10 times), the addition of food service to tastings would represent be a substantial shift in the commercial activity at wineries in the direction of becoming restaurants, nominally forbidden by the 2010 WDO wording.

I have droned on extensively (with some naiveté no doubt) about the food issue at wineries on my WDO page here and here. I won't repeat myself here beyond saying that perhaps it is time for the county to define some enforceable distinction between a $135 "cost-only" wine and food pairing (food service) at a winery and $135 fixed-menu lunch (meal service) at a restaurant, and to begin enforcing the difference.

The quote that I use at the top of my WDO page from Jim Hickey is the essence of the issue:

    "Tourism is becoming the big driver in the local economy...The Ag Preserve exists by three supervisors voting “yes” on any change and 30 days for the ordinance making that change to become effective. You don’t have to take elimination of the Ag Preserve head‐on. You can just undermine it by changing the definition of what a winery is."
    - Jim Hickey 2008 (Napa County Planning Director 1970-89)

Changes did take place in the 2010 update of the WDO. As the cursury negative declaration indicated at the time: "While the proposed changes may motivate existing, or future, wineries to request new or additional events or visitation volumes, the County expects those requests to be limited both in number and scope." Have they been limited?

Perhaps now, given Commissioner Gill's raising of the subject, it would be a good time for the county to do the environmental impact review that should have been done in 2010 to determine whether the changes made were growth inducing and might encourage an intensification of commercial use beyond the incidental and subordinate uses allowed in the AP and AW zones. As Geoff Ellsworth courageously points out at every opportunity, there is a case to be made that a de facto change from agricultural to commercial use has occurred in AP and AW zones without benefit of a Measure P vote. If these changes go unquestioned or written off in the record as merely clarifications, more such "clarifications" will surely continue until the Ag Preserve has indeed been eliminated.

Again there is no need to respond to this rant. It is enough to have it off my chest. And again, many thanks to you and your staff for the enormous effort you continually make to find a reasonable path forward - against all odds.

Bill Hocker

PS: It is probable that these changes in wording were, in fact, a recognition and allowance of activities already happening at wineries that went beyond the intent of the original WDO. The hope, no doubt, in calling them "clarifications" was to exempt the need to submit those expanded activities to CEQA scrutiny - meaning a state-mandated analysis of the urban development impacts of the changes and how they be mitigated. The very insistence on denying the word "change" by wine industry supporters to this day, indicates to many how important it is for the tourism industry, the wine industry and the government to avoid publicly being held accountable for the urban impacts, (traffic, housing, increased infrastructure) resulting from a legal shift from an agricultural to a tourism economy - impacts that we are all beginning to feel, but that those profiting from the shift would rather not discuss.

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