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

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

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

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

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

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

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Upcoming Events (full calendar here)

Thu, Oct 19, 2017
9:00am

Board of Supervisors Special Meeting


Agenda and Documents

6A Proclamation of Emergency

10A Reports from departments on emergency
Wed, Nov 1, 2017
9:00am

County Planning Commission


[10 new wineries, 13 major mods previously approved this year]

Reynolds Family Winery Major Mod
[continued from Oct 4, 2017]
20,000 more g/y, 12500 more visitors/y, 5 more employees, 16 more parking spaces, reduced vineyard area
County Reynolds page
Neg Dec Notice

Shed Creek Winery New Use Permit
County's Shed Creek Page

Latest Posts


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

The Atlas Fire on Soda Canyon Road on: Fire Issues


Bill Hocker - Oct 13,17  expand...  Share

China Syndrome (updated) on: Tourism Issues


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

Update 10/7/17
Wines&Vines 5/15/17: A winery trend stalling? Unfortunately not before leaving some damage to the nature of Soda Canyon Road.

4/27/14
NVR 4/27/16: Visitors from China: As numbers grow, the search is on for ways to increase their welcome

It appears that Napa is gearing up for true bulk tourism à la Castello di Omarosa and Bunny Foo Foo - with Chinese characteristics. This article makes the wine industry seem actually gleeful at the thought of the money to be made from Chinese masses, an attitude, I suppose, shared by western entrepreneurs since the Treaty of Nanking. (Opium the drug then being peddled). Are Dominus or Harlan really itching to open their gates to the multitudes? Are there any vintners left in the county more interested in making wine than selling wine-pairing experiences with Chinese food?

And what if the dreams are realized? The totality of Napa brand red wine produced each year will now supply 14 days of Chinese wine consumption - and Chinese wine consumption is growing rapidly. How will the Napa vintners keep their Chinese customers happy? The end of the 75% rule is definitely in sight.

Unfortunately, we on Soda Canyon Road seem to be on the front line of the invasion with a winery event center being developed in conjunction with Hong Kong wine tourism interests. Given the stars in the eyes of the good-life impresarios, and a board of supervisors increasingly becoming a hardened tool of development interests, the effort by residents to save Napa county from its rendezvous with a theme-park-tourist-trap destiny seems more quixotic than ever.

More:

Daily Mail (UK) 3/17/15: Chinese rivalling French to buy Bordeaux vineyards
Napa Broadcasting's Jeff Schectman's interview with the author of China's Lust for Bordeux and the Threat to the World's Best Wines.
Financial Times 6/12/15: China’s grape rush
NVR 6/23/15: Thousands of Chinese visitors throng to Napa Valley this spring
Gardian (UK) 1/29/14: China becomes biggest market for red wine, with 1.86bn bottles sold in 2013
Wines&Vines 11/1/12: Fund Seeks $100 Million to Buy Vineyards
Real estate promo: Chinese Buyers Invest in Napa Valley Real Estate
And this from 2010

Woodland Initiative 2018 on: Woodland Initiative


Jim Wilson - Oct 7,17  expand...  Share

Update 10/7/17
Mike Hackett LTE 10/7/17: Let’s let the voters decide
Ross Workman LTE 10/6/17: What do we want to protect?
More Ross Workman here

Update 10/2/17
NVR 10/2/17: Napa Valley Vintners now wants more collaboration on watershed initiative
Robert Pursell LTE 10/2/17: Proposed Napa County oak woodlands initiative hurts property owners
NVR 9/28/17: Napa Farm Bureau will oppose oak woodlands initiatives

Update 9/20/17
Andy Beckstoffer LTE 9/20/17: Vote ‘yes’ for the initiative next June
Stuart Smith LTE 9/20/17: NVV is tone deaf when it comes to land-use politics
Dario Sattui LTE 9/19/17: Adamantly opposed to watershed initiative
NVR 9/10/17: Reborn watershed initiative has Napa Valley Vintner backing

9/9/17
Dear friends and supporters of our watershed and oak woodland protection initiative,

Last year, our grass roots organization gathered 6,300 signatures for an initiative to enhance protections for streams and oak woodlands. It was a phenomenal accomplishment and speaks volumes to the support we received from the community. Voters are increasingly aware that the health of the natural environment and human ecology are integrated. They’re concerned, as they should be, and want to have a voice in the matter.

As it turned out, we weren't able to bring our initiative to the ballot. But earlier this year, when leaders in the NVV suggested we partner in the process, it gave us hope we could strike out on a new path that would ultimately succeed. And now we have a revised initiative that we're confident will meet the needs of the present but also protect the needs of generations to come. It is titled, Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2018. A copy is attached. Let me know if you have any questions.

We're grateful for the Vintners' bold leadership and their solidarity with neighbors seeking solutions to pressing needs of the natural environment. Please take a look at their bulletin, below, for more information. We'll be gathering signatures soon for the June ballot. You're welcome to join us if you can.

Sincerely grateful, on behalf of all of those pulling together for the common good,

The bulletin of the Napa Valley Vintners announcing the initiative is here.

Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2018

Soda Canyon fire was wake-up call on: Mountain Peak Winery


Yeoryios Apallas - Oct 5,17  expand...  Share

A frightening and potentially dangerous grass fire started one recent afternoon at close to the mouth of Soda Canyon Road and about a mile up this poorly maintained two-lane dead-end road.

But for the very aggressive response by the Cal Fire group (three fixed-wing aircraft and one helicopter response in the air and several fire trucks on the scene) this fire could have spread up the canyon and consumed valuable life, homes, and important trees and other habitat for our earth’s creatures that call the area their home.

This fire once again illustrates rather dramatically why the Mountain Peak Winery project was poorly considered by the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission.

The Soda Canyon community put in the official county record through live testimony and tomes of documents in order to underscore the point that wineries such as MPW do not belong at the end of a pot-holed, shoulderless dead-end road in a box canyon that has a history of raging fires.

One can imagine, therefore, how frustrated we all felt when this project was approved by the Planning Commission and affirmed on appeal by the Board of Supervisors. All for what? A few more bucks for a financial investor who seemingly understands little about the dangers of the canyon?

Our public officials were elected to protect and preserve the community’s safety from latent public dangers such as the MPW project represents. Regrettably they have monumentally failed their constituents in this regard.

Will it take a massive public tragedy to cause them to really examine the dangerous nature of this canyon and how unsuited it is for public, commercial, and hospitality activity? The Board of Supervisors should consider this fire as another wake up call.

I know that the MPW project is now in the hands of the wise judicial branch of our government, and the board cannot do much to affect the outcome of this project (or can it?). But they can at least have this fire (and the previous Soda Canyon fires) as a reason why the public interest trumps the vainglorious financial interests of the few.

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

A limited focus on uncertainty on: Compliance Issues


George Caloyannidis - Oct 5,17  expand...  Share

NVR Editorial Board 10/1/17: An End to Uncertainty

Two players were missing in the Register's Editorial Board discussion regarding the County's system of granting permits and addressing violations in wineries (and other buildings).

While the interests of business and politics were included, missing were those of the environment and the residents' quality of life. The issue of violators cannot be addressed without its effect on them.

To begin with, bunching building violations and winery violations under the same ordinance would be a serious mistake. An unpermitted room addition is a matter of Building and Safety while unpermitted wine production and visitor numbers impact everyone's quality of life and the environment unless mitigated according to the safeguards mandated by the State (CEQA). Herein lies the broader context within which the issue must be addressed by the County if it is to be effective.

I have written extensively that the way government treats law violators involves inventory keeping and ethical issues of fairness and trust in government. While effectively deterrent punishment is essential, it is secondary in the big scheme of things. Primary is the preservation of the valley's environment and its quality of life. This is where our Supervisors' policies which for decades were solely focused on accommodating business have failed us over the past few decades. One only need look at traffic.
How did traffic congestion get out of hand in such a short period of time? According to the 2014 Fehr & Peers traffic behavior study, only 9% of all Napa traffic is through-traffic. This means that 91% of it is directly controlled by government policies. Without a comprehensive blueprint on growth there can be no criteria by which a permit may be granted to a new winery or for an increase in production or visitations to an existing one whether legal or illegal.

It is time for a fundamental shift in the Supervisors' focus.

We, the residents of Napa valley do not owe any investor in a new winery financial success. Neither do we owe higher profits to investors who in full knowledge of the parameters of their use permits seek to increase them. We do not bail out condo developers from a bad investments but we bend over backwards for winery owners. Why? They tell us that agriculture is the traditional backbone of our economy. Fair enough! But crowded tasting rooms are not agriculture.

Here are the consequences: New wineries and increased visitations at existing ones attract more visitors to the valley because their supply is endless; one need only look at the most popular places in the world - and we are one of them - to be convinced. More visitors to wineries mean more tourists, more hotel rooms, more low paid commuters, more traffic, higher use, demand and deterioration of the infrastructure, more government staff, higher pesticide and pollution levels and the denuding of our forests for more vineyards.

At the heart of the problem is that under the direction of our Supervisors, staff has consistently failed to properly analyze the impacts of new wineries or the increased production and visitations at existing ones. CEQA was mandated by the State to prevent us from reaching the traffic levels we have. Piece by piece the politicians have been assuring us that impacts have been mitigated to "less than significant" and here we are. We are here because the CEQA law has been consistently abused.

While this has escaped the unsuspecting general public, it has not escaped the investor sharks. With the Supervisors' tourist based transformation of our economy, they have descended on our valley utilizing every inch of its resources. The problem is that it is us who bare their costs; short term as they now impact our quality of life and staggeringly fiscal ones some twenty years down the line to be paid by us one Measure after another. Listening to the hundreds who have attended the Napa Vision 2050 forums, the economy model is out of balance. It is irresponsible policy to approve one more visitor to a winery legitimate or not, without analyzing that impact on the residents from American Canyon to Calistoga. If not as mandated by CEQA, out of pure respect for them.

In good faith we approved Measure-T. Its funds as one Supervisor told a small neighborhood gathering, will also be available for "projects". What kind of projects? "Widening roads or installing relief lanes". To understand what this means, one should revisit the Circulation Element of the 2007 County's own Draft EIR: It states that if current growth rates continue, it will require six lanes from American Canyon to Yountville and four lanes at most sections all the way to Calistoga.

Yes, we will see "our dollars at work" and drive easier - only for one to two years as U.C. Davis studies have shown and then get worse than before. Until one day we will wake up wondering where we are.

Without a grip on growth as the overriding criterion, any attempt to address use permit violators will give the false feeling we are solving a problem while the overriding one will be getting worse right under our feet. We may or may not be serving justice, but we will be miserably failing at planning. Until such time as we have it, "uncertainty" may be serving us well.

NVR LTE version 10/5/17: Register editorial on winery compliance missed the big picture

The Trail at Soda Canyon is drying up! on: Soda Canyon Road


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

Update10/4/17
Two years after the email exchange below laying out the concerns the county was beginning to have with a shrinking water table at the Soda Canyon Junction (and the junction of Soda Creek with the Napa River), the county staff will present their findings thus far to the Board of Supervisors on Oct 10th 2017. (Item 9G here.) Mostly a factor of less rainfall they seem to be saying - Soda Creek just isn't transporting as much water as before. More water conservation requested.

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

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

12/7/15
[Gary Margadant's email reply to Public Works Director Steve Lederer in response to information supplied about a potential groundwater deficiency in the area of Soda Canyon Road and the Silverado Trail.]

Hi Steve

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks again for sharing.

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

On Mon, Dec 7, 2015 Steve Lederer wrote:

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

Groundwater Concerns in the Northeastern corner of Napa Subarea

Napa Moves to Oregon on: Growth Issues


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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Hobbs at the Planning Commission on: Paul Hobbs Winery


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

Update 10/4/17
The Paul Hobbs Winery was approved 4-0 (Scott absent), the 10th new winery approved this year.

Some neighbors mentioned the lights and noises and smells of the vineyard operations next door in voicing their concerns about the potential new winery. Chair Gill along with the usual hammering she gives opponents over the 3 minute rule, felt compelled to read out the "Right to Farm" ordinance in response.

She didn't quite get into the "definition of agriculture" reference in the ordinance, which contains the new sub-sub inclusion in the definition that is at the heart of all of the community resistance to winery development (and to much of the other development happening in the county): "H2. Marketing, sales, and other accessory uses that are related, incidental and subordinate to the main agricultural processing use." ("Incidental and subordinate" applies only to square footage, not to economic or environmental impact.)

While the industry and the county have succeeded in defining tourism as agriculture in this modest phrase, few neighbors of proposed projects, who must live with the daily and nightly tourism events and traffic streams of visitors into their community, see restaurant and party activity as an agricultural process. Calling attention to the intermittent impacts of an agricultural economy that they have lived with for years without compliant is just one way to express fear about similar impacts from a tourism economy that will now be a daily occurrence. The county, ever ready to promote more tourism and the speculative interests of a few good-life entrepreneurs at the expense of the county's residents, is unwilling to see a difference.

10/3/17
Another Planning Commission meeting, another winery or
two added to the inventory of event centers catering to an ever increasing tourist population. The Planning Commission has currently approved 9 new wineries this year and 13 major modifications of existing wineries to expand their tourism capacity.

I began a Paul Hobbs page some time ago. Given the controversy that the developer has caused in Sonoma through his less than stellar business practices it seemed like there might be some significant pushback in bringing those practices to Napa. We'll see.

The End of the Trail Update on: Soda Canyon Road


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

The Reynolds Winery will be up for a modification at the Planning Commission on Oct 4th [now continued to Nov 1, 2017] to add more tourism slots and parking spaces. It is the least of the proposals around the Soda Canyon Junction under review in the last few years. The Krupp Winery was approved in June 2012. The Corona winery was approved in Nov 2013. The expansion of the Beau Vigne was approved in Sep 2016. The Sam Jasper Winery and the Mountain Peak winery were approved in Jan 2017. The Grassi Winery was approved in Feb 2017. And now finally the last of the pending projects, Reynolds, will no doubt be approved.

It will not be the last. Just north of the Reynolds Family Winery a new residence is being constructed for the very un-residentially intentioned Ellman Family Vineyards.

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

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

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

Just a few thousand more cars (updated) on: Traffic Issues


Bill Hocker - Oct 1,17  expand...  Share

Update 10/1/17
NVR 10/1/17: Mystery coalition complains about American Canyon traffic

Is this story about concerned citizens objecting to traffic or the mysteriousness of the concerned citizens? I can't help but think that the writer of the headline had an opinion here, not reflected in the story itself.

The reality, left undiscussed in the article, was the fact that Napa Logistics Park, while generating a lot of traffic, is just a part of the traffic that will be generated by the many other projects approved between American Canyon and Napa. Some of those projects are discussed here. And then there is the enormous number of projects that have been approved in Napa and Up Valley all of which will add to the traffic in American Canyon.

12/22/15

NVR 12/22/15: American Canyon approves new industrial development
NVR 10/1/15: American Canyon planners praise mega business park

This project will add 5800 more workers to the traffic jam known as American Canyon. Does anyone really think that CalTrans or local taxpayers are going to build road extensions and interchanges and highway widenings faster than the developers add projects and jobs and tourist destinations throughout the county? Hundreds of acres of open fields between Am-Can and Napa are slated for industrial development beyond this humongous project, bringing tens of thousands of employee cars and transport trucks. A couple hundred more projects are in the works throughout the county: housing, commercial centers, resorts, event centers, Costco, Napa Pipe and Watson Ranch, all their traffic trying to make their way through the already congested interchanges of American Canyon and South Napa.

And then there's the 388,000 sf warehouse being built at the Jameson Canyon bottleneck:
NVR 10/14/15: Construction begins at new Commerce Center in south Napa

Hotel explosion rocks Napa on: City of Napa


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

The Big City comes to sleepy Napa
Update: 9/29/17
NVR 9/29/17: Meritage Resort's massive expansion takes shape in south Napa

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

Update: 8/18/17
NVR 8/18/17: Napa planners approve 5-story Black Elk hotel in Oxbow district

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

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

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

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

Update 7/14/17
NVR 7/4/17: Proposed four-story Oxbow hotel to receive Napa planners’ scrutiny

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

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

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

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

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

The hotel explosion raises several issues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments


Harris Nussbaum - Jul 10, 2017 7:27PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

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

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

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

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

Higher housing prices will trigger greater enrollment declines in Napa schools

Carl Bunch - Feb 1, 2017 5:37PM

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

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

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

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

Shelle Wolfe - Feb 1, 2017 5:36PM

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

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

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

Daniel Mufson - Feb 1, 2017 4:04PM

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

Hello Napa Vision 2050 supporters,

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

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

Fast-tracking Napa's urbanization on: City of Napa


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

2300 Soscol, $2179-$2807 /mo
NVR 9/26/17: Napa seeks looser reins on multifamily housing permits in city

With the onslaught of hotel development beginning to become a concern to all who have valued the quality of life in "sleepy Napa" (the NYT's expression), a second tentacle of urban development is rapidly taking shape in this age of the developer. Already over 2000 units of housing are under review, approved and under construction within the Napa city limits. Now, just as developers have demanded that small wineries not have to go through the public review process, they are also demanding that small housing projects also escape the public scrutiny of the impacts that such developments are having on residents' small-town way of life.

The excuse for the fast-tracked approval process is the need for affordable housing, a very real shortage brought on by years of increasing full-time agricultural workers and the ongoing expansion of the tourism workforce. A handful of the new units will be affordable for hotel or vineyard workers, but most will be market rate units being built for whom? Second homes? Short term rentals? Empty nesters? Perhaps for the construction workers needed for Napa's urbanization. Not for the burgeoning number of modest-wage workers needed for the tourism and agricultural industries that make up the bulk of the economy.

Reading the copy promoting the pictured units here, such projects appear to be speculative development intended to cash in on the same image of the good-life extolled by the wine and tourism industries hoping to fill the vineyards with life-style wineries and the cities with hotels. Such projects are not supplying the needs of existing Napa workers - they are inducing an increase in Napa's affluent and tourist populations, who will then need more low-wage commercial development, adding to rather than reducing the housing need of the county's work force.

Unfortunately we are in a speculative development boom happening everywhere, manifested in Napa County by the expansion of the tourism industry and the promotion an opulent life style. Such speculation is how rural places are urbanized out of existence. To developers, the resistance of impacted residents through government review has become a real bottleneck in their effort to wake up sleepy Napa County - and, as we can see in the proposal to drop public review of some housing projects, they are obviously hoping to do something about it.

Mountain Peak goes to court on: Mountain Peak Winery


Bill Hocker - Sep 22,17  expand...  Share

100,000 gal, 33,000 sf of caves, 22,000 yearly occupants, 100 daily trips, 6 miles up the winding, dead-end Soda Canyon Road.
Winebusiness.com 9/25/17: Atlas Peak residents file suit after Napa County Okays Mountain Peak Vineyards construction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Napa Pipe timeline on: South Napa County


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

NVR 9/20/17: Napa Pipe and Napa Costco: How did we get here?

Following this article the previous day in the Register, Bulldozers busy at Napa Pipe, the paper has provided some history on the project for those unfamiliar, and those all too familiar, with the largest, and probably most impactful, urban development project in Napa's history. Billed as a hedge to avoid housing development up valley, it is really just the harbinger of a Napa Valley indistinguishable from the rest of Bay Area urban sprawl. How did we get here?

The stress of being a county official on: Open Comments


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

NVR 9/20/17: Highest Paid Napa County Employees

Normally this would be an uninteresting news story except that the second highest paid employee in Napa County - after County Council/acting CEO Minh Tran - turns out to be the Staff Psychiatrist. We always suspected that dealing with a demanding clientele and an irate public was horribly stressful on the courageous and hard-working administrators that keep the county government functioning. Now we know how stressful.

Compliance: For the Times They Are A-changin' on: Napa Vision 2050


NV2050 Admin - Sep 19,17  expand...  Share

For almost three years, Napa Vision 2050 has been advocating respect for Napa County’s semi-rural and agricultural heritage, adding the contemporary voice of neighborhood groups to the preservationist guidelines Napans established decades ago.

The guidelines have since been observed---and also ignored. The county has been lax in monitoring guideline compliance. Moreover, with violations discovered, it’s condoned them. For example, with breathtaking permissiveness the Board of Supervisors forgave Calistoga’s Reverie Winery for carelessly ignoring its visitation and production permits.

And last month the Board blessed the road-building plans of Raymond Vineyards to prefer, ironically, hospitality events to vineyards. For its ag-to-tourist project, Raymond had applied to the county out of respect for its permit process. The Board seemed untroubled that in Raymond’s previous respect for county guidelines it forgot its legal limit of 26 employees (they have 90).

By the Board’s disregard for its own land-use principles, we are losing Napa’s semi-rural, small-town identity as an agricultural valley. Where there were just a few score wineries two decades ago, now there are over 500. Where a limited number of visitors sampled wine at tasting rooms for free, now tourists number over 3 million every year. Where residents and visitors enjoyed a tranquil, unhurried drive to and from the Valley, traffic congestion now plagues the highways. Where the county’s commitment to agriculture was to the “highest and best use” of the land, it’s goal now appears to be bringing money into the Valley via tourism.

But there’s a glimmer of hope. The degradation of that highest-and-best-use ideal is so obvious that the chorus of concern is growing beyond the strained voices of environmentalists to include growers and viticulturalists. For example, in Carneros David Graves of Saintsbury Winery wisely wondered, “How do we safeguard a place without loving it to death?”

Vintner Michael Honig expressed shock about Bremer Winery’s “disregard for the rules” in Angwin.

Grape grower Andy Beckstoffer, referring to Raymond Vineyards’ road project in St. Helena, commented to the supervisors, “they want to take land out of ag solely for the purpose of hospitality. . We ask you to reject this application and support an agricultural economy.” He added in a Napa Valley Register letter “Napa County has two choices. One is to have an agricultural economy supported by tourism and the other is to have a tourism economy supported by agriculture.” Raymond, he reminded the supervisors pointedly, has “no sworn commitment to protect the agricultural land and rural character of our county. But you do.”

Yet another vintner, Robert Trinchero, noted Napa’s popularity and called the problem “encroachment”: “Our customers come from all over . . . That is going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. You can’t move all these people here. We need vineyards.” He acknowledged the growing sense that “enough is enough. There are too many wineries.” Furthermore “some wineries build their wineries and vineyards irrespective of the feelings of their neighbors. This causes a lot of problems, so we have to change that.”

Trinchero also remarked that “the mentality of some winemakers is that they would rather apologize . . . that they didn’t know they can’t have tourism tasting. We have to draw the line somewhere. The line should be the law. It should be reasonable, in that no neighbors are complaining.”

The good news continues. The Planning Commission just rejected the Palmaz proposal for helicopter use in Napa. That decision is stunning because this county has heretofore been so agreeable to applications for projects no matter how inappropriate or how inconsiderate of neighbors.

Clearly, the momentum in Napa County is shifting. Napa Vision 2050’s two recent town halls featured robust attendance and frustrated citizens eager to arrest the degradation of the county.

It’s increasingly apparent that not only we residents, but also the responsible wine industry, now recognize how destructive indulgence toward tourism (more visitors, more traffic) has been to the county’s heritage. It’s time to make changes.

Have our Board of Supervisors Gotten Religion? on: Napa Vision 2050


NV2050 Admin - Sep 13,17  expand...  Share

NVR 9/13/17: Napa supervisors agree on new winery rule-breaker policies

Morrison LTE 9/11/17: County takes code compliance seriously

NVR 8/30/17: Napa County considers clampdown on rule-breakers, including wineries

“What I see before us is that next step in terms of taking compliance to the next level,” county Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said.

Our Board of Supervisors say they are going to set deadlines for after-the-fact applications and get really tough.

We are not holding our collective breaths.

Just a few days before this statement, Sup. Pedroza voted for Raymond Vineyards after-the-fact approvals for several structures and tasting areas, more employees, and to take out vines to create a Highway 29 entrance and visitor center.

What about code compliance there? We have been fighting this behavior over numerous years and numerous projects and in each case the Supervisors have looked the other way while rubber-stamping after-the-fact approvals of code violations: Reverie, Bremmer, Relic, The Caves at Soda Canyon... Who’s next?

Talk is cheap. Can our Supervisors kick their habit of forgiving code violations by granting permits? We can only say, we will have to wait and see. The proof is in the pudding. Let’s all keep breathing and advocating for meaningful code compliance in the meantime. It could be a long time before we see our supervisors get around to it.

Napa Vision 2050 email version of this post

Recap: NV2050 Town Hall Sep 7th on: Napa Vision 2050


NV2050 Admin - Sep 12,17  expand...  Share

SH Star 9/12/17: Napa Vision 2050 holds packed town hall meeting in St. Helena

Nearly 100 Napa County residents, including a few Calistoga and St. Helena city officials, packed the Native Sons Hall in St. Helena Thursday night to discuss the diminishing quality of local life in these troubling, touristy, traffic-filled times. It was a night of genuine community involvement.

NV2050 President Dan Mufson began with good news. The Palmaz proposal for private helicopter use in Napa has just been denied! The audience received the announcement with tremendous enthusiasm.

Mufson also announced two exciting initiatives expected to qualify for the ballot: one that would ban permanently most helicopter use in the county, and another that would save local threatened oak woodlands.

Dan then led discussion and comment about issues such as traffic, tourism, wineries at inappropriate locations, and water, wildlife, and woodlands. He noted how frustration over elected officials’ unresponsiveness about these issues has mobilized citizens up and down the valley. And NV2050 continues to grow, as many of those in attendance asked to join our email list and to volunteer for our outreach activities.

Mike Hackett lead the discussion as locals’ smart, sensitive comments filled most of the two hour meeting. Besides traffic, they remarked on the county not enforcing its codes; the pernicious effect of quarry dust in Napa; and the lack of worker housing to accompany high-end hotels. We were reminded of the cumulative regional effect of over-commercialization stretching from Calistoga indeed down to Vallejo. These land-use issues affect us all.

To make a difference, we encourage residents to attend public meetings; connect with others like Napa Vision 2050; and to elect supervisors who listen to their constituents rather than their donors!

Reconsider Mountain Peak decision on: Mountain Peak Winery


Stephen J Donoviel - Sep 8,17  expand...  Share

As reflected in an article dated Aug. 14, August was a busy month for the Board of Supervisors, with five appeals scheduled regarding winery issues, one of which concerned the Mountain Peak Winery, a proposed facility at the top of Soda Canyon Road. The facility was initially approved by a 3-1 vote by the Planning Commission on a “negative declaration,” i.e., without a proper environmental impact report consistent with the California Environment Quality Act.

Hundreds of people signed petitions against the project and four area residents filed formal appeals to the Board of Supervisors. Following a hearing in May, the board (with one member absent) tentatively voted to reject the appeals with a final vote subsequently scheduled for Aug. 22 The following is modified from a letter I submitted to the Board prior to that hearing but later learned that public input was not considered.

On Aug. 22, you had the opportunity to rectify what I think was an egregious error in your decision in May to tentatively approve the above facility that, if carried forward, will negatively impact the lives hundreds of citizens living off Soda Canyon Road and present serious risks to the water supply to thousands of others.

I think that the data, detailed analyses, references (submitted in attachments to appellants' appeals NCC form 2.88.050) and testimony presented by the appellants at hearing was far more convincing than that presented by the applicant and, were it a trial by jury, my bet on the finding would be in favor of the appellants beyond a shadow of a doubt.

One must sympathize with the residents and others who, on a daily or regular basis, have to drive the narrow, winding roads with only one access point. I fail to understand how you and some members of the Planning Commission and a few others acknowledge these hazardous conditions and yet can rationalize and dismiss the increased danger that will accompany the increased number vehicles that will result from the project.

Also, from the almost cavalier attitude and minimization of dealing with the issues surrounding the risk of wildfire, I gather those presenters had not witnessed the Atlas Peak fire or interviewed residents who lost homes or otherwise suffered through it.

The offered "voluntary condition of approval" is certainly in keeping with expectations and requirements for the AVA and Napa Valley branding (and seemed a determining factor for most of you) but, to me, it really offers almost nothing to the conversation of fire danger, road safety, water supply degradation for Rector dam and the host of other environmental problems addressed in detail in the appellants’ presentations and never adequately rebutted by the county.

I must add that with this project, as well as others I've studied or read about, you (as well as the planning commission and city officials) seem to give little or no consideration to the cumulative impact each approved project adds to the degradation of ecology and quality of life in our county. Residents are complaining about traffic and other aspects of their quality of life, be it at town hall meetings, letters to the editor, testimony at hearings, in the locker room or other social gatherings, and it seems those drums are beating louder and louder the past few years.

I write to recommend and request that you red tag this project and note that in doing so you will fulfill your responsibilities as supervisors by protecting the environment and not increasing the risk of harm to the citizens living in the area.

NVR LTE version 9/7/17: Reconsider Mountain Peak decision
Yeoryios Apallas Motion to Reconsider Letter

Apocalypse Averted! on: Palmaz Heliport


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

Update 9/6/17
NVR 9/7/17: Palmaz heliport team weighs options after Napa Planning Commission defeat

The Airport Land Use Commission has turned down the Palmaz Proposal as inconsistent with the ACLU Plan on the basis of noise and safety impacts on surrounding land uses. The vote was 6-1 with Walcker, Brod, Gallagher, Cottrell, Basayne and Gill opposed to the proposal and Scott in favor. Four hours later the Planning Commission followed suit voting 4-1 with Gallagher, Cottrell Basayne, and Gill opposed and Scott in favor.

The decision will probably be appealed, but this is a rare win for the residents that are being impacted by the many development projects being proposed throughout the county. This project may just be an exception - its potential impacts are egregious both in its particulars and in the precedent it sets. But let's hope this is a harbinger of a shift in the county's interest toward balancing the interests of most residents against those of developers and plutocrats and their impactful good-life enterprises.

Nothing has changed in the proposal since the May 17th hearings. One hopes that Barry Eberling will ask Comms. Gill and Basayne why they reversed their positions. The answers might be of interest. (Comm. Gill's closing comments need to be transcribed.) It also puts a spotlight on Comm. Scott, who did buck fellow commissioners before in support of residents, but continued to support plutocratic desire here over the overwhelming rejection of the project by community and commission alike. The spotlight thus also falls on what can only be interpreted as Sup Pedroza's unique support of the Palmaz project.

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

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

Update 8/30/17:
On Tuesday, Sep. 6th 2017, the Airport Land Use Commission and the Napa County Planning Commission will again take up the Cristian Palmaz request for a personal heliport, a precedent-setting decision that will enable the plutocratic entrepreneurs proliferating in the county to escape the traffic that their good-life enterprises are generating. The thump-thump of their disdain for the peace and quiet of Napa's less-well-healed residents just adds to the neighborhood and county-wide impacts of their vanity developments. The two hearings will begin at 9:00am at the County building, 1195 3rd St. Public comments are welcome.


Update 5/17/17:
The Airport Land Use Commission (ALUC) has not approved, by a 3 to 3 vote, the Palmaz heliport proposal. Commissioner Walcker (a pilot on the ALUC but not the Planning Commission) and Comm. Cottrell both cited the ALU Compatability Plan's Commission Authority:

    The Commission’s charge expressly stated being:

    ...to protect public health, safety, and welfare by ensuring the orderly expansion of airports and the adoption of land use measures that minimize the public’s exposure to excessive noise safety hazards within areas around public airports to the extent that these areas are not already devoted to incompatible uses.

Comm. Cottrell felt that the Palmaz project was not an "orderly expansion" of Napa's airports. Comms. Walcker and Cottrell were joined by Comm. Gallagher in denying the project. Comms. Scott, Basayne and Gill voted in favor.

Just after the vote Dir. Morrison broke the slightly stunned silence by asking "Can staff request a 5 minute break?"

Not approved is not the same as a denial, it turns out. After the break Ms. Anderson, county council, indicated ALUC by-laws require a full 7 members to review the project in the event that a majority of the commission is not in agreement. This hearing will thus be continued to a date uncertain until all 7 members can be present. Comm Gallagher asked, if those are the by-laws, why a hearing was scheduled without all 7 members. And why at the Planning Commission a split vote meant denial, but not in this case. Ms. Anderson indicated that the by-laws are different. The Planning Commission will go ahead with its public comments, but no vote will be taken and the hearing will be continued until the date of the ALUC hearing.

As the subsequent Planning Commission began, Brian Russell, the Palmaz attorney, concluded his presentation with: "There are no noise impacts associated with this project." Christian Palmaz and consultants, for the last couple of years, have presented much "fact-based evidence" to prove that his helicopter noise will have a less than significant impact on sensitive receptors (people). The people, however, remain unconvinced and continued to present, during the rest of the hearing, the "anecdotal evidence" that helicopters do make significant noise. The hearing was then continued.

Update 5/10/17:
NVR 5/15/17: Palmaz heliport hearing heads toward conclusion

The second day of the County Planning Commission Hearings on the Palmaz Helipad Project will happen on May 17th, 2017, beginning at 8:00 am at the County Building, 3rd Floor, 1135 3rd St Napa.

8:00am: Airport Land Use Commission (the ALUC includes Planning Commissioners plus other airport and county officials) will review the Project
The agenda and documents are here

After the ALUC hearing (perhaps 10:00-11:00am) the Planning Commission will review the Final Environmental Impact Report FEIR on the project
Agenda and Documents are here

Comments may be submitted to project planner Dana Ayres at
Dana.Ayers@countyofnapa.org

County's Palmaz Heliport page including Final EIR is here
SCR take on the hearing

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

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

2/27/17: Day 1 of the FEIR hearing
NVR 3/1/17: Napa County planners open Palmaz heliport hearing
NVR 2/27/17:County prefers Mount George site for Palmaz heliport

The first day of the County Planning Commission Hearing for the Final Environmental Impact Report on the Palmaz Helipad Project happened on Mar 1st, 2017.
Agenda And documents for Mar 1st, 2017 hearing
Staff Agenda Letter
Video of the hearing

Comments


Donald Williams - Apr 24, 2017 4:48PM

[Email to County Planner Dana Ayres]

Among bad ideas the proposition of helicopters over Napa County is the worst. One flies directly over my house in Calistoga regularly---circling the neighborhood for about 15 noisy minutes on one occasion. It's a convenience for someone but a horrible quality-of-life degradation for us below.

You can read this in the quiet of your office; but I could not have spoken it to you at my house, if the copter was overhead, because of the clamor. It's that loud.

Please do what you can to prohibit this kind of intrusion into the valley.

Donald Williams
Calistoga

Stephen P. Rae - Feb 28, 2017 1:01PM

[Email sent to Planning Commission]

28 February 2017
Napa County Planning Commission
1195 Third St., Suite 305
Napa CA 94558

RE: Palmaz Personal Use Heliport Use Permit #P14-00261-UP

Dear Chairperson and Commission Members:

I am writing to register my opposition to the granting of this personal use heliport Use Permit (#P014-00261-UP). The permission to establish such an obtrusive use associated with a residential use in rural Napa County displays a willingness to permit additional such uses in the future, and encourages others to consider doing so.

Currently, the citizens of our County endure frequent helicopter and low level plane traffic over residential and recreational lands. Over the years such traffic has increased. This traffic encroaches on the peace and tranquility that characterizes our valley. The land use assessment of this project fails to reflect the value of the quality of life in our county and disclose how this project may induce its subsequent deterioration.

I am surprised that the potential for this project to encourage others to do the same has not been assessed. And, I am surprised that reference to future review by the Airport Land Use Commission is understood by County staff to address the air traffic consequences of the use permit. Similarly, do we know whether County limits on frequency of use and air traffic patterns will be enforceable over time?

I believe that the Use Permit would open the door to increasing use of the site beyond County limitations and the encouragement of others to establish similar uses throughout the county wherever land and funds are available. Therefore, I suggest that the future cumulative effects of this project do not conform to General Plan considerations, violate the spirit and intent of land use limitations reflected in recent votes by residents, and constitute encouragement to proliferate similar uses in the Napa Valley.

Of course the No Project Alternative does not meet the personal wishes of the applicant. But, when does such a personal convenience outweigh the long-term consequences of further degrading the quality of life in the Napa Valley. Please DENY this use permit application.

Sincerely,

Stephen P. Rae, PhD

Henni Cohen - Feb 27, 2017 9:36PM

[Email to County Planner Dana Ayres]

Dear Ms. Ayers,

I am writing to express my opposition to the prospect of the approval of a private heliport in Napa County. There is no justification for its approval.

The issues of noise, even with a "low-noise helicopter," restricted number of flights per week, and 'mitigation measures' as hinted at by the consultants who prepared the EIR, have been addressed by other concerned citizens.

The crucial question is why such a facility is needed? The individual in question does not live in an inaccessible area where there is no other way to get to his property. He is within an easy drive of the Napa airport and, surely, the drive would not take longer than a helicopter ride. And what about the times when there is bad weather that would prohibit the flying of the helicopter? The individual would have to drive to his residence under those circumstances. The heliport is merely an extension of the individual's sense of entitlement, to the detriment of his neighbors and Napa County, not a necessity.

If commercial helicopters are banned, shouldn't private ones be as well? They present the same noise, intrusion, and privacy issues that were the basis for the ban on commercial helicopter use.

I do not live on Hagen Road, nor near the proposed site of the heliport. However, as I live off of Soda Canyon, where the number of wineries seems to be proliferating to the detriment of our rural life and there are a number of large properties, I am very concerned about the slippery slope that will be created if the Palmaz heliport is approved. Once one such place is permitted, how can the County deny the application for other heliports? I would hate to see the skies of Napa become congested by private helicopters. Not a pretty thought. The many balloons one sees, especially during the summer, are bad enough, with their noise and sometimes intrusive positions above our homes.

I respectfully suggest that the Planning Commission take these points into consideration as it decides whether to approve or deny the application for the Palmaz heliport. And I believe that the only decision is to deny the application for a private heliport in Napa.

Thank you for your consideration.

Henrietta Cohen

Appealing for Responsible Governance on: The Winery Glut


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

Update 9/5/17
NVR 9/5/17: Napa County defends its winery review records, asks mystery group to identify itself

NVR 9/3/17: Mystery group challenges Napa's winery environmental reviews

Alliance for Responsible Governance Letter
County Response to the Letter

In Director Morrison's response to the Shute Mihaly letter he basically highlights the problem with the 2008 General Plan and with the county's governance in its approval of new and expanded wineries. First, because the EIR recognized that there would be significant unmitigated impacts to the agenda promoted by the writers of the General Plan, so what if new projects are creating environmental impacts, it's all legal. Those writers, representatives of stakeholders in the wine industry, accepted the impacts because there was development money to be made in the Plan's projections. Now that the impacts are upon us, residents and perhaps even some stakeholders, have become very concerned about the resultant reality of the devil's bargain.

Second, he tries to portray the winery approval process as only being about the number of winery permits being given and the production capacity of those wineries, both within the limits quantified in the 2008 EIR. But it is the amount of visitation being approved as the wine industry morphs from agricultural production to more profitable winery tourism that was not quantified in the EIR and hence not vetted under CEQA. And it is the embrace of tourism by the wine industry that is driving the resistance to winery approvals and to the pushback on winery compliance. Yet "tourism" is a word barely mentioned in county discussions. Complaining about the "wine industry" is caged as an attack on "agriculture".

There is no question that tourism is beginning to have significant impacts on the "agricultural lands and rural character" that the General Plan claims to protect. Yet the county continues to pretend that 40% of winery square footage devoted to tourism, or a consultant's manipulation of atomized traffic, noise or water statistics will result in less-than-significant impacts. Despite the 4300 acres of vineyard approvals, the total producing acreage of vines, and hence the total amount of Napa wine that can be produced, has hardly risen in the last decade. The reality is that most of the new and expanded wineries are not necessary or economical as processing facilities and would not even be proposed without their tourism component. Tourism is not incidental and subordinate to the decision to propose a project, but the reason for the proposal. And the impacts of that tourism are not less-than-significant.

The promotion of tourism is a much greater problem than just the proposal of event center wineries, and the municipalities need to recognize that their lust for the tourist dollar is also a threat to the character that makes this a desirable place for tourists and residents alike. But the county needs to confront the problem where it can. The county and the wine industry need to acknowledge that tourism is not agriculture, and that the urbanization that tourism brings is a threat to lose in the next generation the agricultural economy and rural environment that previous county governments fought so hard to maintain.

Residents, who have had to lead the resistance to the rise of a tourism based economy in Napa county, can only hope that the creation of the "Alliance for Responsible Governance" is a sign that some in the wine industry are willing to recognize the threat that Napa's ongoing urban development is beginning to pose to the survival of their own agriculture-based industry and are finally willing, whether anonymously or not, to say so.

8/14/17
NVR 8/14/17: Winery appeals stacking up before Napa County Board of Supervisors

The impact of tourism on the residents of Napa County, and the traffic increase and loss of affordable housing that is its most obvious result, has begun to receive pushback in a number of ways in the last three years. The resistance that initially began as opposition to projects coming before the Planning Commission has now progressed into the Supvisiorial realm with appeals to planning commission decisions now becoming routine where they were once exceptional. The number articles and letters to the editor now related to outrage over the number of wineries being approved and the impacts they contribute to, like the appeals, are beginning to stack up. As are questions about how carefully the EIR to the 2008 update of the Napa County General Plan analyzed the impacts of increasing tourism brought about by its changed policies.

A letter to the Napa Board of Supervisors by attorneys Ellison Folk and Perl Permutter of the law firm of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, has stated the case that County Government has neglected to adhere to CEQA requirements by inadequately assessing cumulative impacts in its ongoing approval of winery projects each month:
Pattern and Practice of failing to Comply with CEQA regarding Winery Approvals

The EIR Archive for the 2008 General Plan is here
NV2050 on the Perlmuter letter: When Governing Powers go Rogue.

And now, a significant court decision to a case brought by attorney Jerry Bernhaut in Sonoma has stressed that GHG's generated by the full extent of winery and tourism activity into and out of Sonoma County has not been properly considered under CEQA in the development of their Climate Action Plan and that alternatives to this form of activity have not been evaluated.

Wine and Water Watch 7/28/17: Judge Rules Climate Action 2020 Plan Violates CEQA
The case is here: California Riverwatch vs. Sonoma County, et al.

In each case county general plans and ordinances sanction development projects that the governments contend have less-than-significance impacts on the environment. The environmental impacts felt by residents in the realization of these projects has not, however, been less than significant. And residents are questioning, more and more how those less-than-significant determinations are made, through comments at hearings and in the press, and in appeals to decisions made by governmental bodies, and finally in court challenges to the governmental processes that allow such significant impacts to occur. It is no longer enough for counties to pretend that impacts are less-than-significant because they say they are. The impacts are just too obvious.

Visit Napa Valley on: Tourism Issues


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

Welcome to Napa County!
Update 8/31/17
Clay Gregory LTE 8/31/17: Tourism Matters: the economic benefits of tourism in Napa

It appears that the Napa hotel lobby is launching a promotional campaign to convince residents of the county that tourism is good for their way of life, despite evidence to the contrary. Visit Napa Valley CEO Clay Gregory extolls the economic benefits that his organization is helping to bring to Napa County. Visit Napa Valley, he says, "is working daily on behalf of the lodging industry with local government officials and partner organizations to help address the collective impacts of tourism on our community."

There are indeed collective impacts on our community. How is he addressing them? "Attracting visitors during non-peak seasons and mid-week in order to minimize traffic and crowding, as well as working to convert day trips to overnight visits." How exactly does spending $6 mil/yr to attract additional tourists minimize traffic and crowding? The effort is really meant to ensure high occupancy rates and maximum traffic all week and all year around. And to insure that the collective impacts of tourism on our community happen 24 hours a day and that the lodging industry on whose behalf he works can continue to expand, with traffic increases and the loss of affordable housing and local shops, and a once serene landscape littered with building projects, and the disappearance of a rural and small-town quality of life.

The TOT, touted by Mr. Gregory as the principal benefit to the residents of the county, will never pay for the increased costs of infrastructure and services needed to serve the new development. As they are now, residents will continue to be asked to pay for bond measures, and tax increases to fix potholes and sewer systems and school upgrades each made worse by the ever increasing tourism and hospitality employee populations.

There is a place for tourism in the Napa economy, as an incidental and subordinate activity to the business of making wine. The amount of wine that can be made from Napa grapes is finite - the number of producing acres in Napa county has barely risen in the last decade. The amount of tourism must also be finite to maintain an appropriate balance. What we need is not a promotional campaign trying to sell residents of the benefits of tourism, or of a promotional campaign to sell Napa county as a tourism destination. If money is to be spent on promotion let it be on a campaign to sell Napa wine to the world beyond the county borders. There are numerous ways to do so other than tourism and many Napa wineries survive quite well in the business without encouraging the urbanization and resident discontent that tourism brings.

As Andy Beckstoffer has said, Napa is one of the few places on earth in which agriculture can survive the pressure of urban development, but it means a commitment to not let more profitable uses, and tourism is a more profitable use, become the driving force in the economy. The first place to make that commitment is to shut down Visit Napa Valley.

Update 7/19/17
NVR 7/19/17: Report says well-heeled Napa Valley tourists love wine and scenery

Update 5/3/17
NVR 5/4/17: Napa Valley visitors spent nearly $2 billion last year

The latest Visit Napa Valley statistical analysis of the tourism industry is out; the numbers are good (oddly better, in fact, than the Visit California numbers outlined here). The number of visitors are increasing but at a slower rate than the previous 2-year cycle, it seems. Revenues from tourist venues are way up, so the amount taken in per visitor is dramatically increased. (The median family income of visitors is $161,000 - a bursting tech-startup bubble may have significant impacts.) The number of employees is way up so perhaps service is good, although the daily commute and need for affordable housing is getting much worse.

More visitors seem to like the place as it is than they did 2 years ago. Except for the traffic. What will they make of the 140 or so wineries still in the planning/construction pipeline, or of Napa Pipe, Watson Ranch, and the dozens of other projects destined to fill county landscapes and roads. Sup. Pedroza's question from 2015, what is the carrying capacity of the county?, isn't yet answered.

Tourism taxes are way up as well, but the county still doesn't have enough to repair potholes or bridges, build a jail, upgrade the sanitary system, relieve traffic congestion or build affordable housing, and probably not enough to cover the costs of servicing the 17,000 visitors (12% population increase) driving into the county each day. $6 million of those tourism taxes goes to Visit Napa Valley to encourage more tourism and create more jobs, and to fund the studies.

The Latest Reports are here:

Visit Napa Valley 2016 Quick Facts
Visit Napa Valley 2016 Visitor Profile
Visit Napa Valley 2016 Economic Impact Report


12/14/15
NVR 12/26/15: Napa rings up another busy tourism year

At the Board of Supervisors on Dec 14th, 2015, Visit Napa Valley presented its financial report for fiscal 2015 and an overview for the first half of fiscal 2016. Tourism "shows healthy Napa County growth in all key lodging metrics". No one can accuse VNV of not doing their job.

Given my now almost manic obsession over the development impacts of ever increasing tourism in the county, VNV director Clay Gregory had some reassuring news: the number of tourists arriving each year is only increasing at about 1.5%. The amount they are spending is rising several times faster, meaning much more money in TID and TOT to deal with a modest increase in impacts. He also made a point of stressing the mandate of VNV to promote off season and weekday events, which seemed a direct link to an answer Sup. Luce gave me several months ago when I asked how the county justified spending $5.6 mil to increase tourism impacts.

I want to be comforted. But somehow the county pursuit of 130 new or expanded wineries under review or approved but not yet built with their cumulative request for 1.6 mil new visitor slots per year does not speak to a goal of just evening out the tourism flow. Just as with the discussions about wineries, the present is often conflated with the future. There are presently 3.3 mil tourists coming into the county each year who feel overwhelmingly they like things the way they are. In this regard Sup. Pedroza asked the right question of Mr. Gregory:

    "The way tourism grew in our valley was remarkable, but at a certain point our lens should be, how do we live within the means of what we have. More rooms than this will not survive because of traffic and lack of access...That's information we need to know as we grow. How do we know we are within our capacity."

A question that has been asked before in respect to wineries as well - what is the tourism carrying capacity of the county? We will see if Sup. Pedroza's question finds an answer in Mr. Gregorys' presentation two years hence.


What is Napa Vision 2050? on: Napa Vision 2050


Donald Williams - Aug 30,17  expand...  Share

[Editor’s note: Napa Vision 2050 will contribute an occasional column outlining its activities. This is the first such column in the Weekly Callistogan.]

What is Napa Vision 2050?

At least as far back as 1988 a Napa Grand Jury committee affirmed that the intent of the county General Plan “is to preserve agriculture, and concentrate urban uses in existing urban areas.” It noted the growing “number of commercial, promotional, cultural, and entertainment activities occurring in wineries . . . on agriculturally zoned land” including “concerts, cooking classes, art shows, benefits, and non-agricultural meetings and seminars,” and declared that they “are urban uses and by definition not needed for the . . . growing of crops.”

The Grand Jury then warned, presciently, that “failure to enforce the General Plan can only lead to the… ultimate demise of the Ag Preserve because the uniqueness and international reputation of the Napa Valley will continue to invite development and activities conducive to further blurring of the agricultural/industrial and urban separations.”

Recent years, of course, have seen precisely the kind of development the 1988 Grand Jury warned against. In response, in the last few years, in neighborhoods throughout the valley, grass-roots groups sprang up to resist the commercialization and diminution of Napa’s rural quality. Mostly they worked in isolation, and against high odds.

Gradually these disparate neighborhood groups realized: they weren’t alone! In early 2015 they formed a coalition of groups — Napa Vision 2050.

The neighborhood groups agreed: Napa Vision 2050 advocates for responsible planning and development in Napa County. It works to protect the health, welfare, and safety of our community, because Napa’s finite resources cannot support infinite growth.

Napa Vision 2050 Activities

Now, observing the traffic congestion plaguing Napa roads, NV2050 encourages the county to recognize that there are limits to the number of visitors and non-agricultural events that can rationally be permitted in our rural regions. It also encourages the county, when considering applications for additional commercialization in the rural regions of the county, to acknowledge development’s cumulative effects on residents.

NV2050 supported the “Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative” that would defend municipal water supplies, and easily gathered twice as many signatures as required. NV2050 also has worked to ban residential heliports. Additionally, NV2050 has insisted the county determine why Napa has among the highest cancer rates in California. Recognizing the skyrocketing impact of tourism on our semi-rural county, NV2050 recently sponsored a well-attended forum, “Understanding the Tourism-based Economy—-Benefits and Costs.”

Who Can Join?

Napa Vision 2050 welcomes anyone who cares about the quality of life in Napa County. Wherever you live in the county, you can be sure there are supporters of NV2050 nearby.

How is Napa Vision 2050 Funded?

NV2050 is entirely volunteer. There is no paid staff. It’s a grass-roots organization. We accept donations to support our efforts to respect the semi-rural character of Napa County. These efforts include: engaging environmental and legal experts regarding land use decisions; supporting advocates respectful of the General Plan; educating the public about dominant local industries and their impact on Napa County.

How Can I Learn More?

This column will answer questions about local environmental work, and describe the grass-roots efforts to understand how the county’s land-use decisions affect us all. You can learn more on our website www.napavision2050.org, or write us at P.O. Box 2385, Yountville, CA 94599.

Grand Jury: Please investigate this! on: Open Comments


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

Too much traffic? Too many hotels or wineries? Too much forgiveness-rather-than-permission? Not enough affordable housing? Is the County government failing to serve the interests of Napa citizens?

This is the time of the year when it is appropriate to submit a ‘complaint’ to the Napa Grand Jury for review and consideration. This is a confidential complaint and the Grand Jury could decide to fully and thoroughly investigate your complaint and issue a report on your topic. The report will help inform the public about the quality of our governmental body in Napa.

If you have an issue with a specific county/city/town board, council, commission, committee, department, or special district… this is the time to have your voice heard.


Click here for a complaint form. (An MS-Word version can be downloaded here) It can be printed for snail mailing or saved as a pdf in your printer dialog to be attached to an email.

You can snail mail your complaint to the address on the form, or email it as an attachment to grandjury@napa.courts.ca.gov

Mountain Peak at the BOS: the epilogue on: Mountain Peak Winery


Bill Hocker - Aug 23,17  expand...  Share

Update 8/23/17:
On August 22, 2017, with modifications to the Conditions of Approval in place, the Board of Supervisors denied the appeal of each of the four appellants in turn, and the Mountain Peak Winery was officially added to the other 123 wineries created or expanded in the County since 2010.

At the hearing Yeoryios Apallas requested that 2 documents be entered into the administrative record, each of which were material to the Mountain Peak decision and each of which came into being only after the tentative hearing decision in May. They illuminate how Sonoma and Napa county governments are avoiding the legally required review of the environmental impacts of their development approvals, like that of the Mountain Peak. The request was, of course, refused. They are:
Pattern and Practice of failing to Comply with CEQA regarding Winery Approvals
California Riverwatch vs. Sonoma County, et al.

5/29/17

Mountain Peak's downtown tasting room
Two days after the Mountain Peak BOS appeal hearing on May 23rd, the Register reported that Acumen Wines, Mountain Peak's brand, has just opened their tasting room downtown across from the Archer Hotel. How did we miss this? (We might have looked at their website, of course.) Not only is Mountain Peak successfully producing wine without a winery, but they have an extremely prominent location to sell their wines. (And we learned more about the owner of Mountain Peak in the article than we have in 3 years dealing with his developer. Our attempts to set up a meeting with the owner were ignored.) Napa County must have known about the tasting room. Did the Planning Commission, the BOS and the "wine industry" know that Mountain Peak already had a tourism venue to market their wines, rendering their request for out-of-scale visitation at their winery a debatable necessity? It is a better solution to the contentious issue of at-winery marketing, one that the county has lauded in other presentations. Why were they silent on it here? It was certainly an alternative that would have been considered under CEQA in a real EIR, and the exclusion of its existence prior to the county's review is, from our standpoint, equivalent to hiding exculpatory evidence from defendants in a trial. It is a question that perhaps a judge should answer.

A downtown tasting room at the entry to Napa's largest hotel is, of course, a significant bit of knowledge to counter an argument that Mountain Peak needs 14,575 yearly visitors and 19 daily employees coming 6 miles up a dead end road to insure their success in selling their product. Not to mention the benefit to the environment: The tasting room is 11 miles from the winery. At 2.7 visitors per car and say 10 hospitality employees, 199,059 vehicle miles would be saved each year by not using the winery as a tasting room. That's 8 trips around the earth, and 82 metric tons of CO2 (411 gram/mi).

This was the second Mountain Peak surprise in 2 days. At the hearing we learned that Supervisor Dillon, whose commissioner was the dissenting vote at the planning commission hearing, would not be attending the appeal hearing. Chair Ramos reminded us that it is incumbent on citizens to be knowledgable about all publicly published information, and that the documentation indicating that she would be out of the county was to be found in a BOS agenda line item from the previous week. It didn't occur to the county to add that information at the time that the Mountain Peak agenda was published 5 days before the hearing.

We were also surprised a few weeks earlier when, a few days after the planning commission approved an increase in the capacity of The Caves at Soda Canyon and approved their bootlegged portal and patio, the property, increased immeasurably in value due to the approvals, was put up for sale. Did the commissioners know? Residents, who spent enormous amounts of time and money is making a counter argument against the sleazy nature of the project from its inception, were left agog. Did the commissioners and the county and the "wine industry" know of the impending sale?

There is a sense that much of what happens between the county government and members of the wine industry operates sub rosa. The county exercises due diligence to provide open access to documents and public involvement in the planning process, and yet this is a one-industry county and the daily interactions of the dominant industry and its regulators is a bond that mere citizens can never hope to break into. (A couple of Mountain Peak's consultants started their presentations with a bit of jovial banter with the Supes. Toward the appellants the Supes seemed to have only stern looks and words.) In a world in which the dominant industry provides benefits and a sense of well being for the county's citizens, that sort of cronyism is acceptable. But now we find that the development that the industry continues to pursue and that the county continues to approve is having impacts that are definitely not a benefit to the quality of life of the rest of us. And the anger at a government unwilling to protect the interests of its citizens against the monied interests of its major industry is continuing to build.

Over 800 people in the county signed a petition opposing the Mountain Peak project including most of the residents of Soda Canyon Road. Sup. Pedroza's lament during the hearing about decisions being perceived as "either business or residents" is unfortunately not just perception, it has become the reality, with residents on the short end every single time.

There seems to be a sense among some that last November's election was the definitive rejection of the importance of citizen resistance to development projects throughout the county such as Woolls Ranch, Yountville Hill, Walt Ranch, Girard, Syar, the Woodland Initiative, Mountain Peak, and that we are now in the season of elections having consequences (as we are nationally!) And they may be right. Only time will tell. But thus far the injuries to a way of life have not been written off by those immediately impacted and the resistance and anger, at least in this quarter, are more keenly felt than ever.

Comments


Stephen J Donoviel - Aug 21, 2017 5:11PM

[Letter to Napa County Supervisors 8/21/17]

A final Appeal on Mountain Peak

August 20, 2017

Belia Ramos, Chair
Napa County Board of Supervisors
1195 Third Street
Napa, CA 94559

re: Mountain Peak Winery Appeal Decision

Dear Ms. Ramos and Members of the Board:

On Tuesday August 22, 2017, you have the fortunate opportunity to rectify what I think was an egregious error in your decision in May to tentatively approve the above project which, if carried forward, will negatively impact the lives hundreds of citizens living off Soda Canyon Road and present serious risks to the water supply to thousands of others. I think that the data, detailed analyses, references (submitted in attachments to appellants NCC form 2.88.050) and testimony presented by the appellants at hearing was far more convincing than that presented by the applicant and, were it trial by jury, my bet on the finding would be in favor of the appellants beyond a shadow of a doubt.

The fact that enormous amounts of matter from the tunnel diggings will be spread near feeder streams to the water supply for Yountville and the Veterans Home creates a significant increased risk of contamination--a colorful portrayal of this type of problem was recently shown in the Napa Register (August 11, 2017). This increased risk, I think, far outweighs any positive environment attributes of LEED construction touted by the applicant’s spokesperson.

I sympathize with the residents and others who, on a daily or regular basis, have to drive the narrow, winding roads with only one access point. I fail to understand how you and some members of the Planning Commission and a few others acknowledge the situation and yet can rationalize and dismiss the increased danger to drivers/residents that will accompany the increased vehicles that will result from the project. Also, from the almost cavalier attitude and minimization of dealing with the issues surrounding the risk of wildfire, I gather those presenters had not witnessed the Atlas Peak fire or interviewed residents who lost homes or otherwise suffered through it. There was a suggestion that monies for road surface repairs might be forth coming next year which I’m sure would be welcomed. However, the bigger safety issues, it seems, concern the fact that there is only one point of entry/egress to the neighborhoods/residences and the width of the road (for which widening is undoubtedly out of question) is not conducive to evacuation concurrent with transport of fire trucks, other equipment, etc., and would be further hampered with increased traffic requested by the applicant, thus increasing the danger for all concerned. While, I have made only occasional drives up Soda Canyon Road, one time was a garbage pickup day which was enough to demonstrate the perils of driving the route and obvious dangers if there were a wildfire (or being on the road facing drivers who had spent the day wine tasting). The offered “voluntary condition of approval” is certainly in keeping with expectations and requirements for the AVA and NV branding (and seemed a determining factor for most of you) but it really offers almost nothing to the conversation of fire danger, road safety, water supply degradation for Rector and the host of other environmental problems which are addressed in detail in appellants presentations and never adequately rebutted by the County.

I must add that with this project, as well as others I’ve studied or read about, you (as well as the Planning Commission and City Officials) seem to give little or no consideration to the cumulative impact each approved project adds to the degradation of ecology and quality of life in our county. Residents are complaining about their quality of life, be it at town hall meetings, letters to the editor, testimony at hearings, in the locker room or other social gatherings and, while we have lived here for fifty years, the drums are beating louder and louder the past few years.

I write to recommend and request that you RED TAG this project and note that in doing so you will fulfill your responsibilities as Supervisors by protecting the environment and not increasing the risk of harm to the citizens living in the area.

Thank you for considering my input

Respectfully,

Stephen J. Donoviel

Shelle Wolfe - Jun 8, 2017 11:11PM

[First published as an LTE to the Register, 6/8/17: Voices, not grapes, get crushed]

Voices, not grapes, get crushed

As expected, Napa citizen concerns were once again squelched, their voices disrespected during the May 23 appeal hearing with the Board of Supervisors on Mountain Peak Winery – Napa’s most recent 4-0 approval by the board of yet another 100,000-gallon commercial winery event center that is primarily focused on tourism -- 14,575 annual visitors to be precise -- and will add some 40,000 additional annual auto and big rig trips to the already dangerous, dead-end Soda Canyon Road.

This remotely located commercial winery is proposed by an extremely wealthy family whose members are not local residents and have no relationship to, or concern about, Napa and its citizens. We elect the supervisors whom we assume represent us and our concerns, not foreign investors.

Supervisors? No. Caretakers of a corrupt system, calculating appearances to seem caring and absences to avoid accountability (or perhaps to avoid upsetting a winery consultant and longtime friend?) They pretend to listen to those of us they represent, all the while complaining that we, the citizens to whom they are supposed to answer, are submitting too many documents, too many pages of evidence.

Environmental impacts? Not according to the supervisors; a silent nod of approval to the applicant’s phony focus on environmental purity propaganda. These elected officials are pretenders: pretending to care, to listen, to engage, to “reach out.”

Instead, they complain we are too late with information, annoying them with facts about public safety (639 government reported incidents on Soda Canyon Road in 2014, 2015, and 2016), reminding them of the dangers of driving Soda Canyon Road (which is in horrible shape and twists and turns with steep hills where big rigs and tour buses are regularly stuck for hours), and environmental impacts (removing and heaping nearly 2 million cubic feet of earth near two blue-line streams that feed directly into the Rector Reservoir water supply), slapping down the appellant’s request for a 5-minute recess before having to rebut numerous misleading statements made by the applicant – “no!” – but quickly thereafter providing a 5-minute recess to review new documentation provided by the applicant.

These pretenders disdain our very presence. Just get the vote over so we can go home. These citizens have already wasted enough of our time.

In a display of arrogance and disrespect, our own elected supervisor for District 4, Alfredo Pedroza, personally and gleefully made four separate motions to deny each appeal, to silence our voices with grinning disdain, obviously his mind long ago made up; campaign payback? Deny his voice in the next election, and maybe then we, the people, will finally be heard.

Whose government is this, anyway?

Agriculture in the 21st Century on: Napa Vision 2050


NV2050 Admin - Aug 17,17  expand...  Share
[The email version of this post is here]

Another Gross Violator Granted Forgiveness By The BoS?
Is this "Agriculture in the 21st Century"??


“This is not Disneyland. I just think it’s agriculture in the 21st century. I think Napa is fortunate to have experiences that are not one-dimensional.” - Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza

GET A GRIP SUPERVISORS!


Recently the Napa County Planning Commission approved the permit for expansion of Raymond Vineyards. This decision was appealed to the Board of Supervisors (BoS) by grapegrowers Andy Beckstoffer, Frank Leeds, and Kelleen Sullivan.

Tuesday, August 15, the Board of Supervisors (BoS) voted tentatively, 3-2, to deny this appeal of Raymond Vineyards use permit application.

This is yet another decision by our BoS to grant forgiveness in expanded permits as away of “correcting” code violations. Of the five appeals to the BoS this year, two feature gross code violators who have been granted forgiveness: Raymond Vineyards and The Caves at Soda Canyon.

In an e-mail to the Board before the Raymond Vineyard vote, Norma J. Tofanelli, former president of the Farm Bureau and fourth-generation Calistoga farmer, wrote, “Before denying the appeal of the Raymond Use Permit application, the Board would do well to consider the attached letter from Michael Honig, which appeared in the Napa Register last month...Michael Honig is not only the President of Honig Vineyard & Winery, he is the current chair of the Napa Valley Vintners' Board of Directors.”

“It is not just the "little people" of Napa County who are outraged by the deferential treatment given to winery use permit violators,” Tofanelli said. “The responsible portion of the industry has now spoken out.”

Michael Honig’s letter was short and sharp, entitled, STOP ALLOWING THEM TO ASK FOR FORGIVENESS.
“I hope our county government starts to see the harm these projects are doing to the environment, and indeed our industry, and stops allowing owners the opportunity to ask for forgiveness versus permission,” Honig said.

At the Tuesday hearing, appellant Beckstoffer implored the supervisors to do their duty to protect agriculture.

“Napa County has two choices. One is to have an agricultural economy supported by tourism and the other is to have a tourism economy supported by agriculture,” said Beckstoffer.

“The [Raymond] project makes a mockery of the county’s protections for the agricultural preserve,” the written appeal by the appellants’ law firm, Shute Mihaly & Wineberger said. Raymond Vineyards is known to be particularly glitzy and outrageous.

However, Supervisor Pedrosa sees this differently. “This is not Disneyland. I just think it’s agriculture in the 21st century. I think Napa is fortunate to have experiences that are not one-dimensional.”

Napa Vision 2050 supports the protections afforded by the Ag Preserve. THIS IS NOT AGRICULTURE, but a VIOLATION of the Ag Preserve resulting in the urbanization of our ag lands.

WRITE OUR BOARD OF SUPERVISORS AND VOICE YOUR OPINION.

THE FINAL VOTE WILL BE OCTOBER 10.

The Town Halls of August on: Open Comments


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

Sup. Pedroza's Town Hall: a difference of opinion

NVR 8/11/17: Napa Supervisor Pedroza on the firing line at town hall meeting

As town halls have been going in this country of late, that of Sup. Pedroza on Aug 7th was a civilized affair. Our Supervisor started out his presentation expecting some disagreement - we may disagree, he said, but disagreements lead to better decisions - and gave a smooth presentation of the background statistics and his program for a healthy future Napa, with more affordable housing and more jobs and a flyover at the Soscol junction. The powerpoint is here.

There was a bit of pushback. The issues that have been of greatest concern to residents in the Soda Canyon, Atlas Peak, Montecello Rd regions were given their most fulsome airing in Cindy Grupp's comments: Citizens are not listened to. Dissenting expert opinions are dismissed out of hand. There is no balance of interests between residents and developers - the developers win every time. The supervisors are ignoring the hundreds of people that showed up for the Mar 10th 2015 joint BOS-PC meeting to protest against the level of development occurring. She quoted from the petitioner in the recent court decision in Sonoma, in its failure to consider the true impacts of development in their CAP: "It is time to admit that perpetual growth is not sustainable."

Other speakers also voiced concern. Yeoryios Appalls asked why, with $80 million in tourism taxes in 2014, the roads aren't fixed. Where is the cost benefit analysis for all the tourism development that is going on. Harris Nussbaum asked how, with 5000 people on the waiting lists for housing and more low paying jobs being added to the county with every project approval, the housing crisis will be solved with a handful of difficult-to-realize low cost housing units in the pipeline. We aren't going to build our way out of the housing crisis. Barbara Gubbia asked how fast-tracking wineries, a proposal Yeoryios appallas called a solution looking for a problem, would benefit residents. Anne Polotas asked about the 1000 opposition signatures ignored in the Mountain Peak decision. Residents don't have a government that listens.

I listen, Sup. Pedroza responded, but I respectfully have a difference of opinion.

As I found out in a previous meeting with Sup Pedroza, at each occasion that the negative trajectory of tourism development is brought up, rather than discussing it, Sup Pedroza cuts off the discussion with, well, we have a difference of opinion. Next question. He knows that the development projects that he is supporting and promoting are generating the traffic and housing problems, and that any discussion that questions that relationship is one discussion that he does not wish to have. Just concentrate on mitigating the impacts.

Sup. Pedroza began his presentation with some raw statistics that seemed in a nutshell to encapsulate our problems: Less than 1%/yr population growth in the county (actually .07% and projected to decline) probably due to the high cost of housing, and 14% growth in jobs since 2014, (actually 3.1%/yr) , due mostly to the expansion of the tourism and construction industries. The difference between jobs and housing creation leads to both housing shortages and traffic congestion, the principal impacts that everyone focuses on. The reality is that as long as the new-housing-to-new-jobs ratio remains at 1 to 4, no amount tweaking will alleviate the increasing impacts - they will only get worse.

He also knows that the imbalance will not be solved by building affordable housing - yet he proposes it as a solution. 4 projects were presented that may generate 200 affordable housing units when they are realized years from now. As Mr. Nussbaum pointed out there are 25 times that number of families on waiting lists for affordable housing now. How many more will be waiting by the time the projects are completed. Affordable housing is a feel-good talking point, but no solution to the jobs-housing imbalance.

The one solution he will not discuss is on the other side of the housing-jobs equation: limiting job creation by limiting the urban development. It is, of course, against the DNA of any politician to disparage job creation. But job creation is the essence of urbanization, and if the county is interested in remaining an agricultural economy, as it often claims, then job creation in the non agricultural sector must be looked at differently than in a traditional economy based on ever increasing job growth.

The real difference of opinion between this supervisor and many of his constituents, is in whose interests are to be served. Sup Pedroza promotes urban development, through housing projects and infrastructure projects and more tourism while presenting the opinion that such development is necessary to preserve the agricultural lands and rural character treasured by his constituents. It is an opinion that aligns neatly with the banking, real estate, tourism and construction interests that stand to profit from Napa's 50 year legacy of open space preservation. These are, not coincidentally, the same interests that contribute generously to political campaigns.

The citizens that are speaking up, however, are of the opinion that the promotion of such urban development is the death of agriculture and the death of the rural character that they treasure. Indeed they see the rural character disappearing with every building project approved, in traffic congestion, loss of affordable housing and local businesses, a landscape defaced with building projects. Those impacts are not opinions. They are the reality created by an opinion that continuing development projects will have a less-than-significant impact on, or are more important than, our rural, small-town way of life. It is an opinion with which many in the county respectfully, or not so respectfully, disagree.


Napa Vision 2050 Town Hall: a multitude of opinions

NVR 8/11/17: Residents have say at Napa Vision 2050 forum

I wasn't at the Napa Vision town hall three days later. On reading Barry Eberling's account and on reviewing notes taken by a participant at the meeting the proposals seemed to encompass a wide gamut of opinions, some of which might be geared to slowing the urban development of Napa County, and some, like a commuter rail system or affordable housing projects, aimed at reducing impacts to and fears of current residents, will in execution only further urbanize the county and induce future urban growth.

Beyond the absolute moratorium on development, I was looking for suggestions to slow the pace of development, in the way that minimum parcel sizes and 1% housing growth cap and voter approved rezoning did to curb the growth of housing development in past decades. Yet the urban development of Napa county through tourism and industrial uses is every bit as great a threat to the agricultural lands and rural character that housing presented 40 years ago. And the strategies required to stop the urbanization should be just as radical.

As suggested, and as was suggested at the May 10th 2015 joint BOS-PC meeting, a first step would be to consider a big picture general plan that integrates county and city issues and begins to look at a desired limit to ultimate growth of the county. The vision needs to be restated and should answer the question, put to developers as well as preservationists: what do you want the county to look like 50 years hence? (I would like fewer buildings, less traffic and less population than it does now, of course.) And then ask, how does one make it so?

But perhaps even before that, an initiative should be put before the voters to gage support for a radical slowing of urban growth in the county. Or else an initiative proposing to limit the amount of future tourism and industrial development in the way that Proposition A in 1980 limited housing development. Is such a limitation either legal or feasible? Proposition A was challenged and found legal. I don't know if a limitation on tourism or growth in general would be so, and it would probably depend on the metrics used to measure both, but that is the kind of solution, rather than adding more transport infrastructure or housing, that can begin to control the urban trajectory the county is on. Once future development controls are in place then there is the possibility that housing and transport fixes might help.

Documents:
Proposition A 1980
Napa County Policy AG/LU-119 Growth Management System
The official Policy AG/LU-119 begins on page AG/LU-74 of the Napa County General Plan Land Use Element

Napa Vision 2050 will be having another Town Hall, this time in St. Helena, on Thurs Sep 7th 2017, 7:00pm at the Native Sons Hall, 1141 Oak St.


The Raymond Decision on: Raymond Vineyards


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

Update 8/15/17
Appeal denied 3-2. Ramos, Pedroza Gregory to deny. Dillon, Wangenknecht to uphold.
Recognize, allow, expand.

NVR 8/16/17: Napa County Supervisors side with Raymond Vineyards
NV2050: Agriculture in the 21st Century

Hearing agenda and docs
Staff agenda letter
Video of the hearing
Partial transcript of hearing (w/ timestamp)

Chair Ramos went on at length on the virtue of separating the issue of compliance from requests for expansion, something she felt the county really needed to pursue. "The time has come..." she repeated. Just not this time, of course.

Often at these hearings speakers talk rhetorically of a "turning point". This decision represents the road we've turned on to. Tourism has trumped agriculture in the philosophical debate represented by two iconic and opposing figures in Napa's wine industry. Sup. Pedrosa, in justifying his decision to deny the appeal, said of Raymond "This is not Disneyland. I think this is just agriculture in the 21st century." Wine tourism "experiences" are now the official product of Napa Valley and the actual wine, as has always been the case in other endeavors, is used simply to loosen the purse strings.

The vote on the appeal divided the three newly elected supervisors from the two veterans. It was a poignant and, for those of us who have come to appreciate how difficult protection of the county's rural legacy's been for previous generations of supervisors, a sad vote.

We didn't elect the staff on: Open Comments


Donald Williams - Aug 15,17  expand...  Share

Background: Our representatives on city councils and the board of supervisors hire helpers, collectively called “staff,” to research topics they need to decide on. Our elected representatives routinely rely on staff’s recommendations regarding the issues that affect us.

Noteworthy: At a recent St. Helena City Council meeting, when dozens of citizens objected to a staff proposal, something remarkable happened. The council heard the citizens and actually voted as the people wished, counter to its staff’s recommendation.

It was remarkable because too often in this county, elected officials hide behind staff. Mr. Pedroza did the other night trying to justify his vote to allow more winery visitors up Soda Canyon Road.

But staff takes its cues from its boss, the board of supervisors. In this county---where planning commissioners and supervisors profess respect for our semi-rural character but incongruously allow ever more visitors and non-agricultural winery events; and where wineries which ignore their permits are forgiven then actually rewarded for their transgression---staff is not blind. It sees how friendly its bosses are to rampant development.

It’s not likely to recommend denial of a project if it can be in any way permitted. And staff, being “expert,” as Pedroza avers, is educated enough to articulate objectivity and defend those recommendations that it understands its bosses like.

Yet---what do the residents of Soda Canyon Road care about staffs’ recommendations? They didn’t elect staff. They elected a representative they thought would respond to their legitimate concerns. They know from daily experience the hazards of that road and the danger of tippling tourists. But as for their supposed representative---he heard staff, not them.

No wonder Napans appealing to their representatives about development feel cynically like Sisyphus. Over and over, same old thing: “less than significant impact.”

Maybe there’s a glimmer of hope. For years, Upvalley residents have been remarking the loss of the semi-rural character of the valley as tourism vies with agriculture for the county’s soul. The Soda Canyon Road travesty is just one example. But it’s been difficult for Down-valley residents, mostly in urban Napa or suburban American Canyon, to appreciate the extent of the county’s transformation from a semi-rural arcadia to a tourist mecca.

Now, at last---judging from robust attendance at the Napa Vision 2050 town forum, and from recent letters to the Register---the tourism plague is infecting Down-valley too. Big hotels are planned. Crowds jam the streets with music festivals. The model trains will vanish. Good-bye small-town Napa.

As for quiet, rural Upvalley Napa County: just a memory.

Unless -- unless we voters realize the decision is ours. We don’t have to elect people who’ll use staff to justify the degradation of Napa County. We can choose representatives who actually hear and respond to what residents want.

St. Helena City Council voted out incumbents. So can we.

NVR LTE version 8/15/17: We didn't elect the staff

Raymond one of many appeals on: Raymond Vineyards


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

NVR 8/14/17: Winery appeals stacking up before Napa County Board of Supervisors

The Raymond-Ticen appeal will be heard by the Board of Supervisors on Aug 15th. It will be interesting to see if the Supervisors split their decision along the lines of their Planning Commissioners. Given the players, it is truly a showcase, as Sup. Pedroza has framed it in various discussions, for a "difference in philosophies" about the future of Napa County. What does agricultural protection mean? Do we protect every vine or do we pull some out to accommodate tourism? Is the future to be an agricultural economy that benefits from tourism or a tourism economy that capitalizes on agriculture? Or perhaps capitalizes on an agricultural history?

Norma Tofanelli has weighed in on the potential of non-compliance forgiveness presented egregiously by this project, by citing a letter by Michael Honig regarding the Bremer project.

In the three and half years that this site has been up there have been appeals on the following wineries: Woolls Ranch [5-0], Yountville Hill [pulled], Castellucci [5-0], Melka [2-2], Reverie[5-0], Bell [5-0], Girard [5-0], Mountain Peak [4-0], Raymond [3-2], Caves at Soda Canyon, Flynnville, and on the non-winery projects Walt Ranch [5-0], Syar[5-0, 4-1, 5-0, 4-1], and on the pre-PC reviews Caymus [5-0] and Cuvasion.
Save Yountville Hill which is being redesigned, all thus far have been denied allowing the projects to proceed.

Sonoma County Knights Bridge Winery Appeal on: Sonoma County


Bill Hocker - Aug 11,17  expand...  Share

Charlotte Williams send information about the on-going resistance in Sonoma County.

WinerWaterWatch 8/10/17: Appeal of Controversial Knights Valley Winery Back to Sonoma County Supervisors, Aug 22

The Board of Supervisors, now the decision-makers on this project, will hear the appeal by Manama Watershed Alliance and Friends of Spencer Lane in a Public Hearing, Tuesday August 22, 2017 at 2:10 PM

The Appeal and Documents

And this editorial from a member of the Maacama Watershed Alliance
Sonoma County Gazette 6/28/17: PRMD approves Winery Use-Permits that Urbanize Rural Areas

County proposes winery fast-track on: The Winery Glut


Bill Hocker - Aug 11,17  expand...  Share

Comments are due by Sept 18th, 2017 4:00pm and should be sent to
David.Morrison@countyofnapa.org

NVR 8/14/17: Obscure Napa County position may play a bigger winery growth role



Update 8/11/17
[In response to questions from Chris Malan, Planning Dir. David Morrison elaborated on the process that the Limited Winery Ordinance will endure through the county meat grinder]

    Date: August 11, 2017 at 6:14 AM! PDT

    Chris,

    Thank you for the inquiry.

    No, a CEQA document has not been prepared as of yet. This comment period is solely to obtain public input and concerns regarding the proposed ordinance.

    After the additional 45-day review period has been completed, staff will revise the draft ordinance, incorporating public comments where appropriate. The revised draft ordinance will then be used as the project for preparing a CEQA document, which will have a separate public comment period. In addition, the public will have opportunities to comment at public hearings before both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.

    I hope you find this helpful in clarifying the status of the current review period. If you have any further questions, please let me know.

    Respectfully,

    David

8/4/17
NVR 7/8/17: Napa County eyes streamlining approval process for smaller wineries

Proposed Limited Winery Ordinance
Dir. Morrison's request for comments.
Local Procedures for Implementing CEQA (CEQA sm. winery def. see appendix B, #10)

What can one say? The County is issuing use permits for new wineries at the rate of one a month (and increases to existing wineries at two per month) even with Planning Commission review. Apparently that is still not fast enough to keep up with developer's desire to profit from an expanding tourism economy and booming real estate market. The County wants to streamline the process, providing an easier avenue for speculators to increase resale value with "winery-ready" properties. Not one more gallon of Napa wine will be added to the county's "wine industry" (producing acreage hasn't budged in the last 10 years despite some 100 new winery approvals), just more luxury estates and tourism venues. This is not about affordable small "family" wineries. It's about expediting a real estate strategy targeting wealthy vanity investors.

One can see the problem from the County's standpoint: The amount of pushback from citizens who will be negatively impacted by all of the proposed development is bogging down a process whose purpose is to allow public participation. The solution proposed is to reduce the visibility and amount of public input in the process.

The Planning Commission is a public event. Its meetings are predictable and previewed on the county's website and in the Register. Its proceedings are broadcast and a video archive is retained. The county claims that the public will have a similar opportunity to vet projects being presented to the Zoning Administrator. But notification will only go to residents within 1000' of the project. No previews in a public calendar. And likely no mention in the Register. It will then be up to a neighbor to make the project known to a wider audience, a daunting task for some. Once the hearing is done, no record beyond brief meeting minutes will be available for review. But the collective changes that these projects bring, with increased tourism throughout the remote areas of the county and the expansion of taxpayer-funded infrastructure to accommodate an ever increasing number of tourists and employees, will affect the county as a whole, not just the immediate neighbors.

As a recent article on Visit Napa Valley highlights, county and municipal governments seem to see a "growth" economy based on tourism as the prime objective of planning decisions. As we have seen in all meetings throughout the last few years, the county is unwilling to seriously consider the increasing cumulative impacts of growth that have led to so much citizent opposition. In this proposal, conceding to the demands of the development industries, they wish to make the opposition more difficult.

The County's continued promotion of building projects and the resulting impacts on traffic, affordable housing, community character, infrastructure and service demands, the physical landscape and resource sustainability, run counter to the County's stated image of itself in the first paragraph of its Vision Statement in the Napa County General Plan:

    "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."

Many county residents, seeing the urbanization taking place before their eyes, no longer feel that vision is being supported by their government, and they should be allowed to conscientiously make their voices heard. In a public forum.

The question the County should be addressing is not how the approval of building projects can be streamlined to increase the pace of urban development. The question should be how to scale back the amount of development being proposed, as previous governments and citizens have done with the Ag Preserve, zoning ordinances and initiatives, to insure that Napa remains a rural, agricultural place to be treasured in the future. Fast-tracking building projects (much like pretending that building projects are "agriculture") is not the answer.

7/29/27 LTE version: Fast tracking Napa County wineries isn't the answer


NVR 10/2/15: Planners look at fast-tracking small wineries

Note the difference between the 2015 and the current proposal: the requirement that grapes must come from the property has been eliminated. Wineries can be approved under the new proposal on properties having no vineyard potential (like The Caves); a lease on grapes (currently leased by someone else, no doubt) suffices. There is no mention of use-permit revocation in the ordinance, so presumably the lease may be sold as soon as the winery is approved.

Comments


George Caloyannidis - Jul 10, 2017 7:50PM

[Comment submission to Dir. Morrison re limited winery ordinance]

Dear David,

Attached is my revised comment on the Limited Winery Ordinance.
I revised Section "H" with a calculation of visitors this Ordinance would permit which is so staggering that one has to indeed wonder what thought if any is behind it.

George

Small Winery Ordinance Comment

And Divid Morrison's response:

From: Morrison, David [mailto:David.Morrison@countyofnapa.org]
Sent: Wednesday, August 02, 2017 1:14 AM
Subject: RE: SMALL WINERY ORDINANCE

George,

With all due respect, I strongly disagree with several of the statements made in your letter.

A. There is a policy reason for the draft ordinance. It says so in the third paragraph of the ordinance recitals, where it states: “Action Item AG/LU-16.1 directs that consideration be given to amendments to the Zoning Ordinance that define “small wineries,” a “small quantity of wine,” “small marketing events,” and “mostly grown on site,” and establishes a streamlined permitting process for small wineries which retains the requirement for a use permit when the winery is in proximity to urban areas. In turn, the Action Item implements Policy AG/LU-16, which states:

In recognition of their limited impacts, the County will consider affording small wineries a streamlined permitting process. For purposes of this policy, small wineries are those that produce a small quantity of wine using grapes mostly grown on site and host a limited number of small marketing events each year.

The County’s intent and purpose in considering this ordinance is clear. It is to amend the County Code and create a simpler permit review process that reflects the limited impacts of smaller wineries. You may not agree with the policy, but the basis for this action does not require any surmise.

I would also point out that the proposed ordinance does not minimize either public scrutiny or the CEQA process. Applications considered under the draft ordinance would still be subject to CEQA review. They may obtain a Categorical Exemption, if they qualify, as they may currently do under the adopted Local CEQA Guidelines. If they do not qualify for a Cat Ex, then a Negative Declaration, Mitigated Negative Declaration, or EIR will be prepared, as is appropriate. The draft ordinance would not change CEQA review in any way. Similarly, applications under the draft ordinance would still be noticed to all neighboring property owners within 1,000 feet of the project, still be noticed in the newspaper, and would be considered in a public hearing, where interested parties may testify, and any resulting decision may be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. The draft ordinance would not minimize public scrutiny in any way.

B. There appears to be a misunderstanding. The provisions of the draft ordinance would be available to all wineries that meet the qualifying criteria, whether they are newly established or are already established and want to modify their existing use permit within the constraints of the definition of a limited winery. To do otherwise, would create an unfair advantage for one class of business over another.

C. Why is 30,000 gallons considered a small (or in this case limited) winery? Because that is how they are defined in Napa County’s Local Procedures for Implementing CEQA. Appendix B, Class 3, Subsection 10 states:

Construction and operation of small wineries, other agricultural processing facilities, and farm management uses that:
(a) are less than 5,000 square feet in size excluding caves;
(b) will involve either no cave excavation, or excavation sufficient to create no more than 5,000 additional square feet with all of the excavated cave spoils to be used on site;
(c) will produce 30,000 gallons or less per year;
(d) will generate less than 40 vehicle trips per day and 5 peak hour trips except on those days when marketing events are taking place;
(e) will hold no more than 10 marketing events per year, each with no more than 30 attendees, except for one wine auction event with up to 100 persons in attendance; AND
(f) will hold no temporary events.

As for national metrics, wine economists generally categorize wineries as follows:

Large – 500,000 cases and up (1,2 million gallons)
Medium – 50,000 cases to 500,000 cases (120,000 – 1.2 million gallons)
Small – 5,000 cases to 50,000 cases (12,000 – 120,000 gallons)
Very Small – 1,000 cases to 5,000 cases (2,400 – 12,000 gallons)
Limited – less than 1,000 cases (under 2,400 gallons)

By this standard also, 30,000 gallons is considered a small winery.

D. The focus of the draft ordinance is to provide some relief to small and family-owned businesses. If there are many such businesses, should they be denied relief simply because of their number, or should policy instead be based on their circumstances?

For clarification sake, about 1/3 of the wineries listed on the Napa County database would fall within the criteria of the draft ordinance. While there are more wineries that produce under 30,000 gallons, about 70 of those wineries have buildings, caves, visitation levels, or marketing events that exceed the definition of a “limited winery.”

E. I don’t agree that there is a contradiction. If wineries were to take advantage of the draft ordinance (should it be adopted) to increase production to 30,000 gallons, they would still be small wineries. There is only a contradiction if you define a small winery as having much lower production. I do not share that perspective.

F. Once again, I have to disagree. The cumulative impacts of winery development was already evaluated in the General Plan EIR, which was certified in 2008. Each winery permitted under the draft ordinance would undergo appropriate project-specific CEQA review. The draft ordinance does not allow any additional winery development not already anticipated in the General Plan. In fact, as stated previously, the draft ordinance is a direct implementation of the General Plan. Additional cumulative CEQA review of the draft ordinance is not required, in my opinion.

G. See F above.

H. See F above.

I. With regards to justifying the consideration of the draft ordinance, that was part of the policy debate regarding the General Plan in 2008. The purpose of the General Plan is to provide a set of policies under which the County would operate over the following 25 years. That is why adopting comprehensive General Plan updates is such a lengthy and expensive process. If you believe that circumstances have changed since 2008, you may want to request that the Board amend the General Plan to delete Policy AG/LU-16. Again, you may not agree with the idea, but an adopted policy carries significant legal weight.

If you are suggesting that the production level for limited wineries in the draft ordinance could be reduced to 15,000 or 20,000 gallons annually, I agree. The 30,000 gallon criterion was initially offered as a starting point for public discussion, but one that was consistent with the adopted Local CEQA Guidelines. Others have also suggested a lower threshold. The Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors are free to use an alternate metric.

J. Once again, I have to disagree. Length of time in permit review does not necessarily equate to public benefit. Staff is required to follow State law, which includes the Permit Streamlining Act. There is a balance between the exercise of private property rights and public interest. This ordinance would continue to provide full public review and participation for the review of development applications.

The draft ordinance would not permit any greater level of winery development than is already allowed under the General Plan, which evaluated the cumulative impacts of winery and vineyard development between 2005 and 2030. As this ordinance would not increase that potential, further cumulative analysis is not required.

The Zoning Administrator would not become a “winery czar,” any more than the Planning Commission could be described as such. The Zoning Administrator currently makes decisions regarding Use Permit Modifications, Variances, Certificates of Non-Conformance, and other applications. This would be similar to the Administrator’s existing duties. The Administrator’s decisions may be appealed to the Board of Supervisors, who ultimately is responsible for setting policy in the County.

As always, I am happy to discuss these issues and welcome constructive dialogue towards developing a better draft ordinance.

Thank you for you comments.

Respectfully,

David

And George Caloyannidis' response

Sent: Wednesday, August 02, 2017 11:37 AM
To: 'Morrison, David'
Subject: FW: SMALL WINERY ORDINANCE

Thank you David.

Your statements are technically correct as they reflect the provisions of the Ordinance which are already known. However, they neither refute or specifically address mine because by their nature, they try to show the shortcomings of the Ordinance. Specifically, your statements do not provide answers to the points I presented.

· They do not explain the rationale for the need of the Ordinance other than to make things easier for applicants.

· They do not explain by what standard (or reason) a 30,000 gallon production winery is a new "small" one when 52% of all existing wineries in the county produce less.

· They fail to explain why potential quantifying data have not been presented to the Planning Commission.

· They do not explain why potential impacts of the Ordinance have not been presented to the Planning Commission or even a suggestion by staff that there may be worthy of consideration.

· They fail to explain which specific provisions of the Ordinance are the ones which facilitates its "streamlining". What specifically has been eliminated from the current process and what is its downside?

Maintaining that the Administrator's decisions may still be appealed to the BOS is correct but let's stop trying to hide the fact that it facilitates a process by which many of his/hers decisions will occur under the public's radar. Unless you can explain otherwise, this is the main instrument behind the "streamlining" of the process.

The 1,000 foot notification radius is grossly insufficient. Has staff tried to put the adequacy of such radius into perspective? For example, how many property owners would be notified if some of the randomly selected wineries below would apply?

Colgin (20,000)
Dalla Valle (20,000)
Diamond Mountain (10,000)
Kongsgaard (12,000)
Mayacamas (5,000)
Saddleback (8,000)
Signorello (20,000)
Titus (25,000)

Does Staff seriously believe that a 1,000 foot radius is sufficient to serve the public interest? Or does this number prove my point?

But the main concerns is the roundabout way by which this Ordinance will have advanced the Napa county CEQA baseline (traffic, water etc.) without CEQA review.

Your response does not address how an Ordinance which has the potential to incrementally add 3,564,277 gallons of production to the EXISTING "small" wineries, add 7,931 acres of vineyards plus 3,248,628 annual visitors is not cause for alarm meriting responsible environmental review. Mind you, this does NOT include special event visits NOR the impacts of NEW "small" winery streamlined applications, the number of which staff has also failed to make a credible effort to quantify.

These are massive numbers with potentially profound cumulative impacts - none of which were presented to the Planning Commission or the BOS for consideration - but obvious to any thinking person. They are so obvious that it is hard to hide the agenda driving this Ordinance by disingenuously hiding it under the innocent clothing of "SMALL".

George

PS: When will the Ordinance be heard by the BOS?

The Tentacles of Adams Street on: St. Helena


George Caloyannidis - Aug 9,17  expand...  Share

Developer ready!
[Letter sent to the St. Helena Star, 8/7/17]

Dear Editor,

For many years now, the debate over what is a "local serving" business surfaces each time a new store seeks a use permit in downtown St. Helena. Though the term is not clearly defined, most residents instinctively know what it means. It means Steves Hardware, Vasconi's, Sunshine, Lolo's, Main Street Books, Gillwoods.
The difficulty arises when one realizes that "local serving" shifts when community demographics change. When such change is from middle class to affluent, people don't bother to drive to Lolo's to sell a $ 400 dress for $ 40 and they prefer breakfast at Archetype rather than Gillwoods. And when that shift is also towards part time residents, these "new locals" bring along their own ideas as to what constitutes local serving and changes in the social fiber of the community, in civic engagement, schools, clubs, small town fundraisers, neighborhood parties etc.

While the debate whether this or that store is "local serving" garners little attention because of its incremental impact, the debate over the fate of the Adams Street property is of a magnitude that brings the entire set of issues to the forefront. Going over recent letters in the Star, I read Jeff Feeney lamenting that "investors pump hundreds of millions" in Napa, Yountville and Calistoga, while St. Helena is missing out. On the other hand, he is concerned by residents cashing out to second homers who will no longer support "our" stores. And Sara Cakebread criticizes those who oppose a large resort on Adams Street who would rather see "our roads, sidewalks and parks crumble" but at the same time she doesn't want to "lose our small-town character".

A few years ago, long time friends of ours moved to a gated Incline Village community with the kind of infrastructure Jeff and Sara dream of only to find out that most of their neighbors' stone-clad mansions were empty half the time. Socially impoverished, they sold.

No one personifies the ode to the beauty and character of the Napa valley to more people around the globe through his visual poetry on National Geographic and his magnificent albums more so than Charles O' Rear. Only a person with Chuck' sensitivity could have better articulated in a letter to the Star last March what it really means to have "many of our homes dark at night from the influx of absentee home owners". What it means "when $ 1,000 will buy you a nice hotel room, a bottle of wine and probably a dinner while teachers, city and winery employees must commute long distances". Or what "the abundance of jewelry stores - all to satisfy the whims of tourists" and a jammed Highway 29 really mean. "Goodbye St. Helena! We love you and we will miss you!" was Chuck's and Daphne's sad farewell.

Some arrogantly dismiss people like Chuck and Daphne as "among the vocal minority of naysayers". Theirs are legitimate concerns just as are those who want perfect and uncongested roads, beautifully landscaped sidewalks and profitable stores. But what good are stores full time residents never use? What good are dark at night homes? Declining school enrolment? Teachers who cannot come to dinner?

Some prefer less pristine sidewalks if it means keeping the Chuck O' Rears in town, others want a big influx of money to fix everything at once no matter what the consequences.

Perhaps there is a middle ground here. A comprehensive, value oriented ten-year plan, incremental budgeting and above all fiscal responsibility. The citizens are already paying for the water and sewage infrastructure upgrades. Las Alcobas with all its defective planning is at least on line. There are city assets beyond Main Street and Adams Streets which can be sold. Why not an inspiring, carefully framed ballot measure? But the leadership never developed an uplifting long-term vision - not just one for money one should think twice accepting unless it is hinged to the preservation and promotion of our social capital and its venues. Because, in the end, this is where our most precious assets lie.

Last year Napa Vision 2050 organized a forum on the tourist-based economy with three internationally recognized fiscal, social and traffic experts on the subject. Placing all eggs in the tourism basket is a cancer on multiple fronts everywhere it has been tried. One only need look at Venice, Barcelona, Naples, Majorca, Florence, Santorini, Mykonos, all of Greece for that matter, the list is endless, the effects devastating and the evidence undisputable.

Pristine Yountville is just a few miles down the road.

Comments


Bill Hocker - Aug 11, 2017 2:06PM

Six more acres of Napa agriculture to be converted to urban sprawl. There are 3 proposals for the Adams Street property, 2 for hotels and one for a hotel/office/city hall/housing combo (on the right). A look at the site plans is interesting. They go from free-form gaiety to disciplined gaiety to no gaiety at all.

What are They doing to our sense of place? on: Napa Vision 2050


Daniel Mufson - Aug 8,17  expand...  Share

There’s a deep sadness when we lose a friend. We miss the familiarity and good times we’ve spent together over many years. Similarly, there’s a profound sadness when you no longer recognize what had been your home and your community. You no longer recognize it because it is being taken away from you piece by piece.

Gone are the toy shop, the dance studio, downtown Safeway, Pearl, Cervoni, Zeller, Brewsters -- places where you were welcomed, where you met friends, where your children met friends.

It’s all in the name of progress. They (our elected and appointed officials) tell us we need tourist revenue. But We (the people who live here) need our sense of place. We are losing the soul of our Napa.

And now, they have done it again. After almost weekly announcements of the demise of yet another local establishment, They told the model railroad museum at Expo it had to close. This museum was built by our fathers and grandfathers and designed to represent our Napa. But They decided the space is needed for progress. And many residents of Napa are deeply sad; this is a location so many have enjoyed for generations.

Last year, Napa Vision 2050 sponsored a forum on the social and economic costs of tourism. The main message was that unless carefully managed, tourism can irrevocably destroy the essence of place. You have only to look at what has happened in Aspen and Santa Fe and now Barcelona and Venice. A noted book on this subject, “Devil’s Bargains,” (Rothman, 1998) notes that residents gradually realize, as they seek to preserve the authenticity of their community, that decision-making power has shifted from the community to the newly arrived corporate financiers.

The forum was well attended by county supervisors and city council members from the Napa Valley. We encouraged them to act on this message of responsible, countywide planning by collectively managing the growth path they have been fostering. Not one of them has done so. Instead they are in the counting houses drooling over the increasing Transient Occupancy Tax.

And now -- to add insult to injury -- They are taking away our community model railroad museum. Who would have predicted this move and the wrenching impact it is having on the hearts of many Napans?

NV2050 is holding a community town hall meeting this Thursday evening in Napa (and on Sept. 7 in St. Helena) to hear from you. How do you feel about these changes and what do you recommend we do to bring our community back under control?

Longtime Napan Harris Nussbaum will moderate the discussion at the Horseman’s Association, 1200 Foster Road at 7 p.m. Please attend. For details, visit www.napavision2050.org.

Dan Mufson, President

NVR LTE version 8/8/17: What are They doing to our sense of place?

How far do we go to save humanity? on: Growth Issues


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

GHG generation: agriculture vs tourism
Wine and Water Watch 7/28/17: Judge Rules Climate Action 2020 Plan Violates CEQA

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAP at Planning Commission: to be continued... on: Open Comments


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

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

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

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

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

The video of the hearing is here

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

Jim Wilson transcription of major portions of the hearing

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

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

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

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

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

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

The County's Climate Action Page (including public comments) is here
The Draft Climate Action Plan (with proposed final draft markup) is here
Jim Wilson's analysis of shortcomings in the Draft Climate Action Plan.

The breakdown of GHG's in the county includes 31% generated by buildings and 26% generated by transport, the 2 largest producers of GHG's. The Plan itemizes the 5 greatest GHG reducers in the plan:
  • power domestic hot water heating with renewables
  • replace carbon-powered with electric-powered ag equipment
  • replace carbon-powered with renewable-powered recreational watercraft
  • Preserve Oak Woodlands! (a bit ironic that)
  • Pool employee commute trips

The relationship between building reductions and transport reductions came up in the LEED presentation for our Mountain Peak project on Jan 4th. A great effort was made to reduce energy use (and GHG production) in the design of the building using a LEED scorecard to spur conservation. 70% of the power was to come from the solar panels proposed for the project. Cave air was used to cool the tasting room. There are to be electric automobile chargers and bicycle racks, operable windows, LED lights. The building is LEED platinum, the highest score.

What is not considered in the LEED score is whether or not the building is needed in the first place. In the case of wineries that in fact will not increase the output of wine, but will merely shift the output from an existing winery to a new one, the GHG costs of building and maintaining a new winery should be more seriously questioned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Napa County Land Trust (updated) on: Watershed Issues


Bill Hocker - Aug 1,17  expand...  Share

The Napa County Land Trust map with other projects superimposed in pink. (click to enlarge)
Update 8/1/17
NVR 8/1/17: Napa's Circle R ranch to be permanent part of wildlife corridor

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

Update 1/20/17
NVR 1/20/17: Large swath of Napa County land near Calistoga protected
NVR 9/4/16: Effort underway to protect 856-acre forest in Angwin
NVR 11/28/15: Land Trust receives 110-acre donation near Chiles Valley
NVR 6/18/14: Land Trust acquires 1,380 acres on Atlas Peak

9/4/16
Land Trust CEO Doug Parker is quoted as saying “We’re interested in building a corridor of contiguous, protected land across the ridge on the east side of Napa Valley.” On the map below it would appear that the stretch from RLS State Park to Lake Hennessy is looking quite promising. From Lake Hennessy to Skyline Park it seems like a much more difficult proposition. A trail down the ridge just below the huge Atlas Peak Sutro Ranch Preserve is blocked by two private estate developments, Circle S and Walt Ranch. The Circle S development has discussed the possibility of a 500+ acre conservation easement. Would that include a public trail? The Walt Ranch development has yet to weigh in on a conservation easement.

Everyone talks about the traffic... on: Traffic Issues


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

South County Big Map of Everything:
and the numbers
Update 7/31/17
NVR 7/3/17: Napa transportation leaders try to speed up fix to 29/221 intersection

Update 7/25/17
NVR 7/25/17: South Napa County makes pitch for Highway 29 congestion relief

NVR 7/25/17: Napa transportation leaders agree, disagree with grand jury findings

7/7/17
NVR 7/7/17: Grand jury wants more done to address Napa County congestion

The Napa County Grand Jury has issued a report on the Napa Valley Transportation Agency's "Vision 2040 Plan" and it is not pleased, saying that the $250,000, 2-year effort "did not result in an actionable plan to measure and solve traffic congestion". As if the NVTA had the ability to "solve" congestion problems.

The congestion problems are simply a symptom of the amount of development taking place. As long as building projects continue to be approved in the county, bringing more workers, more deliveries and shipments and more tourists, transport infrastructure projects from trails to bus routes to light rail to freeways, which are expensive and take a very long time to complete, will never keep up with the congestion created. The solution to the congestion problem is to reduce the amount of development, unfortunately well beyond the mandate of the NVTA.

The failure of the Grand Jury report and of the CAC recommendations is that they assume that once congestion reduction measures are implemented that the congestion will be reduced. The example of the widening of Jameson Canyon to 4 lanes is instructive in this regard. As a commuter coming through the Jameson/29 intersection every weekend for the last 23 years I can testify that widening Jameson Canyon to 4 lanes not only did not relieve congestion, it has induced it to become more congested than ever. As traffic researchers know, when measures are taken to ease the flow, more development is induced by the promise that easier access is just around the corner. A vast amount of industrial development has occured in anticipation of the easier link to the central valley which filled the increased capacity even before it was operational. And now the intersection is more congested than it was before the widening.

The NTVA seems to be recognizing this paradox and in its most recent discussions is advocating not doing the proposed widening of Hwy 29 around the Jameson Canyon bottleneck. “If you build a six-lane road, traffic is going to follow,” the NTVA director said. “People go where there’s capacity.”

In this approach they are doing the only thing they can do to relieve the congestion: insure that the congestion will become just bad enough that developers and tourists and businesses will begin going elsewhere. The alternative is that urban development will continue to consume the Napa Valley as it has the rest of the Bay Area. It is stern medicine, but necessary if the patient is to survive.

Unfortunately, without the committment from county governments to curtail development projects (the strategy that allowed the wine industry to survive in the first place), NVTA will not be able to maintain this approach for long, and the demand by those convinced that congestion can be "solved" with more infrastructure, and those who want more infrastructure to enable more development, will force the NVTA to relent. And the flood gates will be opened once again, continuing to drown the vines and open spaces of Napa County in urban sprawl.

Barry Eberling series: Traffic Tales of Napa County
Napa County Travel Behavior Study 2015 Conclusions

Love the small wineries? on: The Winery Glut


George Caloyannidis - Jul 18,17  expand...  Share

If a municipality wanted to preserve the ambiance of a single-family neighborhood, it wouldn't rezone it to residential high-rise. Over a short period of time, homeowners would sell to developers at a profit and the area would experience a fundamental transformation.

In Napa County, whenever a small winery pleads hardship, officials accommodate it with higher use permit limits of production and visitations. They say: "We all love small wineries. We must do everything to support them." Who can possibly argue with that?

But there is a problem. Even when wineries have been operating in gross violation of their use permits, their plea for survival becomes their passport to riches. Just like that, even without proof of hardship, the value of the winery is often doubled and tripled and sold within weeks.

Further proof of how this policy incentivizes small wineries to disappear from the supposedly intended idyllic landscape into big investor portfolios, is the current rampant winery consolidation activity, all fueled by the county's policies marketed by its disingenuous rhetoric as compared to its actions.

I often visit the northern foothills of the German Alps, dotted with small towns, forests and meadows where a dozen or so cows of small dairy farmers graze. These farmers make a living with milk, cheese, honey and schnapps. They are prohibited from increasing their grazing lands by clear-cutting their forests, a long view policy that provides them with a decent living but keeps the value of their holdings to levels not attractive enough to corporate takeovers.

Small farms are preserved in harmony with forests and crystal-clear streams. When visiting the region one is captivated by the agricultural serenity so beautifully preserved since 198 years ago, when it was memorialized in Beethoven's 6th symphony, so appropriately named: “The Pastorale.”

Meanwhile, the wine lobby myth our supervisors have bought into that wineries cannot make a living without direct sales has now mushroomed to 59 percent of total revenue and is fueling the market of runaway hotels and traffic congestion their drinking and merchandising tasting rooms generate.

Just over the Alps from Italy's Alto Adige to Sicily, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic in Spain, from the Languedoc to the Loire in France, from Germany's Rhineland to Austria's Burgenland, the direct sales model even for the thousands of wineries producing fewer than 8,000 gallons is an aberration. Instead, one finds their wines around the globe from Los Angeles to New York, Paris and London. Such marketing takes hard work, but it is enough to provide a decent living generation after generation, not just for a decade or two and then off to the Riviera.

Making a decent living from a "small" winery in the Napa valley means Maseratis and Teslas in the garage, government-assisted denuded forests, soiled streams and clogged highways. Sadly, it is us in our state of Napathy who allow the damage. Instead of voting for the right candidates, we let them displace us with second homers and luxury commercial rents.

To top it all off, the supervisors are scheduled to hear a "limited winery" ordinance that will "streamline the process" of approving "new small and/or family-owned wineries" producing a staggering 30,000 gallons. In the process they will shut the public out the door by installing a wine Czar to dole out permits without environmental review or public hearings. The problem is that 261 of the county's 510 existing wineries - more than half of them - produce less than that, 209 of them produce fewer than 20,000 gallons and one quarter of them produce fewer than 15,000.

Traditionally, existing wineries have enjoyed more, not fewer privileges than new ones. No one in the right mind believes the county's smoke screen that new wineries will enjoy this privilege while old ones will be compelled to undergo full review. It is so patently unfair that the furry paws can no longer hide beneath grandma's dress.

Potentially, in excess of 2.5 million more visitors to existing tasting rooms could be added to the 3.5 million who visit us each year and 8,000 vineyard acres could replace forests in the process. This does not even include the un-quantified hundreds of potential new wineries - those supposedly covered by the ordinance -- waiting to join the gold rush.

Within a decade, this devious under-the-radar effort by the county will have replaced forest green with the only green it is beholden to and will have silenced the Napa Valley Pastorale once and for all.

NVR LTE version 7/18/17: Love the small wineries?

What're you drinking? on: Watershed Issues


Bill Hocker - Jul 11,17  expand...  Share

NVR 7/11/17: Napa County and city team up to protect reservoir water quality

As the watersheds that supply municipal reservoirs continue to be clear-cut and ripped for vineyards that are then bathed in chemicals, the potential issues of city water safety have come to the fore. Napa City, which provides over half of the county's residents with water from the Hennessey and Milliken reservoirs, has decided it's time to verify whether or not the conversion of natural landscape into vineyards poses a threat.

While the Milliken and Hennessey watersheds are the focus of this effort, and may turn up contaminants, more active study should really be done on the county's natural laboratory for watershed pollution, the Rector watershed. It is by far the most converted watershed in the county and, like a coal miner's canary, the most likely to show the negative impacts of sedimentation and chemical pollution now that will only become apparent in the Napa city reservoirs many years hence as development continues. There may be a dis-incentive to study its water: serving the veterans home (which sells water to the town of Yountivlle), Rector water falls under the purview of the state. As such it is probably out of the hands of local governments to monitor.

We understand that the Veteran's home is undertaking a periodic study of Rector's water quality and any new information will be added here when available.

Related:
SCR on the Rector Watershed
SCR on Round-up
SCR on the Watershed Initiative
Jim Wilson's County-City recap in 2015

So long, vineyards on: South Napa County


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

NVR 7/9/17: Hello IKEA. So long, vineyards?
NVR 6/23/17: Developers lament short supply of industrial land in Napa County

As was the intention, no doubt, the title of Noel Brinkerhoff's article, less the question mark, could be the epitath on the Ag Preserve's tombstone.

The scale of the Napa Logistics Park development is more visible when you realize that IKEA's northern California distribution center would fit iinto just one of its four buildings. Napa Logistics Park is only a part of the unbuilt industrial development in the AmCan Industrial area and the Napa Airport industrial area just to the north. Who would have thought that Napa would eventually be known more as a light industrial center, a blue-collar Silicone Valley, rather than a bucholic agricultural Eden. Yet that will be the overwhelming reality of the "Napa Experience" as visitors are stuck in the traffic jam at Bottleneck Junction with an alley of tiltup warehouses as their only view of Wine Country. And no 600 foot setbacks here.

The fact that real estate interests are bemoaning the scarcity of industrial property and that the county is suggesting that vineyard land with less expensive grapes might fill the bill shows where things are headed. All that is needed now is a definition for "less expensive" to be codified in the next update of the general plan. Under $10,000/ton, perhaps?

Hotels spill into the vineyards on: Growth Issues


Bill Hocker - Jun 30,17  expand...  Share

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

County Oak Knoll Hotel page
EIR Notice of Preparation

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

In this case, as in others, the County seems determined to insure that the least agricultural use of the land possible under county codes will be approved. It is an approach that will eventually result in every vineyard in the county being graced with buildings and parking lots.

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

This parcel is eminently suited for agricultural use, leased perhaps to the owner of the adjacent vineyards. The "minimal impact" of a 50 room hotel, 33 employees and 109-space parking lot, on the open-space character of the surrounding vineyards plus the traffic load, water and sewer concerns such a project presents, should be a point of contention between the county and the developer. Unfortunately it is left to neighbors and others with a real concern for the rural character of the county, as has been the case in every development proposal these last so many years, to champion a less urban use against the combined efforts of county and developer. Paradise is being paved over in one building project after another as the official gardians of the county's rural heritage fall over themselves to promote development interests, hoping to bolster government coffers while really just adding to the government expense of maintaining a more urban environment.

Who's protecting Napa? on: Open Comments


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

Update 6/28/17
James Conaway, following the Alastair Bland article, (which he subtitles "the Rape of Napa") has weighed in on his own disillusionment with the demise of the great Napa experiment in rural protection, lamenting that the place has "lost its Edenic quality ... and all vestiges of innocence":

James Conway, Nose 6/24/17: The existential choice today
NV2050 take on his comments: Have the Gods Gone Crazy?

6/16/17
Alastair Bland, who recently authored this piece on the vineyard deforestation of the Napa watersheds, has now taken a look at the collaboration of the wine industry and their government regarding compliance and the pushback from residents impacted by that interaction.

Alastair Bland, KCET Earth Focus, 6/16/17: Here's How Big Wine Gets To Avoid Environmental Rules in Napa

While the essence of this article is to demonstrate how the county is failing to protect its rural heritage, I was struck by the quote from Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards. He has in the past inaccurately described dissenters at hearings as a vocal minority out to kill the wine industry. But here he asks the right questions, ones that need a public workshop to explore. From the article:

    Wagner says he is sometimes perplexed by the arguments from industry critics. The two opposing sides, he says, actually want the “the same endpoint.”

    “Preserving agriculture, reducing traffic and air pollution, conserving water, maintaining our bucolic ambiance, and reducing danger of fire are all shared concerns,” Wagner says. “Where do we become separated? What is the problem in a nutshell?”

In a nutshell, the problem is the tourism urbanization being promoted by the wine industry. The wine industry has always been, as one might assume, a staunch of protector of Napa's rural heritage. But as the "wine" industry has morphed from grape processing into tourist processing, and as the resident-vintners that built the industry have been superseded by growth-centric corporations and by plutocrats wishing to be good-life entrepreneurs, the maintenance of that rural character, now exploited to increase profits, is increasingly put at risk. With the wine industry, and its government, failing to support those shared concerns by encouraging more development and ignoring existing protections, residents have begun to make their discontent heard.

Unfortunately the wine industry, and in particular its founders, like Mr. Wagner, who have fought development interests throughout their careers to protect their agricultural resource, are now unwilling to see the construction of tourism venues in the vineyards, the expansion of wineries solely to accommodate more tourism and the deforestation of the watersheds for resorts and housing estates as the urban development that it is. It is an urbanization that is slower perhaps than housing projects but in the long run just as lethal to agriculture. In a desire to expand their businesses and increase profits they rationalize and define such development as a protection of agriculture. Yet the jobs and the people and the buildings and the cars generated by these projects, and the further infrastructure and construction they precipitate, continue to urbanize the county. Residents, not blinded by the money to be made, see these impacts for what they are: harbingers of the end of this rural enclave in the urban Bay Area.

Napa county is a small place. There is a finite level of wine production and tourism that the county can bear and still allow agriculture, the natural environment and a rural, small town way of life to be successfully sustained. Some might see the Napa of today as striking or only slightly beyond that balance. No one denies its current success. Yet there are over one hundred new or expanded wineries and thousands of hotel rooms and resort lodgings in the pipeline. And the wine industry continues to push for even more.

As is seen in the planning commission and Board of Supervisors meetings, and as is obvious in the article, residents have little leverage against such a dominant industry. They are routinely ignored in governmental decisions, no matter the efforts they make. Until the more influential members of the wine industry, such as Mr. Wagner, are able to see that in this small place there are limits to business growth and the amount of money to be made from wine and tourism without destroying its rural, agricultural substance and character (a realization at the heart of the original Ag Preserve and the zoning protections that followed), there is little hope that the urbanization will end, or that the complaints of residents, seeing their paradise lost, will be stilled.

Concerns About Napa County's Climate Action Plan (CAP) on: Napa Vision 2050


Christina Benz - Jun 26,17  expand...  Share

Concerns about Napa County’s Climate Action Plan (CAP)
(see the plan and comments at http://www.countyofnapa.org/CAP/)

The CAP doesn’t provide a path for meaningful emissions reductions because:

1. It isn’t based on current climate science.
    • The CAP accounting method was selected “to maintain consistency with latest statewide inventory (for 2015) prepared by California Air Resources Board (CARB).”
    • CARB has updated accounting for its Short-Lived Climate Pollutant (SLCP) Reduction Strategy, going into effect January 2018 (SB 1383). (See the report here. )
    • The SLCP Strategy is based on the current scientific understanding (IPCC Assessment Report 5, 2013-14) that in order to slow global warming, reducing SLCP emissions will be the most productive strategy.
    • Of particular importance is its focus on black carbon, now recognized as one of the four most powerful climate pollutants driving global warming. Napa is a source of black carbon pollution from diesel engines, agricultural burning, etc.
    • Additionally, tropospheric ozone is another major contributor to climate change. This short-lived climate pollutant should also be addressed.
    • Let’s align Napa’s CAP with the latest statewide and regional plans, and the state of climate science. (See Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s 2017 Bay Area Clean Air Plan: Spare the Air and Cool the Climate at http://www.baaqmd.gov/plans-and-climate/air-quality-plans/current-plans )

2. Its three top measures for reducing emissions are not seen as feasible by community stakeholders.
    • Measure BE-6: Replacement of residential and commercial gas water heaters with electric or alternatively-powered units.
    ➢ North Bay Association of Realtors (NorBAR) comments: “NorBAR is concerned that, given the potential time delays and costs of adding an electric water heater, homeowners will forgo permits and have the standard water heater installed.”
    • Measure AG-3: Replacement of diesel and gas powered farm equipment with electric or alternatively-fueled units.
    ➢ Napa Valley Grapegrowers comment: “Many vineyards have no other need for being serviced by PG&E. In most cases, use of this service will be infrequent, while still incurring extremely high standby costs. This measure seems growth inducing and a poor use of resources.”
    • Measure OR-2: Replacing diesel or gas with alternative fuels in recreational watercraft.
    ➢ Feasible??? How much time will be spent regulating and enforcing this?!?!

Napa needs and deserves a CAP that focuses on the following:

1. Reduction of Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (methane, black carbon, tropospheric ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons) with measures such as the following:

    • Reduce methane due to solid waste by installing methane capture systems at food and pomace composting sites.
    • Reduce methane due to wastewater treatment by installing anaerobic digesters at wastewater treatment plants in American Canyon, St. Helena, and Calistoga.
    • Reduce vehicle emissions for hauling winery wastewater by expanding Napa Sanitation plant to handle this wastewater and capturing methane generated (waste-to-energy).
    • Reduce black carbon through incentivizing cleaner diesel engines and alternatives to traditional ag burning methods.
    • Note: The CAP does contain appropriate measures for reducing hydrofluorocarbons (Measures HG-1 and HG-2). We need an accurate inventory of these emissions.

2. Decarbonizing power and transportation
    • The proposed CAP contains several measures toward this goal (BE-9, BE-10, BE-11, TR-13)

3. Reducing and mitigating loss of Carbon Sequestration during land use change in a realistic way
    • Measure LU-1’s target of preserving 30% of existing woodlands was ”based on feasibility assessments made by county staff.” This target is far too low.
    • Instead, let’s accurately account for carbon sequestration, then properly mitigate its loss (via replants, carbon farming practices, the use of a carbon “tax”, etc.).

The proposed County Climate Action plan will allow the county to check off a General Plan “to do” item—and that’s all. Let’s not waste our supervisor’s time and tax dollars enacting measures that may be cost-prohibitive, unenforceable, and won’t make a difference in reducing global warming. Let’s not make residents and businesses pay for measures that won’t make a difference.

We are Napa—we don’t need to check off a box; we need to do what we’re good at—thinking outside the box—and put in place REAL solutions to global warming.

Let's all work together on: Growth Issues


Harris Nussbaum - Jun 23,17  expand...  Share

I don't want to talk about any one development, but to express a concern for the future of this great community.

The Board of Supervisors, City Council, and Planning Commissions are our friends and we look to them to protect us and Napa. I'm not against all development and appreciate the contributions the wine industry and other businesses have made, but I am concerned about the unlimited pace at which development is happening.

Our economy is already overheated and finding workers is becoming a problem. Even with normal business cycles recession will come again, what will happen then or with an over-inflated economy?

1) I appreciate and enjoy many of the events that are taking place downtown and not saying we shouldn't have them, but the day before BottleRock it took me two hours to return home from Sonoma. Traffic can be a nightmare in and out of Napa a great deal of the time, and in all directions, not just for special events.

2) There is no way to build enough affordable housing to solve the problem and they aren't affordable to most of our residents. Locals are being forced to move away and local businesses are closing.

3) I hope everyone is aware of the impact this is having on our schools? Enrollment is going down because people with families can't afford to live here. Schools are being closed, programs are cancelled, support services are being reduced and over a hundred teachers are being laid off this year alone. This will continue into the future. The future education of our youth will be at risk.

4) It sometimes seems that houses are being converted to vacation rentals faster than they are being built and I question if they can be adequately supervised.

5) The problem isn't just with the city or county -- it is both. Somehow we need to find a way to work together and to help bring people with different views together. The problem is all of ours. I think we all have something to lose if we don't.

6) There are hotels and other projects proposed, being built or on the way: Town Center, 90-room Cambria Hotel, a five-story hotel at the Wine Train, Meritage’s 133-room expansion, Marriott’s 250-rooms, a resort at Stanley Ranch, multiple hotels at the Oxbow area, an Embassy Suites addition. This in addition to Napa Pipe’s 800 homes, Gasser Foundation’s 400 housing units and more and more and more. Each development with low salary jobs will require many outside workers and a car on the road. I have been told that the Archer Hotel alone will employ over 100 people and how many does the Andez have?

7) One of our leaders said, "We should be like Carmel", but we aren't. They have almost all one- and two-story buildings and slower growth, not the tall buildings being built and proposed here and with no parking.

8) I could go on about parking, water, police, fire, roads and other problems that are being created. I hope our leaders and all of the community will read the article by James Conway where he talks about the current level of development not being economically supportable due to the requirements of infrastructure and on-going maintenance.

9) What can we do? Take a step back. Slow it down a little and make sure the infrastructure is in place before approving more hotels, more wineries, more tall buildings, more of everything. What we have now seems to have little oversight. Napa is a jewel that can and will be destroyed if we allow the pressure of large sums of money to blind us. What is the rush? Consider the cumulative impact.

I urge the city and county to work together. Create the opportunity for concerned citizens to have equal opportunities to be heard and for opposing views to have the chance to meet and work together for the good of the overall community. It is time for all of us to get involved -- learn more, talk with our leaders to express your concerns, become a part of the solution.

NVR LTE version 6/23/17: Let's all work together

A tale of two roads on: Sonoma County


Bill Hocker - Jun 19,17  expand...  Share

Geoff Ellsworth sends a link to the saga of a project in Sonoma County that bears a startling resemblance to the fight we have just gone through on the Mountain Peak winery. After the supervisor's approval of the project, residents sued and the county settled the lawsuit with reductions in tourism and cash for the residents lawyers.


Sonoma Index-Tribune 6/15/17: Sonoma Mountain Road’s Belden Barns settles with its neighbors

Sonoma Mountain Road, though not a dead end, is a very constricted loop off the main road that connects Santa Rosa and Sonoma. For visitors coming from Sonoma or Napa, the most direct route to Belden Barns is 6.4 miles east from Glen Ellen. A video in the article shows the dangers of this access. The settlement decision requires a "No Access to Belden Barns Winery” sign on the road - which contradicts the google map directions - so good luck with that. The owners have stated that most of their customers will come up from SF via 101 entering Sonoma Mountain Rd from the west, with only a 1.3 mile stretch of unstriped road. Unfortunately, from SF google maps also take you via Sonoma and Glen Ellen.

The similarities are remarkable: Belden is 6.4 miles from a highway vs 6.1 for Mountain Peak. Both envisioned 15000 visitors / year. While Belden will only produce 24,000 gallons of wine per year compared to Mountain Peaks 100,000 it will produce 10,000 lbs of cheese. And it is similarly the first tourism facility in its remote location.

One big difference, at Belden Barns, the area's Supervisor supported her residents as the one negative vote in a 4-1 decision by the Board of Supervisors. Our Napa Supervisor made the motions to deny our appeals, thumbing his nose at the concerns of those he represents in favor of absentee owners and vanity developments.

After the Board of Supervisors decision, the neighbors of Belden Barns sued the county, claiming that the EIR required by the county was inadequate. The suit was settled by the Supervisors in closed session. The decision restricted visitation to Saturdays only from Jan - Mar and only 5 days/wk the rest of the year. Only 1 post-sunset event per year. Event guest lists must be provided to neighbors!! And the neighbors get $100,000 to cover legal costs. Though many issures were raised in the suit, the significance of the decision is that, above all else, neighbors were concerned about tourism in their remote area of the county. It is the refrain happening in every wine producing area on the planet.

Mountain Peak has yet to be subjected to an Environmental Impact Report, being approved on the basis of the county's in-house environmental review checklist and a negative declaration indicating that county planners saw no significant environmental impacts. That EIR needs to happen.

Facing public discontent, the County lawyers up on: Open Comments


George Caloyannidis - Jun 14,17  expand...  Share

NVR 6/14/17: Napa County's half-billion dollar budget ranges from jails to water safety
Napa County: 2017-18 Budget Recommendation (see page 20)

How telling of the sad state of affairs it is that Napa County has budgeted one quarter of a million dollars for the annual salary of a new deputy counsel to handle the increased load of land-use issues ending in citizens' appeal hearings and the courts. By the time the employment of this person ends, the County tax payers will have spent untold millions in salaries, continuing benefits and pensions until death.

These appeals filed by affected homeowners revolve around the basic policies solidly embraced by the Board of Supervisors (BOS); all involving accommodation of wineries: Their uncontrolled proliferation, their ever increasing use as entertainment and commercial activity centers and the scandalous reward policy for their most egregious use-permit violations. This in turn, brings hordes of tourists and low wage workers for dozens upon dozens of new resorts and hotels.

But most important is the deaf ear the BOS lends to the negatively affected neighborhoods from Mt. Veeder to the west, to Howell Mountain in the east and everything in between.

When a winery such as Reverie, having spread thousands of tons of cave tailings on a hillside next to a creek without an erosion control permit, when it also exceeded its permitted visitations and production many times over is given a clean slate just for the asking to be absolved and legalized and ends up walking away with several millions in ill-gotten profits, what is a community to do?

When the Mountain Peak winery is allowed to deposit cave tailings equaling one football field, 30 feet high next to the Rector Creek Gorge which supplies water to the City of Yountville, up six miles at the end of the winding Soda Canyon Road with over 600 recorded accidents and no secondary outlet for residents to get out in case of fire, what is a community to do?

When fake California Environmental Quality Act analyses by County Staff only consider winery traffic impacts around a convenient limited circle, ignoring those throughout the valley resulting in the unbearable congestion from American Canyon to Calistoga, what are residents to do?

The residents of this valley are increasingly aware that the BOS accommodation of the wine industry has lifted its veil, no longer embarrassed to show its ugly face of egregious partiality no matter what the costs to the environment and to the degradation of their common quality of life.

The Supervisors refuse to recognize the obvious, that appeals and lawsuits are a sign that something is fundamentally wrong in the way they conduct business.

If they acted on residents' concerns rather than bow to the wishes of the next violator or the next absentee multimillionaire coming out of the woodworks - eager to embrace the good life by destroying it with their help - those with no real stake in the community or in conduct that does not trample on neighbors' lives, appeals and lawsuits would disappear as if by magic.

But reason from our elected leaders is too much to ask for.

Instead, oblivious to their righteousness, beholden to their sell-out, they opt for the most offensive solution; that of beefing up their arsenal with additional legal help to fight those ignorant, audacious, adversarial ordinary citizens and saddle them with that cost as well. This is the way to teach them a lesson for fighting for their livable neighborhoods and to shut them up; make them spend more time at hearings, more money on consultants, more money in the courts.

Lowering their ears from their imperial thrones to listen to them is not an option.

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


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

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

7/12/17
George Caloyannidis sends over this link to the latest in Venice:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Slowing urbanization: the petition on: Growth Issues


Bill Hocker - Jun 9,17  expand...  Share

Rusty Cohn has penned an editorial and placed a petition on change.org with the plea to "Slow the stampede of development in Napa".

While there are at least 2400 hotel rooms in the planning pipeline in Napa county, the urban growth issues go beyond just hotels and resorts. There are some 3700 dwelling units approved or under review, almost 4 million sf of commercial/industrial development, some 150 new and expanded wineries, and a 2300 acre vineyard estate project. And, of course, a quarry expansion to pave it all.

All of that will probably happen, and the golden goose is probably already a dead goose walking. But doing nothing in the face of such a loss is not an option. Signing the petition is one small first step.

The county's rural, small town character, open spaces and agriculture-based economy are the legacy of a previous generation of citizens and elected officials with a clear vision of the value of a rural place in an urban world. Beyond St. Helena, already at gridlock stage, current elected officials have shown little inclination to rein in the urbanization of Napa County happening under their watch. They are, in fact, enthusiastic promoters, beholden to the tourism, real estate and other development interests currently on a rampage to fill up the open space with their building projects in the guise of "protecting agriculture". We need a new generation of elected officials and level of citizen commitment if the destruction already happening is to be contained to a level that will allow this place to retain some of its rural character 40 years hence.

NapaVision2050 has also weighed in on the petition here.
More on the hotel frenzy in downtown Napa here.
Bev Rendel LTE 7/7/17: What is ruining our valley?

More traffic for Bottleneck Junction on: Traffic Issues


Bill Hocker - Jun 1,17  expand...  Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America as one big hole on: Growth Issues


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Promote community not tourism on: Calistoga


Donald Williams - May 27,17  expand...  Share

For a variety of reasons the city of Calistoga’s recent budgets are not bleak. Therein lies opportunity if we are bold enough to seize it.

The city’s budget anticipates revenues of over $10 million this year. More than half of that revenue is paid by visitors to local lodging, the so-called TOT tax. The budget’s expenditures, meanwhile, include provision for police, fire, public works, pensions, debt service, etc. The complete budget is available online or at city hall.

With the improving national economy, our city revenues have increased each of the last five years. The Budget Summary cautions however that “it is important to remember that the City’s budgets will, once again, be very tight.”

But there’s a bright side. The need for a tight budget in an expanding economy presents the opportunity for both spending more and spending less.

Spending more is easy. Indeed, our next budget proposes increased spending in most departments, including fire, recreation, and planning.

Spending less, however, as most of us know from personal experience, is harder.

The city's budget reports our payments to the Chamber of Commerce Visitors Bureau, for promotion and marketing. Since 2011 we’ve spent $300,000 or more per year (over $330,000 this year) to promote our city this way. The rationale is that the money spent is more than paid back by resultant TOT revenue.

For most of our expenditures we know what we get for our money: a newly-paved street, another officer on the beat. Not so with money spent to entice visitors. We may think and hope marketing matters, but we don’t know. There are assertions by large professional tourist organizations of remarkable (e.g. 15:1) returns on promotional efforts, but there’s no empirical evidence directly linking Calistoga’s promotional efforts with its TOT revenue. We guess the return justifies the expense. But we’re not sure.

Usually we in business are pragmatic; but spending money on marketing is instead an act of hope.

It’s not clear that any marketing is even necessary. It’s possible we’d collect the same TOT whether we advertised or not. In the last decade Calistoga’s TOT revenue has basically tracked the broader economy, increasing every year except for the 2009-10 recession.

This is the perfect time to save money on marketing. Today’s economy is still growing. People feel they have money to spend, and famous Calistoga is definitely on their radar. Our local budget is expanding so that a diminution of visitors, should that occur, could be absorbed. Meanwhile we’d have over $300,000 for more important expenditures. There’s no point in spending money to lure people who are going to visit us anyway.

There’s nothing sacred about the $300,000+ budget number traditionally spent on marketing. It’s just a habit -- and a good time to kick it. Besides, if promotional efforts were so certainly remunerative, why not spend even more on marketing? In that case it would be irresponsible not to.

Alternatively -- if we spend less, will TOT revenue decrease?

Unlikely, because even without any additional advertising, local tourism has momentum. It comes from Calistoga’s location in the Napa Valley, as well as from a strong national and regional economy. The city might fear that without marketing, tourists and their money will disappear: surely other north bay towns will continue to advertise?

So what! Are we not confident Calistoga is special? Let’s seize this opportunity to save. Our reputation is established: we are hospitable. If we advertise less, people are not going to suddenly forget we exist. They aren’t going to forget what we offer here. Besides, we’re not in a rooms race with other towns. Tourists will continue to come, and the TOT revenue too.

Responsibly ceasing self-promotion might seem radical. But recall the official admonition to keep a tight budget. Think of what we could get with $340,000 of public funds: longer pool hours, or lower water bills, or an improved shuttle system, or decreased debt, or whatever else we need. If after kicking our advertising habit the TOT revenue remains stable, we’re $340,000 ahead. If by chance TOT decreases, in this strong economy Calistoga is well positioned to manage that, and resume promotional efforts another year.

People of means know that accumulating wealth sometimes means taking risks. In the world of city governments, where little things are big things, less self-promotion may seem daring, but it’s really a sensible step to take when it (1) isn’t necessary to attract visitors in a strong economy, (2) saves $340,000, (3) won’t hurt the city hugely if TOT falls shorter than expected, and (4) can be reinstated easily next year anyway.

So let’s try it. Let’s take a leap. Let’s stop marketing Calistoga for a year and save some public money.

NVR LTE version 5/27/17: Maybe it's time to cut the marketing purse strings

Comments


Bill Hocker - May 29, 2017 9:32PM

Chamber of Commerce response 5/29/17: Discontinuing destination marketing would be irresponsible

Civilized discussion seems alive and well in Calistoga. Unmentioned was the fact that traffic impacts of thousands of visitors and hundreds of employees caused by Calistoga development approvals impact all who use the county's roads further down valley. What responsibility does Calistoga have in mitigating those impacts and costs?

The Caymus Letter on: Tourism Issues


Bill Hocker - May 24,17  expand...  Share

3 days prior to the Mountain Peak appeal hearing before the Board of Supervisors, Chuck Wagner, of Caymus Vineyards, sent this letter to the Board offering his encouragement to deny the appeals. Considering the very slim chance that the appeals would be upheld it was probably an unnecessary gesture, but it represented a chance to perpetuate yet again (see here) a canard that has become widespread among development interests: that a small vocal group of residents was out to kill the wine industry.

As was stated in this response to Rex Stults' similar statement, nothing could be further from the truth. And the truth needs to be reiterated here: residents that oppose these projects are not against the "wine" industry; they are against the non-agricultural urban development that the wine industry is adopting to increase profits from the much more lucrative tourism and real estate industries. The development of wineries as tourism venues and of vineyards as part of housing estates have major impacts on residents and on the county infrastructure way beyond the practice of crop raising and processing.

If tourism and estate development is claimed necessary to the survival of the wine industry we need to see the facts to back up that claim. Many vintners, some of the best in fact, seem to survive in the high end wine business with little or no visitation at all. What percentage of total Napa winery revenues are attributable to at-winery sales, and is that percentage worth the impacts of urbanization, diminished quality of life and high costs resulting from tourism and real estate speculation that the Ag Preserve, Measure J and the WDO were originally intended to counter.

There are many people in the county who are concerned about the changing nature of the wine industry, and the impact of that change on the rural character of the county and the quality of their lives, and that have no interest in "taking down the wine industry". They recognize that the wine industry, built by resident vintners and growers that valued not only the success of their industry but the preservation of their rural communities, has always had the respect of the other rural residents that benefit from the maintenance of a rural environment and small town life that was its product.

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

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

A couple of years ago, the Napa Valley Vintners launched a PR campaign dubbed Our Napa Valley, casting the urban impacts as solvable with more transport infrastructure and more housing, i.e. more development. Until the wine industry returns to the notion that curbing development is in its own best long-term interest, as well as the interest of all citizens concerned about preserving the rural character of this place, resident anger against the industry and the government that continues to do its bidding will only increase.

Round two to Mountain Peak on: Mountain Peak Winery


Bill Hocker - May 24,17  expand...  Share

NVR 5/25/17: Napa County approves remote, controversial Mountain Peak winery

On May 23, 2017 the Napa County Board of Supervisors denied the 4 appeals of the Planning Commission's use permit approval for the Mountain Peak Winery made in January.

The agenda and documents for the hearing are here
The Staff agenda letter is here
The video of the hearing is here
The community powerpoint is here

The four resident's appeals were each denied in turn 4-0 with the appellant's own supervisor, Sup. Pedroza, making the motion to deny. Sup. Dillon was - unexpectedly, from the standpoint of residents - absent from the proceedings. (She did not mention that she would be absent when we led her on a site visit 5 weeks before the hearing.) While her vote may have been no different than the other supervisors, her insights into the long history of industry-resident relations and intimate knowledge of WDO issues would have been an illuminating part of the discussion. And since it was her commissioner who voted against the project, it was especially important to have her input here. We asked for a continuance based on her absence to no avail.

As they did at the first Planning Commission hearing, a last minute concession was offered up to ease the decision in their favor and provide some cover for the decision-makers. Last time it was the elimination of marketing events. This time it was a "75% estate grape" provision to be added to the conditions of approval linking approved capacity to the amount grapes produced on the "estate". I don't know if the county has an official definition of an estate, but the Napa Valley Vintners provides this definition of "estate-bottled" when used on wine labels.

In the discussion the implication was that the "estate" would include the winery property plus the 180 acre parcel up the road owned outright by Mountain Peak. Selling the larger parcel would mean a proportionate reduction in the approved capacity under the use-permit. Would the approved capacity also increase if Mountain Peak buys another parcel? Would the approved capacity diminish if the winery parcel is sold separately? More importantly, visitation numbers are based on a business plan projection to insure the sale of the yearly production. If the production drops considerably shouldn't the visitation numbers also go down. Does the business model morph into one based solely on serving expensive wine-paired lunches? There were immediate questions about how to work out this provision in a meaningful and enforceable way, in our minds and the minds of supervisors.

It was agreed that the finalization of their denials was contingent on the exact wording of the provision to be worked out by the Aug 15th BOS meeting. It may be a very trend-setting provision for winery development in remote areas in order to avoid the custom-crush fiasco of the Caves at Soda Canyon (that will be making its way to the Board in the future).

The "estate" discussion precipitated an interest by Sup. Wagenknecht to perhaps consider standards for "remote" wineries. While the suggestion seemed a bit off-the-cuff, Dir. Morrison seemed eager to take on the assignment. Given this letter to the planning commission two years ago prior to APAC and his valiant efforts there to create predictable development standards for wineries, I want to believe that the fire for true long term planning consistency regarding winery development was not stamped out by the BOS's "case-by-case" cave-in to the industry after APAC.

The hearing went from 10:00 until 5:30. Our side, led superbly by Anthony Arger, made 8 individual presentations limited to 2 hours total. Chair Ramos, much like Chair Gill at planning commission meetings, was a stern disciplinarian on time limits for us concerned citizens. (The professionals, representing development interests, make their points efficiently. Citizens, often less disciplined, are frequently cut off mid presentation.) That sense of sternness carried over into all interactions with the appellants (despite the fact that the hearing was on their dime). By contrast when the Mountain Peak representatives approached the podium there was often a bit of jovial banter between the rep and the Board prior to the presentation. This has probably always been the case, but it takes on a new ominousness in an era in which the wine industry is making its disdain for the interests of residents more apparent than ever after last year's APAC put downs and the election. One budding developer of an event center on Dry Creek Road, and author of the capitalist manifesto on winery development during the APAC hearing, was there to cheer on the Supes.

Sup. Pedroza lamented the current "business or residents" dichotomy of county relations, and he may have been behind the "estate" condition as an industry-acceptable (evidenced by Michelle Benvenuto's silence on the issue) mitigation of resident concern, but, as has often been the case, the words of concern don't correlate with real constituent support against the interests of the industry. As long as the Planning Commission and the BOS continue to side with the industry in every single decision they render, resident anger at their government will only increase, and the resistance will continue.

Mountain Peak: BOS statement on: Mountain Peak Winery


Bill Hocker - May 15,17  expand...  Share
Supervisors,

I am Bill Hocker, 3460 Soda Canyon Road. I am a neighbor of the project and an appellant.

The Mountain Peak site is located 6‌‌ miles up a winding dead-end road, The road is the only access to the Rector plateau, going up a steep grade and through a narrow pass before reaching the project site near the edge of the gorge that drains the watershed. Although the wilderness has disappeared into vines in the last two decades, It is still, to most all who live there, a very remote place.

Mountain Peak would be the fourth winery built on the plateau. It would also be the first post-WDO winery and the first dependent on tourism to justify its existence. It would host 15000 yearly visitors, up to 60 visitors a day, and have 19 daily employees. Vehicle traffic to and from the site would add about 100 trips per day to the existing 400 or so generated by residents and the extensive vineyard operations. With the daily tourism, the sense and reality of remoteness will be gone.

In January, Mountain Peak was approved with a 3 to 1 vote by the Planning Commission. One Commissioner exercised discretion and did not support the visitation requested, heeding your interpretive guidance appended to the 2010 WDO:

"To insure that the intensity of winery activities is appropriately scaled, the County considers the remoteness of the location and the amount of wine to be produced at a facility when reviewing use permit proposals, and [the county] endeavors to ensure a direct relationship between access constraints and on-site marketing and visitation programs"

This guidance seemed intended as a caution against development in remote areas as a result of the expansion of tourism activities allowed by changes to the WDO at the time. We have felt from the beginning that this guidance was written with a project like Mountain Peak in mind.

At the January hearing both the applicant and the county provides examples of "comparable" hillside wineries to help commissioners evaluate the mountain peak visitation numbers.

During the hearing, Rick Marshall, the chief county road engineer, drew a distinction for commissioners to consider when looking at comparable wineries: "I think a tough decision for you today is the distinction between roads that are dead end versus those that are not." He elaborated on the funding difficulties faced in maintaining county roads, indicating that dead-end roads would be low on their repair priorities once funding arrives. He concluded by asking: "Is it appropriate to put this land use on this dead end road?" He left that answer to the commissioners discretion.

In our community presentation at the hearing, we looked at the details of those comparables with emphasis on the dead-end nature of our road. Our analysis at the hearing?

Of the Applicant's 5 examples, 3 were on state highways, and a fourth is at the bottom of the heavily traveled Oakville Grade. The last was on the well-travelled White Cottege Rd in Angwin. The 3 with more visitation than Mountain Peak were all pre-WDO. The other 2 had less than a third the visitation.

Of the County's four 100,000 gal "hillside" wineries, 3, in fact, had their tasting rooms or wineries on the valley floor and one was at the junction of Hwy 121 and 128.

Our conclusion? None of the 9 was comparable to a 15,000 visitor/yr winery 6 miles up a dead-end road.

At the hearing Mr. Marshall also tentatively added this in terms of comparables: "An example to me that's similar is the Diamond Mountain Winery. It's similarly narrow, windy, in mountainous terrain, and it's a dead end." He didn't know its capacity or visitation. We looked it up: 10,000 gal and 1500 visitors per year.

Looking at Diamond Mountain, it seemed that a more appropriate comparison might be made to many other wineries in the county in which "remoteness of location" could be an issue. "Remoteness" I defined as being a mile or more off a state highway or the Trail in the mountainous areas of the county. Using Google maps and correlating with the County's winery database, 70 some "remote" wineries were found.

The result of this effort was an online map and table of those wineries. I sent a link to it in my email submittal to the Board for this hearing. The table can be sorted to make comparisons based on capacity, visitation, distance from highways and distance on dead end roads, pre and post WDO wineries.

To summarize the conclusions that drawn from the exercise: Of all 71 remote wineries currently on the list, Mountain Peak falls almost entirely at or near the top 10% in each category.




Capacity
Regarding capacity, it is the 7th on the list.
All remote wineries with a greater capacity than Mountain Peak are pre-WDO.
Mountain Peak has 1.7 x the average capacity.
It has 5 x the median or middle-range capacity, a better benchmark here because 3 large wineries at the top skew the averages.




Visitation
in terms of Visitation, it is 6th on the list
It has 3 x the average visitation
and 6 x the median visitation





Post-WDO wineries
Of the 45 post WDO wineries in the sample:
It has the largest capacity of any post-WDO winery in these remote areas.
It has the 4th largest visitation
(Note that 2 of the 3 larger, Palmaz and Woolls were also very contentious approvals.)





Employees
In employees it is 3rd highest of remote wineries
Also in vehicle trips/day: 3rd highest
with 3 x the average trips per day
and 9 x the median trips per day.





Distance to Hwy
in terms of the Distance from state highway or the Trail: not quite a third of the way down the list at number 21.
But of those 20 further, Mountain Peak has the most visitation.
it is 2 miles further from a major highway than average





Dead-end roads
Of the 44 wineries on a dead-end road: 8th on the list.
Of the 7 further, it has the most visitation by far (almost 3 x as much as the next closest)
And it is 3 miles further up a dead-end road than average.




Soda Canyon Road
Finally of the 8‌‌ Soda Canyon Road Wineries
In Capacity it is 2nd to the 450,000 gal year Pre-WDO Antica winery
In Visitation it is 1st by far on the road
It is almost 3 x the visitation of Antica. (Thankfully Antica uses very little of its allowed 5200 vis/yr. It is a winery built to process grapes not tourists. As such has been a good neighbor.)
Mountain Peak has 6x the average visitation of all other wineries on the road.
And 4 times the average trips.



In summary, while the Mountain Peak applicants argued that their numbers fell in the middle range of the comparable wineries originally presented, the reality is that, compared to a broader range of remote wineries, Mountain Peak's statistics are at the far upper end in every category. Looking at the intensity of production, visitation and remoteness together, Mountain Peak is clearly inappropriately scaled for the remote and rural location of upper Soda Canyon Road where it is being proposed.

Like Mr Marshall, I would like to end with my own comparable, recently approved at the planning commission, and one of the wineries on our list:

In reviewing the Black Sears Winery, the Planning Commission noted the remoteness of location and appropriate scaling of a 20,000 gal winery supplied by 26 acres of vines on a 100 acres of property, with 16 daily visitors and 4 employees. Black Sears is 2 and a half miles up a dead road from Howell Mountain Road in Angwin.

One commissioner said of the project. "It is unusually remote. I mean, literally it's at the end of the road. It's a long road."

A second commissioner felt it was "modest and to scale" and commented on the "great neighbor relations".

A third commissioner summed up the commission's consensus, saying the project "truly introduces modest visitation in a remote location... This is something we are trying to embrace."

All three commissioners voted to approve the Mountain Peak project as well: On a 40 acre site with a similar 25 acres of vines, the project has 5 times the capacity, up to 60 daily visitors, 19 employees, more than twice as far up a dead-end road, with a majority of households on the road having signed an opposition petition.

Unfortunately the inconsistancy in these decisions reflects a system of arbitrary requests and approvals based on speculative business plans in a case-by-case approach to land use planning. I was struck by the 100,000 gal comparables presented by the County for Mountain Peak: visitation ranged from 4400 to 151,000 visitors/year. Marketing plans to sell 100,000 gals of wine may differ, but that difference seems beyond the level of reasonable disparity. More interpretive guidance in making decisions was obviously needed.

The interpretive guidance in the WDO was a tacit recognition that changes made in 2010 would bring a faster shift from an industry devoted to wine making to one devoted to wine tourism, and that there was a value in constraining that transition in the more remote areas of the county where, as with Mountain Peak, tourism is making its first inroads. I think that the planning commission came to the right decision in the Black Sears project: an appropriately scaled project in a remote location can win the backing of the residents that must live with it. On Soda Canyon Road, the pushback by residents through their petitions and their efforts in this room are a better indication of innappropriate scale than all of the number crunching and fact-based analysis we have just gone through. The majority on the planning commission did not make the right decision on Mountain Peak. I appeal to you to right that wrong and require a more appropritately scaled project in this remote locaiton.


Thank you

The return of Yountville Hill on: Yountville Hill


Bill Hocker - May 11,17  expand...  Share

Update 5/11/17
NVR 5/11/17: Yountville Hill winery to receive more scrutiny

The cost of the EIR goes from $213,000 to $450,000 to sign off on the outrageous traffic problems to be created by a major tourist attraction at that congested stretch of Hwy 29. Even from the standpoint of developers, corporations and plutocrats used to throwing money at their fantasies of profit and fame to be made from good-life marketing, this is a substantial sum to address the political pro forma of an EIR.

The County Yountville DEIR page

Update 3/3/17
NVR 3/3/17: Sklar makes case for controversial Yountville Hill winery

Prepping the public for more grief later in the spring over his plans to rubbish a prominent oak hillside in the center of the valley, the developer promises "this will be the end of my career". Sooner rather than later let's hope.

8/4/17
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.

Chilton MPW letter to the BOS on: Mountain Peak Winery


Steve Chilton - May 10,17  expand...  Share

May 9, 2017

David Morrsison, Director
Napa County Planning, Building & Environmental Services Dept.
1195 Third Street, Suite 210,
Napa, California
Email: David.Morrison@countyofnapa.org

RE: SUPPORTING APPEAL OF NAPA COUNTY PLANNING COMMISSION ACTION APPROVING MOUNTAIN PEAK WINERY-USE PERMIT #P13-00320-UP

Dear Napa County Board of Supervisors,

My name is Steve Chilton and I own property 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 Soda Canyon Road to do the same. I recently retired from a career of 35 years with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I strongly support the Appeal of the Napa County Planning Commission approval of the Mountain Peak project and request that you uphold the appeal.

The Planning Commission demonstrated an arbitrary decision making process when they considered the Mountain Peak Project and other projects such as the Flynnville Winery Project. The Flynnville Project was a smaller winery (60,000 gallons a year versus 100,000 gallons per year for the Mountain Peak winery), that was bordered on four sides by roads, including Highway 29 and was essentially a redevelopment that was opposed by several neighbors (I believe four neighbors testified in opposition to the project). Mountain Peak is larger, is six plus miles up a narrow, steep dead end road, will have numerous impacts upon the environment and is opposed by over 900 citizens. At the urging of the Planning Commission, the Flynnville applicants reduced the winery to 40,000 gallons per year and the Commission approved it.

What did those four opponents bring to the Commission that caused them to require this reduction in gallons per year that hundreds of opponents to Mountain Peak did not? Or was it merely a matter of clout or personal influence?

Additionally, the Commission abused their discretion when it found that the Mountain Peak Project will not have a significant effect upon the environment and adopted a Negative Declaration. The Board of Supervisors must reverse the decision of the Planning Commission and deny the project or remand it for further consideration.

The size, scope and lack of environmental documentation 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. The Initial Study Checklist includes the finding that the proposed project could not have a significant effect on the environment. Section IV. A) of the checklist shows that the project will have a less than significant effect (not a no impact determination) upon unnamed species. The Rector Creek Watershed contains yellow-legged frogs and California giant salamanders, both listed species of special concern, but the negative declaration checklist mentions neither. Either county staff did not conduct a thorough survey of the area or they relied on consultants hired by the project proponents who apparently limited their survey to present a report that supported their client and not the facts. Also the California Red-Legged Frog is a federally listed threatened species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and populations have been identified in Wragg Creek near Capell Valley Road. Similar, if not higher quality habitat occurs in the Rector Creek watershed.

Did county staff conduct or request a survey of possible special concern or threatened populations within the watershed? What is the basis for the statement that the project will have a less than significant effect rather than no impact?

CEQA regulations require that counties acting as lead agencies circulate CEQA documents to all Responsible/Trustee Agencies for comment. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDF&W) is one of those responsible agencies. Apparently the County did not follow that regulation prior to the Planning Commission approving the Mountain Peak Project. The CDF&W was not informed and therefore did not comment on the CEQA document. It is unknown what they would have commented or informed the County of and just maybe would have averted the need for this hearing and additional costs to the County and its citizens.

This apparent violation of CEQA regulations and state law on its own is reason enough for the Board of Supervisors to reverse the Planning Commission decision, require an EIR and rehear the entire project. Continuing to support this project without knowing the full impacts could open the county to challenges from wildlife advocates such as the Center for Biological Diversity and others.

Thank you for your time,

Steve Chilton

Defining an end to agriculture on: The WDO


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


"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)

Redefining "agriculture" will also do the job.

An open letter to the Board of Supervisors:

The current definition of "agriculture" in §18.80.040 (and the proposed markup here) is already a hodgepodge of unrelated provisions. The specificity on farm management building lighting or the number of roosters that qualify as "agriculture" makes one's eyes glaze over. This seems like an ideal opportunity to bring some clarity, a "bright line" in the words of Ginny Simms, between "agriculture", and the myriad types of residential, industrial and commercial uses (houses, wineries, other processing and sales facilities, farmworker housing, kennels, hunting lodges, nursing homes, day care centers, satellite stations, etc.) that the County allows to be built on AP and AW zoned lands either with or without a permit.

Those uses are listed in §18.16.020-18.16.030 and 18.20.020-18.20.030. Why not just reference those code sections in the definition of agriculture as uses allowed on agricultural lands. If there are new uses to be added or qualifications to be made, or, even better, uses to be eliminated, then make them there. But start with a decent and clear definition of agriculture, perhaps like the State definition.

The need to define some uses as "being" agriculture, rather than just uses allowed on ag lands, is a bit of a mystery. The fact that the wine industry is so concerned about turning them into agriculture (in 2008 and now) indicates that there is some intention to place non-agricultural development under the protections of the "right-to-farm" and immune from the pesky concerns of the citizens of the county impacted by ever more urban development in the name of "agriculture". If so, we are right to ask whether the marketing activities at wineries now included in the definition are "agricultural processing" and whether winery employees are in fact "farm workers" allowed housing in the vineyards.

Tourism is not agriculture. The event-centers that continue to consume the vineyards are one facit of a cascade of development that will eventually overwhelm the agricultural base of the county. The encouragement of more tourism means more hotels and resorts, more employees needing more housing and shopping centers bringing more employees, all of which will need more roads and other infrastructure. Those new employees, living perhaps in the huge developments at Napa Pipe or Watson Ranch, as Sean Scully has pointed out, will add to the voters more concerned with urban rather than rural issues, and the ability to protect an agricultural economy will diminish exponentially.

Eventually agriculture will be tolerated only to the extent that it is a backdrop to draw in tourists, like Cape Cod lobster pots and fishing shacks. The St Helena Window brought up the Butler Report on Tourist Area Life Cycles a while back to illustrate the point. Already those people looking for an authentic wine producing region are headed to Oregon. and even those that have long supported the ag preserve are saying change is inevitable, why fight it. But it is not too late.

All agree that if agriculture were not a profitable investment then the wine industry would die. The industry does need a sustainable level of profitability, and many wineries have produced sustainable profits for decades with minimal or no tourism, some of the best with no tourism at all. Tourism is already a substantial part of the county's economy and the current ratio of wine production to tourism has been successful.

But the amount of Napa wine that can be produced is leveling out. Tourism can continue to expand indefinitely if encouraged. The creation of a glut of inefficient and unnecessary vanity wineries now vying for a relatively fixed grape crop exacerbates the shift from an agriculture to a tourism economy. As grape and land and bottle prices rise in response, Napa wines become a harder sell on in the world market and profits must increasingly be found wine pairings and event hosting, even by the larger players.

The denial of unlimited profits was at the heart of the creation of the ag preserve. The wine industry exists here not because it is the most profitable use of the land, but because the voters of Napa county decided in 1968 that retaining a rural, small-town, agriculture-based life was worth curtailing individuals' right to maximize their profit. The wine industry exists because it has the respect and protection of residents for the quality of life that is its byproduct.

"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."
-Napa County General Plan vision statement

Unfortunately the impacts of development, of congested traffic, of the loss of affordable housing and local businesses and a sense of community, of the deforestation of hillsides, and the littering of the landscape with buildings and the loss of a rural character, of the demand for more tax hikes and bond initiatives to pay for the infrastructure of urbanization, all are plainly beginning to overwhelm the life in this treasured place. The environment that is the byproduct of a more profit oriented industry is no longer so bucolic, no longer so easy to support.

Napa's citizens have confronted the County on many projects in the last three years: Woolls Ranch, Yountville Hill, Reverie, Girard, Walt Ranch, Syar, the Woodland Initiative, Raymond, Mountain Peak, Palmaz and in the municipalities on Calistoga Hills, Davies, Napa Oaks. In each of the contested projects, the interests of developers have won out, or seem to be winning out, over the preservationists. Each community has specific concerns, but all are united in the concern that continuing development is threatening the rural, small-town character and environment of Napa County that is the special legacy of a commitment to an "agricultural" economy four decades ago.

The county's definition of agriculture does need to be changed if this place is to remain an agricultural economy for the next 35 years. - but you are going in the wrong direction and the county is filling up with buildings.

"(f) The cumulative effect of such projects is far greater than the sum of individual projects. The interspersing of non-agricultural structures and activities throughout agricultural areas in excess of what already exists will result in a significant increase in the problems and costs of maintaining vineyards and discourage the continued use of the land for agricultural purposes.
- from the Napa County Winery Definition Ordinance 1990


This discussion does present one more opportunity, perhaps now being passed up again, to ask: what do you want this place to look like in 35 years? How many more tourist attractions do you want to see, how many more buildings and cars and and subdivisions and parking lots and highway expansions do you want construct?

At what point does a place nominally devoted to "agriculture" become one more Bay Area suburb with an agrarian past? Listen to what your concerned citizens have been telling you - those with no financial stake in the outcome but only a desire to perpetuate the "agricultural" quality of life that is currently so successful here.

Thank you for the opportunity to vent.

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Road

The Caves at Soda Canyon:
recognize, allow, increase, sell
on: The Caves at Soda Canyon


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

Update 5/7/17:
It has been a bit over two weeks since The Caves at Soda Canyon was granted a permit modification for an additional 30,000 gal/yr, the use of its bootlegged portal and terrace, exceptions to allow its perilous driveway, allowed use of the ridgeline for entertaining, and the continued operation of a diesel generator to power the entire operation. The winery with its new expanded use-permit was immediately put up for sale. How much did the approval by the planning commissioners add to the $12,500,000 asking price? How profitable is the forgiveness-not-permission attitude on the part of the county?

This project has been a blemish on the county process at each stage: a winery approved on a totally inappropriate site, substantial aggravation of neighbors subjected to generator power, bootlegged construction, forgiveness of transgressions coupled with expanded production and marketing areas. And now sale of the property before the ink is dry on the expanded use permit.

Perhaps this is another example of the winery-glut sell-off that Ross Workman points out here. Perhaps it had to do with the loss of future Stagecoach grape contracts after the purchase by Gallo. Perhaps the owner got tired of battling with the residents of Soda Canyon Road. More than likely, the revenues were not being sustained by a tourism venue in such a remote location. Unfortunately for us, should someone be willing to buy the property, they will have expansions of their own to pursue and the battle will begin anew

It will be interesting to see what impact the proposed sale will have on the appeal hearing for the project - and what impact the impending appeal will have on the sale. No doubt real estate agents will point out that the Supervisors never approve citizen's appeals.


Update 4/20/17:
NVR 4/20/17: Amid drama, Napa planners approve changes to Soda Canyon winery

In a 3-1 Commission vote (with some drama over Comm. Scott's temporary indecision about his vote), The Caves at Soda Canyon will be allowed to expand its production from 30 to 60,000 gal/yr, continue to operate under generator power, build a cover over its crush pad and host marketing events on the ridgeline and the bootlegged patio.

In the director's report before the hearing, Dir. Morrison indicated that more winery projects (15) have been approved this year than in the whole of 2016. Add one more. The development boom continues.

4/11/17
Napa Custom Crush, aka The Caves at Soda Canyon, is requesting a Major Modification to its 2006 use permit to increase allowed processing capacity from 30,000 to 60,000 gallons/year. The request also includes the installation of a previous approved wastewater treatment system to handle the increased water usage and a permanent canopy over the chushpad, in addition to the "recognize-and-allow" approval of the bootlegged patio and cave portal, and an exception to the county's road and street standards for the perilous driveway. An Addendum has been added to the original 2006 Mitigated Neg Dec that discusses the impacts of the modifications.

The project goes up before the Planning Commission on Apr 19th, 2017.
The staff agenda letter is here
The meeting agenda with project documents is here

This project should never have been built in this location. It is an agricultural processing facility on a remote piece of property with no agriculture, no power source, up a steep driveway unsuited to the movement of trucks or busses. It was placed in this location solely to provide a view for tourism activities.

The winery predates the 2010 WDO guidance that asks you to consider the "remoteness of location" and "access constraints" in reviewing use permit proposals. Possibly this project spurred the need for such guidence. Hopefully the requested expansion will be viewed in light of it.

This application seeks road exceptions for a driveway too narrow and curvy to meet county standards. It has grades up to 17%. Trucks get stuck on it now, as they will even with improvements. Buses bringing people to its large marketing events will suffer the same fate. The Soda Canyon grade up to the Rector plateau is only 11% - yet we can show examples of buses and trucks becoming stuck there now.


Truck stuck on Caves driveway

Bus stuck on Soda Canyon grade


But a better indication of the road is given in this anecdotal description of the access from a Yelp customer:

    The location is a feat to see! The wines were good and the view of the surrounding landscape was magnificent. Public service announcement: don't drink and drive; there's a higher likelihood you will meet a fiery death, Wile E. Coyote style, after driving off a steep embankment on the windy road that leads to this venue.


The access road is inappropriate now and will be more so with a doubling of production capacity: twice as many grape deliveries, barrel and bottle deliveries, case shipments. But will it eventually be just a doubling? The project application states:

    The member families of Napa Custom Crush LLC currently have more grapes produced at their properties and contracts on other parcels on Soda Canyon Road than can be processed at the winery under the current 30,000 gallon capacity.

The concept seems to be that as the members continue to expand their supply, (or potentially as the number of members continue to expand) the capacity of this remote winery, difficult to access, without power, will continue to expand to accommodate them. This was not a proper location for a winery in the first place, and it is not a proper location for a wine factory serving the needs of vineyards throughout the county now. If the members are successful will there be a future request for expansion of the facility using the same rational. What are the limits? If Napa Custom Crush wishes to expand its custom crush operations, now is is time to move to an industrial location more appropriate to continued expansion.

A majority of the residents on Soda Canyon Road have already petitioned the county to protect their community from expanding commercial development on the road. Each new building project and expansion increases the threat to the "agricultural lands and the rural character we treasure" envisioned in the General Plan and diminishes the remote, rural quality of life that is our reason to be here. And each approval will also increase the discontent toward a county government always willing to sacrifice the concerns of residents to the desires of entrepreneurs. That discontent has led to resident pushback throughout the county these last two years. Lacking a rebalance of interests, the discontent will continue.

This winery is obviously here to stay. I will probably be condemned by some for a forgivness-not-permission and whatever-exceptions-it-takes approach to land use planning, but there are things in this application that will make the project better and safer with few impacts. Permit the road improvements. Permit the wastewater system. Permit the awning. And only after a clean and silent power supply is in place and the generator is gone - permit the bootlegged portal and patio.

But don't permit the expanded capacity. In that metric you have wide discretion and you should use it. Make clear that this winery, on this very inappropriate site, should live within the capacity and visitation conditions of its original use permit, in perpetuity, or be moved elsewhere.

Comments


Bill Hocker - Apr 17, 2017 1:52PM

Update 4/17/17: I have received an email from a neighbor of the project indicating that the issue of the diesel generator noise and pollution has not been addressed (the county indicated in the staff report that this issue was resolved with sound attenuation blankets and that "Staff has not received any noise complaints since the case was resolved."), and that the operation and expansion of any building project with such an environmentally unfriendly power supply should be the main issue discussed by the Planning Commission. I would tend to agree.

The Definition of Agriculture changed! on: The WDO


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

Update 5/6/17
On Tues May 9th, 2017, the Supervisors will be approving a final revision of the definition of agriculture in County Code §18.80.040 (markup here) to try to square it with the General Plan definition in Policy AG/LU-2 (see Norma Tofanelli's dissection here).

IMHO they've just further scrambled the relationship between "real agriculture" (as defined by ordinary human beings and the State) and the myriad types of residential, industrial and commercial uses (houses, wineries, other processing and sales facilities, kennels, hunting lodges, nursing homes, day care centers, satellite stations, etc.) that the County allows to be built on "agricultural" AP and AW zoned lands either with or without a permit. They are listed in §18.16.020-18.16.030 and 18.20.020-18.20.030. The need to also define some of those uses as being "agriculture", rather than just non-ag uses allowed on ag lands, is a bit of a mystery. The fact that the wine industry is so concerned about doing so means that there are probably implications for the rights of owners, decipherable only by their attorneys in consultation with the county staff, to allow increased development of their properties in the name of "agriculture".

Though seemingly arcane, these code redefinitions are a big deal in the ongoing conversion of ag lands into urban uses (like tourism processing and "agricultural" worker housing), and to the changing meaning of the "right to farm", all of which is beginning to impact and diminish the rural, small town character that is a legacy of a previous generation of community leaders. NapaVision2050 encourages you to write a letter to the Supervisor here.

Update 4/19/17
Stephen Donoviel LTE 4/19/17: The definition of agriculture

Dr. Donoviel gives the historical context for the County's unique definition of agriculture and its use, first in service to protect the agricultural future of the county and, and more recently, its re-crafting to serve the needs of development interests. And finally, a proposition to place the definition before the voters.

Update 4/9/17
NVR 4/9/17: Napa County's new definition of agriculture to include marketing and sales

On Apr 4th, the Board of Supervisors approved (5-0) changes in County ordinance §18.08.040. The revision markup is here. (As Dir. Morrison noted the following day, it was the first of the APAC recommendations to be completed - almost a year after being made.) It adds farmworker housing ("agricultural employee housing" in the General Plan, another definitional discrepancy needing clarification), agricultural processing facilities and marketing facilities "accessory" to production facilities to the list of buildings that can be built in the ag zones of the county. I was pleased to see that wineries and event centers were placed below chicken coops in the pecking order of buildings permitted under the ordinance, though I expect that we will continue to see more event centers than chicken coops being built.

The meeting was contentious with residents negatively impacted by the "marketing of wine", i.e. tourism, up against the "wine industry" that sees greater profits to be made in tourism development. Sup. Pedroza acknowledged the resident-vs-industry angst and tried to calm the room by pointing out that this redefinition was simply to bring the code into conformance with the general plan, (just as arguments were made in 2010 that changes to the WDO were merely clarifications) and that re-visioning the definition of agriculture was appropriate for another forum. Of course that forum was the APAC process, in which changes to the General Plan were never seriously considered. While much hot air was given to the subject at APAC (e.g. here), AG/LU-2 remained fixed in stone. Debra Dommen spoke up then, as she did today, to state that "we've" been working on this since 2006 and that the General Plan update in 2008 settled the issue. By "we" of course she meant the wine industry, not the citizens of Napa County.

Geoff Ellsworth's philosophical take on the issue is here.


Update 3/29/17

On Apr 4th, 2017 the Board of Supervisors will weigh in again (item 9H here) on the proposed update to the definition of "agriculture" in the County Code of Ordinances to bring it into alignment with the "marketing" aspect of the definition in the General Plan that has fueled the rapid transition from an agricultural economy into an entertainment economy.

Of interest are 2 documents from staff, demanded by the Board at the last meeting to give context to the issue, detailing the histories of Napa's peculiar definition of "agriculture" in both the General Plan and in the County Code.

Update 3/21/17

NVR 3/23/17: Napa County still struggling with its agriculture definition

After a presentation by Dir. Morrison to the BOS today on changes to the definition of agriculture in county ordinance §18.08.040 (item 9B here) and a stream of citizen arguments about the apparent equation of processing, marketing and housing in the definition and the confusion and inconsistencies that the definition portends for the "right to farm" and for unintended development in the county (and a couple of industry reps supporting approval as being in line with the developer-friendly definition they created for the General Plan in 2008), the Board had their say.

Sup. Dillon started out expressing frustration that the definition was not given appropriate context for the benefit of the two new board members and others unfamiliar with the long and fraught history of the definition in the county, seeming to feel that the definition was being presented as a fait accompli for their approval and not given appropriate due diligence appropriate to its primal significance to the county's soul. Chair Pedroza, obviously anxious to despatch the issue as quickly as possible, after rigorously enforcing the 3 minute rule for public comments, ran into wordsmithing issues from Sups. Gregory and Ramos who, with fresh eyes, were concerned about the ambiguity of the relation of agriculture to agricultural processing and agricultural processing to marketing.

Dir. Morrison spent a fair portion of the last two years dealing with this issue and seemed vexed that it was headed back to staff and council for yet another editing session. The item was continued and the Board will consider the definition of agriculture again at its April 4th, 2017 meeting at the very precise time of 11:15am.

Norma Tofanelli has updated her letter on the real dangers and conflicts of placing marketing activities, farm worker housing and all other accessory uses, under the "right to farm" protections of the code of ordinances. Her letter is here.

Geoff Ellsworth reiterated his opinion that the definition might be called the "Knott's Berry Farm ordinance", an issue more discussed here.

Ginny Simms (the only speaker with enough status to be able to ignore the 3 minute admonitions) brought forward the need in the definition for "bright-line" conditions that separate farming from processing and that separate processing from marketing. The various conditions sprinkled throughout the General Plan and the Code of Ordinances present some very muddy lines indeed, and this current proposal seemed to do nothing to brighten things up. A muddy definition is, of course, a boon for developers seeking to turn ambiguity into building projects.


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:
      Chapter 18.16 AP AGRICULTURAL PRESERVE DISTRICT
      §18.16.020 - Uses allowed without a use permit.
        The following uses shall be allowed in all AP districts without use permits: A. Agriculture;

      Chapter 18.20 AW AGRICULTURAL WATERSHED DISTRICT
      §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:
      Chapter 2.94 AGRICULTURE AND RIGHT TO FARM
      §2.94.010 - Definitions.
        "Agriculture" shall have the same meaning as "agriculture" as defined in Section 18.08.040 of this code.

Her 3/20/17 version of the letter is here.
Her previous 9/19/16 version is here


8/29/16

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 [superceeded by this 3/20/15 markup] 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

All,

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.

Respectfully,

David

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

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? (the latest 3/20/17 ordinance mark-up is here and I'm glad to see that "notwithstanding" is gone.) 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. Pedroza 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.

Related:
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



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