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

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

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

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

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

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

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Upcoming Events (full calendar here)

Wed, Sep 7, 2016

County Planning Commission

Beau Vigne Winery use permit major mod
6000 more gal/yr, 4500 more tourist slots, 14 parking spaces
hearing notice

Sleeping Giant Winery new use permit
30,000 gal/yr, 3200 tourist slots, 12 parking spaces
hearing notice

Chanticleer Winery new use permit
10,000 gal/yr, 4200 tourist slots, 8900 sf caves, 6 parking spaces, setback variance
hearing notice

The build-out continues

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.

James Conaway on the Woodland Initiativeon: Woodland Initiative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NBBJ Golden Goose conferenceon: Tourism Issues

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

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

NBBJ 8/22/16: Wine tourism: ‘How do we safeguard Napa without loving it to death?’
NBBJ 8/5/16: Tourism drives Napa Valley economy amid growing pains
NVR 8/8/16: Conference asks: How does Napa Valley cope with success?
Dan Mufson's recap of the conference is in the August Napa Vision2050 Newsletter
And Dan Mufson's powerpoint presentation

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

Aug 17th Planning Commission Reviewon: Tourism Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Napa Vision2050 August Newsletter: Citizens' Voiceson: Vision 2050

Bill Hocker - Aug 15,16    Share

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

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

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

Kellie Anderson - Aug 9,16    Share

Save Rural Angwin publishes a quarterly update on the progress of development issues there, and now as a member of Napa Vision 2050, focusing on development issues throughout the county. The May-Jul 2016 update is here.

The update index is here

Standard conditions of approvalon: Tourism Issues

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

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

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

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

The return of Yountville Hillon: Yountville Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our disappearing pondon: The Rector Watershed

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

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

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

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

Our property is surrounded on 3 sides by a gorge. The fourth is our property line with the Mountain Peak project. Any water that makes its way to our spring and to the 100' deep well just adjacent to it has to pass under the Mountain Peak site. And they are planning on pumping a great deal more water than they have pumped in the past. They are in fact adding a new larger well in addition to the old well.

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

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


Yountville Hill and the No Project Alternativeon: Yountville Hill

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

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

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

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

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

and the summary concludes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Latest email:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save Yountville Hill

Walt Ranch LTE'son: Walt Ranch

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

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

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

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

Bremer Family Winery ECPon: Watershed Issues

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

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

Good afternoon Brian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kellie Anderson

Woodland Initiative bulldozedon: Woodland Initiative

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

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

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

The decision is here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Walt Ranch Protest at Hall July 31ston: Walt Ranch

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

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

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

Mountain Peak at the Planning Commission July 20th & Aug 17thon: Mountain Peak Winery

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

7/20/16 Update:
NVR 7/21/16: Napa County grapples with remote winery proposal
July 20th Meeting Agenda and Docs
Staff Agenda Letter
Neighborhood powerpoint presentation at hearing
Video of July 20th hearing

On July 20th the project was presented by the planning department and the applicant. As Chair Basayne opened the meeting to public comments, Stu Smith barged to the front of the line to voice his law-and-order support given to every tourist attraction to come before the county, and then the residents of Soda Canyon Road spent most of the day making their opposition known. The commissioners expressed some displeasure at the amount of material added to the administrative record at the last minute but agreed that a continuance was needed to insure due process, and their day of decision was continued until Aug 17th.

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

The Planning Commission is to decide on the use permit application for the Mountain Peak Winery on Soda Canyon Road on Wednesday, Aug 17th 2016. IT IS NOT TOO LATE TO ACT TO SAVE the Soda Canyon/Loma Vista Community!


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

County Administration Building, 1195 Third Street, Suite 305, Napa, CA
WHEN: Wednesday, Aug 17, 2016 starting at 9:00AM

WHY: The use permit sought by Mountain Peak would allow a massive (100,000 gallon) winery event center to be built 6.1 miles up Soda Canyon Road. Developed for the owner by The Reserve Group, this project will attract 18,486 visitors on an annual basis, allow for 78 marketing events per year (all lasting until 10pm!), add 19-27 employees per day on the road, and construct caves the size of a large Safeway grocery store (more than 33,000 square feet!), making Mountain Peak one of the larger winery projects currently being proposed in the Napa Valley. A project of this size gives unprecedented visitor and event allowances over most other Napa wineries, and especially over all existing Soda Canyon wineries. The community must unite to stop this oversized, aggressive, and unprecedented project that could truly destroy this remote and peaceful neighborhood.

What You Can Do:

1. Attend the continued Hearing the Wednesday, Aug 17th, 2016 at 9am! Strength in numbers!
Public comment is now (probably) closed on the hearing but just being there sends a message about your commitment to live in a commercial-free neighborhood.

2. Write and submit a letter to John McDowell by 4:45pm on July 19, 2016!

3. Sign and return the Petition of Opposition!

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

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

The future of Soda Canyon Road is up to you!


Dan McFadden - Jul 20, 2016

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

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

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

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

Daniel McFadden, July 20, 2016

Bill Hocker - Jul 20, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Chilton - Jul 28, 2016

[letter sent to Deputy Planning Director McDowell]

July 19, 2016


Dear Deputy Planning Director McDowell,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Chilton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCR Watson Ranch Page

Re: the Blakeley Initiativeon: Compliance Issues

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

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


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

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

Thank you.

Woodland Initiative Court hearing July 15thon: Woodland Initiative

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for your support and hope to see you Friday.


Jim Wilson - Jul 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

and our Facebook page:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More information is here

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press Release

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

Sonoma County Holds Study Session on Winery Events

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

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

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

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

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

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


Charlotte Williams - Jul 13, 2016

Shepherd Blis adds:

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

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

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

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

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

Does anyone know Shirlee Zane's position?
Eszter Freeman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Supervisors:

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Ransome, Graton CA 95444

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paid Selwyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ag land lost and savedon: Growth Issues

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

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

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

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

Community Housing Summiton: Affordable Housing

Bill Hocker - Jun 17,16    Share

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

Bad Day for the Watershedson: Watershed Issues

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

Item 1:

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

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

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

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

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

Item 2:

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

Item 3:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Cohn

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

Diane Shepp: a vote for sustainabilityon: Vision 2050

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ron Rhyno

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

Caymus Development Agreement (updated)on: Tourism Issues

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

Caymus Greenhouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apocalypse Now! (updated)on: Traffic Issues

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

UPDATE 5/27/16:

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

Comments may be submitted to project planner Dana Ayres at

County's Palmaz Helipad page including Draft EIR is here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Disappearing Watershed (updated)on: The Rector Watershed

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

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

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

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

Crony capitalism in Napa?on: Campaign 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kellie Anderson - May 20,16    Share

Save Rural Angwin publishes a quarterly update on the progress of development issues there, and now as a member of Napa Vision 2050, focusing on development issues throughout the county. The Feb -Apr 2016 update is here.

The update index is here


Bill Hocker - May 20, 2016

Also this:

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

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

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

The Disappearing Weston: Watershed Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane Shepp is fighting for our futureon: Campaign 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save Rural Angwinon: Growth Issues

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

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

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

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

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

Golden eggs or fois gras.on: Tourism Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commissioner Gill revisits the 2010 WDO changeson: The WDO

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

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


Ms. Gallina and Mr. Morrison,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Hocker

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

Event centers or McMansions - the resident's dilemma.on: Tourism Issues

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

SF Business Times 4/22/16: Napa's wine crush: Putting a cork in wineries’ growth

Geoff Ellsworth has done an excellent job of defining the issues facing county residents interested in preserving the rural character of the county. Wineries have been the focus of citizen pushback because the wine industry, by embracing a growth model dependent on an ever expanding tourist population, and an ever expanding urban workforce and infrastructure to cater to it, is causing resident support for such an invasive a "definition of agriculture" to evaporate. The wine-tourism industry always poses the argument as either wineries or houses. The wine industry has been successful in preventing housing development in the county, a fact that all who live here appreciate. But if one now has to choose between an a McMansion or an event center open each night to 10:00pm next door, supporting the wine industry over the housing industry becomes an increasingly difficult choice.

No-booze school zone in St. Helenaon: St. Helena

Geoff Ellsworth - May 3,16    Share expand...

Recently in St.Helena, Napa Valley at 555 Main Street a large scale wine drinking facility to be owned by Davies Family Winery/Schramsberg was approved to allow over 60,000 wine drinkers a year to enter and exit the facility directly through a school zone.

For over 200 years in our country we have endeavored to make school zones MORE safe, this decision allows this school zone to become exponentially LESS safe by adding an element of large scale alcohol consumption to enter and exit along the same narrow street as two busy schools, one a primary school and one a high school directly across the street.

Please help us say no. We will have another sign holding day in the near future. Also notes of disapproval could be directed to

Roundup Red: Alert!on: Watershed Issues

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

It's in there. Will it kill you?


A lab test of 10 California wines concluded they all contain the active ingredient from weed-killer, glyphosate, a chemical classified a "probable carcinogen" by the World Health Organization. This I-Team investigation is sending shock waves through wine country.

NVR 5/23/16: Activists stir debate over reported weed killer in wines
Wine Industry Insight 5/3/16: Some see conspiracy in missing wine-pesticide story pulled by San Francisco TV station
WineWaterWatch page on the issue with screen shots and transcript of the piece
The original Moms Across America article is here

China Syndrome (updated)on: Tourism Issues

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

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 Amarosa 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.


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

April 27th KQED event center Forumon: Sonoma County

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

For those of us in Napa, the KQED forum on Apr 27th with Michael Krasny on Winery and development in Sonoma County was not about Sonoma county. It was a crystalized recapture of all of the issues that Napa county been dealing with over the last couple of years (as well as other Ca wine regions).

Sonomans have always looked toward Napa as cautionary tale, and Michael Krasny brought up the term "Napavisation" (more often referred to as "Napafication") in defining our neighbor's fear of the spreading desease. I was a bit pleased when Judith Olney, representing Preserve Rural Sonoma County, noted that the Sonoma tourism industry had no doubt gained from the loss of rural character and authenticity in Napa (as has Oregon). She did a great job of defending a right to farm that doesn't include a right to party.

So what was learned from the forum? Well, first that the wine industry doesn't care a fig about the impacts of tourism on residents. Corey Beck of Coppola Winery pimped the tourism indusdustry's DTC dogma about tourism's necessity for the survival of the wine industry. This is Coppola Wines with bottles in every supermarket and Costco on earth! Tourism isn't necessary to support their wine business, but it is of course the essence of their entertainment business.

And Debra Dommen of Constellation Brands made the corporate attitude clear in a tweet during the forum: "the problem is not the increase of agricultural facilities on ag lands, problem is the increase in rural residents on ag lands." If we could just eliminate those pesky residents. (see Gary Margadant's comment below)

And then Napa planning commissioner Jeri Gill adds a tweet: 'When neighbors say "too much growth" it usually means "whoever comes after me. But not me." ' A bit rich given her APAC stance exempting existing wineries from new winery regulations. When developers or their spokespersons say "too much NIMBY self-interest" it always means "get out of the way of our self-interest." So much for a balanced weighing of the issues before her on the planning commission.

The program, airing issues to the greater Bay Area that have been the focus of much community debate and news over the last two years, seems to have drawn little attention from the local press. The Press Democrat had a pre-program notice but no post-program article. The Register has had no mention of it either before or after. Interesting.


Gary Margadant - Apr 28, 2016

I had a conversation with Sean Scully about population changes in Napa County after I read the following tweet:

Debra Dommen just tweeted this at the KQDE Sonoma State Forum program on winery tourism.

#kqedssu the problem is not the increase of agricultural facilities on ag lands, problem is the increase in rural residents on ag lands.

Sean was really interested, and having census data at hand, ran the numbers.
His analysis is here

Results: 1980-2010
Unincorp -13.55% Decrease
Upvalley towns 22.57% Increase

How very interesting. The problem ain't the people, its the facilities.

A google search on Dommen then led me to this article, from some time ago.

Deborah has since complained about Ag 4 Youth (currently using 2 acres on NVHA land) when a rumour went around that they might raise chickens on Ag Land and Sell the Eggs - She immediately complained to John McDowell, to whom she has complained endlessly about NVHA and Ag4Youth.

Sadly she forgot to mention that she tried to help her children raise chickens in her back yard, Napa City, and was unable to tell the difference between a rooster and a hen. She had one of each, one in violation of city ordinance.

Those pesky residents!

Napa Oaks II - Once they're gone, they're goneon: City of Napa

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

Stop Napa Oaks petition

LTE 6/10/16: Development will have huge impact
LTE 5/4/16; A test of character
LTE 5/3/16: Don't destroy gateway to Napa
LTE 4/18/16: Development would scar the land
NVR 5/3/16: Homebuilder revives plans for rejected Napa development
City of Napa: Napa Oaks II Draft EIR Released for Public Review*
(there is a 45 day review period for the DEIR but since the city offers no date for the release it's impossible to know when the comment period ends. Intentional?)
NVR 8/1/12: Neighbors demand study of Napa Oaks II hillside subdivision

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

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

Act to Protect Your Watershedson: Vision 2050

Daniel Mufson - Apr 15,16    Share expand...

If you live in a city you get your water from two sources, our reservoirs which capture watershed runoff and/or the State Water Project. With the prolonged drought and minimal snow pack in the Sierras, it is more important than ever to protect our local watersheds to allow maximum water capture and the quality of the water.

Please sign the Initiative, "The Water, Forest and Oak Woodlands Initiative of 2016" to place it on the ballot. Your neighbors are out this month at the Bel-Aire shopping center and elsewhere seeking your signature.

This is a photo of the headwaters of the Milliken Creek up on Atlas Peak Road. According to the Napa City water department, it has the highest water quality in the county. We must protect it.

Insights from the forum on the tourism-driven economyon: Vision 2050

George Caloyannidis - Apr 12,16    Share expand...

The forum on the Tourism-Driven Economy organized by Napa Vision 2050 on April 1 offered valuable insights that are worth disseminating to the wider public (“Vision 2050 forum looks at tourism -- the good and bad,” April 2).

The panelists were Professor Samuel Mendlinger of Boston University who has consulted on many private and public projects on tourism in more than 20 countries around the world, Eben Fodor of the Planning firm Fodor & Associates who has researched the relationship of growth and prosperity in the top 100 U.S. metropolitan areas and analyzed the long-term fiscal models of large resorts in Oregon and Texas and Professor Susan Handy, an authority on sustainable traffic patterns at UC Davis.

According to Dr. Mendlinger, to realistically deal with the problems of tourism, both residents and governments in Napa Valley must realize that they are no longer dealing with an agricultural but a business economy.

That there is a difference between a hospitality economy reliant on services and a polarized distribution of incomes and a true tourist economy reliant on providing a wide variety of unique experiences and a more equitable distribution of incomes. He cited the Balearic islands as a successful model of the latter.

And unless a wise government engages its residents in seeking solutions, frictions between segments of the population will grow with the increased use of the infrastructure and the finite resources that impact the quality of life of local populations in negative ways.

Mr. Fodor's statistical analysis has shown that growth beyond certain levels, leads to diminishing median incomes among populations in metropolitan areas.

He also showed that governments tend to exaggerate the economic benefits of tourism ($1.63 billion in Napa County) by failing to account for the bulk of the revenue ending up outside the county to multi-national or international corporations and for the large expenditures associated with that growth in more than seven categories of services, most important in the staggering costs of maintenance and expansion of the infrastructure that comes in cycles of several decades.

Local governments receive only a very small amount of the overall tourist revenue such as fees, the Transient Occupancy Tax and sales taxes. Nevertheless, they depend on that revenue to finance the enormous infrastructure expenditures in a never-ending cycle of growth. He cited the sad condition of the local and national infrastructure as a proof of why we have been falling that far behind. "We never charged and still do not charge enough for the true cost of development," he said.

Finally, Professor Handy cited the research findings at UC Davis that proved that widening roads and highways does not alleviate congestion. This finding is now posted on the Caltrans website and in the face of overwhelming evidence is bound to be adopted as its official policy.

She pointed out that the 2007 Napa County draft environmental impact report's recommendations of widening Highway 29 to six lanes from Vallejo to Yountville and several other segments to four lanes by the year 2030 will not solve congestion problems if current growth policies continue. In fact, it will make them worse.

In response to American Canyon Mayor Garcia's comment that growth in the upper valley impacts traffic in his city, she acknowledged that the way traffic engineers currently analyze CEQA requirements for specific projects in Napa County is misleading by only considering their impacts on a very limited, inadequate radius. "This is not how CEQA is supposed to be analyzed," she said.

Unfortunately, in the way of solutions, the options of mass transportation and limiting growth were not encouraging.

NVR version 4/13/16: Insights from the forum on the tourism-driven economy
The NV2050 Economic Forum page is here

Ag community or business community?on: Vision 2050

Patricia Damery - Apr 8,16    Share expand...

One of the biggest takeaways in the recent Napa Valley Vision 2050 Economic Forum was a statement from Boston University professor and researcher Samuel Mendlinger. “We need to face the reality that Napa Valley is no longer an agricultural community, but a business community,” he said. “Only then can we ask the right questions.”

My husband and I are farmers—growers, as they say now— both from Midwestern farming families. I love the rhythms of farming, the culture and the intimate relationship with the earth, and I will continue to do so. The truth of this statement about our valley is not something I have wanted to accept— and yet it’s been hanging there, just off in the wings.

Privately, I discussed this more with Mendlinger, and with more specificity. We delineated some of the differences in these two approaches and the frictions that develop, frictions that only cause more polarization.

For instance, in an Ag community there often are spoken and often unrecorded agreements between neighbors (easements, agreements on water usage, etc.) which are held to in good faith.

When land becomes economically interesting, and those wealthy enough to buy land that has been handled in these older ways, trouble ensues.

Often, these people’s wealth comes from business, seldom agriculture. Neighbor agreements no longer work because it isn’t on the newcomer’s radar, and too often, concern. There are simply different rules in business.

In the Napa Valley, I have watched newcomers move in from out of county or state, and not consider that spoken agreements might exist. Even when easements have been recorded on titles, the county does not consider them in the permitting process.

Consequently, neighbors are forced into battles with each other, fighting it out in the Planning Commission, appeals to the Board of Supervisors, and in our courts. Yes, it causes friction —in part because we are operating in different paradigms: the “old” ways of agriculture and and the “new” ways of business. Could we find a happier medium?

And this is just one of the several challenges of outsiders moving in, viewing land as a business venture versus an agricultural contract with the land. Napa Valley is fighting the wrong fight in not recognizing this shift. Polarization only gets worse and any real problem solving, impossible.

If we can accept this shift, though, then maybe we can start formulating the right questions, which address not so much preserving agriculture, as protecting — and improving — the environment and the serious challenges we are facing with climate change and wine industry successes — to our watersheds, water, the social fabric, housing, traffic patterns.

This does not mean ignoring our Ag Preserve and Ag Watershed lands. It means recognizing, like it or not, the 2010 revisions to the WDO (Winery Definition Ordinance) has made these ag-zoned lands venues for intensified business activities.

How do we address this so business interests do not eclipse environmental, social, and fiscal considerations?

This, too, was a strong message in the forum: the importance of strong citizen groups in communication with our governing officials, and governing officials who listen. I applaud our county officials for the public hearings and times of public comment, for their willingness to engage with the public.

I applaud the forums where all sides have a voice. It is important that these officials make decisions with a broader perspective gained by this discourse. This could just be a process by which we find workable solutions that address the environment in all its dimensions: watersheds and water, economic health, and tourism in balance with a healthy community.

NVR version 4/8/16: Ag communit or business community's?

SodaCanyonRoad TF Zoneon: Solutions

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

A modest initiative proposal

This map shows the proposed Soda Canyon Road Tourism-Free Zone, the first TF zone in Napa County. It comprises the watersheds of Rector Canyon and of Soda Creek. The zoning restrictions are identical to other AWOS zone but wineries created in the zone are limited to capacity of no more than 130% of the wine that may be produced from vineyards planted on the contiguous winery parcel. By-appointment daytime tastings are permitted at the ratio of 500visitors/10000gal/yr but no wine sales, marketing events or food service are allowed. The intent is to insure that wineries are built to process grapes, not to process tourists. Existing wineries would be grandfathered at their existing tourism levels as of 1/1/16.

The zone has been created in an attempt to insure that the rural areas of the county are preserved as agricultural and residential communities that can withstand the shift from a resident-based agricultural economy to the corporate-based tourism economy that has already begun to replace the valley's vineyards and farmsteads with event centers and empty the towns' residential communities.

Hall, No!on: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Apr 2,16    Share expand...

NVR 4/4/16: Decision on Walt Ranch expected June 13

After 3.5 hours of presentation and public testimony and the introduction of 3.5 inches of new documents, Planning Director Morrison has put off until June 13th the decision on the environmental control plan based on the Walt Ranch mitigated Final EIR. There will then be a 30 day period to file an appeal to the BOS on the decision.

And a snippet from the comments to the above article initiated by Rob McMillan:

    Rob McMillan Apr 5, 2016 12:03pm
    As I see it, property owners have rights to develop land and improve it's value within local zoning requirements. There are three things that can happen with this property now: 1) Donate to the Land Trust. 2) Develop a portion with vineyards leaving a healthy amount of natural terrain, 3) develop with homes or ranches.

    I would prefer that the property and all the hills for that matter, be retained as open space because I live in Napa and value the views and nature. I'm an outdoorsman. That said, development of some form will happen unless someone were able to raise money to buy the property and donate it. That hasn't yet happened and there has been time to do that. Asking the owner to do donate isn't realistic as they have voiced their desires plainly and have cooperated and responded to all the requirements.

    If I can't have open space, I'll take this plan as it still leaves the hills without hospital sized homes dotting the hills. While dissenters won't like the likely approval, the process has been exhaustive and everyone with a view has made their point. It's time to make the decision and approve the project. Denial isn't a reasonable outcome and stalling the decision isn't reasonable with all material information now in hand.

    Bill Hocker Apr 5, 2016 4:01pm
    Well in fact you will get homes by approving this vineyard project. The convoluted vineyard plan provides 34 of the 35 parcels with all-year road access and a water supply to each parcel (in addition to a few of acres of vines on each). After this project is done the individual parcels may be sold and each can accommodate 3 dwelling units (one hospital-sized) granted by right and a winery granted by a use permit that virtually cannot be denied. The Halls have already developed a similar housing subdivision in Alexander Valley ( Craig Hall is a real-estate developer. What does anyone expect? duh!

    Savethechildren Apr 5, 2016 9:59pm
    Bill Hocker, All legal parcels in California are eligible for a single family home. State Law. If not, then the legal existence of your house just might be in jeopardy. If this project goes through, then each parcel will be sold, and each parcel will have a house on it. There is no environmental impact report needed, no public comment, no need to wait 10 years. Deny this project and you will have 35 new neighbors probably overnight. Each of them will submit for their own vineyard (the expensive work is already done for them). Read the EIR and you will see that there are no houses planned. There is no "sub-division" happening here, as that would require a public vote thanks to measure J/P. Continuing to say so is disingenuous at best. This is about vineyards and that's it.

    Bill Hocker Apr 6, 2016 9:17am
    STC - I should have included a link to the parcel plan ( ) in the previous post. Without this project, it is quite unlikely that homes would be built. Each buyer would have to provide the costly access road and water source for their property, not to mention the cost of creating the vineyard of their dreams. Normally a subdivision developer would create that infrastructure and sell the properties. You are right that this is not a residential subdivision. So the developer must find another mechanism to create the infrastructure necessary to make the parcels sellable. Guess what mechanism. To get this project approved the Halls have already agreed to cut over 20% of the vineyards initially proposed. Why? Perhaps because this project isn't about vineyards. I would suggest that all developers, and their spokesmen, stop their disingenuous praise of agriculture to achieve their urban development ends.

4/2/16 Sign Holding at Hall Wines

A signholding at Hall Wines to protest the development of 2300 acres of natural landscape into vineyard estate properties by Craig and Kathryn Hall. A public hearing on the final EIR for the project is happening Mon, Apr 4th 9:00am at the County Building.

My second Walt Ranch letteron: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Apr 2,16    Share expand...

Brian Bordona, Supervising Planner
Napa County Planning, Building, & Environmental Services Department
Napa, CA

Mr Bordona,

Having lived in the Rector watershed for the last 22 years and having watched the natural landscape disappear to vineyard development, and now being confronted next door with the first tourism-centered winery on the plateau, I would like to add another letter of opposition to the approval of the Walt Ranch FEIR and the suburbanizing trend that the project represents for the remote and natural woodland areas of the county.

I can only admire the amount of effort the Walt Ranch consultants made to address almost each and every opposing comment among the 3800 pages of comments submitted, in addition to finding the common themes of opposition and addressing those concerns at greater length. While the bulk of the opposition seems to revolve around woodland, habitat and water impacts I would like to emphasize, as I did in my first letter, the issue of reasonably foreseeable future development and growth inducing impacts that the project represents. For me, concerned about the obvious future impacts of what I can only see as the infrastructure development for a 35 unit residential subdivision, I was a bit disappointed by the summary dismissal of that as a concern in the FEIR:

    "As stated above in General Response 4, the purpose of the Proposed Project is to develop vineyards on the Walt Ranch; the EIR does not analyze the development of homes on the parcels because that is not proposed by the project applicant. No other reasonably foreseeable future development would occur on the project site beyond what is described in the EIR. Therefore, it is not appropriate to include the development of single-family homes on the Walt Ranch property in the cumulative analysis for the Proposed Project". (FEIR v1 pg4-39)

The FEIR foresees no other development on the properties as a result of the creation of an all-weather road system and the provision of water lines to each property, by a developer that has a track record of developing vineyard-ready residential subdivisions. [ ]. The FEIR states in General Response 4 (FEIR v1 pg4-5) that "There is no evidence that, elsewhere in the region, vineyard projects are being proposed as a catalyst for future residential development." They weren't looking very hard. (Please watch the video on the Hall Ranch site.)

From the Hall Ranch website:

The reason that everyone in the county is now stuck with traffic congestion, unaffordable housing, an agrarian landscape now littered with building projects and more and more in taxes to cover the infrastructure costs of an expanding population is because each project approved never considers the reasonably foreseen future development that the completed projects will necessitate, encourage and make possible. This FEIR has completely ignored the discussion of the reasonably foreseen "growth inducing impacts" that the project presents:

    CEQA Sec 15126.2(d) (pg155): "Growth-Inducing Impact of the Proposed Project. Discuss the ways in which the proposed project could foster economic or population growth, or the construction of additional housing, either directly or indirectly, in the surrounding environment. Included in this are projects which would remove obstacles to population growth (a major expansion of a waste water treatment plant might, for example, allow for more construction in service areas). Increases in the population may tax existing community service facilities, requiring construction of new facilities that could cause significant environmental effects. Also discuss the characteristic of some projects which may encourage and facilitate other activities that could significantly affect the environment, either individually or cumulatively. It must not be assumed that growth in any area is necessarily beneficial, detrimental, or of little significance to the environment."

If the developer is serious about denying the growth inducing impacts of their project perhaps they should place non-development conservation easements on the properties or a no-future-development clause into the property deeds. If they are serious about only using the vineyards to supply grapes for Hall wines then let them recombine the properties into one parcel as a show of commitment. I doubt that any of those steps will happen. The parcel and vineyard map of Walt Ranch is here. Just look at the vineyard block plan. Would any vintner sensibly create such a convoluted, inaccessible and expensive vineyard just to supply grapes to their winery? Would anyone buy 2300 acres of land for 288 acres of grapes? The convoluted vineyard configuration does insure that 34 of the 35 parcels each have some vineyard acreage necessitating road access and water availability required for the sale of vineyard-ready residential property.

The perfunctory discussion regarding growth inducing impacts by claiming this project is only about vineyards in the FEIR can only be seen as an attempt to fudge over real intent of the project and a sidestepping of the intent of CEQA. The CEQA "growth inducing impact" discussion is at the heart of this project.

It is, as well, a discussion that is at the heart of all the projects that that have generated so much opposition in the last two years as the obvious impacts of growth are beginning to destroy everything special about Napa County. Walt Ranch will eventually be a very lovely housing project if this vineyard conversion is allowed to go ahead as is. And the urbanization of Napa County, with each project's urbanizing impacts mitigated to a level of insignificance on paper, will go on unabated.

Thank you for this opportunity to re-emphasize my concerns.

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Road
Napa, CA 94558

Lois Battuello Letters on Walt Ranchon: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Apr 1,16    Share expand...

April 20, 2016

Napa County Planning Commission
1195 Third Street
Napa, CA 94558

Re: Walt Ranch and today’s presentation packages

Dear Members of the Commission:

Thank you for always recognizing the Public Comment provision of our Government Code, which permitted me to explain why I believe the Walt Ranch project should be subject to a Use Permit Application and why it is vital to this County, vis a vis SAF-34.

On my point that this is a future home site development, not just a vineyard application, I provided two maps from the Walt Ranch EIR that if super-imposed would show vineyard plans for all but the Capell Watershed parcel at the top of the map. These are Figures 3.3 and 3.4 I noted.

In your packages are other things that point to commercial development intentions:

-- Kathryn Hall told “The Napa Valley Register” on April 4 that her family has worked on the vineyard plans for a decade. At other times, that they’ve spent millions of dollars of their own money to develop the plans (and go through the process).

In the package you have been given, the last page is a copy of the Deed of Trust recorded in Napa County on August 17, 2012 showing Hall Brambletree Associates, Ltd borrowed $5.7 million for unspecified development expenses for the Walt Ranch properties.

Do the Hall family members live in the Limited Liability Company known as Hall Brambletree, or in some of the Limited Partnerships entitled to draw funds from this loan, such as Search Financial Services, L.P., or Hall Phoenix/Underwood Ltd.? This structure suggests there are other than Hall family members as investors, and that borrowings are the source of funds, not personal funds from the Halls.
-- Craig Hall is a real estate syndicator and syndicators make money by acquiring, developing, and reselling land for a profit for their investors

-- In the package just submitted are two pages from Sonoma County Planning Department records, one dated October 22, 2008. This memo notes Hall Financial Group was the applicant for Hall T - T Ranch Subdivision in Alexander Valley (known now at the Hall Ranch “community plantation development). Here, established vineyards were subdivided with vines in most cases more than 20 years old, the existing vineyards carved up into 10 forty- acre parcels, a neighborhood governed by a Homeowners Association in an agricultural district.

In other words, Craig Hall and Mike Reynolds of Walt Ranch have already developed other vineyard home sites in Alexander Valley.

-- In their Walt Ranch letter dated November 21, 2014, Hall and Reynolds asserted their rights to build 35 homes.

As noted in my March 28, 2016 letter to you, allowing Hall to get away with his scheme will cause the balances of Napa County's agricultural properties to fall to development never intended by Measure J, nor permitted by our General Plan. People will have to answer to charges of Public Corruption should it happen (meaning a repeat pattern of violating land use laws by any public official) for allowing the Walt Ranch scheme to advance.

The second document of interest is an internal memo showing Mike Reynolds, developer of the proposed Walt Ranch, as project manager for this commercial development. While Mike Reynolds now serves as President of Walt Wines, he functions as a developer for Craig and Kathryn Hall … a developer of home sites in rural areas, creating new residential enclaves that are not permitted in Napa, and a developer of their St. Helena Winery.

I believe David Morrison has done an excellent job of giving people a voice, but in a matter that is so limited, that which is before him, a Vineyard Application with the Erosion Control Plan and the EIR, that the other issues presented would be by-passed by the Board of Supervisors.

I believe the foregoing provides enough information to justify requiring a Use Permit application to also put this project on track for SAF-34 review.

Any effort you can lend to this cause would be appreciated by those who have not been given a voice otherwise allowed by the normal process for development schemes.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Lois Ann Battuello
1634 Main Street
St. Helena, CA 94574
Copy to: David Morrison, Director of Planning

To: "David Morrison"
Sent: Saturday, April 2, 2016 9:16:01 AM
Subject: Walt Ranch and Public Safety Questions - Use Permit or Vineyard Development Application?

Hi Dave,

Please see my letter below directed to the Planning Commission March 28. I have not yet requested to be placed on the agenda regarding Walt Ranch, however I have seen enough red flags related to the Walt Ranch project to suggest the appropriate application should be for a Use Permit, not a simple vineyard development, and I hope to address the Planning Commission to place this matter on their agenda, unless that is something you can accomplish?

Please see the last paragraph of page 2 below for a recap of what I do for our Country and our County. And see the top two paragraphs of Page 3. Then please go back to page 1 for a list of projects that included community developments in Napa County after the passage of Measure J -- all rejected or failed. I think you will see that Walt Ranch has the potential of creating a precedent that will bring great harm to our rural areas, stomp out our protective Titles, while I sense from a March 16 feature in "The Napa Valley Register" the developer would not hesitate to bring a lawsuit to attempt to set aside our Agricultural Preserve. Whoa, that's Texas bravado I've heard before.

Importantly, failure by Walt Ranch to apply for a Use Permit put this project outside of normal review by law enforcement, which is described in Napa County's General Plan Safety Element, SAF-34, which reads:

"Policy SAF-34: All new commercial and multi-family development shall be referred to the Sheriff’s
Department for review of public safety issues. If the proposed project is adjacent to or
within an incorporated city/town, consultation with their law enforcement agency shall
also be required"

Frankly, I don't know where to begin the discussion, but it isn't just a "conspiracy theory" approach that I am taking, my concerns are based on the fact that Mike Reynolds has asserted there is a right for each of the 35 parcels to have a home, Hall Financial Group (umbrella over Hall Brambletree L.P. and Hall Brambletree LLC) is an investment bank in Dallas, TX that syndicates real estate investments, including investments for foreign nationals, about whom we know nothing. Hall's first purchase of property in Napa County, 1995, also coincides with the Texas-based Richland Interests L.P.'s Soscol Ridge project. When that project was rejected, other Texans with big plans retreated.

I have also had personal experiences with local counsel for Hall and Reynolds where the truth had been distorted and angles used to circumvent county codes, particularly in matters related to Rich Frank and Koerner Rombauer, whose spectacular warehouse fire also destroyed Kathryn Hall's 1997 and 1998 wine releases ... an illegal warehouse project on its face, and a bit of a bootlegging operation until the fire changed their ways and the Frank-Rombauer venture vaporized.

As a resident of this County, I don't want any new precedent set that could cause harm. I was present when the Board of Supervisors literally put the developer in the Lake Luciana project (Pope Valley) under oath because he had lied so much. As it turns out, foreign (Arab) money was involved in that scheme as well as the other majors proposed for Napa County in the past. Simply put, we have no way of controlling what could be a runaway project without the benefit of a Use Permit application that allows ongoing review. If the vineyard plan is approved, there is no way to prevent provision of utilities to the various parcels of Walt Ranch and their sale of parcels, clearly a commercial activity resulting in formation of a new community.

I spent nearly two years with the General Plan Update Committee shepherding SAF-34 through for "Team Napa," a group that cannot identify itself in public, but who are in a position to review projects to assure we are safe ... but only when properly applied for.

I apologize for not having a copy of the Hall's Alexander Valley (Sonoma County) Hall Ranch project's CC&Rs scanned for attachment to the letter, however I will mail the letter below with attachment this week.

Thank you for your time, attention, and guidance.


Lois Ann Battuello

Letter to Planning Commission

March 28, 2016
Napa County Planning Commission (by hand delivery)
Re: Walt Ranch Vineyard Development Application #P11-00205 ECPA Project

Dear Commissioners:

I urge you to reject Walt Ranch’s Application to develop vineyards, regardless of findings of the Environmental Impact Report and Erosion Control reports.

The vineyards are appropriately zoned AW (Ag-Watershed) and AWOS (Ag-Watershed-Open Space), and while appropriately zoned for vineyard development as a source of fruit for syndicated Hall Wines, the vineyards are an ancillary use to a “planned community development” for which Walt Ranch is not zoned. Any development in the county for the purpose of building multiple single family homes can only be on properties zoned RS (Residential Single District) per Title 18.52 of Napa County Municipal Code. In the case of Hall Ranch, the vineyards become ancillary uses, providing views to prospective and future homeowners, as well as fruit for Hall Wines. Even sold without spec homes on the parcels, this is a planned community development with hardened roads to each parcel that would have easements recorded for access to each, and commonly-shared roads and entrance … a gated community with vineyard “views, views, views of rolling vineyards,” likely with commonly shared farm management.

The Community of Walt Ranch would be governed, as is their Hall Ranch development in Alexander Valley, by Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions that would be recorded immediately upon any approval of this vineyard plan, just as they were recorded in Sonoma County for Hall Ranch in Alexander Valley (Geyserville), evidenced by the attached cover sheet for the CC&R filing. Like Hall Ranch, Walt Ranch will advertise the estimated monthly HOA dues (Homeowner’s Association Dues), as soon as the project is developed for what Sotheby‘s terms a “community plantation development.” We do not permit new urban communities on land designated AG, AW, OS, or any combination of special zones, save RS noted above.

The County has no financial incentives to approve this project. “Bloomberg News” just reported that the French are on a buying spree in Napa County, and dozens of established winery properties are turning over, increasing our tax base considerably. Remember when the French rejected Robert Mondavi’s vineyard plans there because they didn’t want a forest harvested, despite their passion for vines and wines?
Four of the Alexander Valley Hall Ranch’s ten parcels have sold, two to individuals and two to investment companies which intend to flip the properties a second time, likely after developing homes on the sites. There is a more limited market for “build your own” than thoughtfully developed homes ready for occupancy that the investment companies could provide.

In the past, the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors have rejected similar developments in Napa County since Measure J was passed in 1990:

    Soscol Ridge (Richland Interests of Houston, TX). Location: Napa
    A referendum by the developer was rejected by 84% of the county’s voters

    Juliana Vineyards (Bill Harlan‘s Pacific Development Corp‘s project for Reunion Industries in 1996 on former Buttes Gas & Oil properties of Houston, TX). Location: Pope Valley

    Lake Luciana LLC (developers Criswell & Radovan for Four Seasons Resorts/Hotels on property owned by Triad Communities/Fred Grimm and Dallas Police & Fire’s TBD Realty of TX) which was tied in common ownership of the developer to historic Aetna Springs in 2009. Location: Pope Valley

    Eco Village fell apart when Lake Luciana was rejected; the project shared common ownership
    (Triad Communities) with the rejected Lake Luciana, and collapsed financially. Location: Angwin

    Carneros Inn was on land zoned commercial and was a mobile home and RV conversion; Calistoga Ranch replaced an existing RV park.

Walt Ranch’s Application is disengenuous, a way to incrementally develop the property … vines first, homes later under different building permits. Developer Craig Hall is a real estate syndication expert. By his admissions to “Dallas Morning News” (March 24, 2014), his Hall Financial Group has more than 500 investors and is moving to 600, who, among other assets, own Hall Wines. Both Hall Ranch and Walt Ranch appear to be syndications.

We have never approved any project in this county for a real estate syndication, the purpose of which is to purchase, develop, and resell property for a profit for shareholders by Hall’s admission at http://www. That’s a non-permitted commercial activity on its face.

In our County, vineyards have never been intended as “spec developments” to make profits for real estate flippers/investors, rather core enterprises of family and partner- owned farms producing fruit for wineries, or core assets owned by wineries to meet production needs without home developments. You will never find Beckstoffer, Mondavi, Beringer, Charles Krug, or any of our large vineyard owners building a home on every parcel they own, and then flipping the parcels, or flipping parcels for home development by investment companies incident to the vineyards. You won’t find hardened roads throughout their vineyard parcels, only around the perimeters of the collective parcels or paved county roads to access them. Other roads through vineyard blocks are cultivated each year and re-established by farm activities, never hardened for all season use.

Hall Wines (one of the businesses owned by Hall Financial Group for which Craig Hall serves as an investor and CEO per “Dallas Morning News’s” D Magazine), has a use permit issued by the County for 1.26 million gallons (roughly 500,000 cases) of wine, and intends to expand current production to that limit and beyond, through projects similar to Walt Ranch. If you approve this, he’s likely to buy the former Juliana Vineyards/Lake Luciana project area’s vineyards and parcels, currently owned by Dallas Police & Fire’s Pension Fund, as is Aetna Springs, or purchase the failed Soscol Ridge site, or create something similar from any existing ranch he can find with multiple parcels that he’ll flip, while contracting fruit for ever-expanding Hall Wines. Craig Hall will do this over and over to satisfy the thirst of his real estate investment syndicate, and then will head to Planning, Building and Environmental Services Department with an application to modify his Hall Wines Use Permit to meet the demand of his 8,500 and growing wine club membership, and his 600 investor/owners who receive both cash dividends and cases of wine.

Craig Hall is a “moneyman” who has had two big crashes in 1986 and 2008-2010, likely busting out some investors. He lives on OPM (other people’s money), as well as his own. The film “Wall Street” has a great line: “They (moneymen) never die, they just grow back in different forms.” As noted in the foregoing “Dallas Morning News,” “Tapped out at the time (after the 2008 debacle), Craig came up with an investment plan to finish the (Hall Wines’ winery) project that’s similar to a private placement of preferred stock.

You may think of Craig Hall as the comeback kid, but I’ve not been able to find a proper registration for his business activity of real estate syndication filed with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission incident to his issuance of preferred stock. With some 600 investors, he is supposed to develop a prospectus and file as a broker with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission to approach 25 people or more by any form of solicitation -- mailers, newspapers, pep rallies (aka “dog and pony shows“), robocalls, or “big tent“ events.

Because there is no disclosure of his investors, who come from around the world, I have no way of knowing whether or not his investors include Saudi financiers of terrorism who were involved in other projects noted earlier, as well as Carneors Inn and Montalcino Resort at one time. I am one of our Country’s experts in tracing terrorist financiers’ funds globally, and getting documents to our Governor (having served two of them), the White House (having served three Presidents), the U.S. Senate (recruited me in 1994), and the Southern District of NY (FBI and JTTF) who head the 9/11 criminal investigation.

Terrorist financiers were also involved in the City of Napa with “Starwood Westin Verasa Napa” and “St. Regis” at Stanley Ranch where the ownership has been changed. In the City of Calistoga, they were involved in the Diamond Hills and Silver Rose projects, but this has also been changed. It is only through
Discovery in a lawsuit brought by the County that we can depose Craig Hall and issue Subpoena Deuces Tecums to learn the identity of his investors to know whether or not we are safe. To date, I have kept us safe, as has President Bush with the rejection of the Montalcino Resort project that had avoided review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (aka CFIUS, U.S. Treasury and FBI, among others).

I found out years after the rejection of Soscol Ridge that one of the financiers of terrorism was behind that project, so you made the right decision then, as did voters who have had enough of new vineyard developments at the sacrifice of our forests.

With Craig Hall’s Hall Financial Group located in Dallas, TX, and the Dallas Police & Fire Pension located in Dallas, I wouldn’t be surprised if Craig Hall is looking to purchase, through syndication, the Lake Luciana and Aetna Springs assets to help his local firemen. He would once again be Dallas’s hero. Approval of this project would set a PRECEDENT for the foregoing scenario of community plantation developments, while Dallas Police & Fire have other alternatives and are moving against parties responsible for the failed projects (attorneys and cpa‘s). Nonetheless, Hall could help bail out the pension funds loaded with $8 billion in debts and only $3 billion in assets, with resurrection of the Pope Valley projects.

If you approve this vineyard development Application, Walt Ranch will flip the new vineyard properties. Walt Ranch’s total investment before vineyard development is $10 million. The syndicate would recover the cost of the 2005 purchase likely from the sale of only 3 parcels after vineyards are developed, at prices close to $5 million per parcel in Napa County. The balance of parcel sales would be gravy, flowing to Craig and Kathryn Hall and their preferred shareholders, additionally providing seed capital to do this over and again in Napa County.

Keep in mind that moneymen have to keep buying, selling, buying again, selling again to satisfy commitments to preferred shareholders.

I grew up on a family farm in the county, picking prunes, grapes, walnuts, suckering, tying vines, budding, and assisting during harvests in many ways. I love vineyards, but not at the sacrifice of 28,000 trees on this cattle ranch, and the dangerous precedent. I would think a cattle ranch is something a Texan would take pride in owning.
Keep those trees, help the county meet its state-mandated goals to reduce our carbon footprint by leaving those trees alone! I have no idea how many tons of carbon dioxide are processed by them, but any loss has negative consequences.

I urge you to reject this precedent- setting Walt Ranch vineyard development application.
Thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration.
Lois Ann Battuello


NVR: Napa Vision 2050 Economic Forumon: Vision 2050

Daniel Mufson - Apr 1,16    Share expand...

Napa's resident-based agricultural economy is dying. It is quickly being replaced by a corporate-based tourism economy. What does that mean for the residents, the government, the physical environment and the soul of the county? Napa Vision 2050 has begun to explore these issues. Below is the Napa Valley Register summation of the forum.


Bill Hocker - Apr 2, 2016

For me the defining moment came late in the day. Dr. Mendlinger, while praising the involvement of residents in the planning process, seemed to bring a sociologist's clarity to the table: "Napa has a linguistic problem.", he said. "It claims to be an agricultural community when it is, in fact, a business community." I'm sure many of the pro-development members of the audience were quietly saying "duh!" The rest of us, obviously, have been spending too much time reading the vision statement of the Napa County General Plan.

Civil rights and water rightson: Calistoga

Christina Aranguren - Mar 28,16    Share expand...

Judging from recent newspaper accounts, there's a bit of confusion in city government up valley.

Despite what was expressed at a February 16th city council meeting in Calistoga, as US citizens, we enjoy a representative democracy and maintain a constitutional right to freedom of speech. As California residents, this includes the right (and some would argue, a responsibility) to comment upon decisions affecting state resources to the appropriate agencies - even while residing elsewhere in the state. The fact that the mayor of Calistoga, in his dual role as executive director of its Chamber of Commerce, suggests otherwise is simply outrageous. It is a misguided attempt to discourage public participation, forthright and honest debate, and the influence of any interests which he feels may be in competition with his own. The law is quite clear; Calistoga does not get to determine a Californian's civil rights.

Even if they “aren't taxpayers or rate payers” of the City of Calistoga's municipal water system, the truth is that when individuals or organizations become concerned enough about practices they discover are damaging California's water resources, they have the right to file a complaint with the courts or request investigation and a public hearing with the State Water Resources Control Board. When industry groups such as the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Napa County Farm Bureau, or other downstream water users commented upon the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board's plans to issue Cease and Desist Orders to the City of Calistoga, it was also within their rights, as it was years ago when Baykeeper chose to comment on the city's problematic sewer plant. When groups such as Latinos Unidos, Friends of the Napa River, or Forests Unlimited elect to submit comment to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection about concerns they have for a timber harvest plan filed in Calistoga - or anywhere in the state for that matter - they've the right to do so as well. Likewise, when California Fisheries & Water Unlimited or ICARE added their comments to the mountain already submitted to US NOAA Fisheries on a recovery plan for the Napa River population of federally-protected steelhead, it was within their rights. And when private citizens residing anywhere in the state, are forced to resort to legal remedy in order to insure compliance with state law which mandates for the release of reservoir water to keep fish in good condition below dams, including those which are private, public, or municipal, and located far from their primary residence, it is well within their rights as well - despite anything city governments would like us to believe. All these efforts are, of course, costly and time-consuming. Compliance with state and federal law remains the preferred and prudent choice.

The concept of the public trust doctrine is something advocates like myself hold dear. Ask most people who owns California's water and you'll be often met with a stare or uncertain reply that it belongs to private property owners. The fact is that California's water is held in trust for all current and future Californians. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the utilization of water is subject to public uses including navigation, recreation, fishing, and ecological purposes. A water right is simply legal permission to use a reasonable amount of water for beneficial purposes; it does not grant ownership, nor can our water be wasted, polluted, abused, or stolen. If considered the People's water, a common good on long-term loan, the responsibility to safeguard our public trust resources for future generations of Californians is a truly compelling one.

With even what many consider the 'crusty old Catholic church' weighing in on social, political, and environmental issues, as Pope Francis has recently done in his courageous encyclical “Laudato Si”, the challenge becomes one of challenging those politics too often concerned with immediate results and supported by consumerist sectors of the population which are focused on short-term growth and not the long-term sustainability of the environment. In the absence of pressure from the public and civic organizations or the force of law, political interests are usually as reluctant to change their practices as agencies are to intervene and law becomes something seen as an arbitrary imposition and an obstacle to be avoided. In Francis's words, “We cannot fail to praise the commitment of international agencies and civil society organizations which draw public attention to these issues and offer critical cooperation, employing legitimate means of pressure, to ensure that each government carries out its proper and inalienable responsibility to its country's environment and natural resources without capitulating to spurious local or international interests... Unless citizens control political power - national, regional, and municipal - it will not be possible to control damage to the environment.

Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained. Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalcuable. We can be silent to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental degradation”.

This Easter holiday, I'm grateful to those individuals, projects, and organizations throughout beautiful California that continue to act as prudent trustees for critical public trust resources which might otherwise be inappropriately given over to private interests: our streams, rivers, wetlands, coasts, beaches, and great bay, the native fish, wildlife, and aquatic ecosystems, and I invite others to add their voice to the growing chorus. It is your right.

NVR version 3/28/16: It's within their rights

March 2016 SCR Newsletteron: Soda Canyon Road

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

March 2016 Update (on the latish side)

Note that upcoming events and meetings concerning development issues in the county are shown on our calendars at and

Mountain Peak Winery
John McDowell, the deputy director of planning, has indicated that the final submissions have been made for their application and the county may now begin reviewing them. I was told that we might expect a 3 month review period, so I think that we can consider the clock to have started ticking. Projects have been stretching out over the last two years as residents have pushed back and the county has grappled with the pushback through the APAC process. WIth those recommendations made to the BOS ( who is proposing to eviscerate many of them ) and due diligence given to residential concerns, the planning commission and the BOS in their most recent meetings have indicated an impatience to get back on the approval bandwagon. There are currently 50 or so winery projects awaiting approval in the planning commission.

The SCR Mountain Peak page is here. The note at the top of the Mountain Peak page will be updated as further information is known.

Napa Vision 2050: 2 upcoming events
NapaVision2050 is taking on a host of issues concerning the impacts of development in the county including the upcoming Tourism Impact Forum on April 1st, their campaign over the health problems posed by the Syar mining operations, the implications of the Palmaz residential helicopter permit, the Water and Woodlands Initiative that will be on the 2016 ballot and the lack of government responsiveness to the needs of residents versus county industries.

Wed, Mar 30th
NapaVision2050 Imola-Coobsville Meeting

Kathy Felch explains the risks to the health of your family posed by the continued operation of the Syar quarry and what we can do about it. A very strong presentation was made by Stop Syar Expansion at the Syar appeal before the BOS on Mar 22nd. The essence of that presentation is here. The second day of the appeal hearing will take place on Tues, April 26th when Save Skyline Park will present their appeal. More information about the Imola-Coobsville Meeting is here

Fri, April 1st:
NapaVision2050 Economic forum-Understanding the Tourism-Based Economy

Napa Vision 2050 has assembled three experts to provide a framework to analyze the benefits and costs of a tourism-driven economy. Benefits and costs are both social and fiscal. The panel will explore the various parameters and limits of each. We hope this forum will open the dialogue, and provide the framework, to plan for sustainable growth in Napa County. It is becoming more evident that county politicians will do nothing to slow the shift from an agriculture to a tourism economy and the change will have impacts on the character of the county. We may be given a glimpse of that future here.

The Economic Forum is Friday, April 1st, 8am through the afternoon at the Napa Valley Country Club. Information and registration is here.

Mon April 4th: Walt Ranch Final Environmental Impact Report Presentation
This is the most important meeting on the 2300 acre housing subdivision that is being planned for the south slope of Atlas Peak. The county is treating it as an erosion control plan for a vineyard development, hoping not to have to asses the environmental impacts of the 110 dwelling units and 35 wineries that may be developed under current county ordinances on the site. The project involves the creation of an all weather road network and water system to 34 properties in addition to vineyard development sprinkled about the site to insure that each of those properties can be sold vineyard-ready. The Halls have already developed a similar residential subdivision in the Alexander Valley, Hall Ranch. The Hall Ranch project has provided a template for the residential development of all rural areas of the county.
The SCR Walt Ranch page is here.

County's Walt Ranch page including FEIR
Please attend the meeting if you can.
Location: BOS chambers 1195 Third Street, Suite 305, Napa (way too small a venue to contain this much controversy: arrive early)

Wed, Apr 20th. Beau Vigne Winery expansion
The planning commission will be reviewing the expansion of the Beau Vigne Winery use permit on the property just north of the Soda Canyon junction with the Trail. The proposal to increase production and visitation is modest but it once again calls attention to the vast amount of winery activity proposed and approved right around the Soda Canyon Junction. More on that here.

Ongoing Conversion of the Rector Watershed
A recent update of the county's list of applications for vineyard conversion (converting the natural landscape to vineyards) has real implications for Soda Canyon Road. Another 53 acre erosion control plan has just been submitted by Antica Winery bringing to 313 acres of new vineyards now under review by the planning department on the Rector plateau at the top of the road. In the last 20 years, the Rector reservoir watershed, which supplies water for Yountville and the Verteran's Home, has become the most heavily impacted watershed in the county by vineyard conversion. On google maps it appears that conversion might be at the saturation point, but obviously much more is being proposed, with potential water impact on the reservoir and with certain additional traffic on the road. GIven the drought, and following the issues raised by the Walt Ranch 500 acre conversion on Atlas Peak Rd above Miliken Reservoir, the county and the municipalities have become much more concerned about the affect that watershed conversion may have on the long-term availability of water. The correspondence with Planning Dir. Morrison regarding this issue is here.

Relic ABC wine license
On Feb 9th-11th residents of Soda Canyon Road and beyond attended the protest hearing regarding the granting of an alcohol license for Relic Wine Cellars, at 2400 Soda Canyon Rd, from the state Dept of Alcohol Beverage Control. On 21st the hearing judge recommended denial of all protests and the issuance of the license. An appeal to that decision is now under consideration. While this is a setback, the fight to prevent the commercialization of Soda Canyon Road will go on. The NVR coverage of the hearing is here.

The former Astrale e Terra winery property at 3148 Soda Canyon Rd, just adjacent to the Antica Winery is now owned by Guarachi Family Wines. They have applied for a winemaker license from the State Alcohol Beverage Control board. Several members on the road have protested the application wishing to sin sure that the property if licensed will have the same "no tours, tastings or retail sales" restriction that the Astrale e Terra license had. The SCR Meadowrock page is here.

Diane Shepp is running for Supervisor of District 4
Soda Canyon Road's own Diane Shepp has stepped up to represent the residents of District 4 as a member of the Board of Supervisors. It is becoming more obvious that the Board, and in particular Supervisor Pedroza, after months of letting residents vent during the APAC process, are now interested in making up for lost time in the development projects that their contributors are trying to get approved. Mr. Pedroza's large contributors, the Palmaz Family, the Halls, James Syar, Chuck Wagner of Caymus all have projects that will be decided upon by the Board in the upcoming months. The recent article in the NVR on fundraising shows the massive amount of money that people with development projects in the county pipeline are spending on pro-development candidates to influence their chances.

Diane Shepp will be an advocate for the protection of the hallmark rural beauty and small-town character of the county that is increasingly under threat by development interests. Please support her campaign by donating here and by volunteering to help.
The SCR Campaign 2016 page is here

We encourage you to sign our petition opposing commercial development of our community in general and the Mountain Peak project in particular.

And we also encourage you to donate to Protect Rural Napa, however modestly, to fund the eternal effort to protect our communities from development. (You will be able to note how you wish your donation to be used.) Thank you!

Contact me if you have questions:

Bill Hocker

The portent of Syar on: Syar Expansion

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

NVR 3/24/16: Marathon Syar expansion hearing to resume April 26

Stop Syar Expansion had a brilliant presentation of its many issues with the expansion of the mining operations over the next 35 years.

But it was the Supervisors' demeanor that had my attention during the long day. It was obvious that there was an intention to try to wrap up the appeal hearing in one day, despite the fact that the appellant presentations were scheduled to take up almost 9 hours. As the meeting approached 5:00 pm, a normal time to continue the hearing for another day, Chairman Pedroza, obviously anxious not to have to spend another day listening to residence angst, took the pulse of the board: "I don't have any appointments until tomorrow morning" Sup. Luce offered. I didn't sense that a lot of concentrated decision making would be needed after the appeal presentations were done.

SInce the FIrst Supervisor review of the the APAC recommendations in early December 2015 (in which Dario Sattui impressed his employees into pro-development service before the board) the wine barons behind the development of Napa county are beginning to become impatient with the collection of residents demanding that the county live up to its ideals, and getting between them and their profits.

Freshman Supervisor Pedroza's ascention to chairman of the board this year is more than just numerical rotation into the position. It seems to herald a change in philosophy. Chair Dillion sought community understanding (some might say pacification) through an open political process. Chair Pedroza wants to push the development agenda, championed by his predecessor, back into its proper trajectory. (In its last review of the remaining APAC recommendations on Mar. 1st, the Board retooled and eviscerated the recommendations - behind the scenes as far as I could tell - to the benefit of the wine industry.)

Once it was realized that the Syar proceeding would go into another day, Mr. Pedroza with some insistence, sought out the next supervisor's meeting for a continuation. The sense of impatience was palpable as he was forced to put it off for a month.

The planning commission met the next day to consider the development agreement that Caymus owner Chuck Wagner had worked out with the planning department. The numerical rotation this year has brought Mr. Basayne, with roots in the tourism industry, into the chair position in place of grape grower and vintner Heather Phillips. A new sense of impatience about resident concerns has taken over the deliberations of the planning commission as well. Mr. Scott, responding to complaints at the Caymus hearing that the complexity of the development agreement and permit history required more time to evaluate, pushed back against the tendency in the last year to put off decisions for another day. Caymus was then moved on to the Supes for approval, 4-0 (reluctantly by Com. Cottrell). At the end of the meeting, during free discussion between the commission and Dir. Morrison, Mr. Scott returned to the subject, asking how many projects were in the planning pipeline and again expressing concern over the amount of time spent gaining approvals. Mr. Scott is very tactful and has proven himself capable of making independent (and courageous) decisions, but one sensed that his concern here was a reflection of the Supervisor he represents.

Since the beginning of the year, in decisions at the planning commission and the BOS, the emphasis has been on getting on with the development. Stags Leap, Dakota Shy, Bouchaine, SMR were each approved on their first hearing before the commission. The BOS denied the appeal on Bell and upheld the appeal on Girard, both developer wins.

The Chair of the Board is just one vote equal to the other 4. But there does seem to be a deference given to the chair that lets their view be the default starting point for debate, and hence sets the tone of the discussion. And I think it influences the outcome. Mr. Pedroza is clearly a developers' favorite. The amount of money he has received for his campaign from development interests is 3 times the amount raised by any other candidate. The amount of money he has received from developers that currently have projects sure to come before the board for approval in the next year, including Syar, borders on quid pro quo.

The Syar decision is a portent of the power of development interests in the county. Stop Syar Expansion has made a strong case that the mining company is creating potential environmental hazards. One look at the mushroom cloud of dust rising above the operation and wafting outward is enough to concede that a more thorough investigation of the effects of that dust is needed before Syar increases its operations. The mitigation at Napa Pipe requiring air filtration in housing units specifically because of Syar-created dust should give everyone pause. Is this new development-centered board willing to ignore those concerns and approve the expansion on Apr 26th? If the link is made between Syar pollution and actual health impacts, will the county, having known about the potential impacts when reviewing Napa Pipe and this expansion, be held responsible. Time will tell.

Once it's gone it's goneon: Watershed Issues

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

Bob Wilkinson LTE 3/20/16: County: Keep hands off Skyline
NVR 3/18/16: Open space district proposing quarter-cent sales tax
NVR 3/16/16: County could get another chance to buy Skyline

The ease of placing tax initiatives on the ballot, the democratization of public fiscal responsibility in the face of representative incapability, is a long term disaster in a nation where 40% of the population would vote for Donald Trump. The system insures that we now have tax fatigue at every election and public resources that really need common funding are denied by dazed or brain-dead voters automatically pressing the no button. "No more taxes" grunts Savethechildren in commenting on the open-space article. Most know that the wealthy have armies to insure that the tax code benefits them. Why should the commoner have to pay for the wealthy disinterest in the common good. Such a system requires an electorate that is concerned about the common good and is willing to sacrifice self-interest for it, despite the knowledge that the wealthy will sacrifice as little as possible. That is an increasingly high bar for the American voter.

Tuesday, Mar 22nd, 2016: Syar Appeal to the BOSon: Syar Expansion

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

Mary Richardson LTE 3/17/16: Express your opinion on Syar expansion (read OldTimer2 comment)

On Nov 18th 2015 Syar was granted an approval by the county planning commission to expand its mining operations along the Soscol gateway into Napa over the next 35 years. To many, the expansion has raised concerns of conflicting use with Skyline wilderness park next door, with health concerns of a polluting heavy industry to neighbors, and with the need for such a vast expansion for Napa's future urban development. Two groups, representing residents near the project and supporters of Skyline Park have appealed the approval.

The appeals cover a very wide range of issues and a technical glitch in the final planning commission hearing has caused this hearing to be "de novo" meaning new material may be admitted. The supervisors will have to spend well over 1 day in their due diligence to hear out the concerns of appellants before allowing the expansion to proceed. Official witnesses have been given over 9 hours of testimony time, plus the staff presentation, public comments, and supervisors' disscussion.The hearing will begin at 9:05am in the Board of Supervisors chambers, 1195 3rd St, Napa. Come early: the room is a very small venue to contain so much controversy.

The agenda with documents is here (Item 9B).
The agenda letter with procedurals is here
County Syar page
The appeal is here.
The staff response to the appeal is here.
Stop Syar expansion Facebook page
Syar Health Risks presentation
SCR Syar page

As usual in all of the projects that have come up in the last 2 years, my interest seems to be somewhat removed from the course of public debate. In this case it is the sheer quantity of earth that is to be excavated in the next 35 years - an amount that must be several times greater than was excavated in the previous 100 years to build the Napa valley we know today. What will the county look like 35 years hence?

Much is made in public hearings about the acreage of unexcavated natural landscape that will be removed (shown in the blue areas below), especially as it pushes up against the Skyline Park property line. Less has been made about the vast deepening of the existing excavated areas (hundreds of feet down) shown in purple that are now permitted to take place. An accusation has been made in the appeal that much of Syar's product is shipped to construction sites out of the county. Assuming this expansion is allowed to go ahead, for the sake of the rural environment that we treasure in Napa county, I hope they are right. Because if that quantity of building material is used for construction within the county in the next 35 years, anything rural about this place will be gone.

(Click to enlarge) This is a profile (at the white line above) of the intended excavation below the existing ground level. A person is about the size of the dot on the "i" in "Property Line". The right property line is Skyline park. The vertical distance between the Skyline trail and the bottom of the pit is 650', the height of a 60 story building.

Wed. Mar 30th: Imola-Coombsville Community Meetingon: Vision 2050

Daniel Mufson - Mar 18,16    Share expand...

Wednesday, March 30, 2016 at 7-9PM
2121 Imola Avenue (The Napa County Office of Education Building)
There is no charge to attend. Translation service for Spanish speakers will be provided.

Napa Vision 2050 is a coalition of neighborhood and environmental groups from all around the county. Over the past year we have been working to restore some sanity in how land-use permits for new and expanding wineries, hotels and heliports are approved. Dan Mufson will present our report-card to you.

Many of your neighbors have been concerned about the operation of the Syar Mine & Asphalt Factory which emits dangerous gases and particles into the air we breathe. Come to this meeting to hear your neighbor Kathy Felch explain the risks to the health of your family and what we can do about it.
Did you know that Napa County has the highest rates in California of cancer in children and white adults and is #2 in Hispanic cancers?

We are sponsoring a ballot initiative to protect the city's water supply. Jim Wilson will explain why our watersheds need enhanced protection.

Come with your neighbors.

The issue behind the tax issueson: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Mar 17,16    Share expand...

NVR 3/17/16 Despite protest, sewer board approves rate hikes
NVR editorial board 3/5/16: Prudent, necessary action on the jail

The Napa Sanitation sewer system undoubtedly needs upgrading. A lot of development has happened over the last 50 years in Napa county putting a strain on the wastewater infrastructure. And the county undoubtedly needs a new jail. As the general population increases so does the criminal population.

Both tax hikes are needed because of the increasing urban development of the county. Unfortunately, as Volker Eiseley emphasized in his battle to preserve the Napa valley, and as every city budget on earth testifies to, development doesn't pay for itself. It doesn't. Residents now need to make up for the unfunded costs that developers didn't have to pay while building and profiting from their projects over this last half century leaving taxpayers to pick up the infrastructure costs. Like roads and sewers and schools and fire stations and jails. 10 or 20 years from now residents will again be asked to pay for the impacts of projects that are currently in the development pipeline that are not paying for the infrastructure impacts they create. 135 winery projects are currently approved or in the planning department seeking 1.5 million additional visitor slots/yr.. 3500 new housing units, 2000 hotel rooms, 3,800,000 sf of commercial/industrial space are all in the pipeline in Napa county. Each will pay impact fees intended for infrastructure development that are woefully under the actual cost of mitigating the impacts they create.

That is the price of continuing "growth": developers make a profit, and the residents of the communities that absorb the urbanization are left with urban ills and higher taxes. It is the lack of recognition that the projects we approve today under the guise of "economic development" benefit a few - at the cost of the quality of life of current residents now and of increased taxes on all residents in the future.

Why is it so difficult for governments to recognize that they can better serve their citizens by attempting to limit development, so that the issues of traffic and affordable housing and sanitation can be managed without the pressure of ever increasing demand coming down the pike? Do we need to answer that question? Developers provide the funding to elect government leaders. Developers help in craft the laws that make development easier. Government leaders are absorbed into the development process claiming that "growth" generates taxes to better serve residents. It sounds good at the planning commission or in stump speeches. But if "growth" did actually pay for itself, the residents in large cities would pay lower taxes than the residents of small rural communities. New York should be tax-free by now. It is not the case.

When will we wake up and vote for leaders committed to stopping the urbanization of their communities and solving the development problems we already have? Everything that you don't want to happen to the place you live will happen as long as you continue to vote for "growth".

Occasionally there are candidates that recognize the fallacy of the "growth is good" dogma. Seek them out. Vote for them.

A letter from the Hallson: Walt Ranch

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

The Napa County planning department public presentation of the Walt Ranch Final EIR is scheduled to happen on April 4th 2016.

This week in the mail I received a promotional packet for the project from the developers with a prepaid mail-in survey card. It is an impressive public relations effort. The owners, Kathryn and Craig Hall, probably have a large circle of friends, so no doubt a lot of postcards will be sent in with the "I support the Walt Ranch vineyard proposal" box checked. One wonders how many of the "I oppose the Walt Ranch vineyard proposal" boxes will be checked. I give them credit for asking both questions.

The flier, as one might expect, is rosy about the issues of "water conservation", "erosion control" and "tree preservation" not dwelling on the 69 million gallons of water that must be pumped out of the aquifer each year, the amount of earth moving needed for 500 acres of clearing and grading including 21 miles of roads or the removal of 28,600 trees over 5" dia. to make way for the vines. As usual in every EIR, all environmental impacts have been mitigated by the developer's numbercrunchers to "less-than-significant levels". Unfortunately, residents must also spend enormous amounts of money to have their own equally qualified numbercrunchers come to different conclusions.

The one issue that is most important to me (and it seems to be only my interest) is almost unmentioned in the flier: "For most of the year, vehicles entering or leaving Walt Ranch will be almost unnoticeable, as there will not be a winery on-site or the ability for tourists or the public to access the site." They overlook the 4 years of construction activity, of course. Also they imply that this is one site with the potential for "a" winery. Walt Ranch is in fact 35 already subdivided sites with the potential for 35 wineries plus 105 dwelling units under current county zoning. Are the Halls willing to prohibit further development with binding non-development conservation easements on the properties to insure that future development "would not result in cumulative impacts to transportation and circulation in the area"? As I have tried to make the case here, to treat this project as just a vineyard conversion without considering "growth inducing impacts" that development of the site will have is a travesty of appropriate governmental oversight. This project is simply the infrastructure development for a 35 parcel housing subdivision, no different from other properties developed by that Halls and the county should be treating it as such.

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