Eternal vigilance is the price of preserving the Napa Valley.
 - Former Planning Dir. Jim Hickey 2008 (RIP 2017)
This website is intended to create an online place for the residents of Soda Canyon Road and its tributaries Loma Vista Drive, Soda Springs Road, Ridge Road and Chimney Rock Road, located in Napa County, California.

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

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

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

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

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

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Upcoming Events (full calendar here)

Wed, Mar 20, 2019
9:00am

County Planning Commission


Agenda and documents

Darms Lane Winery Use Permit
[continued from 3/6/19]
30,000 gal/yr, 12 parking spaces, 8 employees, 9214 vis/yr, food service, viewshed application
1150 Darms Lane
3/6/19 Planning Commission Agenda and documents
Neg Dec Notice
County Darms Lane Winery page
Staff report
NV2050 on Darms Lane

O'Brien Orchard Ave Winery use permit modification
Categorical exemption to recognize and allow 11280 visitors/yr to an existing 20,000 g/y winery, Con Reg exception to allow construction next to creek.
County O'brien page
1200 Orchard Ave
Tue, Mar 26, 2019
9:00am

Board of Supervisors


Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance
Following staff presentation and public comments on Mar 6, 2019, the Planing Commission with some modifications approved the ordinance and sent it back to the BOS.
Public Notice
Video of 3/6/19 PC meeting
Fri, Mar 29, 2019
2:00pm

Winery Use-permit compliance registration deadline


For current winery use-permit holders who wish to apply for a permit to voluntarily remedy their violations, or for a status determination application to clarify the extent of existing entitlements.

Napa County Code Compliance Program FAQ
Code Compliance Resolution
SCR on Compliance Issues

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.

Beyond Measure C: revised Con Regs on: Measure C and the Con Regs


Bill Hocker - Mar 15,19  expand...  Share

What will watershed protection look like?
Update 3/15/19
Discussion returns to the Board of Supervisors on 3/19/19. The Public Notice is here.

Update 3/7/19
NVR 3/7/19: Napa Planning Commission comes up with watershed protection recommendations

Video and documents of the 3/6/19 PC meeting

Oak Woodland & Watershed Protection Committee take on the meeting
NV2050 take on the meeting

Little changed from the Supervisors proposed conditions (see here). There were modest tweaks to the very modest proposals that the Supes had sent them. Neither the tree-cutters nor the tree-huggers were happy - which probably means the County in their "sausage making" (Dir. Morrison's term) felt they got it right.

The news here was that a new interest group has come out of the woodlands: the real estate lobby. This new voice was up in arms over the denial of property rights in their desire to develop homes on slopes over 30%. The hills of Berkeley and San Francisco are over 30%, their argument went, and they are loaded with housing. It seemed unlikely that such a development model was going to win over the civic guardians of Napa's rural heritage. And yet the wine industry stakeholders, in worrying about their own property rights, seemed to support the home builders' concern. (My own response to the issue is here)

The property rights lament has been at the heart of land policy opposition since the original Ag Preserve, and a segment of the wine industry, as they did in 1968, again harped on the potential victimhood here. It seemed as though the vintners had forgotten their historical animus against home builders in their fury to fight a bigger enemy: "environmental activists". They also seemed to forget, as they have in other debates over the last few years, that the denial of property rights was the essential element of the Ag Preserve legislation that made it possible for the wine industry to survive into the 21st century.

After Measure C, in which the industry spuriously argued that restrictions on watershed development would lead to more housing in the hills, it was interesting that they now seemed to tacitly support the argument that watershed restrictions would decrease housing development there. Politics makes strange bedfellows.

The ordinance will return for a final decision to the Board of Supervisors on March 26, 2019.

Update 3/1/19
NVR 3/1/19: Here's a Q&A cheat sheet for Napa County's watershed debate

The Planning Commission will take up the discussion again on Wed., Mar. 6, 2019. The agenda and documents are here.

Update 2/22/19
NVR 2/22/19: Passionate comments open Napa Planning Commission's watershed protection debate

Video and documents of the 2/20/19 Planning Commission meeting
County WQ&TP Ordinance page

Update 2/15/19
On Wed, Feb 20, 2019, 9:00am, the County Planning Commission will take up revisions to the Conservation Regulations sent them by the BOS. Public comments are welcome - a full house is expected and the hearing may be extended to Feb 27 if needed. The meeting agenda and documents are here.

David Heitzman: Data-driven decisions or simply propaganda?
Mike Hackett: The Science is Clear: Our Future is Not.
George Caloyannidis:
Tree Protection Ordinance comments
Oak Replacement comments
Sierra Club Napa Executative Committee: Strengthen watershed ordinance
Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture: Protecting Our Napa Valley: Four key scientific facts on Napa Valley’s vineyard expansion

Update 2/8/19
County staff has produced a markup of a proposed "Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance" amending and adding sections to the County ordinances governing watershed development, to be submitted to the Planning Commission on 2/20/19.
Conservation Regulations Markup

Meeting Notice

Highlights:
-- setbacks on slopes < 30% remain the same
-- no planting or building development above 30% slope (some exemptions);
-- 200' setback from municipal reservoirs
-- Federally define wetlands and 50' setback from wetlands
-- streams to include ephemeral class III streams with 35' setback
-- 70% canopy retention in all unincorporated areas (previously 60% in watersheds only)
-- 3:1 canopy replacement (previously 2:1)
-- 40% chaparral retained if no canopy in unincorporated areas
-- easement protection for retained vegetation
-- exempt replanting, fire rebuilding and fire management practices
-- exempt vineyards < 5 acres on hopes < 15%

The title of the ordinance, the "Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance", is a more tactical description than the philosophical "Watershed Protection Ordinance" previously used. The Conservation Regulations that the ordinance will change are principally about land clearing operations and their impact on soil and surface water runoff. They do not deal directly with the equally important function of watersheds in feeding subsurface aquifers that, as springs, add to the surface water supply and that are pumped out to irrigate the increasing number of vines in the watersheds. While canopy retention may be a metric of aquifer contribution, the Conservation Regs are largely silent on the impact of vineyard conversion on the sustenance of the aquifers (beyond one reference to Phase I water availability analysis which, in fact, no longer applies to the watersheds). That issue is now under scrutiny of the County in its Groundwater Sustainability Analysis.

It is doubtful that such modest tweaking of the Con Regs will do much to change the current development trajectory of wild lands in the county. It would be interesting to evaluate Walt Ranch, the county's poster child for the inappropriate conversion of a large chunk of unspoiled natural heritage into a vineyard estate project (and perhaps the genesis of Measure C and this ordinance), to see what impact these changes might have had.

The easements to protect retained vegetation are a good step. Excluding development on slopes between 30% and 50% may save some areas. One wonders how much of the county is already developed on slopes in that range. But, despite the sound and fury some members of the wine industry (IMO more concerned about who is making the decisions rather than the decisions themselves), the modest changes in setbacks, canopy retention or replacement ratios don't seem like they will be the deciding factors in whether or not to develop. And reducing the development of watersheds and woodlands should be the goal of any new regulations.

Update 1/29/19
NVR 1/29/19: Napa's Board of Supervisors swamped with public comments over vineyard development rules
Video of BOS 1/29/19 meeting
Staff Letter for the hearing
Napa Vision 2050 recap of hearing

The Planning Commission will take up the BOS recommendations at their Feb 20th meeting.

1/28/19
NVR 1/27/19: Napa County tackling thorny environment/farm issues
WOWP Committee 1/28/19: What are the County's values? What are ours?
NV2050: Jim Wilson's Talking Points

In the June 2018 primary election, Measure C, the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative, failed by 650 votes out of 37,500 votes cast. The contentiousness of the campaign was seen by many as not just a vote on the protection of watersheds but a referendum on the pace of development in the county as a whole. The supervisors, mindful of the community split that the vote represented, have renewed a Strategic Plan process to seek out a consensus on County priorities over the next three years.

As part of that process, the Supervisors have scheduled a workshop to continue the discussion, or battle, that so divided the County over Measure C, in the hopes that under their leadership a consensus can be arrived at. In fact, a faction of the Napa Valley Vintners help draft the provisions of the Initiative before backing out under pressure from the more aggressive members. A principal complaint by some seemed to be only that it was a citizen initiative rather than the industry-government collaboration that normally leads to new ordinances governing the industry. There should be support from the industry for some changes to the current Watershed Conservation regulations. The potential of another initiative looms if this discussion goes nowhere.

The workshop is Item 9C on the BOS 1/29/19 Meeting Agenda
A comparison of the options to be discussed is here.

Napa City/County Watershed models on: Watershed Issues


Bill Hocker - Mar 15,19  expand...  Share

NVR 3/17/19: City of Napa to look into joint water study of reservoir areas with county

Computer models are being developed for the watersheds feeding Napa City's two reservoirs, Hennessy and Milliken, and a report on the modeling will be presented to the Board of Supervisors on 3/19/19. The models will allow for predictive evaluation of water quality in the reservoirs using climate and land development inputs.

Model Documentation Report for Hennessy and Milliken Reservoir Watershed Study
Water sampling and analysis plan

This water quality analysis model has become a concern for the city because the potential impact of vineyard development in the watersheds brought to the fore by opposition to the Walt Ranch project in the Milliken Watershed. As more and more of the watershed areas are being developed to vines the question of siltation from soil disturbance in the conversion and farming processes and the question of chemical contamination from agricultural fertilizers and pesticides has become increasingly important in the protection of municipal water supplies.

The process raises again the importance of including the Rector Reservoir in any study that links vineyard development to reservoir health. Unfortunately, since Rector is a State responsibility, the opportunity to compare the water quality of Yountville and Veterans Home water supply and its vineyard development impacts to those of Napa City is complicated by bureaucratic turf boundaries. The comparison would be valuable.

At present, the Hennessy and Milliken watersheds each have an 8% coverage in vineyards. By contrast the Rector Watershed is 21% covered in vines. If there are impacts to water quality by vineyard development, Rector should provide a more reliable demonstration of the impacts than the other two.

So far the model doesn't seem to be looking at the buildup of siltation in the reservoirs, which is an aspect of the water supply system. An extensive 2009 report on the health of the Rector Reservoir found that the drain for the reservoir (it has a drain! - in addition to the water intake ports further up) was on the verge of being silted over.

Napa Groundwater Sustainability Alternative on: Watershed Issues


Bill Hocker - Mar 14,19  expand...  Share

Click image to open Basin widget. Click on Napa basin in widget for basin data
Update 3/14/19:
2018 Napa County Groundwater Sustainability Annual Report
Report Summary

Staff will be presenting the Report to the Supervisors on Mar 19, 2019. The Agenda letter is here

Update 5/21/18:
NVR 5/24/18: State proposes change in monitoring status for Napa County's groundwater

Chris Malan has passed along the email below from the State Department of Water Resources which indicates that the Napa Subbasin has been reclassified in a draft document from a "medium-" to "high-" priority basin. It is unclear how this change would affect Napa's Groundwater Sustainability Alternative but does suggest that the condition of the Napa Subbasin may be of greater concern than the county has indicated. A public comment period on the Draft runs through July 18th, 2018.


From: Lauren.Bisnett@WATER.CA.GOV
Subject: DWR Releases Draft Prioritization Under SGMA
Date: May 18, 2018 at 1:45:19 PM PDT

DWR Releases Draft Prioritization of Groundwater Basins Under Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

The DWR Sustainable Groundwater Management Program today released a draft prioritization of groundwater basins as required by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). The 2018 SGMA Basin Prioritization is scheduled to be finalized by fall 2018 after a 60 day public comment period that starts today and runs through July 18, 2018.

Basins throughout the state are ranked high-, medium-, low-, or very low-priority. Basins ranking high- or medium-priority are subject to SGMA. Of the 517 groundwater basins statewide, the newly released draft prioritization identifies 109 basins as high- and medium-priority, which includes 14 basins newly ranked as high- or medium-priority. Additionally, 38 basins previously ranked as high or medium-priority are now ranked as low- or very-low priority and are no longer subject to SGMA. Draft prioritization results can be viewed using DWR’s newly developed visual application tool, the 2018 Prioritization Dashboard.

DWR will hold a public webinar May 30 to present the draft results, followed by statewide public meetings at the end of June. DWR will be taking public comments on the draft results, including additional data or information that is consistent with statewide datasets identified in the Basin Prioritization Process and Results Document. For more information, please refer to the 2018 SGMA Basin Prioritization Frequently Asked Questions.

When the 2018 SGMA Basin Prioritization is made final, the basins newly subject to SGMA must form Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) within two years and develop Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) within five years, or submit an Alternative Plan within two years. DWR provides a wide-variety of resources and services to support local agencies and GSAs in implementing SGMA.

Low- or very low-priority basins are not subject to SGMA, but are encouraged to form GSAs and GSPs, update existing groundwater management plans, and coordinate with adjacent basins to develop a new groundwater management plan.

For more information or to submit a comment, please visit:https://water.ca.gov/Programs/Groundwater-Management/Basin-Prioritization


Dan Mufson of NapaVision2050 has sent a copy of his 2/15/17 letter in response to the County's Sustainable Groundwater Management alternative critical of the alternative's lack of consideration of an increasingly dryer climate future.

Update 4/25/17:
NVR 2/25/17: Napa County says groundwater picture continues to be good

Update 2/15/17:
This is a summary of documents and posts on Napa County's sustainable groundwater management alternative plan, titled Napa Valley Groundwater Sustainability - A Basin Analysis Report for the Napa Valley Subbasin, in response to the State's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

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

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

Individual Responses:
Donoviel LTE 2/26/17: Concerns over water plan
Gary Margadant: What is Happening to Our Most Precious and Irreplaceable Resource: Our Water
Letter sent to the BOS on Dec 19th 2016
Chris Malan, Mike Hackett: Napa's Sustainable Groundwater alternative
Dan Mufson: got Water? Will you have water?
Responses to the Draft Napa Valley Basin Analysis Report

11/13/16
Chris Malan has sent this informative email concerning the WICC workshop that was held on Nov 3rd, with the resulting workshop report to be presented to he BOS on Dec 13th 2016 [now Dec 20th].

11/2/16

Public comment is open on the County's recent study of groundwater (gw) in the Napa Valley, in order to comply with the California State Law: Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, SGMA.

A workshop is being held tomorrow, November 3rd, from 3-6 at 2121 Imola, Napa County Office of Education.

Public comment (3 minutes) is allowed after their consultant presents the study.

You can review the Draft Basin analysis (DBA)/Napa Valley Groundwater Sustainability documents here.

There consultant is Luhdorff and Scallimini (LS) who say gw in the Napa Valley aquifer is stable and does not need gw management.

Their document is lacking in these areas (to mention a few):
  • False baseline of gw surface elevation: historically gw was at the surface (0 mean sea level) level in Calistoga-now gw is 10 feet below the surface in Calistoga and there is on-going dewatering of the Napa River from Calistoga to Hardman lane.
  • misleading information about groundwater quality-LS admit that gw quality is poor in many areas of the County due to boron, arsenic, nitrogen and heavy metals but dismisses this by calling it ‘normal’.
  • misleading information about the root zone modeling outcomes-LS discuss root zone modeling on the valley floor but ignore the upper/wild watershed in their water budget-this allows them to not model the impacts of deforestation on gw recharge
  • ignores Public Trust values and resources
  • fails to discuss or define ‘ undesirable results’ required by SGMA such as: declining gw quality, wells going dry, fish kills, dewatering of the Napa River and streams, salt water intrusion, land subsidence; all of which are occurring now, on-going and re-occuring since January 2015. If ‘undesirable results’ are present in the Napa River watershed, the County is required to do a Groundwater Sustainable Plan, GSP, by 2020 and a Groundwater Sustainable Agency, GSA, by June 2017.
  • mischaracterizes the water budget elements-discusses the vines production at 20,000 acres and holding and ignores the recharge area in the hills where deforestation and vines are being planted by thousands of acres each year
  • fails to account for the major use of groundwater at 60% during drought-causing dewatering of streams
Because of this, Napa County shouldn’t have this Alternative monitoring plan but instead get going on a Groundwater Sustainable Plan, GSP.

Background on why Napa County has chosen to do a DBA, (just continued monitoring) instead of Groundwater Sustainable Plan (includes a plan for sustainable extraction of gw): The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), historic legislation enacted by Governor Brown in September 2014, provided a new structure for sustainable management of California’s groundwater basins. On January 1, 2015 the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) began implementing the Act, including the development of new regulations to guide local groundwater sustainability efforts. SGMA established a sustainability goal for groundwater basins throughout the state, prioritized basins, established a timeline for implementation, and provided for new Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA). It also required the development of Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs), or Alternatives that are equivalent to them, to ensure that basins are operated within their sustainable yield.

In basins that have ongoing successful groundwater management programs, a local agency may elect to submit a Basin Analysis Report Alternative that demonstrates that the groundwater basin is being sustainably managed. With direction from the Board of Supervisors on March 3, 2015, Napa County began work to implement SGMA through development of a Basin Analysis Report for the Napa Valley Groundwater Subbasin. Napa County was well suited to meet the requirements for this Alternative due to its groundwater sustainability program, which includes: an ongoing and evolving groundwater monitoring network and program, annual groundwater conditions reporting, an Updated Hydrogeologic Conceptualization and Characterization of Conditions Report (2013), development of new groundwater/surface water monitoring facilities along the Napa River, and a long-term public education and outreach program through the Watershed Information & Conservation Council of Napa County.

You should come tomorrow and listen to the presentation and be prepared to say something about the process and lack of correct information being presented to the both the WICC Board tomorrow and subsequently the BOS on Tuesday December 13, 2016 at a Special Meeting.

Keep in mind that if the BOS approve this Alternative to be submitted to the Department of Water Resources by January 1, 2017, and the DWR accepts this bogus Alternative this denies us groundwater management for an undetermined amount of time.

Our aquifers deserve our voice if we want sustainable gw for future generations. The time to act is now.

Chris Malan


The WICC Nov 3rd workshop agenda with supporting documents are here.
The county's page on groundwater sustainability is here

DIssenting voices to the County's proposed alternative to SMGA requirements by Gary Margadant and Gordon Evans among others are summarized in this response to comments, one of the documents in the Nov. 3rd workshop packet.

In an email to WICC Board Member David Graves after the Nov 3rd workshop, Mike Hackett of Angwin writes:

"Good morning David,

I need to fully understand why the County has painted itself into a corner by going "all-in" for the alternate plan. Initially, what individual or group came to that determination? Was it Patrick Lowe's regime, WIIC recommendation, BOS? I would hope it wasn't from the consultant group L&S. Our year long study related to enhanced protections for our watershed [the subverted Oak Woodland Initiative] uncovered strong needs for preservation of our oak woodlands and riparian corridors. This is about the future of not just supply, but equally important the quality of that supply. How can we plan for our children's future without ensuring quantity and quality?

I know you would agree that our water resource is THE most important resource needed to sustain life. Why are we gambling with this absolutely-necessary resource for life itself? What was the reasoning for selecting the alternate plan? It would be heartbreaking to think it was about $$. We need and will continue to demand an ongoing process like a sustainable groundwater plan. I simply am dumbfounded that we're trying to cut corners here! Dumbfounded!

Lastly, L&S appear to have cherry picked data and modeling to support the alternate plan, which is disturbing enough. But more scary is that their future assumptions are based on current conditions: like no increased development. What a "crock." We have the demand for 5,000 more acres of conversion from forest to vineyard in the pipeline right now. Many of those 113 wells are recently on line. We are gambling with our most important resource. This is outrageous and very troubling. I've admired your intellect and participation for several years now. Why do you not see the contradiction here? Those of us who are only in this fight because of the need for truth, justice and the dignity of life will continue to educate our fellow citizens that we are being sold ' a bill of goods" leading to the ultimate destruction of our Valley. We will continue until our last breaths to awaken our residents to these corporate blind ambitions.

Mike Hackett"

The Caldwell deliberation on: Tourism Issues


Bill Hocker - Mar 12,19  expand...  Share

Update 3/12/19
NVR 3/12/19: Napa County supervisors send Caldwell winery back to Planning Commission

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 (Ramos, Pedroza, Gregory Wagenknecht yes, Dillon no ) to remand the project to the Planning Commission with direction to consider lowered visitation and event numbers proposed by the applicant, seasonal variation in visitation, traffic and visitor log monitoring, 3 yr phased increases in visitation with review at each phase, greater notification range for events.

The Board has punted again in trying to resolve the inherent incompatibility of winery tourism in remote residential-farming neighborhoods. The Planning Commission expressed their willingness to take on a continuance at their last meeting which the winery owner rejected. Now they may be a bit chagrined that the Supes have taken them up on it. The Supes have essentially said “We don’t want to deal with the issues raised here. Approve the project, Planning Commission.” Another failure of leadership.

Sup. Ramos felt the solution to the problem was in reducing trips and proposed that the Planning Commission look at a very elaborate 3-year formula and monitoring program to do so. Will the county really provide such detailed oversight of the numerous projects proposed in residential areas? I suspect that her concern over trips, rather than the noise and light impacts of tourism on a quiet rural community, has something to do with the traffic jam that she frequently navigates at the Soscol Junction.

The most interesting presentation in the meeting was that of the Caldwell's lawyer in rebutting public testimony. She called attention to the case law argument made in the Staff letter to the Board that justified the Planning Commission's denial:

“Additionally, concern of neighbors is sufficient to constitute substantial evidence that a contemplated use is detrimental to the welfare of the community. Expert testimony on these issues is not necessary. It is appropriate and even necessary for the [planning commission] to consider the interest of neighboring property owners in reaching a decision whether to grant or deny a land use entitlement and the opinions of neighbors may constitute substantial evidence of this issue.” (SP Star Enterprises, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 459, 460.)
(The referenced case in the Staff letter regards an adult entertainment venue, legal under zoning laws, denied a permit because of community concern. )

She placed that justification next to the county’s "Right to Farm" ordinance:

"Napa County has determined that the highest and best use for agricultural land as defined below is to develop or preserve said lands for the purposes of agricultural operations and it will not consider the inconveniences or discomforts arising from agricultural operations to be a nuisance if such operations are legal, consistent with accepted customs and standards and operated in a non-negligent manner."

The General Plan reference to the "Right to Farm" also (I think brutally) specifically dismisses citizen concern over impacts of agricultural practices:

The “Right to Farm” is recognized throughout this Plan and is specifically called out in both this Element and in the County Code. “Right to Farm” provisions ensure that agriculture remains the primary land use in Napa County and is not threatened by potentially competing uses or neighbor complaints

The Napa County "Right to Farm" ordinance no doubt was initially based on the state definition of agriculture both of which define agricultural operations that include "preparation for market, delivery to storage or to market, or to carriers for transportation to market." The ordinance does include reference to the county's "definition of agriculture" ordinance section 18.08.040 which at the time of the adoption of the "Right to Farm" ordinance said nothing about the marketing of wine beyond the sale of wine produced at wineries. In 2017 marketing, as redefined in the 2010 WDO, was added at that definition, and made marketing, i.e. parties, lunches and dinners at wineries, activities that were protected by the "Right to Farm" against neighbor complaints.

When some Supervisors assumed that the visitation neighbors were concerned about was not a "Right to Farm" issue (as might any normal-thinking person), they were unfortunately philosophically right but legally wrong. This connection of the "Right to Farm" and tourism uses was previously discussed here and here and elsewhere on this site. It is the heart of any discussion on the County's unique definition of "agriculture".

Were the Supervisors willing to state here that the "Right to Farm" now protects luncheon service and business parties? No. They kicked it back to the Commission so that they wouldn't have to. The question now is how far the County is willing to go to argue that the "concern of neighbors is sufficient to constitute substantial evidence that a contemplated use is detrimental to the welfare of the community". We shall see if they hold to that argument when the deliberation is returned to the Planning Commission, or if that argument will also arise in the Darms Lane, O'brien, Anthem, Aloft or O'Connell wineries coming up.

Update 3/9/19
The Caldwell appeal will be heard by the Board of Supervisors on Mar 12, 2019. Agenda and documents

The staff letter to the Board is here. The justification given for the Planning Commission's denial of the project is summarized in this paragraph in the letter:
“Appellant is incorrect that the Planning Commission’s denial is not supported by substantial evidence. Based on its review of the Project, the Planning Commission unanimously found the proposed visitation levels were too high, especially given the Winery’s remote location at the end of a narrow, dead end road with shared access, in a fire hazard zone. The Commission’s basis for denial was clearly articulated and based on substantial evidence in the record.”

The proposed use permit modification was denied by the Planning Commission on Oct 12 2018 on the basis of the detrimental impact its tourism activities would have on its rural neighborhood. It is one of only 3 or 4 denials in the last 10 years and is significant in that the impact of visitation on community character is the cause of the denial.
The County's Caldwell appeal page is here
Residents' response letter to the Appeal application

This is the crux of the battle over the last 5 years: as is to be expected in one of the world's great wine capitals, the growing of grapes and the making of wine are accepted activities that create the rural character of Napa communities appreciated by most all who live here; but winery tourism is not a neighborly activity. The daily traffic, the noise of crowds of people being entertained outdoors, and the lighting needed for evening entertainment is the death of that rural character. Wine making generates traffic, noise and lights only during brief periods of the year, an acceptable impact of the right to farm. Wine tourism happens every day.

Zoning protections limiting almost all rural Napa land to "agriculture" since the 1960's have been somewhat successful in preventing the spread of building development into those areas. But in 2010 the County expanded its definition of "agriculture" to allow greater profits with the increased commercial uses of event hosting and meal service to visitors. It was the "Citizens United" decision of Napa County, giving a green light to entrepreneurs to develop potentially very profitable entertainment businesses on the back of marginally profitable (or unprofitable) wine-making operations.

The question in the appeal is whether or not the Supervisors will continue to ignore residents concerned about the character of their rural communities by granting building projects that commercialize and diminish that character (and urbanize the county as a whole in the process); or will the Supervisors finally recognize that the embrace of tourism as "agriculture" (and the corporate and plutocratic exploitation of that linkage) has destroyed the comity between rural residents and the industry and fueled much of the citizen pushback for the last 5 years. The conversion of Napa County from an agricultural economy to a tourism-entertainment economy will eventually destroy the county's rural beauty and unique character. Will the Supervisors put the brakes on that process? They have a chance to begin here.

Napa Vision 2050 comments and visuals on the project.

Update 10/18/18
NVR 10/18/18: Caldwell winery dispute appears headed to Napa Board of Supervisors

3/13/18
NVR 3/11/18: Neighbors challenge increased visitors at Caldwell Vineyard in east Napa

The continuance to a date uncertain of the hearing to modify the use permit of the Caldwell Winery from 25 to 35,000 gal/yr and from 2000 to 21000 visitors/yr proved a very bittersweet one for those of us who have lived through the heartbreak of a neighborhood, completely opposed to a project that will bring a daily intrusion of tourists to a rural, dead end road, being denied any say in the decision.

A few of the comments from commissioners in their discussion at the end of the presentation were remarkable.

First from Comm. Jeri Hansen, in the developer wing of the commission:
"I am fond of saying that this is an ag use in an ag zone. And that we have a right to farm - and that is true. But I also do not want to discount the legitimate concerns of legitimate neighbors who live in proximity to a site... The fact that it [the road to the winery] is a small lane in an area where there are not that many neighbors, but the fact that all of them are here with same concerns tells me something."

I heard this with some vexation. At the Mountain Peak hearing, the concerns of the many residents that packed the chamber for the hearing and the 150 residents on our dead-end road that signed a petition opposing the project, she seemed quite willing to discount at the time. Perhaps she sees some residents as being more legitimate than others.

But the real comments of interest were voiced by Comms. Gallagher and Cottrel, the preservationist wing of the commission.

From Comm Gallagher: While she commented on and was opposed to the excessive visitation in such a remote location, a sentiment that she may have voiced on Mountain Peak had she been empaneled at the time, she also had this to say:
"The question was asked by one of the speakers why are wineries limited to the number of visitors and I think its really important that we address that. Wineries are limited on the number of visitors because marketing and visitation are incidental uses to the ag uses on the property. And the ag uses are growing the grapes and processing them."

And then this:
"I just want to make a comment on something that we have heard today and that we have heard in the past: Issues of making businesses viable or making them successful. I'm a little bit concerned that we would be implementing land use policy that is driven by any particular business model. And while we of course want businesses in our county to be viable and to be successful we can't be adjusting our land use regulations to insure the success of any particular operation. We really need to be focused on Land use."

Comm Cottrell in her comments reinforced the sentiment:
"I'm very concerned about any kind of an argument in favor of a marketing or visitation plan where the county is being asked to support a particular business model or where a number is needed to obtain economic viability . Our job is to approve use permit terms that are consistent with the general plan and the goal to preserve agriculture. Not to insure profitability."


Both made very clear statements to the effect that wine production and wine marketing are two very different activities and that the role of the county may be to foster the viability of the former but not to insure the viability of the latter.

Unfortunately, the trajectory of both the "wine industry" and the government that serves it, as we have witnessed these last 4 years, has been moving decidedly in the opposite direction, promoting wine tourism to be the principal product of Napa County, not wine. And I'm sure that the industry and some government officials would be quite willing to cite chapter and verse of the code they have crafted in the last 10 years (in the General plan in 2008 and the WDO in 2010 and the official definition of agriculture in 2017) to encourage that transition of the county's principal economic activity.

I can only applaud the stance that Comms. Gallagher and Cottrell have taken in this project to separate true agriculture from tourism. As I have raved every time county government gives a modest nod to the concerns of residents about the loss of rural Napa, I hope this represents some kind of backbone beginning to grow to confront the direct-to-consumer dogma and the tourism urbanization it induces with such adverse impact on the character of this place. There seems always just a glimmer of hope.

Comments


Bill Hocker - Mar 12, 2019 5:57PM

[Email sent on 3/11/19 to Dir. Morrison, Planner Wyntress Balcher. and the Supervisors for the BOS Caldwell appeal hearing]

Supervisors,

Thank you for this opportunity to comment.

"I feel that enactment of this ordinance reflects the wishes of the people of Napa County. I believe that these people wish to create for themselves the environment in which they wish to live and for future generations."
- Jack L. Ferguson, Napa Supervisor in approving the Ag Preserve, 1968

In the last five years you have probably noticed a heightened level of community participation in land use policy. While there are numerous causes for that participation in each project that comes before you, at root is a changing relationship between the residents and the dominant industry of the county. The influence of the resident farmer-vintners that created the Ag Preserve as a place in which they wished to work and live, and created the environment that all residents are privileged to enjoy, has given way to corporate and plutocratic ownership which seems to pursue a desire to expand production, marketing potential and personal expression regardless of the impacts on that rural environment. These changes have fostered a loss of faith among many residents that the government and the wine industry are fully interested of protecting the rural character that residents identify with and that the county has nominally pledged itself to preserve.

In the case of new and expanded wineries, the adoption by the wine industry of an ever increasing reliance on at-winery tourism to boost profits has created pushback from residents who accept the occasional right-to-farm impacts inherent in living in an agricultural economy but resent that right being expanded to the every-day impacts of commercial entertainment venues in their residential-farming neighborhoods.

The Planning Commission, in denying this proposal has, at along last, recognized that there is a difference between agriculture and the marketing of wine, and that wine tourism creates impacts that can be incompatible with life in a rural community. Each application needs to be judged on its own merits. And there are, no doubt, places where a tourism venues may be appropriate in the agricultural areas of the county. But when the residents of a potentially impacted community rise up in significant opposition, that should be an indication, in and of itself, that such a use is not appropriate for that location.

Rural residents are no less interested in the survival of wine industry and the unique and beautiful rural environment that is its product as are most members of the industry. But at-winery tourism is driving a wedge between the industry and those residents. There are other ways to market wine and those need to be looked at, for the sake of maintaining Napa's rural community character and, as some have suggested, for the sake of the Napa wine industry's survival as well.

A denial of this appeal might begin to restore faith between residents and their government, and hopefully be the start of a process of healing the rift between residents and the industry that better reflects the founding vision of an environment in which we wish to live, now and for future generations.

Bill Hocker

Solution 11. Develop a Napa Wine Online portal on: Solutions


Bill Hocker - Mar 11,19  expand...  Share

Update 3/11/19
NVR 1/28/19: Winegrowers instructed on 'future-proofing' Napa wine in the digital age
From the Paul Mabray presentation to the NV Grapegrowers:
"I fundamentally believe that the only way we’re going to survive as an industry is how we can help bring Napa Valley into people’s homes, without them coming to Napa Valley."
Hear! Hear!

Forbes 10/12/18: Wine Industry Digital Leader Paul Mabray Pulls No Punches
SVB on Wine 3/15/17: The Tough Questions Wine Clubs Face

SVB State of the Wine Industry 2019
With visitor counts falling every year for the last 4 years in Napa county Rob McMillan advises that "Your winery needs to find new growth and new consumers, and they aren’t going to come from the present tasting room approach". (Chapter 9: "Sales and marketing for family wineries" beginning page 45.)

Update 2/25/15
Amber forwards one website that begins to create the Napa Internet Wine Portal envisioned below: Dave Thompson's very cleanly designed site The Napa Wine Project. It is a tremendous, actually astounding, online catalog of Napa wines and their descriptions and backstories. Just the thing to begin to make the necessity of acually visiting the 770+ small wineries he has been to around the county unnecessary. (Of course transporting people to them is how Dave tries to make ends meet.)

The Napa Wine Project
Internet wine merchants:
invino.com Sonoma
nakedwines.com Sonoma
Wine.com no doubt the largest wine e-tailer.

2/10/15
It is important to remember that the one purpose of the land use policies articulated in the Napa General Plan is to encourage a market for Napa grapes, not to create a tourist industry to consume Napa wine. Wine sales to tourists have major negative impacts on the character of the valley, on the lives of the people who live here and, I think, on the viability of continuing an agricultural economy. Alternatives need to be pursued.

Currently, according to to Rob McMillan's SVB statistics, 6% of Napa wine is sold via the Internet. His feeling in his presentation to the Planning Comission was that direct sales at the winery were still important because unlike books or shoes, fine wines didn't lend themselves to Internet sales - they can't be returned after they're opened. There may be hurdles, but a technique to sell high-end wine on the internet will eventually be perfected and the need for in-winery sales, which even now constitute only a small portion of the overall sales of Napa wines but have big environmental impacts, will be over. Internet sales promise greater profits to the vintners without the impacts, hence as much effort should be put into an internet portal for Napa wines as has been spent on Visit Napa Valley trying to lure more customers to its bricks and mortar outlets. We need to make sure that the rural character of the valley is not destroyed in the meantime by preventing the construction of tourist facilities which will remain even after their need to support agriculture is gone.

Each winery has its own internet site, of course, so the process works, and someone will eventually become the Zappos of wine. Which is why it is important now for a Napa-only website to be developed that can compete with a larger site when it comes. Such a site, if developed as a quasi-public company like Visit Napa Valley, would profit vintners more than might be the case in a purely private company. The site should extoll the qualities of Napa wines, the importance of the concept of the Ag Preserve to maintain that quality and the reasons that Napa wine is more than just a bottle of wine - it is a piece of winemaking history.

Open letter to voters regarding post-Measure C: clarifications on: Measure C and the Con Regs


Mike Hackett - Mar 6,19  expand...  Share

I would like the opportunity to set the record straight about oppositional distortions from those interested in further development on our hillsides. They say:

1. It’s a solution looking for a problem. Measure C was anti-ag.

2. Measure C and the current proposal for a water and tree protection ordinance proposed by the county will be the demise of agriculture here in Napa County.

3. There’s no science behind the environmentalist’s claims.

4. Enhanced watershed protections take away property rights.

5. This idea for more water protections will kill the small farmer.

6. These ideas come from a small minority who have theirs and have deep pockets with selfish motivations.

7. It’s too much to protect 70 percent of our forests.

8. Measure C would have allowed removing 795 acres of forest.

9. The Napa River is much cleaner than it was in the ‘60s.

Response: I call BS on all of that.

1. There’s a much greater threat to agriculture in Napa Valley than sparing our hillsides from deforestation, and that’s running out of water. It’s a finite resource we all share as a community. Two-thirds of the water used for ag on the valley floor comes from our hills.

2. There is a misconception that growth is mandatory if we want a strong wine economy. Absolutely untrue. Most longtime successful wineries are interested in quality (the brand ) not in growth. Growth is necessary only for those needing share prices to rise.

3. If only these people would open a book. It’s ludicrous to think we don’t have a climate crisis. All science points to the need for changing the way we take care of our home.

4. Property rights are limited by the effect on our neighbors. This is a community problem. Our community shares our water. It’s not just for ag, but for the fish in the river, the water in our reservoirs, the habitat in our woodlands and ag.

5. The idea of a small farmer is not real. It’s $200,000 per acre at a minimum to go from bare ground to a producing vineyard; that’s if you already own the land. Actually the vast majority of successful wineries today have no interest in supporting the fantasy of small farmers.

6. The Yes on C constituency is made up of nearly 18,000 voters; that is no small minority. The Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture are selfless individuals from the wine grape growing industry who feel their mission in this is to protect this treasured Napa Valley. They and all the others promoting enhanced protections only care about our future here. They speak from their hearts, not from their wallets.

7. We can take no pride in allowing 30 percent of our forests to be clearcut. The services the trees provide are far reaching: soil retention, certainty for water quality, carbon sequestration, species protections, and water, water, water for all. Let’s take back our water from the self-interested, greedy segment who hide behind distortions of reality.

8. The 795 acres agreed upon after collaboration with the Napa Valley Vintners, was designed to be a “soft landing” for those with projects in the pipeline. It was a compromise that was used against us. If the current proposed ordinance were to pass, there would be nearly 30,000 acres open to deforest in Napa County. The voters didn’t like 795. We cannot take any pride in allowing that level of clearcutting here at home.

9. It’s true, we are not dumping pollutants from the likes of tanneries any more. But our Napa River is listed as impaired by federal standards that are regulated by the state. The river is in a critical stage where way too much sediment and nutrients are pouring in from increasing development. The fish that used to be abundant have left. That is indisputable. Coho salmon and steelhead are tiny in numbers. They are prevented from spawning because the river bottom that should be lined with gravel is covered with sediment. The river is too warm and negatively affected by negative nutrients.

Please write and call your local county representative and tell them we need the very strongest protections available that will help keep our Napa Valley, our community, our forests and streams, and our shared water supply plentiful and for all.

NVR Version 3/6/18: Open letter to voters regarding post-Measure C: clarifications

Mountain Peak in court on: Mountain Peak Winery


Bill Hocker - Feb 27,19  expand...  Share

Update 2/27/19
Following a hearing at the Napa Superior Court on Feb 1, 2019 Petitioners (Soda Canyon residents) requested the inclusion to their suit's administrative record of some documents not included prior to the final Planning Commission hearing. And they requested that the events of the 2017 fire, which happened after the Appeal hearing, be allowed into the administrative record as significant new evidence concerning the appropriateness of the Mountain Peak winery in its remote location. The Judge ruled that the additional documents could not be included in the administrative record, but also ruled that the evidence of the 2017 fire be remanded to the Board of Supervisors for their reconsideration. Prior to that, attorneys for both sides are required to establish the scope of that evidence. Until that reconsideration takes place, the hearing on the main case (Writ of Mandate), previously scheduled for Mar 7 2019, will be postponed.

The Court's ruling is here

Update 1/24/19
After a false start, the Court hearing dates have been rescheduled as follows:

Day 1 will be a hearing on the Motion to Augment the Administrative Record on Fri., Feb. 1, 2019 at 8:30am at Napa County Historic Courthouse, Dept. C, 825 Brown St, Napa, (Your chance to see the restoration in operation!)

Day 2 will be devoted to the principal Petition for Writ of Mandate against the county on Thurs., Mar. 7, 2019 at 8:30pm at Napa County Historic Courthouse, Dept. C

SCR Mountain Peak Page


Update 12/27/18
NV2050 blog post on the hearing
NV2050 Email Newsletter for the holidays

11/16/18
The lawsuit filed by Soda Canyon residents against the County for its abuse of discretion in approving the Mountain Peak Winery is set for a hearing on Jan 11, 2019 starting at 8:30am in Dept. I of the Napa County Courthouse. A schedule has been established for the submission of documents and the Soda Canyon Group, Petitioner in the lawsuit, has already submitted their opening briefs.

The lawsuit asks that the County conduct a full Environmental Impact Report on the project, as required under California law, rather than relying on the staff's negative declaration of less-than-significant environmental impacts when the Board of Supervisors approved the project. The project is for a 100,000 gal/yr winery with 33,000 sf of caves, 15,000 visitors/yr, 19 employees/day, 100+ vehicle trips/day all 6 miles up a winding dead end road.

The documents are here:
Why is the Mountain Peak case important to the entire county?

The lawsuit comes at an interesting and important time for the County's future. After the contentious Measure C vote, the fires that reemphasized the dangers of building in remote locations, the conflict that is not abating between residents and the wine industry over the intrusion of "event centers" into their rural neighborhoods, and the new emphasis in reducing vehicle miles traveled in development projects, the Board of Supervisors have begun to look at the potential impacts of "remote" winery projects with a more critical eye. (The issue of Remote Wineries was an important aspect of opposition to Mountain Peak.)

The NVR articles on the two recent BOS meetings held earlier this fall are here:
The remote winery discussion, now expanding into a discussion over the "compatibility" of a winery with its location, is outlined in this recent report by Planning Director Morrison to the Board. Supervisors Dillon and Wagenknecht both had significant comments on the issue. In one meeting, Supervisor Dillon used Mountain Peak as an example of problems with the winery approval process. The effort to define winery compatibility may go on for several months with numerous hearings. (Archived here on sodacanyonroad.org.)

The contentiousness of winery proposals before the planning commission and the Board of Supervisors has shown no signs of letting up. In a sign that attitudes may be changing at the County, two winery projects have recently been denied by the Planning Commission - more than have been denied in the previous decade at least. Both were opposed by the communities in which they are located:
And there are projects still in the pipeline already receiving pushback from residents:
In addition to the consideration of a winery compatibility ordinance, and following the divided concerns in the county over Measure C, the County Board of Supervisors, has called for a new process to seek consensus on the future of the county. It will continue an effort already begun but interrupted last year, to chart long term development goals and strategies through the development of a Napa Strategic Plan. (Archived here on sodacanyonroad.org)

Since 2010 in the County as a whole, over 140 new wineries and winery expansions have been approved adding over 5 million gallons of winemaking capacity, more than 1.8 million visitor slots, more than 1 million sf of building area, hundreds of new employees, and perhaps 100's of thousands of vehicle trips on Napa's roads each year, all approved under negative declarations, as Mountain Peak was, indicating that such increases will cause less-than-significant environmental impacts to life in Napa County. Many residents, stuck in traffic or losing a favorite wooded hillside or favorite local shop, or unable to find an affordable place to live, know that the impacts of tourism expansion are NOT less-than-significant. Winery development is the leading edge of that expansion and the case for a more thorough assessment of the environmental impacts of this type of project is needed more than ever.

The Mountain Peak project is at the forefront of this type of commercial development in an incompatible location, and the legal proceedings will serve as a bellwether (for better or worse) for future winery development in Napa's remote and rural areas. We must continue the fight and sincerely hope you will join this effort by attending the hearing and by donating to Protect Rural Napa

Talk about Chicken Little on: Measure C and the Con Regs


Patricia Damery - Feb 26,19  expand...  Share

On March 6, the Napa County Planning Commission will meet again to take more public comment and make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors on a watershed and tree protection ordinance. This is the result of Measure C’s (Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative) almost passing.

The wine industry showed up in force at the Feb. 20 Planning Commission meeting, asserting that protecting our hillsides and watersheds any further would result in the demise of the wine industry.

Talk about Chicken Little. The truth is, if further protective measures are not put in place, our environment and water supply will suffer, and with it, the wine industry as well.

The wine industry is robust. Limiting its ability of develop our hillsides and watersheds is not going to be the death of it. However, there is a conflict of interest when any industry insists that a governmental body protect its financial interests at the cost of the environment and water supply.

This is why the Environmental Protection Agency was formed in 1970: to separate out the interests of agriculture’s use of pesticides from the needs of the environment. Until then, pesticide usage was governed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), described by Rachel Carson of Silent Spring as a financial “conflict of interest.”

We need the planning commissioners and the Board of Supervisors to act on behalf of the citizens of Napa County in protecting our water supply and our environment.

The assertion from some in the wine industry that only a few individuals are pushing watershed protections similar to those of Measure C is absolutely false. A growing number of citizens, vintners and growers are leading the push to protect our natural resource;. 49.1 percent voted for Measure C in a dirty campaign too often based on the opposition’s false assertions and efforts to confuse the voters.

This current effort for the Board of Supervisors to pass an ordinance to protect our hillsides, oak woodlands, forests and watersheds was spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson. Hopefully another initiative will not be needed, but when a governing body does not govern, in California, we the people have that right.

Please contact your supervisor and planning commissioner to encourage them to act on behalf of the environment, not special interest groups.

LTE version 2/26/19: Talk about Chicken Little

Some science behind the watershed ordinance on: Measure C and the Con Regs


George Caloyannidis - Feb 26,19  expand...  Share

How interesting that all commentators -- whether in the press or during the public hearings -- who blame the lack of science for the proposed watershed regulations come from the wine and farming industry.

By all standards, this is a self interested, conflicted group that has submitted no science itself to support its arguments that existing regulations are sufficient to prevent the downward spiral of all aspects of our environment. It is the all familiar model of financial interests denying the degradation they are inflicting upon it.

But those who have no financial interests to protect, see clearly what actual science tells us about current conditions and on what lies ahead for us all, including them and the very industry's survival. The scientific record submitted in the county file is comprehensive and voluminous on all aspects of the environment. This writing concentrates only on water quality.

Only deniers would argue that the findings of the 2009 San Francisco Bay Are Water Quality Control Board on the alarming degradation of the Napa River water quality are not based on science. Enough so, that the river has been listed as impaired under Section 303(d) of the U.S. Clean Water Act due to pathogens (RWQCB 2008), nutrients (RWCB 2003) and excessive sedimentation (RWCB 2007). This water in the river is our drinking water from stream runoff primarily from the watershed and spilling into and from our reservoirs in the winter.

Any doubters can look at Lake Hennessey's brown water that supplies the city of Napa. Our other reservoirs are in the same sad condition. The steadily declining fish population -- the pitiful few hundred Coho -- knows what the conflicted refuse to acknowledge.

Of the 170,000 tons per year of all man-made river sedimentation, 67,000 tons are directly attributed to vineyards and grazing land, even though they comply with the county's current erosion control measures. According to the 2012 San Francisco Estuary Institute's Napa River Watershed Profile report, these erosion control practices have the "unintended effect of increased runoff without a compensating increase in course sediment supply." The steady increase in fine river (and reservoir) slimy sediment is choking its oxygen regeneration, vital to a healthy fish population and our water quality.

In 2009, the Water Quality Board recognized that we are past the tipping point and set a goal of a 50 percent – yes, a full one half - reduction in fine river sedimentation and 51 percent for one generated by vineyards. The report, was revised in 2018 and found that nine years later we had made no progress. Reasonable people would agree that based on our available science something drastic needs to be done.

The conflicted deniers are guided by an additional motivation to resist change: The Water Board estimated that the goals it has set for Napa County will cost the wine industry $800,000-1.7 million per year for the next 20 years for a total of $16 million-$34 million. And as usual, the bulk of the cost, a staggering $34 million-$68 million to correct the development sins of the past will be borne by the public in the form of grants, meaning taxes.

Sadly, the proposed ordinance, while it will slow the rate of increases, will not even begin to reverse the trajectory towards what is an impending crisis.

LTE version 2/26/19: Some science behind the watershed ordinance

Le Colline Vineyard DEIR: comments requested on: Watershed Issues


Bill Hocker - Feb 19,19  expand...  Share

Update 2/18/19
Comment deadline extended to Mon., Feb 25, 2019, 5:00pm.

NVR 2/18/19: Napa Open Space District suggests improvements to vineyard project

2/7/19
A vineyard development at the southern edge of Angwin has been making its way through the county meat grinder for a couple of years now. The Le Colline Vineyard ECP and DEIR calls for the clearing of a wooded hillside with a flat topped knob (Le Colline) just south of Angwin. (map) The vineyard will consume much of a watershed that adds to the popular natural attraction of the Linda Falls Preserve before heading down Conn Creek to Hennessey Reservoir and the taps of Napa city residents. It will also consume a fair number of trees that will be cleared in a timber harvesting operation. This was one of the projects that convinced CalFire to turn over control of Timber Harvest Plans to the County in 2017 (see here). Access to the vineyard will be off the dead-end Cold Springs Road, a community already concerned over the threat of the Aloft Winery proposed at the end of the road.

A Draft Environmental Impact Report has been prepared for the project and public comments have been requested on the DEIR. The deadline for public comments is Mon, February 25, 2019, 5:00pm.
NV2050 Elaine De Man: Le Colline Vineyard Conversion, Public Comment Suggestions

Comments should be directed to:

Brian Bordona, Supervising Planner
Napa County Planning, Building, and Environmental Services Department
1195 Third Street, 2nd Floor
Napa, CA 94559
Email: Brian.Bordona@countyofnapa.org
Phone: (707) 259-5935

Documents:
The County's Le Colline ECPA documents page is here
DEIR Notice of Availability
The DEIR document is here

Articles:
SRC 3/9/17: Deforestation leader: CalFire or County?
NVR 3/8/17: Cal Fire shifts timber harvest permits to Napa County
James Conaway's Nose blog 10/9/16: Fish biologist Patrick Higgins Comments on Le Colline
Deborah Leidig LTE 5/16/16: Let the valley soil host the vines
NVR 5/9/16: Angwin land in the bull’s-eye yet again

Fire Rebuilding Update on: After The Fire


Bill Hocker - Feb 6,19  expand...  Share

At the Feb 6th, 2019 Planning Commission meeting, Planning Director Morrison went over the statistics of the rebuilding process after the Oct 2017 and Sep 2018 fires.

  • 662 homes were burned in the fires
  • To date 200 permit applications have been submitted for home rebuilding (30% of total)
  • 150 permits have been issued
  • 5 houses have been rebuilt
  • The assessors valuation of all fire property damage: $750,000,000
  • 1000 permit applications have been received for all types of fire reconstruction (including homes) which represent $200,000,000 in valuation (under 20% of total lost)
  • 32% of the building fees were waived for fire rebuilding applications representing $1,100,000 in fees.

He reiterated that rebuilding from the fire will be a long process.

The restaurant coming to a vineyard near you on: The WDO


Bill Hocker - Feb 4,19  expand...  Share

Update 2/4/19
NVR 2/4/19: Napa County hits B Cellars with code notice over food service

This yelp review gives a good idea of the B Cellars experience (use firefox if safari bombs)

It is great that the County is making good on its post-APAC resolve to enforce the provisions of its ordinances. Kudos to the community activists and recent press that have encouraged them to do so.

Planning Dir. Morrison indicated at the Feb. 6, 2019 Planning Commission meeting that review of winery application marketing plans and facilities will be much more closely scrutinized in future to insure compliance with 2010 WDO limitations. While that alone is not enough to curtail the rise of winery restaurants allowed under the code (given the ambiguity of the provisions), it is a welcome commitment. Hear! Hear!

Fortunately it sounds like B Cellars will contest the citation, which means that there will be an opportunity to begin defining what is "food service" (allowed) and what is "meal service" (forbidden) under the WDO (see here). At the same time the County needs to vet another provision of the WDO: is the food at an $80, $125 or $185 wine pairing, each of which would be an expensive lunch at most any restaurant, being provided "without charge except to the extent of cost recovery"? What data is required, in a government now obsessed with data-based decisions, to decide if it is? It is an important data number if it shows that boutique wineries are being proposed and built, as I believe, solely because the profit made from wine pairings and events makes up for the more modest profits, or losses, from vanity wine making. Much of the wine industry has become instead an entertainment industry based on a wine-making image, filling up the vineyards with buildings and parking lots and filling up the roads with visitors and employees while claiming to protect agriculture by such urbanization.


Original post 9/9/14

You know there were some compromises made that probably shouldn’t have been made... It had to do with food services and basically turning these places, some of them, into restaurants.

- Mel Varrelman 2008 (Supervisor 1983-2002) on the passage of the 1990 WDO

The back page of the Yountville Sun on 9/1/14 offered an article on the just opened B Cellars winery on Oakville Crossroad developed by Duffy Keys. An earlier article appeared in the Register here:

NVR 8/28/14: B Cellars builds winery for the luxury traveler

The winery is one of the 33 new wineries (B Cellars is technically an addition to the never-built Miller Winery) so far approved under the 2010 modifications to the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO). Those modifications allow food to be served as part of winery "tours and tastings" and allow business meetings to be considered as "marketing events". The two modifications, following the 2008 state law allowing wine purchased at the winery to be consumed on site, tipped a profitability point resulting not only in the 33 new winery approvals but in approvals for expansions and use permit modifications to 38 existing wineries. There are currently 24 additional projects in the planning department awaiting approval including the Mountain Peak project next door to me on Soda Canyon Road.

A debate is now going on in the county regarding the pace of development brought on by these changes in the WDO and by the county's intent to boost tourism following the 2008 meltdown of the high-end wine industry. The essence of those changes was to allow more food service at wineries, edging ever closer to that so-far taboo entity: the restaurant-winery. The euphemisms abound to create a false distinction: a lunch or dinner is called a "wine pairing"; banquets are referred to as events in the "marketing of wine". There are 3 distinctions that the WDO uses to differentiate a winery from a restaurant: 1. menu options are not allowed. 2. "food service" is allowed while "meal service" is not. 3. food service must be charged at cost. These are meaningless and disingenuous. Meaningless because many restaurants (like Chez Panisse in Berkeley) have one daily fixed menu, and also because "meal" vs "food" is undefined in the WDO providing no enforceable difference. (The Mondavi Winery offers 3- and 4- course "wine pairing dinners" for $150 to $350. B Cellars offers a $125 Chef's Garden Pairing). Disingenuous because a $125 lunch isn't profitable? If the food service were not profitable no changes to the WDO would have been requested in 2010.

Why is the food-meal distinction necessary? Under the WDO, wineries are allowed tours, tastings and marketing events with their 'food service' as accessory, incidental and subordinate uses to the winemaking process. In contrast, restaurants are commercial enterprises offering 'meal service' quite able to stand on their own. Food service is important in these applications because it is an effective profit booster. (At Raymond, if only half of their 400 allowed daily visitors went for a $100 wine pairing instead of a $50 tasting that would mean an additional $3.65 million/yr in revenue) With food service the wineries are becoming the subordinate element, the crush pads and caves, as shown in the B Cellars renderings and video as backdrops to the "hospitality experience".

The result of allowing these commercial enterprises in the vineyards, nominally forbidden under the county's 45 year old year commitment to protect agricultural lands, is a direct challenge to the Napa General Plan's intent to maintain agriculture as the county's economic engine. The transfer from an agricultural economy to a tourism economy is directly embodied in the restaurant-winery. Food service is at the heart of all new use-permit applications, like the high profile Yountville Hill Winery or the remote Woolls Ranch Winery on water-starved Mt Veeder Road, currently making their way through the county meat grinder. Food service is especially important to the tourism experiences in the contentions Raymond Winery application.

The new tourist facilities that will be springing up in the next few years present other impacts besides just the vineyard land that they consume. The many well-lit al fresco events lasting until 10pm will eclipse the serenity of dark and quite rural nights, and a late night rush hour of limos will traverse the valley. In-town restaurants may see a drop in their clientele, unless the wineries succeed in attracting the hundreds of thousands of new tourists necessary to fill their tourist slots, in which case residents may look back to the traffic of 2014 as the good old days. In either case in-town restaurants may begin to find their top chefs and experienced staff moving to the vineyards. Also, restaurants and their many patrons may present sanitary waste problems not well suited to rural leach field solutions. And the expanding, labor-intensive tourist industry will need housing, schools, shopping centers and municipal infrastructure for its workforce, an ever consuming municipal and county concern with ever more work for the development industry promoting the tourism wineries.

This rant is not specific to B Cellars. Mr. Keys has done a low-key, handsome, and modestly-sized project (comparing it to Yountville Hill and Raymond). His is just an early example of a construction boom that will be played out in the next few years. The 70 or so approved projects now in the construction pipeline will unfortunately be built, and we will bear their impacts. But the many projects in the planning department and the vast number that can be built on the 10 acre+ properties in the county (perhaps on the one next to you) can be stopped with a commitment from residents and the county and anyone else who sees the importance of protecting the agricultural base and the rural character that makes the county special. Sometime in November [now in Mar 2015] the county is convening a community forum to discuss possible changes to the WDO. I would urge everyone concerned about the future of the county to participate.

[A subsequent SCR post on was made on the meaning of the B Cellars expansion in 2017]

County General Plan Circulation Element Update on: Traffic Issues


Bill Hocker - Feb 3,19  expand...  Share

Update 2/5/19
NVR 2/5/19: Napa County wants to protect Upvalley from wider roads

After a last minute flurry of text changes to appease Napa Valley Vine Trail and Napa County Bicycle Coalition lobbyists, the General Plan Circulation Element Update was approved by the Supervisors.

I think that the Vine Trail, and the promotion of bicycling as one more recreational experience in the Valley, may benefit some residents hardy enough to walk or bike or scooter (or golf cart!) a distance to work or who seek an alternative to the gym. But, imagining the number of families encouraged to drive here from afar in SUVs loaded with bicycles solely to enjoy such a well promoted attraction, I fear the effort will do little to reduce the county's traffic congestion or GHG's. Nor will the other modest policies and mitigations of the Update, that largly encourage more urban development as a cure for the traffic impacts of previous urbanization.

Update 2/3/19
NVR 2/3/19: Napa County supervisors to tackle traffic issues
BOS meeting on the issue Tues, Feb 5, 2019, 9:00am

Update 12/19/18
The Circulation Element was approved by the Planning Commission and found to be consistant with the ALUC Plan.
The video of the 12/19/18 hearing is here
The markup Circulation Element is here showing changes
Public Comments

The most interesting of the public comments is the Department of Transportation letter. While the wine industry keeps touting their "data" that only 20% of Napa's traffic goes in and out of winery driveways, the Department of Transportation has a less sanguine view of impact of tourism traffic to the Napa Valley. Their comments on tourism, the most extensive of the letter are worth noting:
"Wine tourism produces significant economic benefits for the County and State but is also a significant contributor to VMT and other transportation impacts. We are concerned about the direct and cumulative impacts from the expansion of the wine industry and related tourism sector, and that without significant mitigative action, the County’s policy goals will not be reachable ...

The County should study implementing both a fast, convenient transit service from San Francisco to Napa, so tourists aren’t forced to rent cars to reach their destinations, and a bus/transit loop that stops at the most visited wine and hospitality destinations. This could be modeled on the hop on/off bus services that run in most major cities. Such a service could also benefit the employees of wineries and hospitality sites, especially if paired with express bus service from residential areas."

Their suggestions obviously posit a concentration of wine tourism activities, as do other letters. Policy CIR-3 recommends urbanized areas for new commercial development, but since the County refuses to consider winery tourism to be a commercial activity, it has no policy on their placement. The County's lack of a policy, in fact, encourages new wineries that disperse visitors and hospitality employees into areas of the county more remote and less costly than the main tourism zone. Not only does that substantially increase VMT to access tourism venues, but when visitors or employees must travel the last miles on remote hilly roads not served by public transport, they are unlikely to choose alternative transport to get to Napa in the first place.

Update 12/6/18
The Update to the Circulation Element of the Napa County General Plan is going through its next public review process. On Dec 19, 2018 it will be presented to the Planning Commission at 9:00am, and then to the Airport Land Use Commission at 11:00am.

Meeting agenda and documents
Redline markup of Circulation Element
Public comments on the May 8 meeting

Comments may be submitted from Sat, Dec 8 through Tues, Dec 18 2018 to John McDowell at john.mcdowell@countyofnapa.org.

A Supplement to the EIR for the update gives the broad outline of its intent:
"In general, the revised text in the current Draft Circulation Element reflects the recent shift in transportation planning principles, wherein less emphasis is placed on modifying the roadway network to optimize automobile movement. Instead, emphasis is placed on maintaining the existing system; ensuring adequate and safe transportation options for all users, regardless of income level, age or physical ability; and enhancing the efficiency of the transportation network by reducing single-occupant automobile trips. Cascading benefits of reduced vehicle trips include improvements in air quality and public health, as air pollutants from vehicle emissions are reduced and people are provided better opportunities to utilize more active transportation options (walking and bicycling)."

Restating the concept that growth of the road system is to be shunned in favor of other transport alternatives is good. But it ignores the reality of the situation. 90% of the movement in the county happens over roadways. Reducing Napa's road traffic to, say, 80%, equivalent to the rest of the Bay Area with it's greater density and BART service, would be a laudable goal and a miracle if it actually happened. That still means that the vast majority of new traffic, that created by the enormous quantity of approved but as yet unbuilt building projects in the county (including at least 150 winery projects), will be adding to a road system that is already annoyingly congested. And neither the County nor the Municipalities have given any indication that they are going to curtail the rate at which new projects are being approved.

Where are the new zoning policies, like the original Ag Preserve, in which the goal is to slow development and population growth to "protect the County’s rural character"? Instead all of the County's zoning restrictions have been relaxed to allow ever more construction and jobs and people on "agriculturally" zoned land. The commitment to hold the line on roadway enlargement, while a decent goal, rings hollow in the absence of real effort to slow the traffic-generating urban growth that drives the need for road enlargement.

One of the most significant changes in analysis presented in the Update is the change from LOS to VMT in looking at the traffic impacts of projects, a change based on new CEQA guidelines regarding VMT. Rather than concentrating on the congestion created by the project at particular times at intersections (and the mind-numbing atomization of traffic to a particular hour on a particular day), now the total vehicle trips generated by a project becomes the critical element in the analysis. (How the miles traveled in each trip are calculated seems still to be defined.) Policies CIR-37, CIR-38 and CIR-39 all present a commitment to evaluate and to reduce VMT on a project basis.

One argument advanced in the Mountain Peak hearings highlighted the 44,000 6-mile long trips (now down to 36,000) to the winery from the Trail each year which would generate 260,000 VMT, 10 trips around the earth. Much more if the distance from the owner's tasting room in downtown Napa is used. The argument didn't seem to have an impact.

Winery development now taking place is most often driven by their utility (and profitability) as tourism venues rather than processing plants. The use of VMT as a development metric should highlight the wisdom of an approach to tourism planning that is based on transporting guests and employees to even the most remote corners of the county to taste wine and have lunch, rather than concentrating those activities in a more GHG friendly central locations. Is such a distributed development pattern justified when reducing VMT becomes a prime goal in the County's Circulation Element?

POLICY CIR-37 indicates that "the County will support measures that eliminate or reduce the length of vehicle trips." To do that, the policy suggests building more housing so employees can live in-county, shuttles, shared parking with other development, mitigation fees to fund alternative transport. Will new affordable housing actually reduce VMT? Affordable housing funding is dependent on a large increase in overall urban development, as Napa Pipe shows, which brings even greater transport impacts. New market rate homes might be affordable for some workers, but they might also become weekend retreats, Airb&b venues, or bedrooms for SF commuters adding to overall VMT. Shuttles, or an expanded VINE system, may help if they're free (paid for by mitigation fees and TOT perhaps) to compensate for the loss of automobile flexibility. Shared parking lots - little impact. And how much must be charged in mitigation fees to make a difference on the major transportation infrastructure projects ultimately needed to change driving habits. The amount raised would likely be insufficient to fund station signs in a mass transit system.

POLICY CIR-38 asks that proposed projects evaluate their VMT with the aim of reducing that number by at least 15%. "Evaluate their VMT" means that metrics will be established for a standard VMT per project and then that standard will be reduced by mitigations like van-pooling or bicycle racks or charging stations. But how are the standards set? Anything above zero VMT is adding to the problems of climate change. This increases rather than reduces the problem. (And naturally there will be an incentive for consultants to inflate the initial VMT numbers in order to present subsequent reductions.)

What the County's VMT-reduction policies don't consider is a change in zoning to discourage development. The list of potential development projects in the zoning code for AP and AWOS properties is extensive. (Now including Solar Farms!). The best way to reduce VMT is to reduce the potential that development projects will be proposed in areas away from major transport corridors. By limiting even further the potential for building development in the AWOS areas (perhaps ay redefining “agriculture” in County code back to its dictionary definition) not only is Napa County doing its bit to curb VMT GHG's, but it is also providing further protection against urbanization so that Napa may remain an agricultural economy for the next 50 years, a goal explicit in the visions of the General Plan and its Elements, but ignored in the planning approval process which concentrates on (often meaningless) mitigations to allow building development to proceed in the face of obvious degradation of those visions.

SCR on the GHG's of Remote Winery Tourism

Original Post 5/9/18
NVR 5/9/18: Imagining a Napa County future of uncluttered roadways? Think again.

The County Planning Commission was given an introduction to the first draft of the new Circulation Element that will eventually replace the current one in the General Plan. Public comments may be submitted to the county staff through June 1st after which the staff will address the comments and produce another draft of the element by this summer. And then there will be planning commission hearings on that draft.

Video and docs of 5/2/18 PC meeting
Existing Circulation Element (2008)
The new Draft Circulation Element
NCTPA Vision2040 Report (2015) with Fehr & Peers study

From the staff presentation it seems that the new circulation element will emphasize policy aimed at reducing Greenhouse gas emissions, and as such will work in tandem with the county's stalled Climate Action Plan which may be taken up by the commission in June.

Commission discussion ranged from more electric charging stations to public transport to more affordable housing and the need for regional solutions. The discussion seemed focused at mitigations for problems we already experience or that can be expected in the future. No one talked about reducing the root cause of traffic increases, i.e. the amount and type of tourism and industrial development occurring in the county that generates more traffic and encourages visitor and employee travel. No one ever discusses the possibility of moving from a growth mentality that assumes an ever larger economy with ever more development to the consideration of policies for a stable economy with a finite limit on growth that gives the opportunity to stabilize emissions and then perhaps find ways to reduce them. Reductions in existing GHGs are hard, production of new GHGs from more development and population importation are way too easy, and a net reduction in GHG production will never be achieved as long as "growth" rather than stability is the goal.

In public comments after the discussion Dave Whitmir, who will shortly be replacing Comm. Basayne on the planning commission, spoke about some initial suggestions in looking at the new policies. Despite a concern over his opposition to measure C, one issue he brought up made caught my attention:
"Regarding Circulation policy CIR 36 (pg 20 here): Should there be an action item for this policy to review the new development approvals and insure that roads are adequate for the demands placed upon them? And I would specifically call out some recent approvals on Soda Canyon and Atlas Peak and the concerns of resident in those areas about whether or not those roads are safe to handle that kind of traffic."

The wording doesn’t quite make clear whether he is calling for re-thinking further commercial development on problematic rural roads, or for improving the roads so that these rural areas can be further urbanized. I want to believe the former.

Napa Moves to Oregon on: Growth Issues


Bill Hocker - Jan 31,19  expand...  Share

Update 1/31/19
Sandra Ericsson LTE 1/31/19: The reasons why we left
Christine Tittle LTE 1/29/19: Exit from Napa County

Update 1/21/19
Tom Wark Blog 1/21/19: My Exit Interview From Napa Valley Wine Country
Tom Wark Blog 1/3/19: Saying Goodbye To Napa Valley

Napa wine marketer Tom Wark is joining the exodus to Oregon. After residing in Wine Country for the last 25 years Mr. Wark has decided that he can't afford to live here anymore.

Of course he bears some responsibility for the high cost of housing. As one of many people promoting Napa wines and wineries as good-life status symbols for the wealthy of the world, and the Valley as a good-life destination for masses of travelers wishing they were wealthy, the rise in housing prices is the direct result his efforts. I assume that he is going to Oregon in the hope that, with his help, it too will be unaffordable in a few years. But he will already have his house. One wonders why he didn't buy a house before the boutique winery, vineyard and tourism explosion that he has encouraged sent property prices soaring.

It's a reasonable move for someone in his profession. As the exodus attests, Napa is beyond its peak. It has lost its authenticity, a victim of the efforts of good-life promoters and developers who, along with residents feeling the impacts of their work, now want as yet unspoiled locales to call home. While I don't really want Oregon to suffer the fate of Napafication, I do hope that more marketers follow Mr. Wark's lead and leave Napa County.

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

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

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

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

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

Response to the Bloodlines DEIR on: The Rector Watershed


Bill Hocker - Jan 30,19  expand...  Share

Response letter sent regarding the Bloodlines Vineyards Draft EIR

30 Jan, 2019

Mr. Bordona, Ms. Whiteford, Mr. Phinney,

Many thanks of the opportunity to respond to the Bloodlines Draft EIR. After Mr. Phinney's initial presentation of the project to neighbors, I was impressed with the stated commitment to conservation easements, worker van-pooling, urban tasting rooms, a winery in Vallejo, alternative marketing and branding techniques, a​ desire to reach out to residents and to develop a charitable purpose to the business model - all which point to an approach that is looking for success that is sustainable and beneficial with a minimal impact to the agricultural land and open space that is our home.

The personal encouragement to neighbors to participate in commenting on the Draft EIR, and the extension in time to do so, was also welcome (even though I have procrastinated to the last minute to comment and find the mind-numbing detail of the EIR impenetrable.)

I was interested to see the map in the EIR showing the ECP's within a 3 mile radius of the project. Most all of the purple blocks within the Rector Watershed, and more, have been created around us since we moved here in 1993. It was the undeveloped remoteness of this place that made it a desirable place to be. That remoteness shrank one block at a time over the years, and, as the vineyards replaced the chaparral (and some woodlands), we took it as one beautiful landscape replacing another with the small comfort of knowing that vineyards are better than housing tracts.

It is late now to get worked up over another vineyard infilling the remaining natural landscape on the Rector plateau, and the knowledge that the grapes are exceptional here lets us accept that vineyards are probably the highest and best use of this particular land at this particular time. Cumulatively, the impacts of the extensive development of the Rector watershed, affecting water availability and quality, wildlife habitat destruction, flora and woodland loss, or road maintenance, may be scrutinized at some point down the line with conclusions drawn and actions taken, but it doesn't seem like it's within the applicant's ability to rectify those problems with mitigations on this one project alone at this point. (Although I might have some concerns about water availability were I a neighbor with a well near a new project well.)

There are some issues that I would ask you to considered however:

The first is traffic. As traffic reports invariably show, the additional traffic will always be less than significant, and an additional 6-12 cars a day may indeed be insignificant. But the traffic begins to add up, and we now can have a caravan of 50 or 60 cars on the one lane gravel road which then speeds down the paved road. My request to you is to make a good faith effort to reduce the traffic by beginning to talk to the other growers on the plateau with the aim of creating some sort of van-pooling arrangement. I'm not sure that one van is better than several cars in terms of damage to the roads or the danger to residents driving on the road, but the County is looking for ways to reduce vehicle miles travelled, and worker transport is one solution often discussed. The confined dead end destination of the Rector plateau seems like one place where van-pooling might be successful. I can only guess that the major vineyard operators on the Rector watershed occasionally get together to talk over common interests and that this is a subject that might be brought up. Even if Bloodlines had a van for its 12 workers, it might show the viability of the concept to others. I recognize that it might also require some commitment on the part of the county to insure that there are parking lots that the vans can work out of.

The second concern is the development that may take place after the vineyards are in. The Mountain Peak project has brought home to all of us living here that the County's definition of agriculture allows for the construction of public entertainment venues in what are residential farm communities. Such commercial development is an immediate degradation in the rural quality of life that most residents have sought out in living here, particularly on such a remote dead end road. Again, I was impressed by Mr. Phinney's commitment, in his presentation to the community, to process grapes and to retain marketing activities in Vallejo.

But Mr. Phinney may not always be the owner of the land, and this is an opportunity to insure that future owners are as committed to protecting the rural and natural character of Napa County as he is. In the EIR a commendable commitment has been made to an 8.2 acre conservation easement. But with 103 gross acres of vineyard development on the 287 [278] acres of property, there remains 176 acres of land that can be developed. It is, of course, a big ask, but one that I feel should be made in the context of this application: Could the owner not place the entire extent of the property into a conservation easement, one that would allow vineyard development where appropriate, but would prevent the development of future building projects that would further urbanize the Rector plateau? If I'm not mistaken, the northern properties abut the Sutro Ranc, and the ridge above the Bloodline vineyards would be a significant addition to the Land Trust holdings. Protecting this area from further urbanization is the greatest mitigation that could be given to neighbors and to the county as a whole in its effort to maintain Napa County as a rural enclave into the future.

I have one other niggling question. In the map of previous ECP's, a definite break line has been established between the existing vineyards and the undeveloped ridgeline on the northern boundary of vineyard development in the Rector watershed. The majority of the Bloodlines vineyard follows that break line but a few of the vineyard blocks, 1A,1B,4,5A,5B extend well beyond that line and involve bridges and steep slopes. I ask for some clarification on the reason for their creation because those small expansions of the historic development line may only encourage future extension of vineyard development further up the ridge for all properties along the line. [Added 3/6/19: These comments seem to coincide with some proposals in the "Multiple Resource Protection Alternative" and I would strongly support that alternative to reduce tree removal and stream crossings.]

Again thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Rd
Napa, CA 94558

Comments


Bill Hocker - Feb 4, 2019 9:35AM

Amy Whiteford sent this email in response to my comments ( including a somewhat clairvoyant response by Mr. Phinney) :


Hello Mr. Hocker,

Thank you very much for taking the time to offer your thoughtful, thorough, and respectful comments on our vineyard application. We share many of your concerns, and have proactively listed some solutions for issues including traffic and water usage in Dave Phinney’s and PPI Engineering’s public comment letters. In the engineer’s letter, we propose to remove Block 4 from our application. Please find Dave Phinney’s comment below, and the engineer’s comment is uploaded (along with all of the submitted public comments) here:

As you suggested, Dave and I will discuss the possibility of an even greater conservation easement. I hope to continue to work together throughout this process. We are waiting for the proposal from RSA+ Civil Engineers regarding traffic improvements, and I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss these suggestions with you. Again, thank you for your interest and input on the design of this project.

Sincerely,
Amy Whiteford



January 29, 2019

Brian Bordona
Napa County Planning, Building & Environmental Services
1195 Third Street, Room 210
Napa, CA 94559

Dear Brian,

I am writing in regard to our proposed Bloodlines LLC Soda Canyon Vineyard Development (Project P16-00323). As you know, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) includes scientific evaluations to determine that this project has less than significant, or less than significant with mitigation measures, impacts on the environment. I appreciate the expertise of the scientists that conducted these studies, and respect and strictly followed the regulatory process in place to apply for a vineyard development permit set by Napa County. I will leave the technical analysis to the scientists, but I would like to present a more personal outreach of how our project could contribute to the well-being of our community.

From day one, we have met with neighbors and asked what issues are most important to them regarding development on Soda Canyon Road. We heard loud and clear that traffic, water, and more recently climate change are top priorities for local residents. We share the same priorities.

Traffic is an issue on Soda Canyon Road. I personalize this by imagining my children driving this road to our family vineyard, and that image has led me to a few ideas of how to minimize our impact on and improve the safety of the road.

  • One measure included in the EIR project description to address travel hazard is to provide pilot cars before heavy equipment is moved up the road. A neighbor had requested this, so I am glad that it was incorporated into the EIR.
  • To reiterate, we are not applying for a winery nor a tasting room permit that would lead to additional tourist traffic on the road.
  • Our employees will meet offsite and travel together in a van rather than in individual cars. This will result in fewer cars traveling the road, as well as decreased emissions.
  • We will reach out to neighboring vineyards and invite them to participate in a similar program, with the hope of starting an employer-funded network of Vanpools.
  • We have consulted with the Department of Public Works and RSA+ Civil Engineers to determine how to increase the safety of the travel and infrastructure of the road. How can we slow down traffic? One idea is to install, at our cost, a blinking sign or signs that show each driver the speed at which they are travelling. According to the Department of Public Works, these signs do effectively slow drivers down. Another idea is to install, at our cost, reflective signs to warn of upcoming hazardous curves.
  • A suggestion that was offered by a concerned neighbor was the installation of a guard rail or rails at especially dangerous parts of the road. We of course would hope that these would never have to be used, but if it increases the potential for safety, we are for it and will pay for the design and installation.

One neighbor asked if our well water usage might impact his well water availability. According to our Water Availability Analysis included in the EIR, we will not impact neighbors’ water supply as with our deficit irrigation strategy we will use less water than is annually recharged. However, as detailed in the EIR we will monitor neighboring well levels and adjust our well use if we cause impacts to neighbors’ wells. The EIR actually determined that water quality will be improved after our project is developed, as we will take engineered measures to prevent sediment runoff. Please reference Section 4.6 Hydrology and Water Quality in the EIR to read details of our mitigation measures to ensure that there are no significant effects on water quality or neighboring water quantity.

The EIR has declared that our Project has a less-than-significant impact to climate change. My team and I agree that climate change is something that we all need to actively work to halt if not reverse.

  • The calculations used to determine our impact were based on pre-Atlas Fire conditions. Since then, most of the property and its ground cover burned. Planting vineyard and covercrops should greatly increase the carbon sequestration from current conditions.
  • We support the inclusion of the oak stand in Block 3G in the Multiple Resources Protection Alternative to ensure that the mature oak trees are avoided.
  • Although the mitigation measure calls for an 8.2-acre area of oak woodland outside of the proposed clearing limits be preserved through a conservation easement, we commit to preserving at least ten times that acreage.
  • Mitigation measures request 0.24 acres of Ceanothus purpureus (CEPU) be transplanted at a 1:1 ratio outside of the clearing limits. We are willing to plant an additional 0.24 acres of CEPU outside of the clearing limits to bring the ratio up to 2:1.
  • Although as currently written the EIR does not require any planting of oak trees, we will be voluntarily replanting oaks on our property outside of the clearing limits in the appropriate habitats. We will consult with a qualified biologist to determine placement and species.

As we were all reminded of in 2017, fire is threat to our families, properties, and livelihoods.

My brother-in-law was a volunteer firefighter for 13 years, and I can’t thank him enough. My team worked with the Fire Chief of the Soda Canyon Volunteer Fire Department and we provided much needed upgrades to their fire station, including repairing dry rot, replacing the garage doors, repainting the firehouse, and repaving the driveway. If the Department decides that it would benefit from a well and a water storage tank on site, we will set up a timeline to pay for these improvements. We commit to maintaining the building as needed, it is the least that we can do in return for their service.

From the beginning of this application process we have engaged our neighbors, listened to their concerns, and incorporated these into the design of our project wherever possible. We will continue to do so from this day forward and look forward to contributing to the Soda Canyon neighborhood.

Respectfully,

Dave S. Phinney

Hendrickson Vineyards ECP on: The Rector Watershed


Bill Hocker - Jan 30,19  expand...  Share

The County has issued the Negative Declaration on the ECP for for the Hendrickson Vineyard, a 29 acre vineyard on a 47 acre parcel, of which, the ND indicates, 10 acres had already been cleared and planted "without the benefit of an approved Agricultural Erosion Control Plan".

Public comments may be submitted to Planner Don Barilla Donald.Barrella@countyofnapa.org through Mar 4, 2019, 5:00pm

Hendrickson Vineyards ND
County's Hendrickson page

The Hall Winery Hotel on: Tourism Issues


Bill Hocker - Jan 28,19  expand...  Share

Not your average mobile home
Update 6/28/18
NVR 1/29/19: Hall sues city of St. Helena, demands water for mobile home park site

Update 6/28/18
NVR 6/28/18: St. Helena City Council spells out ‘significant concerns’ about Hall mobile home park plan

Update 6/20/18
NVR 6/20/18: St. Helena City Council criticizes Hall plan to revamp former mobile home park

SH City Council is on the case!

6/5/18
The Halls have just submitted a request for a development agreement and a "minor" modification of the use permit for the mobile home park that they now own next to their Bunny Foo Foo winery. The property was granted a use permit as a mobile home park in 1961 with 18 spaces and 4 structures is now largely a vacant piece of property. The minor modification would allow demolition of the existing structures on the property and the addition of 22 "manufactured homes" and a clubhouse building with pool and event areas. 14 of the two story manufactured homes would provide 28 hotel suites. 7 of the manufactured homes would be 3 story town house units, no doubt for short term rental. There is a direct connection to the garden of the adjacent Hall Winery.

Project notice
The county documents are here

The project is called the Vineland Vista Mobile Home Park. This is not a mobile home park. It is a change in use from a grandfathered housing project (affordable housing at that!) in the Ag Preserve to a commercial resort hotel with the obvious increase in staffing, water and daily usage adding to Napa's infrastructure, housing and traffic woes. To treat it as a minor modification of the 1961 use permit, and to claim that it " does not change the overall intensity of use of the Property", is ludicrous. Unfortunately, it is one more indication that the "wine" industry is moving beyond food service and events and into the lodging sector as well (more on hotels in the vineyards here).

While being presented as a planned development of manufactured homes, this is an obvious change from residential use not consistent with the definition of manufactured homes. These are not "designed to be used as a single-family dwelling[s]" as defined by the law. Far beyond a minor modification, the project raises the question of a change in zoning use subject to Measure J/P. And as a new use paradigm, it should be required to have a full EIR.

Once again the Halls are trying to hide major development projects within the parameters of minor change. Walt Ranch is a housing estate development masquerading as agriculture. This is a trend-setting winery hotel project masquerading as a spruced-up mobile home park.

More on science and vineyards on: Measure C and the Con Regs


George Caloyannidis - Jan 25,19  expand...  Share

Stuart Smith's letter (“Accusations without evidence,” Jan. 18) is a perfect example on how "science" is tossed around to make points that have nothing to do with science.

Mr. Smith disputes Mr. Smithers' assertions (“Climate and environmental downside of vineyards,” Jan. 10) that assigned blame to the proliferation of hillside vineyards for the degradation of our environment.

Mr. Smith cites the improved water quality in the Napa River as scientific proof that the concurrent proliferation of hillside vineyards is the cause of this improvement. Quite a leap in scientific reasoning, let alone proof.

Second, while Mr. Smith's advantageous comparison of vineyards to Napa Valley forests in terms of propensity to fire is correct, it is unfair because it is one to ill managed - not well managed - forests as Napa's are. Given all the other scientifically proven environmental advantages forests have over hillside vineyards (superior erosion control and carbon sequestration, slower runoff and water table replenishment), the logical course of action is not to replace them with vineyards but rather manage them properly.

In comparison, forest fires in Western Europe, where forests are properly managed are extremely rare.

Third, properly designed firebreaks do not even remotely resemble a patch work of vineyards as Mr. Smith suggests. Their standards include firefighting equipment access roads at prescribed intervals along with accesses to them. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Practice Code 394 and the Fuel Break Guidelines of the Tasmania Fire Service Bushfire Policy are good information starting points. And let's not ignore the visual blight of such deforested patchwork.

The scientific community established that 84 percent of all wildfires are caused by human activity. Vineyards and wineries with their tasting rooms and events in the hillsides invite such activity. The cigarette butts along Soda Canyon Road are enough to convince any doubter how inappropriately dangerous such development is. Mr. Smith failed to include this parameter in his science.

Fourth, Mr. Smith argues that the absence of pesticides in the Napa River (if true) is scientific proof that pesticide use at hillside vineyards is harmless. Yet, scientific inquiry would ask the question that if they are being used, how do they simply disappear? The truth is that they end up in the water table, and from there, in all of us.

Mr. Smithers is being castigated by Mr. Smith as irresponsible -- even demanding that he issue an apology to the wine industry -- for suggesting that the use of pesticides such as Roundup (containing Glyphosate) is responsible for Napa Valley's highest cancer incidents for children and second in adults in California.

I hope Mr. Smith did not hold Bayer AG (Monsanto's parent company) stock. Its price plummeted more that 10 percent in August 2018 following the California Superior Court in San Francisco County $289 million award to a former school groundskeeper for developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma due to his exposure to Roundup.

If Mr. Smith is waiting for chemical cause and effect proof to the link of Glyphosates to cancer, he ought to consider that such chemical link of the use of tobacco to cancer has yet to be established. The link is a statistical one, enough for an eventual call to action -- but only after millions died.

Sadly, proving a chemical link between the use of Roundup and cancer enough to satisfy Mr. Smith will be just as imAccusations without evidencepossible. While we are waiting for the eventual statistical evidence, hundreds of Napa Valley children - millions around the globe - will have their lives shortened. This is what is irresponsible.

But the noose is closing ever tighter around Bayer AG's neck since 2005. The European Union has rescinded its usual 15-year extension to the use of Glyphosates and limited it to three. France has pledged its outright ban in three years, Germany and Italy are considering similar action.

But the Napa Valley remains hostage to the wine industry in spite of all the evidence. Shockingly, Napa is one of the few counties in the state that has no mandated pesticide-free zones around our schools. Shame on it.

Stuart Smith LTE 2/12/19: Please partner with us, instead of attacking us
Richard Cannon LTE 2/2/19: Objective truth or blind spot?
George Caloyannidis LTE 1/25/19: More on science and vineyards
Stuart Smith LTE 1/19/19 : Accusations without evidence
Smithers LTE 1/10/19: Climate and environmental downside of vineyards
Garrett Buckland LTE 12/12/18: Facts about the Environmental Benefits of Ag Land

Jobs versus housing on: Napa Strategic Plan


Bill Hocker - Jan 24,19  expand...  Share

At the January 15th BOS meeting devoted to the Napa Strategic Plan, Supervisor Dillon presented a graph that she had asked staff to prepare to show the imbalance of job and housing creation that is the root of the traffic and housing problems in the Bay Area. The Napa ratio 17:1 is only eclipsed by Marin at 20:1.

Although she didn't propose what the County should do to address the imbalance, and her purpose might be just to show that the imbalance is a problem everywhere (or that Napa's problem is comparatively small in absolute numbers), I had the uneasy feeling that she might be making the case that housing needs to be ramped up to meet the demand. One of the main takeaways from the Strategic Plan questionnaire and from the comments of other Supervisors is the need to increase housing construction ("remove barriers to maximize housing opportunities." in the words of Strategic Plan action item 10.), a concept anathema to the original ag preserve zoning, and that both the wine industry and the Supervisors have heretofore seen as the greatest danger to an agricultural economy.

As was discussed elsewhere on this site, some might have the opposite response to this imbalance: reduce the jobs numbers, or at least put a moratorium on job creation until the housing units already in the pipeline (some 4000 of them) begin to make a dent on the imbalance. With the number of jobs increasing at the current rate, no amount of home building will catch up and the entire county will eventually become a bedroom community trying to accommodate the demand, just as the rest of the Bay Area has.

Sup. Dillon recognizes that it's the municipalities that are creating the bulk of the new jobs in the county and it's up to the County to work with them and encourage them to deal with the problem. But the county has a unilateral responsibility as well. The Mountain Peak Winery project next to me will add 19 new (mostly hospitality) employees for a vanity project in the remote hillsides. Building the project will bring an additional few dozen workers for a couple of years to the county. (Construction, as befits the change from a rural to urban county, is Napa's fastest-growing job creator with hospitality next). Each of the projects being approved every month at the planning commission is adding ever more employees to the top of the white bar in the graph. The number of homes being built will be pitifully small by comparison, and the imbalance and commuter traffic will only increase. The County has the discretion to stop building ever more projects that bring ever more employees needing housing and related development that will only create more pressure to turn its agricultural lands to more profitable use. They should exercise it.

Oxbow officially designated tourist trap on: City of Napa


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

NVR 1/16/19: Study supports branding Napa’s Oxbow district, showcasing river

Oxbow Branding study

A well done study, but one that has as its purpose the development and marketing of yet another tourist attraction to further urbanize the Napa Valley, adding to the many impacts that are degrading what was until recently a prized rural, small-town quality of life.

It has come at least one building approval too late. From the article: "city leaders can ...consider zoning that would prevent new construction from blocking views of the river and Napa Valley edges". It was obvious that the Black Elk hotel was a bad idea from an urban planning standpoint when it was proposed (see update 7/14/17 here) and yet it was approved anyway. Coming a year after the Black Elk approval, It could be that this study was a result of that unfortunate event. (Or perhaps it was in reaction to the massive Wine Train Hotel proposed next door. Or the Foxbow Hotel just kitty corner. Or maybe it was simply a reaction to the already built, noisy and tacky "The Studio", the true definition of a tourist trap venue.)

Why do government leaders always take action after the fact - waiting for problems to become insoluble before trying to solve them?

The Ellman Winery on: Soda Canyon Road


Bill Hocker - Jan 11,19  expand...  Share

Yet another winery has been proposed at the Soda Canyon Junction. As I have lamented in "The end of the trail" the winery congestion at the Soda Canyon intersection with the Trail has been a particular concern both on the impact in this one corner of the county and as a harbinger of and prototype for continued winery development on every possible parcel in the county. And the eventual demise of the Trail as an iconic piece of Napa landscape.

The County's Ellman page is here and I will continue to follow the project as it makes its way through the Planning Commission.

As usual with current winery proposals, the visitation request is modest. Given community pushback in the last few years, becoming established with low numbers and then ramping up with future requests seems an easier route than starting out at full ambition.

The production request of 30,000 gal/yr (above the median size of 20,000 gal for wineries in the county) also seems to be the current starting number for new wineries. It represents perhaps 4 times the amount of wine that can be produced from the 14 acre site. There's a logic to allow larger capacity on small sites because, in theory, fewer wineries need to be built to process the Napa grape crop. The reality is, however, that there are already enough winery capacity in the county to process all available Napa grapes several times over. This winery, like most other being approved, will make wine from vines that are currently used by some other winery. It will add only another building to the Napa landscape and no more wine to the Napa wine industry.

Note that in terms of the real wine industry, Ellman, like Mountain Peak proposed next to me, already makes wine and markets it through tasting rooms in town and in online portals. The Mountain Peak brand is also marketed through a distributer. None of these projects are about making wine - they are about catering to more profitable (and/or ego boosting) entertainment uses.

Unfortunately, by ignoring the reality that these projects would probably not be built without the justification of the profitability of direct-to-consumer "experiences", the County is continuing to promote the urbanizing impacts that the tourism industry is having on county infrastructure, resources and quality of life.

House or winery?
The Ellman Winery proposal also highlights another issue: The very un-residential Ellman house that has been under construction on the site this last year is an unfortunate example that treating homes differently from wineries in terms of setbacks and coverage and community review is as destructive as winery development to the rural character that the county claims to protect. I know that in the past efforts have been made link the two types of building projects under one set of ordinances when it comes to their impact on the land, and I hope the County is continuing with those efforts. The purpose of the winery ordinances to protect Napa's rural character is a mockery if homes, many as large as a winery, can continue to be built ignoring those protections.

The chain winery on: Tourism Issues


Bill Hocker - Jan 10,19  expand...  Share

Napa's newest tourist attraction
Update 1/10/19
NVR 1/10/19: Napa County hits The Prisoner winery with code violation notice

11/30/18
NVR 11/22/18: Pick your poison: chains or a skeleton: The Prisoner winery opens

"This is not Disneyland. I think it is just agriculture in the 21st Century."
  -Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza.

From Tim Carl's article:
"It would have been hard to imagine Robert Mondavi wineries dotted around the globe, but it would not be surprising to see Prisoner “wineries” pop up in places like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, London and Tokyo. With this change you certainly have an “evolution.”

There are many things to like about this new winery (high quality, decent pricing, support of small growers), but there are things that are also of concern (a blurring of the lines between restaurants and wineries, the use of imprisonment as a form of entertainment and the erasing of a prior iconic wine brand without any sense of gratitude or remembrance). However the bigger concern might be that the loss of a sense of place will harm other local businesses, especially if other wineries widely adopt such strategies.
"

Mr. Carl's take on this theme-park winery, a wine version of the Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood, has succinctly highlighted the distorting effect of the corporate/plutocrat quest for mass-market tourism and branding that is steadily turning an authentic place with an enviable history into something else entirely.

The Strategic Plan at the BOS: Jan 15 on: Napa Strategic Plan


Bill Hocker - Jan 7,19  expand...  Share

Update 1/15/19
NVR 1/15/19: Napa County to start tackling post-Measure C environmental issues
Video of the Jan 15, 2019 meeting

I have to admit that the Napa Strategic Plan has reminded me of our initial experience with Nextdoor, the social media networking site for neighborhoods. In 2014 it seemed like Nextdoor Soda Canyon might be a good organizing platform to confront the development issues that were beginning to change our lives on Soda Canyon Road. But, of course, it proved to be more about finding a missing pet or someone to repair a septic system.

At the beginning of the meeting Sup. Dillon asked the Plan's consultant, Dr. B.J. Bischoff, to make clear the distinction between the General Plan which looks at long term land use issues and the Strategic Plan which looks at all of the county functions in the short term.

I have followed this process thinking that the Strategic Plan was intended to begin addressing the "big picture" impacts of development that were the impetus for the Mar 10th 2015 meeting and APAC and Measure C. Instead it is about the nuts and bolts of making Napa County government a better institution that listens to its citizens, a noble goal to be sure.

But as the NVR article shows, the Strategic Plan is often linked with the angst surrounding Measure C, a long term land use problem, with the Supes scheduling a workshop on Measure C issues as an extension of the Strategic Plan. So a bit of confusion reigns over the Plan's intent.

In public comments, most of the passion revolved around Climate Action (now!!) and the sacrosanct Vine Trail, each group claiming their issue, if Napa acts quickly enough, was going to save humanity from a warming planet.

The wine industry's "data-based decisions" mantra was tediously repeated, an attempt to demonize any opposition to the expansion of vineyards, wineries and tourism in the county, which many citizens see as diminishment in their quality of life, as Trumpian fact-free populism. Loss in the quality of life, developers know, is hard for impacted citizens to quantify.

Update 1/9/19
The Revised Draft Napa Strategic Plan

Update 1/8/19
The next presentation of the Napa Strategic Plan at the Board of Supervisors will take place on Tues, Jan 15 2019 beginning a 9:00am.

Video of 12/18/18 meeting and documents
Napa County Strategic Plan 2019-2022
Email CEO@CountyofNapa.org with comments

Update 12/19/18
NVR 12/19/18: Napa Supervisors surprised by deluge of comments on family farm woes and winery rules
Wine business.com 12/19/18: Napa County presents goals through 2022

The report was given, Supervisors had brief comments and 28 members of the public spoke. Staff was directed to digest the day's proceedings, tweak the Plan accordingly and schedule another hearing (probably 1/15/19).
Video of the hearing
Coalition Napa Valley white paper


12/18/18
NVR 12/17/18: Napa County unveils plan to deal with Measure C, other issues

The Draft Strategic Plan is here.
The County's Strategic Plan page is here
Community Meeting reports are here

Our Vision for the Future
Napa County is an agricultural treasure known for its legendary wines, our small-town character, and sustainable natural resources.

   - Napa Strategic Plan

For those that hoped the Napa Strategic Plan would be a vehicle to address the growth issues that are impacting the quality of life of Napa residents (the issues that led to the Mar 10 2015 joint BOS/PC meeting and the creation of APAC, and Measure C and countless fraught hearings over major projects like Walt Ranch, Syar and individual wineries) the draft report may be a bit too focused on symptoms and palliatives rather than causes and cures. It does not talk about how to slow the stream of development projects that occupy almost every planning commission meeting, adding buildings, visitors, employees, traffic and a demand on resources in an urbanization process that is directly counter to the vision of the Strategic Plan.

The Plan contains 81 action Items that are a bit more aspirational than actionable, and leave a lot of room for interpretation.

Six action items mention traffic/transportation: "Improve and maintain the existing transportation and roads system to accommodate all users" is the essence. Transportation action items are already being looked at in the Update of the General Plan Circulation Element. Unfortunately limits on the growth that is creating the traffic are not seen as part of the solution. (30% of the 1000 questionnaire comments mentioned traffic/transport)

Only one action item mentions wineries: "Work with stakeholders to update and develop sustainable regulations for issues including but not limited to residential development, view shed development, solar facilities, winery compatibility, outdoor winery hospitality, food pairings, and pesticide use." This is the crux of many development concerns. But the County's unwillingness to halt development while these issues are being defined or re-defined, and the APAC experience which essentially ignored residents as "stakeholders" in any decisions, makes one apprehensive. (20% of the questionnaire comments mentioned winery/wineries)

Only one mentions tourism: "Residents want to feel that the County is working for them, rather than catering to tourists, by encouraging more small businesses, family activities, and local services that focus on building community, improving well-being, and making it easier to live and work in the County." Tourist urbanism is the biggest threat to the rural character that residents treasure in the county. The county should get out of tourism development promotion and concentrate on real agriculture. (20% of questionnaire comments mentioned tourist/tourism/hospitality)

Only one mentions growth: "Develop a balanced approach to growth based on data-informed decisions." "Balanced growth" is a bit like the oxymoron "sustainable growth". Unfortunately, balance and sustainability only have a chance to be achieved once the growth is stopped. Also, the industry/government mantra "data-informed decisions" always seems like an excuse to put expert-opinion-justified development interests over resident-centered interests in quality of life. Quality of life is very real but hard to quantify, and expert opinions and reality are often not the same thing. (5% of questionnaire comments mentioned growth although growth is at the heart of other concerns)

As pointed out in the NVR article, one section does deal strictly with the issues raised by Measure C and the action items are rather specific. It is almost as if the only major complaint the BOS had with Measure C was that they didn't write it. The vineyard conversion goals, however, don’t change from the current general plan. "Establish a cap on vineyard development through 2030, consistent with the 2008 General Plan Environmental Impact Report (EIR) project description." The 2007 EIR Agriculture chapter posits an additional 12,500 acres on top of the 42,000 acres then in production. Over the last decade about 100 acres of producing vineyards have been added to the county each year. The GP cap for vineyard production allows for 10 times that amount. (Note to County webmaster: Appendix H dealing with vineyard projections, like many of the documents dealing with the 2007 EIR, were lost when the new County website was launched in 2017) This is one of the few concrete proposals but, much like the compliance program, simply reinforces the bloated status quo. (13% of questionnaire comments mentioned vineyards/agriculture).

The Strategic Plan is mostly a declaration of good intentions, and as such is to be commended. "Community" is the most frequent word in the document after "Napa County Strategic Plan". But APAC, likewise, was commissioned with good intentions toward the interests of the community, intentions that were watered down or erased entirely when subjected to industry pushback. We each read what we want to into the intentions, and I can see how they would be the basis for constructive change in dealing with the issues of growth in the county. But, how the action items will actually be interpreted, or modified in ordinances or practice, is a very open question.

The fact that the Plan is nominally concerned with only the next three years still seems a bit odd, a rather short term vision of the future. We are celebrating 50 years of the Ag Preserve. It has been a success. But "growth" has Eden fraying around the edges, with building projects in the vineyards and on the hillsides and with chronic traffic congestion and a tourism economy replacing both the agricultural and residential economy. It is that fraying that was behind APAC, and Measure C and the resident activism that seems to have led to this Strategic Plan. Extrapolate the "growth" that has occurred in the last 20 years and there will be little left of the "agricultural treasure" and "small town character" 50 years from now. We need to begin a Strategic Plan not for the next 3 years but for the next half century. Otherwise there will be nothing to celebrate at the 100th anniversary of the Ag Preserve.

Anthem Winery at Planning Commission on: Anthem Winery


Bill Hocker - Jan 7,19  expand...  Share

Update 1/8/19
The continued Planning Commission hearing for the Anthem Winery was to take place Jan 16, 2019 but has been continued to a date uncertain and will be renoticed 1/16/19 agenda and documents here.

Update 10/3/18
After 3 hours of presentation and public comment the Commissioners sought additional work by Staff to review and address the many concerns raised. The hearing was continued to Dec 5, 2018 [now Jan 16, 2018]. (The Davis Winery marketing, caves and production expansion was approved)

NVR 10/4/18: Napa County needs more time on controversial Anthem Winery requests

9/29/18
The Anthem Winery project, at 3123 Dry Creek Rd, will be up for a use permit modification at the Napa County Planning Commission on Oct. 3, 2018.

Technically a use permit "modification", it will be, in fact, a newly constructed complex including a new 10,000 sf winery building, 29,000 sf of new caves, a new 1500 sf tasting room, a new 1700 office building, outdoor event spaces, 22 car parking lot, and newly constructed entry drive from Dry Creek Rd. Tours and tastings and events will bring 15500 visitors/yr and 7-12 employees/day.

The site is 3.4 miles from Hwy 29. At 56 proposed trips per day, that amounts to 69495 VMT/yr due of its remote location - almost 3 times around the earth.

The project has been vigorously challenged by neighbors whose enjoyment of their remote rural properties will be destroyed by an event center in their midst. The adoption of tourism as an integral part of the wine Industry has much to do with the current antagonism of residents toward the industry as a whole. In this case it is also another example of neighbors who are themselves farmers and vintners - as happened with Yountville Hill, Girard, Raymond, Melka, B-Cellars and others - coming forward, not in opposition to a neighbor's right to farm and process their crop, but their right to create a tourism entertainment venue. Tourism may be defined as agriculture in the pro-development dogma of wine industry stakeholder groups and in the County ordinances that they have crafted, but in the real world, tourism is not agriculture - especially when it shows up next door. If only more farmers would act on the real possibility that an event center will eventually be their neighbor, the county might return to a more realistic definition of agriculture.

The Anthem project involves a road exception for the entry drive constraints, setback variances from the private drive, a viewshed ordinance regulation because of its visibility on the hill, and the removal of 130 trees. As was the case with the nearby Woolls Ranch winery, the project involves the contested use (commercial vs residential) of an easement over a neighbor's property. It raises once again the issue of water availability in the western watershed, having had to truck in water for a couple of years, also the case with the Woolls Ranch vineyard. It also raises the issue of remotely located custom crush facilities, with only a small percentage of its 50,000 gallons coming from grapes on the property. And then there is the dispute with another neighbor over the clearing of a woodland preservation easement between their properties. Finally, some events will be allowed until the trend-setting hour of midnight. The project pushes the boundaries of every norm.

Given the continued expansion of wineries into the watershed areas of the county, numerous projects have come before the Planning Commission asking for variances and exceptions to county ordinances to make the projects feasible in the hilly terrain. The ordinances were enacted specifically to recognize that some locations are not appropriate for building projects in order to maintain the rural and natural beauty that has been one of the county's principal assets. Unfortunately, the County, under pressure from a never-ending tide of profit- and ego-driven entrepreneurs, continues to approve projects requiring such exceptions to exist. And a rural landscape, protected by a previous generation of civic leaders and responsible stakeholders, is slowly being diminished as a consequence.

The Oct 3rd Planning Commission will also hear the Davis Estates Winery request for a large expansion in capacity, facility size and visitation numbers located on the Silverado Trail. Between the 2 wineries, 37,000 new visitation slots per year will be created, adding to population increase and the urbanization needed to accommodate it.

There are approximately 140 new wineries or expansions that have been approved since 2010 that will add some 1.8 million visitor slots. Another 30 are in the planning pipeline seeking to add 260,000 more visitor slots. Of those already approved, few have been built and their visitors and employees and the traffic they generate and the need for infrastructure, services and housing that they will create have not yet added to the impacts of urbanization that we already feel.

These wineries also represent an increase in permitted production capacity of 6+ million gallons/year. According to crop reports, the number of producing acres of vines has only grown by about 1000 acres in the last decade, barely enough for 1 million gallons of new production capacity. Many new wineries, like Anthem, will be used principally to process off site grapes that are undoubtedly being processed elsewhere now. Their wine will add little to Napa's overall wine output. Their real product is wine tasting experiences and the events they will host. These wineries would probably not be built were it not for their tourism function, a fact that Anthem’s owner quantified in her letter to APAC.

In 2014, when we first found out about the event center proposed for the property next to us, it was already obvious that winery construction to serve a tourism economy was distorting the concept of agriculture as being the highest and best use of the land. It is now past time to decide that there are enough wineries already, enough boxes littering the landscape, and begin to use the county's discretion to deny those whose reason to exist is little more than the dream of owning a winery of one's own and the wealth to realize it; in particular those wineries that must stretch every ordinance and antagonize every neighbor to accommodate that realization.

Bloodlines Vineyards EIR on: The Rector Watershed


Bill Hocker - Jan 6,19  expand...  Share

Update 3/6/19
My comment on the DEIR and Dave Phinney's (prescient) response

Other response letters are here including pushback from the Ca. Dept of Fish and Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity.

Winebusiness.com 3/6/2019: Dave Phinney Plans to Develop Vineyard East of Napa

Update 1/8/19
The Bloodlines Vineyards Draft EIR is available for comment through Jan 30 2019 (previously Jan 16). Comments may be addressed to County Planner Brian Bordona at Brian.Bordona@countyofnapa.org

Update 11/19/18
Dave Phinney has sent the letter below announcing that the EIR that has been in process for the last year for the development of the Bloodlines Wine properties on the Rector plateau will be ready for comments in late November.

The ECP is here (EIR coming soon hopefully)


Dave Phinney
P.O. Box 2020
Saint Helena, California 94574

November 14th, 2018

Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Fellow Community Members:
Please allow me a few minutes to tell you about a project that my team and I have been working on since 1998. Over the past 20 years we have purchased 278 acres at the top of Soda Canyon Road with the vision of planting and farming a vineyard. These nine parcels lie in the Agricultural Watershed in this beloved Right to Farm community, our Napa Valley.

Rather than rushing to plant a vineyard as quickly as possible, we have taken our time. We have spoken with people who have farmed in the area, purchased fruit from adjacent vineyards, talked with neighbors, leased with the intention of eventually purchasing an adjacent vineyard, and have asked questions with open ears and an open heart. A team of expert engineers, biologists, hydrogeologists, archaeologists, geologists, soil scientists, and viticulturists spent five years designing a very unique vineyard. Rather than simply submitting an Erosion Control Plan application to the County of Napa, we voluntarily agreed from the beginning of the process to conduct an Environmental Impact Report to analyze and mitigate all impacts the vineyard may have to our community. This gave us confidence that all Conservation Regulations and mandates of the California Environmental Quality Act were not only followed but exceeded in the Erosion Control Plan application.

Below please find some of the highlights from the expert studies:
The engineering firm designed the vineyard to result in net zero sediment runoff, protecting the watershed from erosion. Since those calculations, the property completely burned in the 2017 wildfires, and an engineered vineyard planting will greatly reduce erosion potential.

We will take on the responsibility for providing safe and ecological transportation options for our employees to do our part in mitigating traffic. Our farming practices will follow an innovative Integrated Pest Management strategy. A hydrogeology team conducted a Water Availability Analysis and confirmed that there is more than enough water on the property to farm the acreage of vineyard in the application.

We will not be applying for a winery permit at this location. We are currently working on plans to build a winery in an historic building that we are restoring on Mare Island in Solano County.

My team is working with local Neighbors, Board of Supervisors, Mayors, City Council Members and Planning Commissioners and listening to any of their questions or concerns regarding our project. This communication has been valuable, and we are incorporating cooperative solutions into our plans. Each expert report, the Erosion Control Plan, and the Environmental Impact Report will be available for your review at the County’s website (https://www.countyofnapa.org/694/Bloodlines-LLC-Soda-Canyon-Vineyard). The official County Public Comment Period will start in mid to late November. If you have any questions or input regarding the application prior to that time, I invite you to contact me directly. My team and I value the opportunity to hear what is important to you.

Sincerely,

Dave S. Phinney
707-388-1973
info@bloodlineswine.com



Update 5/28/18
NVR 5/28/18: Napa County's Measure C and D campaign in six figures

According to this NVR article, Dave Phinney has contributed $25,000 to the NO on C campaign, the largest amount after the NVV's $200,000.

Update 12/27/16
Notice of Preparation of the EIR for 114 acre Erosion Control Plan on Rector plateau
County's Bloodlines page

Original post 8/31/16
Several residents of Soda Canyon Road accepted an invitation for an August 26th, 2016 BBQ meet-and-greet over the pending Erosion Control Plan for 114 new acres of vines on 2 separated parcels on the Rector plateau. The ECP, processed initially under the company name of Orin Swift, will be vetted by a full blown Environmental Impact Report, with the draft version due in early 2017. The time line is here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming to a vineyard near you. on: Tourism Issues


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

NVR 12/26/18: Napa supervisors report on Australia wine trip

"Rising out of vineyards, the five-story-tall d’Arenberg Cube looks like a glass Rubic cube in mid-move. Visitors can see a 360-degree video room, take in art in the Alternate Realities Museum, sniff flowers and fruit in sensory rooms, taste wine and eat in a restaurant. The center contains no wine production."

The beauties of a tourism economy.

Strategic Plan White Papers on: Napa Strategic Plan


Bill Hocker - Dec 21,18  expand...  Share

The one aspect of the Strategic Plan that is bothersome is its focus on the next 3 years. The significant outreach to solicit and document input from such wide variety of county "stakeholders" is an effort worthy of loftier goals than just prioritizing the County's short term agenda. The problems of traffic and affordable housing, and the infrastructure and social strains of an expanding population, when looked at in a 3-year time frame, become merely exercises in trying to mitigate the existing impacts of the previous 20 years of urban growth. The 3 year strategic plan lets stakeholders vent about existing problems and lets government commit to do something about them (whether it can or not). The Strategic Plan doesn't, unfortunately, embody proposals that might challenge the trajectory of growth that has created our current problems and will continue to compound them into the future.

The comments of some of the participants do reflect an interest in the bigger picture of land use policy - how does the vision at the heart of the Strategic Plan, the same vision at the heart of the Ag Preserve 50 years ago to retain a small-town, rural place in the midst of an urbanizing world, remain relevant for another 50 years. When looked at in the longer term bolder solutions need to be looked at. And some of the Participants in the Strategic Plan have done that.

So far there are three proposals that have been submitted outlining long term land use strategies:

Coalition Napa Valley white paper
Napa Vision 2050 Strategic Plan outline
Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture outline
NVR 2/24/19: Need a scorecard of key players in Napa's land use battles? Here it is

Save the Family Farm on: Napa Strategic Plan


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

12/19/18
NVR 12/19/18: Napa Supervisors surprised by deluge of comments on family farm woes and winery rules

Save the Family Farm on Change.org
Save the Family Farm Committee statement

At the Strategic Plan hearing before the BOS on 12/19/18 several people got up to describe how difficult it was as for small winemakers to survive: those vintners that had a small number of acres of vines that they processed at a custom crush facility or in their barn, but had no means, in an age of consolidated distributers needing large quantities, of actually selling the wine other than inviting people to their farm. The cost of getting a use permit for a winery, a multi-year process at the County, and the cost of actually building a commercial winery was way beyond their means.

The refrain of the small family winery being priced out of the Napa Valley has been fairly constant since APAC and before, with the discussion about the CEQA small winery exception. Apparently there are many winemakers out there that have been operating completely off the grid of official county statistics for some time.

The County's winery database of use permits now has some 500 wineries, not even half of Dave Thompson's Napa Wine Project database of 1100 Napa commercial wine makers, most of which he has visited and written excellent reviews about.

For me, and perhaps the Supervisors, this is much like the issue of winery use-permit non-compliance which turned out to be a much more widespread than first thought. The emphasis on the plight of the small family winemakers, operating without a winery permit and depending on "home" tours and tasting to sell their product may be just as big. And now that the County is cracking down on winery non-compliance with a deadline of 3/29/19 for wineries to register to recognize the conditions of their use permits, the many sub-permit wine makers may be getting nervous.

It seems unlikely that the County doesn't know about number of commercial wineries documented in the Napa Wine Project, regardless the Supes surprise as the small winemakers are coming forward. But is probably safe to say that the impact of those wine makers on their neighborhoods and on the metrics of traffic generation and housing need have thus far been ignorable. Until now.

The Save the Family Farm Committee has produced their own definition of the Small Family Winery. There are good aspects to the proposal, but the 30,000 gallon limit represents a 50% increase on the median size of existing use-permitted wineries in remote areas, not really small by Napa standards. And the 25 visitors every day is 4 times the median visitation in remote areas and would present a noticeable commercial presence in remote rural neighborhoods.

In 2017 The county floated a Limited Winery Ordinance but tabled it because of likely pushback. With the county approving one new winery a month, developing a fast-track method of administrative winery approvals didn't seem like a good idea. The specs were even further above the existing median Napa winery than the Small Family Winery.

Actually, the County already has a Small Winery definition on the books for old existing wineries. It would seem a reasonable template to fit the needs of “Save the Family Farm” petitioners, with the removal of the word “existing”. It prohibits tours and tastings, a deal breaker for the Committee I'm sure. But it is worth noting that Screaming Eagle is in compliance with this definition - 20,000 gal/yr, no tours, tastings or events. It is possible for a small winemaker to be successful based on the quality of the wine rather than the quantity of the experiences.

In 2014, the first year of doing this website, I proposed a series of solutions attempting to stall the urbanization of the county. One was a "true" family winery ordinance of my own. The overriding considerations were that such small wineries have minimal impacts and that they not be expandable - that they are meant to allow a proof of concept for budding winemakers and an authentic tasting experience for a limited number of aficionados. If the wine maker wishes to expand, it is time to move additional production and visitation out of the hills. The most important aspect of the proposal was that the permit is given to the owner of the land. If the owner left the land, the permit ended. And that it be the only type of winery allowed in the watersheds going forward, so that these permits are not simply a cheap and easy way to start a large event center project. Protecting the watersheds from corporate and plutocratic overdevelopment is the goal. And prohibiting tourism development of the watersheds means that the properties that are available are less expensive for small family farms. It is a workable proposal for just the vintners that are coming forward now.

One of the other “solutions” that gets at the issue of marketing small brands might be appropriate to mention here: The development of public wine markets in each of the municipalities specifically to sell the county's small labels, with a boutique or stall for each of the winemakers. The TOT would be used to subsidize, or pay entirely, for the cost of rent on the stalls. The marketing of wine by dragging ever more visitors into the rural areas of the County is not a sustainable approach - in terms of protecting that rural character or of dealing with the VMT issues of climate change and global tourism. But small family farms are sustainable - if they remain small family farms.

The Compliance Ladder of Travesty on: Compliance Issues


George Caloyannidis - Dec 4,18  expand...  Share

Update 12/04/18
The Resolution on Code Compliance was passed 4-0 by the BOS at their 12/4/18 meeting.

Chatten-Brown and Carstens LLP letter to the Supervisors with legal concerns about the Draft Code Complince Resolution on behalf of the Friends of the Napa County Agricultural Preserve.
Video of 12/4/18 BOS meeting
Revised Code Compliance Resolution

Update 11/20/18
NVR 11/20/18: County wants March deadline for Napa winery scofflaws

Update 11/9/18
Concerning Item 6G of the BOS consent Calendar on Nov 13, 2018 agenda:

This [Draft Code Compliance Resolution] is extremely serious. It opens the floodgates under the guise of "enforcement".

While I only address the issue of public exclusion (in the underlying objective to "streamline"), this Resolution is a complete travesty.

Over and above the issues I raise in the attachment, there is nothing to prevent a never ending string of violations "to come forward for compliance" even after this round of compliance modifications has been completed.

And to suggest that compelling a winery to operate under its original use permit for one year (any amount of time) is punishment is like allowing a thief who has been caught stealing to keep their stolen goods as long as they promise to stop stealing going forward!

Note the bullet immediately preceding my COMMENT text.

It pertains to the unfair treatment of law abiding wineries seeking use permit modifications as compared to the violating ones. The former will still be subject to Planning Commission review and public hearings while the latter will be privileged by an expedited administrative process.

Many believe that this unfairness is so obvious that it will be remedied in the future and that this underhanded process is one already premeditated in this Resolution.

Once again, I urge you not to change the existing process of Planning Commission review and public inclusion for ALL winery use permit modifications.

My current comments to the Supervisors are here
My Oct recommendations are here

11/15/17
For many years now, I have been sounding the alarm of the misguided principles the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors are employing in rewarding winery use permit violators. The latest example in this ongoing practice was the approval of the Reynolds family winery which was caught cheating in its 2014 audit.

On November 1st, the Planning Commission rewarded the winery with an increase in production from 20,000 gallons annually to 40,000, an increase in weekly visitors from 60 to 280 and in annual marketing events from 3 to 54.

The owner, a dentist of some assumed educational level stated that he hadn't noticed the increase in visitors. As shocking this may be, even more so are the statements of the Commissioners who appreciated the winery "owning up to the code violations", whatever owning up means.

Commissioner Basayne stated that the county wants "to work with violators who want to work with the county" another meaningless talking point. Commissioner Scott stated that the county "must support efforts of small family wineries to succeed", in effect sweeping the issue of violations under the rug.

To top it all off, staff developed a comparison chart of 14 wineries producing between 35,000 to 45,000 gallons to serve as a guide for future applications. The chart showed that comparable wineries had 6,213 visitors annually compared to 14,560 granted to Reynolds and 691 marketing visitors while Reynolds was granted 1,901!
Putting all this in perspective and leaving all the ethical and government credibility issues of rewarding violators aside, I want to concentrate on how this affects the state's California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) intended to safeguard not the Reynolds' pocket book but our common quality of life including our resources, infrastructure and traffic congestion.

During my appeal on a similar violations reward case of the Reverie winery in 2015, I pointed out to the Supervisors the court decision of that same year in Center for Biological Diversity v. Department of Fish and Wildlife holding that "the CEQA baseline must include existing conditions, even when those conditions have never been reviewed and are unlawful". This means that the environmental conditions factored in the Reynolds CEQA analysis included the conditions of the violations, not those which would have been in place had the winery complied with its original conditions and came before the Commission seeking for an increase. In other words, the impact of the increase from 6,213 to 14,560 visitors, the increased production etc. all escaped CEQA review.

This circumvention of the CEQA law by our local government was also pointed out to our Supervisors in letters by the law firms of Abbott & Kindermann representing Beckstoffer Vineyards in April 29, 2015 and by Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger representing Alliance for Responsible Governance in August 11, 2017. Yet the Planning Commission remains undaunted to the fact that its policy of "forgive and reward" which was officially rescinded by Resolution No. 05-229 in December 13, 2005 and signed by then chair Dillon compromises - in fact encourages - the circumvention of CEQA which was designed to protect the health and welfare of communities throughout the state of California.

When the Commissioners and our Supervisors increase the use permit levels of violators such as Reverie, Summers, Reynolds and others one after the other, the comparison chart of "similar wineries" is climbing up the ladder to the benefit of the next violator, all without CEQA review. If one wonders how traffic congestion levels have increased dramatically in recent years even though each project CEQA analysis has assured the public that all impacts have been mitigated to "less than significant levels", one need only look at the ladder of forgiveness.

To be clear, rewarding such violators has nothing to do with helping small family wineries, nothing to do with people who are nice or generous to the community or even those who come forward admitting to violations without having been caught let alone those who have. Unfortunately, our government refuses to get it and many fear corruption. What is the solution?

The county has suspended its auditing program and is examining solutions. No solution will be effective unless violators are caught immediately so the CEQA baseline is not allowed to move forward unexamined. This means a step up in auditing to at least 80 wineries annually, sworn affidavits of winery CEOs that they comply with the terms of their use permits and non-complying wineries having to revert to use permit levels of operation for a minimum of three years so that CEQA conditions have time to reset.

LTE version 11/18/17: Forgiveness for winery violators: The ladder of travesty

AmCan solar farm at the Planning Commission on: Solar Farming


Bill Hocker - Dec 3,18  expand...  Share


Update 12/6/18
NVR 12/6/18: Napa County approves what could be its first commercial solar farm

With the return of Comm Hansen, the project was approved 3-2, Hansen, Whitmer, Mazotti for, Cottrell, Gallagher no.
Video of the 12/5/18 hearing

Update 12/3/18
Aston Pereira LTE 12/4/18: Solar Projects in the Napa County Ag Watershed/Ag Preserve
Patricia Tuck LTE 12/4/18 Cui Bono?
Tina Norman LTE 12/3/18: We need rules for solar farms

On 12/5/18 the Planning Commission returns to render their verdict with a full contingent after the 2-2 split decision on 11/28/18. The property is currently generating income for its owners as a horse and animal farm. Will Comm. Hansen vote for the further urban development of working ag lands? Or will the county decide in its wisdom direct staff to propose regulations for this new land use before rather than after the fact?

Update 11/28/18
NVR 11/28/18: Proposed American Canyon commercial solar farm awaits a tie-breaker

At the 11/28/18 Planning Commission meeting, the motion to approve the AmCan Solar project was split with Comms. Whitmer, and Mazotti for, and Comms. Gallagher and Cottrell against. Comm Hansen was absent. County Council indicated that given the tie the project must be agendized for the next meeting when the 5th member will be present. The project has been put on the Dec 5th agenda.

I'm a bit confused by the policy regarding a tie. In the Girard project, a 2-2 tie was interpreted as a loss of the motion. In the first ALUC hearing on the Palmaz heliport, the ALUC board split 3-3 and the hearing was renoticed for a future meeting. There had to be some clarification on this because the ALUC policy was different than the Planning Commission policy. Perhaps the Planning Commission policy changed? Comm Gallagher asked at the time, why would a hearing be scheduled if the members present are potentially not capable to make a binding decision. Good question.


Update 11/20/18
Planning Commission hearing on project 11/28/18

Agenda and documents
Staff letter for hearing
County's AmCan Solar Project page
Sonoma Co. renewable energy standards
Eve Kahn statement
Lisa Hirayama statement
NRSP/NCFB/NV2050 'quasi-utility' comments

Update 10/20/18
NVR 10/20/18: Napa County commercial solar proposal raises larger questions
The hearing has been continued to Nov 28, 2018

10/10/18
The second solar farm currently being proposed in the county will be up before the planning commission on Oct. 17th 2018. The agenda and documents are here.

The neg-dec notice is here. Less-than-significant impacts as usual. It will cover a hillside in the bucolic, actual American Canyon between Hwy 80 and the AmCan High School. Given the route, a viable alternative connection between Hwys 80 and 29, remaining a piece of the county’s unpretentious ranch landscape was not in the cards. It might have become another vanity vineyard, but in this corner of the county closer to a freeway, the most profitable crop seems to be the guiding principle. If the County is willing to consider solar power plants as an acceptable use on ag lands, there are 45000 acres of land in the county already cleared with the intention of soaking up the sun waiting to be developed into more profitable use.

According to one website, leasing farmland for solar collectors might produce a net profit of "somewhere between $21,250 and $42,500 per acre on an annual basis". Compare that to the $7000/ton x 4 ton/acre = $28,000/acre gross revenue from vines in Napa County. With costs of perhaps $16000/acre that would leave $12000/acre/yr net profit, far below the money to be made from a solar farm. While not every farmer would be interested in doubling their income by converting to solar power, there is definitely an incentive to do so.

There is a real need for the County to develop a policy and ordinances for solar development before any projects are considered for approval. Sonoma County already has an ordinance. This question needs to to be answered first: why should agriculturally zoned land, the "highest and best use of the land" in the County's oft-touted phrase, be used for power plants rather than relegating such an expansive industrial use to industrially zoned land?

This illustration shows the size of the American Canyon solar array (18 acres large) in comparison to the ultimate Napa Logistics buildout. The array is about 3/4 the area of the largest building in the complex. The County should ask why solar collection can't be incorporated into industrial or commercial uses to offset the costs of both, as rooftop or parking lot installations (as in the Gasser HQ parking lot)? Would it not make sense to initially target large solar power projects for the industrial areas and uses that need generous amounts of power to operate, and leave ag lands for ag uses?

The NFRSP group has published a statement opposing the project on the NV2050 website here:
Planning Commission: Wait! We need a plan on solar before we set any precedents!

The restaurant-winery impact on: The WDO


Bill Hocker - Dec 1,18  expand...  Share

Update 12/1/18
Just on heels of his insights on the meaning of the opening of The Prisoner Winery, Napa's newest tourist attraction, the Register's food and wine writer Tim Carl has done a deep dive, with statistics, into Napa's dying restaurants. There is a relationship between the two stories

NVR12/1/18: A staffing shortage clouds the future of Napa Valley restaurants

Update 10/30/18
Eve Kahn et al LTE 10/30/18: Why are supervisors allowing restaurants in the Ag Preserve?

Update 10/16/18
NVR 5/22/18: Brian Arden Winery's new food and wine experience are perfectly paired

NVR 10/16/18: Diane De Filipi: Food and wine at Sequoia Grove

Eve Kahn at the BOS on Oct 16, 2018 brought up the De Filipi article from the Wine section of the Register. The author of the article offers some jaw-dropping candor:

"Wineries and visitors are now able to benefit from an ambiguity in the ordinance [the WDO] that allows for educational wine and food pairings for visitors. This little loophole is making it possible for us to enjoy meals at wineries while still preventing most gargantuan events.

One of wineries that has created an inviting and impressive dining experience is Sequoia Grove. Their five-course seasonal cuisine wine and food pairing was an intimate, no more than 16 guests, experience."

Creating a restaurant-class kitchen and hiring a top chef and support staff is no small endeavor. Neither is staying within the parameters of the loophole. Sequoia Grove has figured it all out and in a setting, which is lovely without the least bit of pretense."

What can one say. Except that the wine industry was fully aware what the "ambiguous" 2010 changes to the verbiage of the WDO would mean - that wineries could then become much more profitable commercial enterprises, i.e. restaurants.

At the BOS meeting, industry spokesperson Debra Dommen discounted the quotes in the Redd article below, saying that, based on her inside knowledge (more reliable than mere employees presumably), restaurant closures were not related to losing business to wineries. Just more fake news she implied.

But, at his first meeting as Planning Commissioner on the day following this BOS meeting, Comm. Mazotti, a member of the company developing several major Napa urban projects, had just the opposite view from Ms. Dommen. The market for high end restaurants is saturated in the valley. The urban development community looks at each new "restaurant" as a net zero condition, with the loss of one existing restaurant expected for each new one. If the new ones are at wineries, then the town suffers.

Update 10/9/18
NVR 10/9/18: Why Yountville’s Redd restaurant closed
"Restaurants have to compete with so many wineries that are now offering food pairings and lunches, with in-house chefs creating menus to keep their visitors engaged. Tourists aren’t necessarily interested in a big dinner or fancy lunch when they can have a food experience at the winery. It’s really tough on restaurants now." - Redd sommelier Chris Blanchard

Redd is not the only example: George Caloyannidis mentioned in one email that:
"I had a long talk with the Dierkhisings who own 2 restaurants in Calistoga. Despite the increase in visitors they told me they will be going out of business. When I asked why, they said tourists get enough food at the wineries and they don't come to us. Several other restaurants in Calistoga have closed."

Charlotte Williams then replied:
"In small Calistoga the effects of any trend become clear sooner than in larger towns. Brannan's Bar & Grill closed a few weeks ago. The owners
cited traffic as a problem but there's also the probability that winery
hosted dinners and lunches didn't help business in the restaurants in town.

I imagine that was a problem for Terra and Cindy's Backstreet in St.
Helena, too. Market (restaurant) figured it out and decided to take
their food to the wineries, instead, essentially becoming a catering
service."

The labor shortage, as the wineries poach workers as well as customers, is another cause of demise. There is a lack of workers either for want of housing or from winery and resort competition. The approval of ever more commercial development in the municipalities without the infrastructure or housing to accommodate the increased work force is putting the squeeze on all employers. It will only get much worse as the many hotels and resorts and industrial projects approved but not yet built come online.

As mentioned in the article, the preference by tourists for less expensive food in town when they spend $125 for winery lunch speaks to another issue - the promotion of Napa as a mass market tourism destination. One trip to Oxbow Market, an ideal, I'm sure, from the tourism industry's standpoint, should convince anyone that the days of oenophiles and epicures seeking an undiscovered gem are over. Like being at Disneyland, an expensive meal at a winery is part of the ride, but for all other meals it's strictly comfort food.

The County's land use policies are clearly a cause in the transfer of food revenues from the municipalities to the vineyards. By including food service as an agricultural process allowed under the County's restrictive agricultural zoning, the County has encouraged the use of wineries as restaurants. The result, as has been apparent in the use permit requests since 2010 changes to the WDO to allow increased food service, is a bleeding of a definite commercial use, a restaurant, from the municipalities into the unincorporated areas. The urban-rural line has been perforated. Hotels are sure to follow.

The "wine industry" claims that serving food at tastings and events is the only way attract the patrons needed for wineries to survive. In fact, it is the economic justification needed for wineries to be proposed in the first place. Without the wine pairings and food serving events, the number of wineries being proposed, and the number of employees contributing to the population challenges the county now faces, would be considerably reduced. The decision to build a winery would be based on the need to process grapes into wine, and the county already has several times more than enough approved processing capacity for all the grapes grown in the county.

1/2/15
NVR 12/31/14: Etoile, restaurant that helped launch Napa Valley food scene, is closing

Although the above article is a unique case, it is representative of what we can expect to happen in the next few years as the synergy between wine and food, codified under the WDO, is exploited. Note that food service isn't ending, it's just that the winery will be serving the food in the form of banquets and private parties.

My two screeds on the ongoing conversion of wineries into backdrops for restaurants are here and here. The jist of my arguments, and the reason that the 1990 version of WDO went to such linguistic pains around "marketing events", is that restaurants should not be allowed in the vineyards. It is not that wineries and restaurants cannot cannot coexit - they do quite well together. In fact the two together present an unbeatable profit center that will eventually eliminate the need for municipal based restaurants. The combination is, in fact, profitable enough that every vineyard owner will want one, and all of the empty vineyards will eventually be occupied by their own restaurant-wineries. Whereas the profits to be made from tours and tastings at wineries is not enough to justify building a winery solely for that purpose, a restaurant within the winery does justify the cost. I'm sure that the winery being proposed in my back yard on Soda Canyon Road would be a very dicey investment if it were to depend only on tours and tastings. And as the profits from winery tourism eclipse the profits to be made from the sale of wine, the need for the vineyards also diminishes, and other uses, like parking lots to accommodate that large winery events, will be found for the land.

My own modest recommendation: the new version of the WDO, being debated in February, needs to remove food service from the vineyards - lest the vines are literally eaten away.

Watson Ranch Referendum on: Watson Ranch


Bill Hocker - Nov 30,18  expand...  Share

Residents and labor union members are backing a referendum to put the approval of Watson Ranch on the ballot. While Mayor García tries to portray supporters of the referendum as labor unions angling for a bigger piece of the project and as outside Green party radicals opposed to development, it doesn't take much to realize that there isn't anything in this project for the residents of American Canyon except more traffic, pollution, school crowding, job competition and increasing infrastructure and service taxes.

As noted in the EIR: "significant and unavoidable impacts with respect to: air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, noise, and transportation and traffic." This project doesn't need outside agitators to oppose it. It just needs informed residents. Hopefully the referendum will do that.

Unfortunately the referendum will not be countywide. The traffic increase in American Canyon will impact everyone traveling to and from the Napa Valley, and some of the infrastructure needs of the expanding American Canyon population will, no doubt, be borne by the rest of the county as well.

Lewis and Grapes LTE 11/30/18: Sign the petition = A better American Canyon – not another Vallejo
Leon García LTE 11/20/18: Do not sign the Watson Ranch petition
NVR 11/20/18: Unions launch referendum campaign to stop Watson Ranch in American Canyon

County Supervisors, Khashoggi and the Angwin cookie jar on: Compliance Issues


George Caloyannidis - Nov 29,18  expand...  Share

Editor:

On December 4, the Supervisors are scheduled to adopt the so called Winery Compliance Resolution. If this sounds reassuring, think again.

The way the County defines winery compliance is far from what the common man understands under this label. When wineries exceed wine production, visitations and numbers of events above their use permit levels, this is when they are out of compliance. One would expect that when the County proposes to bringing them into compliance, it would compel them to operate under their use permits for at least some substantial period of time. That would not only be respect for the law, restore unfair competition towards law abiding wineries and rectify their escape from environmental review thus adding to our traffic without mitigations.

Regretfully, the way the County proposes to treat "compliance" is to legalize violations with revised use permits, in essence adjusting the law to fit the crime; even better, it brings the County rather the wineries into compliance.

"Words matter" as president to be Barak Obama once said in 2007. Words can inspire and can fool the public.

And since I am quoting presidents, most peoples' moral sense was offended when President Trump decided against placing sanctions on Saudi Arabia for the horrific dismembering of Jamal Khashoggi by risking a $100 barrel of oil. "This is not who we are" reverberated throughout the country. But here we are in Napa County.

Without claiming a moral equivalency to a horrific crime or national interests, if there is any doubt how corrosive this loose play with our collective moral values is even beginning at the local level, one can look back to the Summer of 2015 when I unsuccessfully appealed the County's decision to forgive numerous egregious violations at the Reverie winery with a new use permit by bringing it into "compliance" (it sold a few weeks later with several millions of ill gotten gains added to its value). At the time we asked Mr. Rothman, teacher at Angwin Elementary School to pose the following question to his 7th and 8th graders: "If I passed around a cookie jar and asked each of you to take no more than three cookies but some of you took six, should they be allowed to keep them?". We can still celebrate; not one single child said they should.

At least in 2015 these children understood morality, but if we continue down this path from a small county to the entire nation where money trumps it, we will end up in the kind of society which we will have deserved.

On December 4, the small children at Angwin Elementary will be looking down at the Supervisors' desk.

George Caloyannidis
Calistoga

Comments


Bill Hocker - Nov 29, 2018 11:25AM

Mr. Caloyannidis has sent along these more specific comments:

Below I distill the main issues with the proposed Winery Compliance Resolution.

1) It increases the discretionary power of the PBES Director (Morrison) to determine which of the violating wineries' applications require a public hearing and which do not. If he decides they do not, he grants new use permits. This limits public comment at the Planning Commission level.

2) It gives a penalty pass towards new winery use permits which recognize their violations if they submit a "substantially conforming" application by March 29, 2019. But the deadline can be extended for "extenuating circumstances" for up to 120 days but that can again be extended for extenuating circumstances, both at the "Director's sole discretion".

3) It also grants these violators the right to apply for additional increases in use permits over and above the violation ones.

4) Such ministerial approvals will be almost impossible to appeal to the BoS because the public will have to rely on the County website postings in order to submit a comment in order to acquire legal standing for an appeal.

5) The only penalty wineries which miss that (flexible) deadline will be to undergo CEQA under the original use permit baseline (which they need to consent to) and be required to operate for one year under their original use permit.

6) There are no provisions of how repeat offenders will be handled.

7) No provisions on how wineries who do not apply at all will be handled.

8) No provisions for a County auditing program so as to prevent violators in the future.

9) While these wineries will be required to submit annual reports on production, they are not required to do so for their marketing activities.

The more general concerns at issue here are:

1) According to the last winery audit in 2013, 40% of all audited wineries were out of compliance. We have about 500 wineries now.

2) The proliferation of use permit violators on traffic, visitations, events, production has had profound impacts throughout the valley in terms of advancing these increases without mitigations by escaping CEQA review. As per recent court rulings, the CEQA baseline on applications must recognize existing conditions even if they have been caused by unpermitted operations.

3) These illegal increases in winery marketing and production have had deleterious effects on the commercial activities in the cities. The unmitigated increases on traffic have also had an equally negative effect on accessibility and the commercial activities in the cities from American Canyon to Calistoga resulting in store and restaurants closures as they complete in a short labor market and food service.

No on Palm Drive solar on: Solar Farming


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



Update 11/28/18
At the 11/28/18 hearing on the American Canyon Solar Project, the developer indicated that they have withdrawn their application for the Palm Drive Solar Project. Temporary or permanent?

Update 9/30/18
Laura TInthoff LTE 9/30/18: Keep our valley bucolic: No on Palm Drive solar

9/20/18

Another community group has formed to oppose the urbanization of the "agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure", this time to prevent a wooded hillside in Coombsville from becoming a power plant.

It is Napa Residents for Smart Planning…No on Palm Drive Solar.

Their very well done website does a good job of showing how inappropriate such an industrial project can be to a rural landscape.

The red splotches are stands of oak woodlands to be removed. Given the concerns raised by the Measure C campaign over the last year it is a bit shocking that a company would have the hubris to push forward such an industrial use of Napa's oak woodlands. The plan is one of the documents on the County's Palm Drive Solar page.

Sonoma County Ag+Open Space on: Sonoma County


Bill Hocker - Nov 21,18  expand...  Share

Napa Vision 2050 has just sent out an email which among other concerns cites this article from the Sonoma Press Democrat: Report: Sonoma County’s natural resources worth billions

The report was a product of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preserve + Open Space District.The Ag+Open Space District webpage devoted to the report is here
The report itself is here

As usual, I was quite unaware of the situation in the county next door. It was a revelation that Sonoma's Ag+Open Space District, created by voters in 1990, seems to represent a wholistic approach to natural resource value and protection that has eluded Napa with its company-town mentality toward the wine industry. By comparison to the lofty and often ignored visions of the Napa County General Plan, and the feeble efforts of the County to mitigate but not challenge the development goals of the wine/tourism industries in the face of public resistance and potential resource depletion, Sonoma's Ag+Open Space District seems to place a "highest and best" value on Sonoma's "natural capital" beyond just its use as cropland or a scenic stage set for tourism.

While the District seems to embody the characteristics and purposes of Napa's Land Trust in its effort to preserve the natural character of the county through acquisition and conservation easements, the Ag+Open Space District is, in fact, an agency of the Sonoma County Government, with a substantial staff, overseen by the Board of Supervisors, giving the County a broader view when advancing the regulation of agricultural and tourism development. Unlike the Napa Land Trust, which pointedly refrains from any political controversy over land use (particularly over Measure C), the Ag+Open Space District is an adjunct to that political process and its concern in maintaining the natural character of the county should act as a counterweight to the desire for unregulated agricultural and tourism development.

As other posts on the SCR Sonoma County page attest, Sonoma also has its share of community resistance to the aggressive expansion of the wine/tourism industries parallel to that happening in Napa. The Ag+Open Space District isn't a panacea. But as this report shows, the county has the means through the District to concern itself with bigger issues than just the success of one industry - unlike the focused concern on the health of the wine industry which so occupies the Napa County government.

The report itself, which places a monetary value on things intrinsically hard to value, natural beauty, carbon sequestration, water quality, pollination (a lot!) and of course recreation and tourism, seems like it would be open to claims of biased discretion in making an economic case for natural land protection. There are case studies tied to the report with the numerical analyses used to produce expert opinions as to the valuations. As I have ranted about elsewhere, reality and expert opinion are not the same thing. But, hopefully, the valuations that this report has produced will stand the test of competition from experts with even more money to tout the economic benefits of urbanization. It is a shame that no government body and its citizenry, in this capitalist nation, is simply willing to decide that protecting the natural environment of a place is simply a moral imperative, a blessing to the human soul, regardless of the economic loss or benefit. A report with a dollar value is necessary.

What was illuminating to me about the report is that Sonoma County has a governmental body that looks at land use beyond just the economic interest of particular industries, and that agriculture is not defined as the highest and best use of the land, but that instead the natural capital of the county, God’s own creation unspoiled by human exploitation, may have a higher value. The report is a collaboration with two other Bay Area Counties, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz. Napa County should endeavor to be a partner in the next update.

Aloft Winery on: Remote Winery Ordinance


Bill Hocker - Nov 13,18  expand...  Share

Wine-Searcher 11/8/18: New Mondavi Plan Upsets Some Locals
NVR 9/6/18: Proposed Mondavi family winery generates controversy in Angwin
County's Aloft Winery document page

Scions of the Mondavi family are starting over by developing a new 50,000 gal/yr winery up a dead end road outside of Angwin. The project, the Aloft Winery, has run into opposition from neighbors as being incompatible with its remote location (an outline for a CEQA lawsuit has already been submitted!). The initial presentation of the project before the Planning Commission on Sep 5, 2018 generated enough concern that it has been continued to a date uncertain while neighbors and the owners attempt to come to some consensus.

The project represents one of several projects that are receiving new scrutiny after the fires of 2017 and the close defeat of Measure C in 2018. There are issues both in the water impacts of winery and vineyard development in the watersheds and the wisdom of pursuing tourism development in rural areas that are fire prone and are seen by residents as farming communities and not commercial development zones. The issue of winery development in the watershed areas has been the subject of a series of meetings at the Board of Supervisors that may, or may not, lead to an ordinance defining winery compatibility criteria for winery locations. The two meetings thus far are discussed here:

Two projects, the Dry Creek-Mt Veeder Winery and Caldwell Winery, have already been denied this year over similar concerns, more than have been denied in the previous decade. The Anthem Winery scheduled for its second hearing on Dec 5th is similarly being opposed by residents. The Mountain Peak Winery is heading for its own CEQA lawsuit on Jan 11, 2019.

George Caloyannidis sent the link to the Wine Searcher article at the top of this post. There is a certain disdain in the title of the article which seems to reflect the attitude of the wine industry toward communities that push back against the expansion of commercial facilities into their rural midst. The article closes with chamber-of-commerce talking points voiced by a "Chicago-based drinks attorney": "it will spur job growth and tax revenue. Plus, a great facility like the one proposed will draw people to the area." Just what this remote rural neighborhood was looking for, I'm sure.

Tourism threatens the world on: Tourism Issues


Bill Hocker - Oct 31,18  expand...  Share

Update 1/5/19
Guardian 1/4/19: The death of Venice? City’s battles with tourism and flooding reach crisis level

Update 8/28/18
The Economist 10/25/18: The backlash against overtourism

The concept of putting gates at the entrances to neighborhoods in Venice to limit the number of tourists is a lamentable proposal. “‘It’s the last step to becoming Disneyland,’ sighs one of the city’s urban planners.”

Perhaps one of the most memorable of the hundreds of bullet points from the Napa Strategic Plan meetings is this from the Wine Growers: “Fee for Silverado Trail (aka 7 mile drive)”. It might be considered tongue-in-cheek were it not highlighted as one of their principal proposals. As Supervisor Pedroza at one BOS hearing dismissed the annoyances of the tourism economy that we are all having to deal with: “This is not Disneyland; I think it’s just agriculture in the 21st century.”

Update 8/28/18
Dan Mufson sends along a link to this 2-part article in Der Spiegel on the worldwide pushback on the undesirable impacts of tourism on local communities:
Der Spiegel 8/21/18: How Tourists Are Destroying the Places They Love

Dan writes:
"Here’s an important article that describes the state of tourism today and it’s negative effect on locals. We heard the same message from Professor Mendlinger at our Forum on the Costs of Tourism in April, 2016. George said then that tourism creates private profits along with socialized costs. Others now state this: 'Tourism is a phenomenon that creates many private profits but also many socialized losses,' says Christian Laesser, a tourism professor at the University of St. Gallen.

When will our elected officials acknowledge this?"

As I have mentioned before, our travels are no longer as naive as they use to be. We now see every place visited through the lens of the impact of tourism on our own appreciation of Napa. And on the environment. We are headed to Porto for a conference in October, so the Der Spiegel article is timely - and concerning.

Update 8/2/17
The Gardian 3/7/18: Europe's beauty spots plot escape from the too-many-tourists trap

The solution proposed by a tourism conference in Berlin? Spread it out. Rather than being overwhelmed by tourists at peak periods, have constant tourists at every location at all times. This is a tourism industry solution to the very real impacts that tourism is having on residential communities all over the world. And, in fact, it is the solution that Napa County takes with Visit Napa Valley. When I asked Mark Luce why the county spends millions of dollars on Visit Napa Valley each year to attract more tourists, he said that it's not about attracting more, but in spreading out the tourism by promoting visitation in off-months and off-hours. What it really does is to promote filling up the level of tourism at all times to match the overwhelming tourism at peak periods. And, of course, to increase the tourism urbanization that threatens the rural small town quality of life in the county, impacts not so different to those being felt, and fought, around the world.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Residence Definition Ordinance on: The WDO


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

home sweet home
Update 11/1/18:
NVR 11/1/18: Napa County sees McMansions as farmland threat

10/28/18
BOS Agenda 10/30/18 Item 10A

"Director of Planning, Building, and Environmental Services requests discussion and direction regarding commencing potential zoning ordinance changes to the Viewshed Protection Program and limiting total development area for residential development within agricultural zoning districts."

The agenda letter for this item at the Oct 30 2018 BOS meeting is here

It has always seemed a paradox to me that an enormous number of zoning restrictions are placed on wineries, including development area allowed, setbacks from roads, need to "convey their permanence and attractiveness", and above all a highly public approval process to insure that wineries are in harmony with maintaining a beautiful and agrarian landscape. Houses on the other hand, seem exempt from those considerations - except for a viewshed ordinance that doesn't seem to have prevented the county's most prominent ridgelines from being encrusted with buildings. It is as if, because houses are a "by-right" use, that their negative impacts on the environment are also granted by-right.

The photo shows a house currently being constructed in a very obvious location on the Trail near the Soda Canyon junction. The setback is about 200' rather than the 600' required for a winery. The building's design, of very un-"napaesque" boxes, screens off the farmlands and ridges from view and a bit more of the county's rural landscape has been urbanized. A public vetting of the design, and an ordinance intended to moderate the visual impact of a residence in the landscape and its occupation of Napa's precious arable land would definitely be a welcome addition to the County's land use arsenal.

The urban cancer In Carneros on: Growth Issues


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

Update 11/1/18
NVR 11/1/18: Napa County tries to work out a solution to Carneros Resort's water saga

Update 10/19/18
BOS Agenda 10/30/18 Item 9A

A proposal for a development agreement between the County and the Carneros Resort will be presented the Board of Supervisors on Oct 30, 2018. The Notice of Public Hearing is here.

The agreement would allow for the extension of Napa municipal water from the currently serviced Congress Valley water system to service the Carneros Resort site. In addition the agreement calls for an enlarged access to the Carneros Resort from Old Sonoma Hwy and an expansion of the parking lot, and a relocation of a County fire station to facilitate the new entry. This meeting is intended to give staff direction on the conditions of the agreement prior to the proposal being presented to the Planning Commission for formal review.

County's Carneros Inn page

3/30/18
Roger Wolff LTE 3/30/18: Regarding the Carneros Resort Hear! Hear!
NVR 3/20/18: Napa council votes to offer city water to Carneros Resort for 50 years
NVR 12/6/17: LAFCO opens door to piping Napa water to Carneros resort

12/4/17 LAFCO hearing video
Agenda Letter prepared for the hearing

How does urban development begin even within a regulatory regimen specifically tailored to inhibit that development? A connected developer manipulates a government to push through an inappropriate project, then moves on (in this case to Napa Pipe) leaving the owners to deal with the negative impacts foreseen from the beginning. The owner then pleads with government to solve the problems lest he goes bankrupt. Urbanization, like some cancers, may begin in an isolated location and then grow just slowly enough to hide its inexorable spread until its too late to be stopped.

Note that a 2015 state law shepherded by Bill Dodd, whose election as Supervisor in 2000 shifted the board in a more development-oriented direction, allows cities to extend infrastructure to county parcels without requiring city annexation of the properties. A growth inducing bill if ever there was one.

The appropriate solution in the case of the Carneros Resort is not to aid urban expansion with growth inducing infrastructure. Cut out the tumor. Or at least cut down the size of the project to match the amount of water available from its wells. A County committed to maintaining a healthy agricultural environment shouldn't be encouraging urban tumors to survive and grow.

The LAFCO infrastructure expansion area for the Carneros Inn (and properties in the neighborhood) is the green dogleg on the bottom.


The history
1/1/09: Urban Land institute Case Studies: Carneros Inn
12/12/03: The Carneros Inn Opens in Napa Valley's Winegrowing District
Simms, Kahn LTE 8/26/02: Slow-growth groups oppose Lodge
NVR 9/4/02: Carneros Lodge plan slashed, then approved
SHStar 11/29/01: 12 percent of Carneros groundwater considered 'not significant'

Napa Vision 2040 on: City of Napa


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

A vision of Napa in 2040
Update 10/31/18
NVR 10/31/18: Napa picks 13 advisers to help create city guidebook for growth
NVR 10/28/18: NVR Napa council to choose advisers to shape new general plan

The statements of the Applicants are here in the order they will be interviewed by the Council.

Update 8/25/18
SR press Democtat 8/25/18: Healdsburg set to limit future downtown hotels, require affordable housing offsets on new projects

Healdsburg leads the way. Of course, as usual, government has acted to solve problems when the problems are already beyond being solved. Napa’s rewrite of its general plan may, or may not, begin to curb hotel development, but the number of projects already approved and being built will change the character of the town from resident-centric to tourist-centric.

8/21/18
NVR 8/13/18: Napa to seek advisers to guide city’s new general plan

The application form to become a member of the General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) is here
The City of Napa General Plan 2040 Information page is here

The city’s web page summarizes the two community meetings that have already taken place to discuss the future of Napa in the next twenty years, with meeting notes (and breathless video trailers) of each. The high-tech, dense and exciting future envisioned by the panelists will be a bit disconcerting for those that appreciate the rare value of living in a sleepy small town in the urbanized Bay Area. The emphasis, given that the conversation is driven by a government and panelists that hope to profit from development (as probably will most GPAC members), is how to make urban growth, and the transition from a real town to a tourist trap, palatable rather than how to avoid such a fate.

It is obvious that planning guidelines and vision are needed, now more than ever, as the planning commission struggles with one random development proposal after another at each meeting. The pessimism comes from knowing that the GPAC process will be driven by, or co-opted by, those who will profit from ever more urban development, and that soon the mass of people and enterprise they bring to the county will burst out of the rural-urban lines and take down the great Napa agricultural experiment. As Andy Beckstoffer recognized, "Never in the history of mankind has agriculture withstood urban growth long-term, but here we have the best chance." But only if the municipalities as well as the unincorporated county exercise maximum restraint in their building ambitions. Neither is doing so at present.

Napa Strategic Plan feedback on: Napa Strategic Plan


Bill Hocker - Oct 23,18  expand...  Share

NVR 10/22/18: Survey shows Napa residents satisfied but wary of future

The County, under CEO Minh Tran's guidance, has made an amazing effort to plumb the feelings of its citizens in trying to chart a path for the next 3 years.

Meetings held over the last 2 months with a couple dozen "stakeholder" groups are catalogued on the County Website here with links to recaps of the meetings. The recap documents give bullet point analysis and solutions to achieve each group's aspirations. The bullet points in their brevity are often ambiguous, but there are real intriguing nuggets that hopefully the County's consultant will pull out. (Like the Wine Growers idea of turning the Trail into a paid "7 mile drive" tourist attraction. [did they mean 17 mile, or 27 mile?], or like the Napa Valley Vintners desire to build more housing in the unincorporated areas, the anthesis of the Ag Preserve!) Just reading the red comments first is helpful in sorting it all out. In only two of the meetings was there a summary of the group presenting their goals in their own words, those of the Vintners and Farmers for Responsible Agriculture and Napa Vision 2050. ( My District 4 meeting is bullet-pointed here.)

The County also solicited citizens to fill out an extensive online survey. The Register provided a copy of the responses here.

The obvious finding seemed to be that we like our quality of life and that we feel it's all downhill from here. Why else would we spend time on a tedious questionnaire but for the hope that our fears are less likely to be realized by doing so.

The responses to the rate-from-most-to-least-important questions were a pain to fill out because one tends not to have strong opinions about everything the county does. And yet most people voted "extremely" or "somewhat important" for everything. Seldom does a question get less than 70% of the total in those two rankings combined.

The most interesting part of the responses to the questionnaire were the comments, 1000 of them. And I was very pleased to see that a good number that dealt with the negative impacts of winery tourism. It is, IMO, the heart of why this process is happening.

The one aspect of the Napa Strategic Plan that I find a bit odd is its 3 year horizon. There are undoubtedly issues that can be addressed in three years. But in terms of land use issues, the next 3 years and beyond have already been determined by the number of projects that have been approved but not yet built. Those projects will deteriorate the county's rural quality of life over the next decade at least, with increased traffic and demand for housing and the need for more taxes for infrastructure and service upgrades required by an increasing population of workers and visitors. The decisions that the County will be making now are for a future beyond the next decade. I would be more than pleased if the county were to stop issuing and expanding use permits tomorrow. And I hope that they do. But that has little to do with changes to our lives that will be happening in the next 3 years.

"Compatible winery" Session 2 recap on: Remote Winery Ordinance


Bill Hocker - Oct 21,18  expand...  Share

NVR 10/21/18: Napa County continues remote winery discussion
Video of 9/18/18 BOS meeting
Video of 10/16/18 BOS meeting
Transcript of 9/18/18 BOS discussion on remote wineries
Transcript of 10/16/18 BOS discussion on compatible wineries

At the Oct 16, 2018 BOS meeting, Dir. Morrison produced an agenda letter that identified 7 constraint criteria around which the compatibility of a winery with its site might be evaluated: traffic, custom crush, hold and haul, topography, fire safety, visitation, variances and exception. It was a first stab at itemizing the issues which an ordinance might concern itself.

After public comments (including Eve Kahn's comments on food, and threats from the wine industry lobbyists about the can of worms this discussion was opening), it didn't seem like any of the Supervisors were completely happy with the approach. Sup Dillon led off with the initial salvo, and since it highlighted an 'incompatible' winery on Soda Canyon Road (and my potential next door neighbor), it is worth quoting in its entirety:

"First of all, I don't think this [Dir. Morrisons compatibility issue list] is ready to be put into an ordinance or any other document. I really think in general that we're focused on these details when what should happen is a common sense application of "does this proposal fit into this place?"

I can remember a year and half ago when I thought, "oh-oh, I think we're in a little bit of trouble" because I looked at the Mountain Peak winery comparison chart - this is compatibility but compatibility is a comparison - that had been prepared by the planning staff and it was for Mountain Peak at the top of the canyon [Soda Canyon]. And it was compared to Ashes and Diamonds, Round Pond, Black Stallion, Tinter, Alpha Omega. Why on earth was it compared to those things?

I remember thinking this is not a good thing because we're not comparing apples to apples. And the essence of what we're talking about today, the reason this started with "remote" is we're supposed to be talking - not comparing a winery at the top of Soda Canyon to a winery on the Silverado Trail. You just can't make that comparison. And yet that's where we are right here and we're talking about these details, and what I'm really concerned about is going through each of these things - one, two, three, four, five, six, seven - and deciding on each of these factors and then you are going to have some proposal come before the planning commission that might technically fit into each of these, but it's not a good fit at this location where it is.

And I realize that this is land use planning and so it's a little difficult to use - I don't know if it was a metaphor - in the discussion of pornography there was a judge who said at one point "I'll know it when I see it"? Well the flip of that is "I'll know when this is not a good fit" at this location based on what neighbors say, based on many factors.

And that was the way the winery definition ordinance was designed. It didn't have all these details in it. If you look at the legislative history, which I wish staff would bring to us, it said we're going to look at these on a case by case basis. So I don't think this is the way for us to solve the problem which we have, which is we have had a planning commission that has approved wineries that are not compatible with the neighborhood or the physical situation where they're located. Then we have a lot of community consternation and/or we have an appeal to here.

One of the things that is missing from this process is a meeting between the planning commission and this board - it's been at least a couple of years - and we used to have that regularly and we would have some interaction and they'd get informal direction, and that informal direction solidified that decision making that was based on a common sense approach of what was the appropriate thing to do.

Going through each of these [7 points] and having these as decision points - to me its not the answer to the challenge that we do have before us. I question, for instance, on number seven, variances and exceptions: " strictly construe the regulations to protect health and safety". Does that mean that there's another case where we're going to loosely construe? I just don't think this is ready for prime time.

I think we should be looking at other things.I think we should be looking at the bigger picture. We just had out Strategic plan folks say - what was the number one thing people appreciated about Napa valley in the slide show that had no building in it [holds up photos in report] by the way. I think it's very interesting that we always show vineyards without wineries in them and I think we should show wineries in them because they are part of the landscape and part of the context. But what we cherish is natural beauty and environment.

I think we should go look as some other solutions that were previously proposed. For instance, instead of thinking about the minimum parcel size of a winery - I not saying we should reduce the 10 acres - think about how close they should be in appearance. If you have a place where you have a whole bunch of 10 acre parcels you're going to have whole bunch of wineries and I think it creates something that is adverse to what we cherish about this place. So either increasing the minimum parcel size in certain areas, talking about the developable area including of the residence. One of the things that was left over at APAC was the residential coverage. We have got to get to that because all those things we are saying about wineries? - residents could do far more - a mini-mansion of mega-mansion. Talking about the distance between wineries. And talking about the safety issues. Those are the things I think we should focus on."

Sup. Wagenknecht also had some interesting comments perhaps also worth quoting to know where one supervisor stands on remote wineries:
"This discussion was far beyond what I was anticipating. I still ...when we talked about it what we were talking about was a "remote" winery. I was concerned about the remoteness. And in the work product we have today [Dir. Morrisons's 7 points] there is no mention the remoteness of the ... what a remote winery, remote site would be.

I think it could be a lot of things. The remoteness of the road. The narrowness of the road. The accessibility of the parcel. How far the parcel was from arterials. Most of the things that you have in here would help address a remote winery very nicely. I guess I'm kinda in the mindset, in my mind, that I'm not seeing a real need for more wineries in the far hinterlands of Napa County. I'm seeing that we have plenty of them out there. So I liked having these things to look at remote wineries.

To me the remote winery was my access point to this discussion. There would need to be a traffic benefit from the winery coming in, the traffic for the overall neighborhood coming in. There would need to be a fire safety and a safety benefit for that winery coming in. Emergency benefit. The water... we kinda talked about this that the water was... sometimes they're going to get/move[?] the winery, they say that we'll put in the grapes now that we have a winery. The grapes should be the reason that you're having the winery up there not the other way around.

A lot of these questions help me answer the remote winery question. And I've appreciated the discussion we've had more broadly, but I don't want to lose that I'm very concerned with wineries that are going out in the middle of nowhere. And I'm not seeing a huge reason for them. And maybe in the discussion with the Planning Commission I'll see that but I don't see it right at the moment. That was my access point to this discussion."

(Sup. Luce expressed similar concerns at the Mar 10, 2015 joint BOS/PC meeting and it probably cost him his re-election. Let's hope that three more years of winery and visitation slot approvals and community pushback, and knowledge of the real dangers of tourism development in fire-prone hills, have altered some perceptions.)

Each of the other Supes had their own preferences or disinterests about the 7 point list. Sups. Pedroza and Gregory were all about prohibiting custom crush in remote areas; too bad they did nothing to stop the expansion of The Caves. And I really appreciate Sups. Dillon and Wagenknecht championing this issue; I wish that their concerns had been as clear during the Mountain Peak appeal.

I couldn't help but feel some sympathy for Dir. Morrison as the discussion careened from one issue to another, especially after he had made a concerted proposal to get at winery proliferation issues 3 years before with little success. It had been a long day and he finally held up a white flag and claimed to have been given enough direction. It will be interesting to see his responses to the Supervisors own internal divisions and lack clarity in their demands, and how the process, which may require modifications to the WDO, unfolds over the months that it will take to play out.

As happened 3 years ago with APAC going on, this scrutiny of winery issues is happening in tandem with another significant public planning process, this time the Napa Strategic Plan which will also be covering some the same community concerns, At the end of the meeting there was some consensus around melding the winery growth concerns raised in the Strategic Plan with these proposals on compatible wineries as part of the joint meeting with the Planning Commission.

Lisa Hirayama letter on solar projects on: Solar Farming


Bill Hocker - Oct 18,18  expand...  Share

Lisa Hirayama has written a good letter (as usual) to the Planning Commission concerning the 2 proposed solar projects in Coombsville and American Canyon:

Dear Planning Commissioners,

I am deeply concerned about the prospect of placing large commercial solar panel arrays in the Ag Watershed and Ag Preserve.

The two projects presented by the developer, Renewable Properties, and currently under consideration by Napa County Planning Staff, Planning Commissioners and the Board of Supervisors are the Palm Drive Solar Project and the American Canyon Solar Project.

Planning Staff has agreed that “the magnitude of this project is beyond the scope of our zoning regulations.” The proposed solar projects, while presented as a utility, in reality, would be privately run manufacturing facilities that transform sunlight into electricity which is transferred to the grid. These projects are truly incompatible to the beauty, biodiversity and bucolic nature of the Ag Watershed and Ag Preserve zones. The destruction of native mature oak trees whose ability to capture water and nurture species’ habitats is unacceptable, especially in this age of climate change. Removing oak trees and replacing them with solar panels that change the microclimates are counter intuitive to Napa County’s and the community’s concerns about climate change. The County hasn’t explored and doesn’t have the expertise to make decisions about the health and safety impacts of this type of technology to be constructed on this proposed scale in the Ag Watershed and Ag Preserve.

The Palm Drive project will have significant and permanent negative impacts on the aesthetic, economic and environmental qualities of Napa County. The removal of 3.5 hillside acres of mature blue oaks for non-agricultural, private financial gain will have a deplorable impact on the viewshed and impinge on the quality of life for that neighborhood and potentially Napa County. This proposed project would set a precedent for similar developments on non-cultivatable land for the entire county. There is nothing about this site location that is good for our environment, quality of life, or our economy.

The American Canyon site appears to be more suitable for this type of project, but it is also located in the Ag Watershed. Approval of this project will set a very alarming precedent for future projects in all of Napa County. I believe that citizens need to have a voice in this issue. I am not opposed to all commercial solar, but Napa County has no regulations in place for a project that is expected to last thirty years. The Winery Definition Ordinance was created to define, refine and regulate wineries. The Conservation Regulations were created to regulate vineyard development. Why should solar farms be any different? Neighboring counties have created ordinances or taken a stand on this matter. Napa County is ripe for commercial solar development and the long - term consequences of this decision haven’t been thoroughly considered.

Marin County Supervisors made a decision on solar energy recently, and I believe that Napa County is in the exact same position with regard to these two solar projects. The Marin County Supervisors made their decision based on the very point that Marin County is not equipped to make this decision. Napa County’s current zoning regulations don’t address or provide for consideration of this kind of project in the Ag Watershed and Ag Preserve.

Sonoma County, which is significantly larger than Napa County, has reviewed their zoning regulations with regard to solar in their valleys and on their hillsides. They’ve drafted their zoning ordinance to address the issues that solar brings to the forefront. They’re similar to Napa County in that they have as much natural beauty to protect and preserve and as much to lose by not doing so.

Napa County is allowing more and more development into the hillsides which equates into removal of mature oak woodlands. Walt Ranch is already one devastating environmental project that has been approved by the County with little regard for neighbors or water issues. The Palm Drive project will open the doors for more financial projects into the hillsides and watersheds when consideration should be given to saving mature trees, not cutting them down.

The Planning Staff, Planning Commissioners and Board of Supervisors should NOT create a precedent by approving or recommending either of these projects without taking an opportunity to appropriately revise county zoning regulations. With no ordinance yet in place for a project of this magnitude, this project is detrimental to many residents and the agricultural land itself. To name a few problems: there is no minimum parcel size, no setbacks, no limits on percentage of parcel coverage, no viewshed protections, and the long term implications of this type of decision have yet to be considered.

I encourage the County, as it redrafts the Climate Action Plan, to initiate and develop solar power that is generated on site and remains within our region. County owned rooftops, parking lots and the Napa County Airport are just a few examples of the many suitable sites for solar panels in which the county government could take the lead. It is our elected and appointed officials, rather than private individuals, corporations and developers, who should be accountable for creating regulations with substantial input from citizens.

The Napa County General Plan states that “Napa County will be a place where agriculture is the primary land use and where a vast majority of the county is open space....” The Renewable Properties solar farm proposals are inconsistent with the General Plan and should be denied for that reason and far more. Until county zoning regulations are revised to incorporate solar farms, approval for these projects should be denied or postponed.

Sincerely,
Lisa Hirayama

A developer joins the Planning Commission on: Growth Issues


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

Update 10/17/18
In the first example of applying his expertise as a developer to the affairs of the Planning Commission, Comm. Mazotti created a bit of a surprise. At the end of the 10/17/18 Planning Commission meeting the discussion turned to a recent article in the Register, which described a winery able to serve meals because of a "loophole" in the WDO. That, of course, led the commissioners to wade in again to the issue of "food" service versus "meal" service at wineries and whether the serving of food at wineries was causing the recently reported demise of numerous in-town restaurants.

At the BOS meeting the previous day, in which the same issue came up, wine industry lobbyist Debra Dommen, claiming inside knowledge, assured the Supes that the reason for some closures was not due to winery competition as reported. But Comm. Mazotti gave a fairly definitive and contrary answer to the Planning Commission: from the urban development community's standpoint, the creation of new restaurants is a "net zero" condition - for each new winery restaurant the loss of one in-town restaurant might be expected.

I have been quick to pigeonhole those officials coming from a development background (Sup. Gregory included) as being supportive of continued urban development of the county in which tourism wineries play a significant part. I still feel that way, but this is a small indication that the reality may a little more nuanced.

10/11/18
NVR 10/11/18: Real estate developer Mazotti joins Napa County Planning Commission, Scott leaves
Proclamation given to Mr. Scott by the BOS on 10/16/18

At the Oct 3, 2018 County Planning Commission meeting it was a bit of a shock at the end of the meeting to hear Commissioners begin to laud Commissioner Scott's service to the county over these last 19 years. The news that he would be leaving was news indeed to this avid follower of Planning Commission affairs, as it apparently was to Sup. Wagenkenecht as well. Despite being on the email list for BPES announcements this was a total surprise. Maybe I just missed some announcement of potential vacancy in a previous hearing. The actual happenings in the Planning Commission and BOS meetings are often buried in obscure asides during previous meetings. Acting CEO Minh Tran's avowal that established procedures had been followed in the appointment leads one to believe that established procedures are a bit opaque from a community oversight perspective.

Commissioner Scott, in keeping with his position as the longest serving commissioner, was the most courtly of members, appearing to be genuinely anguished over the residents concerns as their neighborhoods were commercialized by his decisions. While at one time I saw him as a truly independent thinker on the commission, and commended his courageous decision to deny Yountville Hill amid enormous pressure to approve, ever since his service under Supervisor Pedroza he has been a reliable vote for every development up before the Commission. He expressed a true love for the job, even, I think, making it worth the anguish to follow the wishes of his Supervisor when he might have made another choice.

With the selection of Mr. Mazotti to replace Comm. Scott, Sup. Pedroza has obviously chosen someone who shares his vision for the future of Napa County. Mr. Mazotti's direct financial stake in the continued urban development of the county is unique in the recent history of the commission. There was always concern that Comm. Basayne's connection to a limo company meant that each approval he made had the potential to increase the business of his company. Comm. Hansen, until recently a reliable pro-development vote, heads an organization that promotes the adoption of green principles in development projects and as such has a real connection to the development community. Other Commissioners, like Mr. Scott, have had less direct connections to business interests that wish to profit off of more building development.

Mr. Mazotti will now have a very direct role in the development of more tourism 'experiences" in the County. The continued development of winery venues for tourism and the increase in visitation slots are at the base of the Napa's ongoing urban development, creating the need for ever more hotel and tourist-serving commercial development, and increasing the demand for housing and commercial development needed for the in-town and winery workforce. It is a legitimate question to ask if it is appropriate to have a developer on the Commission or, as one activist put it, a wolf guarding the hen house. Developers have lawyers and consultants and fixers and county staff who work together on a daily basis in order to massage their projects and prepare them for presentation at the Commission. Having one of their own on the Commission really seems like a leg up too far and raises the question of a conflict of loyalties in making objective decisions.

Comm. Mazotti will also be at the forefront of any agreements between the municipalities and the county regarding annexation agreements (think Napa Pipe) that aim to give up county land for urban projects. While the County in the past has been loth to surrender its land, based on its 50 year role as protector of the rural heritage and economy of the county, the winds of change, first set in motion by Bill Dodd's tenure as Supervisor and now no doubt pushed by Sup. Pedroza, are now becoming apparent. In a little noticed action at the Sep 25, 2018 BOS meeting, the Supes considered a change to county policies to establish "a prudent and responsible fiscal approach to annexation agreements". The intent: to insure that the county gets an appropriate cut of all taxes that come from development on the annexations into the future. The county will now have a more realistic financial stake in the urban development of county land than it has had in the past.

Placing a developer on the Planning Commission may change little in the short term. Comm. Scott has been a pretty consistent pro-development vote. But it is a clear statement from Sup. Pedroza where his interests lie. And the protections of the rural character that many residents treasure in the county have become a bit more tenuous.

Solar farms are not farms on: Solar Farming


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

Eve Kahn gave a statement at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Oct 16th. It is worth repeating:

"How many of you remember when PG&E announced they were installing high voltage transmission lines to expand their interstate power grid. Power lines that would bisect the valley crossing Hwy 29. It didn’t seem like we had a choice but the community and electeds responded with a resounding HELL NO. Somehow PG&E found another path to support the grid and we were spared.

Why do I bring this up? Because tomorrow brings a unique opportunity and a similar threat. A private developer has an application for a Solar “Farm” in a remote corner of Am Cyn near Hwy 80 on an AW parcel currently used for horse boarding and training. 21 acres with 18 acres of solar farm. How can this be?

An exception exists to all zoning codes for electric production without limitation. AG/LU 29 states public utility shall be permitted in “appropriate” locations. But, the applicant is a private developer not a public utility.

Let’s be clear. Solar Farms are not farms, they are commercial production facilities that convert sunlight into electricity and then sell it (in this case to MCE).
We are familiar with production facilities – we have 100s called wineries. They have regulations, guidelines, and clarifying memorandums and, more importantly, support agriculture.

Solar farms have NONE!
• No minimum parcel size No maximum development area
• No setbacks or viewshed considerations
• Unclear if conservation regs apply – cutting trees, altering runoff, blocking wildlife corridors might be out of our control
• Solar Farms should definitely be included in our Strategic Plans

The Am Cyn site may be “appropriate” (although we have no definition) – but it sets a precedent that may be impossible to challenge for the next application, or the one after that - which could very well be on Highway 12 or 29, Silverado Trail, Old Sonoma Road – just to name a few.

Tomorrow, I will ask the Planning Commission to defer a decision until you, the Board, set direction & policy. Similar to the recent workshop on Rural Wineries (on your agenda today).

Thank you for your support on the issue."

"Remote" or "compatible" wineries? on: Remote Winery Ordinance


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

Item 10A at this coming Oct 16th 2018 meeting of the Board of Supervisors: "Director of Planning Building and Environmental Services (PBES) requests confirmation of direction on proposed winery compatibility measures."

Previously referred to more descriptively as "direction on the adoption of an ordinance regarding remote wineries" this discussion came as a bit of a surprise to all concerned at the Aug 14 2018 meeting of the BOS. This is the most significant attempt to look at runaway winery development since the failed effort by APAC. The industry stakeholders showed up just in time to express their consternation that this process hadn't been vetted through them prior to its introduction to the board.

While efforts to curb the continuing development of wineries in the watershed areas of the county were proposed and then curtailed in the APAC process, (with opposition led by the wine industry that wanted evaluation only on a case by case basis under existing WDO rules rather than new proscriptive ordinances) two events have changed the dynamic in looking at the issue: 1. the Oct 2017 fire that laid bare the dangers to health and safety (and perhaps county liability) in the industry's effort to bring ever more tourists into the county's remote areas, and 2. the narrow defeat of the Watershed Protection ordinance that brought to light not only public concern over the protection of water resources but was, in fact, a referendum on the continued development of the watersheds for commercial use of any kind.

This meeting is only an initial step in looking at the issue again post-APAC. It promises to be a months long process.

AmCan Planning Commission approves Watson Ranch on: Watson Ranch


Bill Hocker - Oct 11,18  expand...  Share

NVR 10/17/18: American Canyon council approves expansive Watson Ranch development after years of study

AmCan Eagle 10/11/18: American Canyon planners approve Watson Ranch despite late opposition

Sigh! From the EIR: "significant and unavoidable impacts with respect to: air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, noise, and transportation and traffic." There would seem to be no limits to the damage government officials will visit on their constituents in support of their patrons.

The Atlas Fire: a second documentary on: The Atlas Fire


Bill Hocker - Oct 11,18  expand...  Share

NVR 10/13/18: Napan creates documentary film about human impacts of the October wildfires

A documentary about the Atlas Fire by Jeffrey Perez de Leon with Soda Canyon residents Jeff and Tracey Foley:
Trial By Fire - Napa Fire Documentary

Hotel explosion rocks Napa on: Tourism Issues


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

Update 12/27/18
NVR 12/27/18: No. 5 Story of 2018: Hotels growth and housing prices sparked a Napa County debate

Update 11/14/18

NVR 11/14/18: Napa council grants historic, earthquake-damaged post office new life as a hotel
NVR 10/25/18: City: Hotel plan preserves historic quality of downtown Napa's post office
NVR 10/19/18: Hotel at earthquake-rocked Napa post office wins city planners’ backing

Kudos to the developer for taking a financial gamble on this significant restoration project. But still, another 163 rooms added to the thousands in process

Update 10/10/18
SF Chronicle 10/5/18: How many high-end hotels can Napa Valley handle?

The answer: a few. Napa, as a high-end retreat for the wealthy (i.e. Meadow wood and Auberge du Soleil) is already losing its luster as the number of tourists keeps increasing and the marketing of food and wine through winery experiences becomes a mass market entertainment. (And as the traffic jams increase and the natural beauty of the landscape is diminished by building projects). In the short term, as long as the tourism numbers keep expanding there will be a percentage that can be convinced to spend $1000 a night for their image of the good life. The question is whether the construction of pricey hotel rooms will outpace the ability of Visit Napa Valley to sell the region's exclusiveness while marketing to the masses as well. If not, as all of the rooms come online, the prices will probably begin to fall to a rate in line with the rest of the world's tourist destinations.

Update 8/25/18
SR press Democtat 8/25/18: Healdsburg set to limit future downtown hotels, require affordable housing offsets on new projects

Healdsburg leads the way. Of course, as usual, government has acted to solve problems when the problems are already beyond being solved. The already-approved doubling of hotel rooms will give Healdsburg the feeling of a 24-hour tourist trap, and future affordable housing requirements will not ease the existing or approved shortfalls. Unless the affordable housing offsets are actually sufficient to house the employees of the hotels in question, new hotels will continue increase the burden on the city to provide affordable housing and the problem will never be solved, only exacerbated.

Update 6/1/18
NVR 7/16/18: Future of Napa Marriott hotel lies with City Council
NVR 6/1/18: Napa [City] planners advance hotel-winery plan, despite housing concerns

Comm. Murray said, regarding the number of new workers needing affordable housing: "We can’t be continually punting the ball down the field, but we can’t put the burden all on one project," to which the logical reply is "Why not?" This particular project is increasing the affordable housing shortage by a specific number of units. Why shouldn't the project create those units as a condition of approval or else pay for the difference between affordable and market rate housing for every employee?

More about the traffic impact of this project and other projects around bottleneck junction is here.

Update 6/16/18
Lucretia Marcus LTE 6/16/18: Build housing for your workers

Update 6/2/18
NVR 6/2/18: Napa’s Gasser Foundation proposing 200 apartments and a hotel for Soscol Avenue

The 30 affordable units in the housing project won't quite accommodate the 100-150 new hotel employees, but Gasser is setting a trend by tying actual affordable housing construction, not just token mitigation fees, to tourism development.

That being said, the increase in population and continuing urbanization of the county and shift in the economy from wine to entertainment spells a long term decline for agriculture and the rural character that everyone claims to treasure.


Update 5/24/18
The Trinitas Mixed Use (Marriott Hotel-Winery-Office Bldg) complex is up before the Airport Land Use Commission (County Planning Commission + 2) on June 6, 2018. It is a 253 room hotel, 25,000 sf winery (no capacity or visitation specified but 57 parking spaces allowed), 30,000 sf office bldg, and 441 total parking spaces.
The notice is here
The project documents are here (large file)

Is it compatible next to the airport? No less than the Meritage or the County office buildings, one would assume. Will the current traffic jam at the entrance to the airport, made that much worse by one more huge project up the road, be discussed? Probably not.

NVR 6/2/17: Design of south Napa Marriott hotel leaves city planners cold
NVR 6/1/17: Napa planners to get first a look at a Marriott hotel, winery
NVR 5/18/18: Napa planners grapple with housing demands of 250-room Marriott hotel

Update: 5/15/18
Peter Mott LTE 5/15/18: Peter Mott: Time for a hotel moratorium

It is great to see that even some of those members of our county governments that have been supporters of tourism development have begun to believe that continued expansion of the tourism industry is unsustainable if the goal is to retain the rural small-town character that draws tourists here and makes this a desirable place to live. There needs to be a limit of tourism activity in relation to real life or real life ceases to exist. Many already feel that line has already been crossed, and the vast increase in hotel rooms in the municipalities and wineries in the county already in the pipeline means that the tourism impacts we already feel will only get worse. But If more of our officials, like Mr. Mott, are willing to begin opposing tourism urbanization now, and begin thinking in terms of a sustainable stable economy rather than a unsustainable growth economy, there may still be some hope for the survival of a quality of life treasured by both visitors and residents in the future.

Update: 3/2/18
NVR 3/2/18: Napa planners ask is Foxbow too much hotel for the neighborhood
NVR 2/28/18: Napa city planners to take up Foxbow hotel plan in Oxbow District

Oh No! Another over-scaled, over-wrought hotel crammed onto First Street.
This one is more apartment-looking than the previous version, an advantage if the tourism market crashes at the end of this hotel bubble.

Preliminary review at the Napa City Planning Commission Thursday, Mar 1st, 2018 at 5:30pm. Staff report is here.

Update: 1/6/18
NVR 1/6/18: Napa planners comment on Wine Train’s future hotel, rail depot on McKinstry Street
The Staff report on the project is here. (large file)
NVR 12/23/17: Top 10 of 2017, No. 7: Hotels, tourism continue Napa boom

Update: 12/04/17
Dan Mufson sends this article from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat regarding hotel development in Healdsburg:

SR Press Democrat 12/2/17: Healdsburg City Council to discuss limits on future downtown hotels

While it's hard to compare the nebulous disorganization of Napa's downtown with the iconic organization of Healdsburg's town plaza, the impacts here of rampant tourism development will likewise wipe out any sense of "small town" character that Napa does possess as 5 and 6 story hotels, and the throngs of their patrons, begin to dominate the Napa streetscape.

Update: 11/31/17
NVR 11/28/17: Downtown Napa's newest luxury hotel opens its doors

Kudos to Mr. Johnstone for telling it like it is: "You walk in and you think you're in New York." and "How many hotels does downtown need? I hope we're not overdoing it."

Update: 9/29/17
NVR 9/29/17: Meritage Resort's massive expansion takes shape in south Napa

Update 9/6/17
NVR 9/06/17: Napa, developer start talks on new City Hall, housing and hotel

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

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


Update 7/14/17
NVR 8/18/17: Napa planners approve 5-story Black Elk hotel in Oxbow district
NVR 7/4/17: Proposed four-story Oxbow hotel to receive Napa planners’ scrutiny

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

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

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

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

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

The hotel explosion raises several issues.

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

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

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

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

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

Update: 6/8/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments


Harris Nussbaum - Jul 10, 2017 7:27PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

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

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

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

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

Higher housing prices will trigger greater enrollment declines in Napa schools

Carl Bunch - Feb 1, 2017 5:37PM

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

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

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

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

Shelle Wolfe - Feb 1, 2017 5:36PM

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

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

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

Daniel Mufson - Feb 1, 2017 4:04PM

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

Hello Napa Vision 2050 supporters,

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

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

Dry Creek Road Alliance website on: Anthem Winery


Bill Hocker - Oct 2,18  expand...  Share

The Dry Creek Road Alliance, another group formed some time ago to counter the threat of a commercialization of their rural community have now added a website, just in time for the Planning Commission hearing on Oct. 3, 2018 for the proposed Anthem Winery (see screed below).

The Dry Creek Road Alliance website

The proposed 90,000 gal/yr O’Connell Winery on a 12.5 acre site just up the road from Anthem may also become a concern for the Alliance.

Mountain Peak approval to be challenged on: Mountain Peak Winery


Bill Hocker - Sep 22,18  expand...  Share

9/22/17
Winebusiness.com 9/25/17: Atlas Peak residents file suit after Napa County Okays Mountain Peak Vineyards construction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remote Winery Workshop Considerations on: Remote Winery Ordinance


George Caloyannidis - Sep 22,18  expand...  Share

[Sent to Board of Supervisors]

George Caloyannidis
2202 Diamond Mountain Road Calistoga, CA 94515
calti@comcast.net

September 22, 2018

To: Napa County Board of Supervisors
cc: Minh Tran, David Morrison

RE: REMOTE WINERY WORKSHOP

I sympathize with Mr. Morrison's requesting definition clarity (Board Agenda letter 9/25/18) on how a "remote" winery is defined.

In Napa County, we do not consider remote wineries and vineyards which are located on the valley floor but ones which are exclusively located in the hillsides. We therefore need to define the hillside location factors which would merit special considerations for new vineyards and wineries or expansion of existing ones.

They include:

NATURAL ENVIRONMENT CONSIDERATIONS

1) Loss of woodlands.
A partial list includes:
a) Aesthetic degradation of a scarred landscape (an important asset to the Napa valley experience).
b) Negative impacts on water quality and stream siltation, municipal watersheds etc.
c) Negative impacts on animal habitat.


COMMERCIAL / AGRICULTURAL ACTIVITY CONSIDERATIONS

1) Increased traffic.
a) Oversized vehicles for agricultural and wine making operations.
b) Large limousine and personal vehicles for visitors and events.

2) Increased fire danger by the increase of workers and visitors in fire prone areas.
3) Difficulty in navigating the generally narrow roads on opposing traffic situations.
4) Inadequate escape and emergency vehicle access routes.

DISCUSSION:

It is my contention that at its core, the term "remote" implies "hillside development" considerations. As such, the term "remote" does not reflect the fundamental issues which have initiated this inquiry.

Conceivably, one could define "remoteness" in quantifying acceptable negative impacts on the hillsides' environmental factors, in which case, "remoteness" would not necessarily be linked to the distance from some defined point.

While important, this paper will not attempt to evaluate "remoteness" within the environmental relevance / impacts framework.

Rather, it will concentrate in examining it in relation to the introduction of commercial / agricultural vineyard and winery operations in the hillsides. Specifically, it will examne compliance with existing minimum established County road standards and provide related recommendations.

NAPA COUNTY ROAD & STREET STANDARDS (Revised September 26, 2017)

SECTION 14 / Street and Road Classifications

Major Roads
The pertinent road classifications serving vineyards and wineries are either (a) Arterial (Collectors to Highways) or (b) Collector (1,000 to 5,000 vehicles per day). These roads are through-roads, not Dead- End-Roads.

Minor Roads
These are defined as serving "up to 1,000 vehicles per day". They may have a Cul-de-Sac (e) but then they may have a "maximum traffic volume of up to 250 vehicles per day". "Cul-de-Sac situations with lengths greater than 1,000 feet shall be provided with turnaround areas at 1,000 foot intervals and emergency access unless it is not considered feasible by the County Engineer".

It is important to note that the requirement is for turnarounds, not turnouts.
Furthermore, the criterion of feasibility is not defined beyond the generally accepted topographic and economic considerations and ignores public safety, health and welfare.

Other Roads
(i) Agricultural Special Purpose Roads
"Serves agricultural related single use facilities and light traffic facilities which generate up to 100 vehicle trips per day. This road is not applicable to any winery access. Applies to lightly travelled, low speed roads connecting two activity areas with no significant side traffic. Turnouts must be inter-visible".
Unless agricultural activities using such roads do not comply with this specification, they must be accessed by Major or Minor roads.

SECTION 15 / Design Criteria

Roadway Width:
  • "All streets and roads with the exception of Agricultural Special Purpose Roads shall be constructed to provide a minimum of two 10-foot traffic lanes and a minimum of one foot of shoulder on each side".
    Since wineries are excluded from this category, unless vineyard and activities comply with the use limitations of Agricultural Special Purpose Roads, they too must comply with the above roadway width specifications unless they also come under the specifications below.
  • Both Arterial and Collector Roads with no Parallel Parking Lanes (Details C-2 and C-3) require a Right of Way of 40 feet with two 14-foot traffic lanes and shoulders (totaling 39 improved feet).
  • General Minor Roads with no Parallel Parking Lanes require two 12-foot traffic lanes, a total of 12 feet of shoulders (36 improved feet within a 40-foot Right of Way).
  • In addition, to the 1,000 feet turnaround maximum spacing requirement for dead-end roads, roads with turnouts (Detail C-11) "shall be spaced a maximum of 400 feet apart and must be Inter-Visible unless allowed by County Engineer and Fire Marshal".

Dead-End-Roads Specifications:

The Napa valley hillsides have a plethora of dead-end roads, many exceeding 3 miles. Soda Canyon Road and Diamond Mountain Road are just a few examples, well above the maximum allowable 5,260 feet.
  • "Maximum length for parcels zoned 5 acres to 19.99 acres - 2,640 feet for parcels zoned 20 acres or larger - 5,260 feet"
  • "(b) Turnarounds where parcels are zoned 5 acres or larger shall be provided at a maximum of 1,320 foot intervals".
  • Agricultural Special Purpose Roads must comply with the inter-visible mandate of the required turnouts spaced a maximum of 400 feet apart (Detail C-11).

I am not aware of any of the county's hillside roads being in compliance with ANY and ALL of the above requirements or exceptions.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

Unless there are exceptions I am not aware of, all of the county's hillside roads are out of compliance with the County's Road Standards.

The County Engineer and Fire Marshal have in the past exercised their discretionary power in approving them in the interests of development while increasing the risk of residents', workers' and visitors' inadequate escape routes and the concurrent access to emergency vehicles.

Given the increased danger of fires as we have experienced and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future and in order for the County to avoid being knowingly complicit in case of catastrophic loss of life of property as well as in the interest of public health and safety I recommend that:
  • The County Supervisors revoke the Engineer's and Fire Marshal's discretion to deviate from the accepted road standards on all future commercial / agricultural hillside development, new or the expansion of existing ones.
  • All future commercial / agricultural hillside development on roads which do not comply with the County's Road Standards shall be prohibited until such roads are improved to meet such standards.
  • All commercial / agricultural hillside development be prohibited on hillside roads lacking a secondary accesses beyond a maximum distance of 2,640 feet.
  • All new secondary road accesses for all commercial / agricultural uses, shall meet the same standards as the primary access roads at any given location.
  • Revise the standards for Special Purpose Roads and Agricultural Special Purpose Roads (single lane) for all new commercial / agricultural hillside development to comply with General Minor Road standards.

Finally, since the issue of remoteness does not reflect actual considerations of remoteness but rather environmental and access safety ones, I recommend that a designation reflecting its actual purposes be adopted.

Remote Custom Crush on: Remote Winery Ordinance


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

Taking aim at one issue involving remote wineries prior to the BOS discussion on Sep 25th, ( and directly applicable to Soda Canyon Road but probably triggered by the denied dry Creek-Mt Veeder Winery), Supervisor Pedroza sent out this email request for input from community members at the meeting:

"The BOS will be discussing Rural Wineries on Tuesday.

Background: In remote areas like Atlas Peak Rd, Soda Canyon Rd, Mt. Veeder, etc, we've had some winery proposals that are completely custom crush facilities, no vineyards on site.

Problem: Wineries in remote, rural areas, that have no fruit, will need to bring in fruit, meaning more traffic, than a normal winery, on a rural road network.

Discussion: require an estate component on wineries in rural/remote (will need to define rural/remote)? For example, if you're going to do a winery on Soda Canyon Road, a requirement might be that you be at minimum 10% estate (requiring you to have some vineyards).

My take: I think if you're going to have a winery, especially in rural areas, you should have some level of vineyards. Also, with the growth of the Corporate Park and Airport Park, that area seems better suited for custom crush activities. I recognize most wineries, if not all, bring in fruit from different vineyards, areas, so there needs to be some flexibility to bring in fruit, which is why I think the % should be on the lower side for rural wineries."


Soda Canyon has two wineries, Relic and The Caves at Soda Canyon, up steep winding driveways with no grapes on the properties. Despite residents having raised the issue of being a grape-less custom crush facility during their last Planning Commission hearing, The Caves was nonetheless granted a doubling of their capacity in 2017 (in addition to the exoneration of their illegal construction of a viewing portal through the ridgeline).

Grape sourcing has become a bigger issue at Planning Commission meetings of late. Relic and the Caves represent the great pitfall of granting approvals based on a "contracted" source of grapes. While I don't know for sure, it is likely that that Relic and The Caves relied on some of the Stagecoach grapes from the top of Soda Canyon Road. The sale of Stagecoach to Gallo last year will probably mean the end of many contracts leaving smaller wineries competing for alternative, and perhaps more distant, sources. Contracted grapes should not be used to justify use permit approvals. Use permits run with the land forever; grape contracts can disappear overnight.

The Mountain Peak owner purchased another vineyard property on the Rector plateau to help justify the 100,000 gal/yr production capacity they were proposing. While that is a substantial commitment and helped justify such a large production capacity on a 40 acre site, non-estate sources used to justify permit approvals, even if owned by the applicant, are only modestly more secure than a grape contract. Mountain Peak may sell the property at any time (perhaps to finance the winery construction) to another owner wishing to build their own 100,000 gal winery.

In the remote areas of the county wineries should be allowed to process the grapes on the property for which the use permit is given. But production capacity beyond what the property can supply will always open the potential for a custom crush operation. In future approvals for remote wineries, the production limit should be, perhaps, 125% of the amount that the property's grapes can generate to allow for some remote component. Entrepreneurs with production ambitions beyond that limit should be relegated, at this point in the progression of Napa winery development, to the industrial areas of the county.

The GHG's of remote winery tourism on: Tourism Issues


Bill Hocker - Sep 9,18  expand...  Share

Update 10/12/18
It turns out that I have not been the only person obsessed with the GHG costs of developing a remote project like Mountain Peak. Over the last year the State of California has begun to link its ambitious goals of reducing vehicle GHG production to the process by which projects are evaluated under the State's CEQA guidelines. Rejecting the Level of Service (LOS) methods of evaluating the vehicle impacts of new development (used to evaluate the Mountain Peak project resulting in the negative declaration), new state guidelines now will require the analysis of vehicle miles travelled (VMT) as a measure of environmental impact. The method of doing so is outlined in this Advisory from the State's Office of Planning and Research (OPR):

Technical Advisory on Evaluating Traffic Impacts in CEQA April 2018

I can't pretend to understand completely the full significance of the technical advisory, and it is unknown how the County will eventually apply these guidelines in their review process, but much of what I can understand seems to support my own naive effort with the Commissioners in 2016 to quantify the energy impacts (GHG's) of the Mountain Peak project.

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

Update 9/9/18
NVR 9/8/18: Napa County scales back Maxville Lake Winery growth requests

The real story here is not that another event center will be adding its traffic to the county’s road congestion, even in the remote areas of the county, and that its patrons will be adding to the tourists stealing the towns and rural areas from their residents. The real news is that Comm. Hansen voted to turn down her first event center. What’s going on here? Of course Comm. Gallagher also voting out of form, approved the project on the basis of a modest reduction reduction in capacity. But the fact that one of the most reliable pro-development commissioners has turned down a project, even after the pro forma concessions from the developer, hopefully says that some attitudes may be changing regarding the value of tourism development in the remote areas of the county.

Update 8/28/19
After its near denial at the Aug 1, 2018 Planning Commission hearing, the Maxville Lake Winery is up again on Sep 5th. (Agenda and documents are here) Tours and tastings remain the same as proposed in the rejected scheme, but events have been reduced from 6210/yr to 3900/yr. In total 20500 visitors will be adding their traffic to the remote Chiles-Pope Valley Road each year rather than the 23110 previously proposed. Does that make it acceptable this time around?

It will be followed by the Aloft Winery, at a remote-dead-end-road location. With a more modest 5260 visitors/yr, and a provenance of renown, it will be an easier approval. But as the Maxwell Winery shows, the initial building of a winery is just phase one in bringing additional tourism urbanization and traffic to the remote corners of the county.

8/1/18
On Aug 1st, 2018 the County Planning Commission decided not to approve a use permit major modification request for the Maxville Lake Winery on the remote Chiles Valley Road. In a subsequent motion the project was continued until Sep. 5th. The request would add 175,000 gal of winery capacity per year bringing the total to 240,000gal/yr and 11,590 additional visitation slots per year bringing the total to 23,110 visitors/yr. The project was somewhat unique in that a very large winery building was approved in 1998 to handle a medium sized production capacity and visitation. The current owners now want a capacity and visitation commensurate with the size of the building. The project was initially denied on the basis of its remoteness for the production and visitation requested.

After presentation and discussion, Comm. Scott made the motion to approve. The vote was 3-2 against approving the project. Comm. Whitmer joined Comm Scott in voting to approve, which was a bit of a surprise because of his previous concern over the constraints of remote locations.

Comm. Cottrell, consistent with votes since Mountain Peak, could not approve the project because of the amount of visitation and production in such a remote location. Likewise Comm. Gallagher who has also been consistent in looking hard at wineries as tourism venues.

The real surprise was Comm. Hansen. She is a reliably pro-development vote on the Commission (as in the remote Dry Creek-Mt Veeder Winery) so her opposition to the project stands out. And, in recollecting her vote to approve Mountain Peak, it is worth quoting her comments on Manville Lake:
"Where I am struggling is the number and intensity of marketing events on this site in a remote location... In this particular case all the winery comparisons are on the valley floor... they're not 6 miles up in the hills from St. Helena in a remote location...We've had a lot of conversation about intensity of use and appropriateness of location and treating every location independently and customizing it to that space... What we've been hearing is that there is need for tasting and events because there isn't distribution... face-to-face consumer interactions that are very necessary to a business that doesn't have that distribution channel. Here I feel like they're getting both ... and that's a lot to send 6 miles up to the east..."


The Mountain Peak parallel
"6 miles up in the hills... in a remote location" just struck a chord, I'm afraid. The proposed Mountain Peak winery next door to us, which Comm Hansen approved in 2017, is 6 miles up a dead end road, one that is more convoluted and in much worse condition than Chiles Pope Valley Road.

In Maxville Lake, Comm. Hansen made a clear distinction in her thinking between tours and tastings at 46 visitors/ every day (which she was OK with) and events either 30 visitors/day twice a week or 95 visitors twice a month (which she didn't like). I didn't quite get the distinction. 25-75 people arriving every day seemed to me as impactful, if not more so, than the less frequent events.

The visitation numbers of both wineries are similar at 275 vs 325 per week. Mountain Peak's event numbers, which initially were similar but were reduced during the hearings, may be the reason Comm. Hansen felt she was not being inconsistent in opposing this remote winery while supporting Mountain Peak. It was hard for me to see the decision in that light, I'm afraid.

Regarding distribution and the need for winery consumer sales: it is worth mentioning that it is possible to find less impactful ways of marketing than inducing tourism to the remote corners of the country. Mountain Peak's owner, realizing that building a winery would not be a quick process, opened a tasting room across the street from the Archer Hotel (opened 2 days after Comm Hansen approved the project) and has contracted with distributers to sell their wine in California Nevada and Arizona. For those vintners that are in the business of wine making rather than wine entertainment, at-winery marketing is not the end all even for new wineries.

The remote winery question
Maxville Lake was not the only winery taken up by the Planning Commission on Aug 1st. The Castlevale Winery, with crenelations and turrets, was unveiled up the road from Maxville. Given its modest visitation and productions numbers, and its royal provenance (a Martini scion), it was approved without issue. It will, of course add a bit more tourist traffic to the remote byways of the county.

Considered along with the continuance of Maxville at the Planning Commission next month will be the Aloft Winery, another "6-miles-up-a-remote-dead-end-road" winery, with a modest visitation proposed by another scion (Mondavi). The modest visitation now seems to be a selling point in getting new wineries approved. As we have seen in the many major mods coming up before the commission, and as presented in Maxville, a future visitation upgrade after the project is in place is perhaps becoming a more palatable route to tourism intensification. And tourism intensification now seems to be the goal of most winery development in the county.

The question these remote wineries pose is whether it is justified, in an age in which GHG generation and vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) are becoming the metrics of ethical development, to promote a tourism model that involves transporting ever greater quantities of tourists and tourism employees to the remote corners of the county. In a recent study, tourism now accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. The extra tons per year generated by tens of thousands of 6 mile trips to wineries in Napa county will probably not move that percentage very much, but the fight against global warming is being fought at the micro level throughout the world and Napa should be doing its bit. Electric charging stations and bicycle racks in these remote locations may win an approval or a LEED certification, but are really just palliatives considering the GHG's created by vehicles traveling that extra 6 miles.

The 2010 WDO update (which allowed increased food service at wineries) has an appendix that counters the obvious inducement to tourism that the allowance provides with a warning to consider remoteness in winery approvals. The Napa County General Plan extolls urban-centered growth. The LEED certification process gives significant points for the same goal. The evaluation of GHG's generated by projects CEQA analysis is becoming an ever more important part of the process. The county is about to take up its won Climate Action Plan. It is time for the County to give more serious consideration to winery development on the basis of remoteness to discourage transportation dependent tourism.

(Technical Note: Using the total averages from the 74 wineries on my remote wineries list we get 74 wineries x 28 ave trips/day x 4.5 ave miles from hwy x 365 days per year = 3,403,260 miles x .00042 MTCO2/mile = 1429 MTCO2/yr created to access these remote wineries starting at major highways.)

More traffic for Bottleneck Junction on: South Napa County


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

Update 3/8/19
NVR 3/8/19: American Canyon's latest wine warehouse overcomes location concerns

An additional 204-559 trips/day.

Update 8/26/18
NVR 8/26/18: American Canyon Council approves more warehouses parallel with Highway 29

It’s not quite clear how the traffic analysis dropped from 4900 to 1100 trips/day - which is still a lot and caused a resident to respond: Alleviate traffic in American Canyon - not make it worse. Not to mention the cancer. Of course 1100 trips is a drop in the bucket compared to Napa Logistics soon-to-be-added 11,700 trip/day

5/31/18
NVR 5/31/18: New warehouses proposed along Highway 29 corridor in American Canyon

Video, Agenda and documents of the 5/24/18 American Canyon Planning Commission Hearing

The American Canyon Planning Commission has just approved another bunch of warehouses that will generate 4900 more trips per day to add to the traffic jam through American Canyon and south Napa that is Bottleneck Junction. Along with Napa Logistics Park it will clog up the S. Kelly Rd intersection to match the Jameson Canyon intersection. The project will also, incidentally, increase the cancer risk for American Canyon Residents!

From the staff summary of the proposed project EIR:

"Air quality impacts remain significant and unavoidable:"
-"The operational emissions from the total project evaluated in the EIR exceed the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s (BAAQMD) thresholds of significance for Nitrogen Oxides"
-"A community health risk assessment was prepared because of the proximity of two residences to the project site and found that the increase in cancer risk because of the project construction and operation exceeded the BAAQMD significance threshold"
-"Project Greenhouse Gas (GHG) gas emissions would exceed the BAAQMD threshold of significance"

"Transportation impacts remain significant and unavoidable:"
-" The addition of Project traffic to existing conditions would result in the [4] following intersections operating at unacceptable level..."
-"The addition of Project traffic to existing conditions together with other pending projects (background development) would result in the following [7] intersections operating at unacceptable levels..."
-"The addition of Project traffic to projected cumulative traffic conditions would result in unacceptable levels of service at 13 intersections"
-"the proposed project may conflict with the Napa and Solano County congestion management plans"
-And "While improvements have been identified to address these impacts, most of them are under Caltrans jurisdiction and funding and plans have not been approved. Therefore, there is uncertainty about whether the improvements would be implemented, so the impacts remain significant and unavoidable"

The solution to significant and unavoidable impacts that endanger the lives of Am Can residents and make traffic worse for everyone commuting to and from the Napa Valley? Draft some Findings of Overriding Consideration. All ten findings can be questioned on their merits, but these 2 are pet peeves:

"7. The Project will facilitate the logical and orderly development of the Devlin Road corridor in accordance with the City of American Canyon General Plan and Napa County Airport"

As we know from the 2008 changes made to Napa County's General Plan to equate winery tourism with agriculture, industry insiders shape general plans to their financial advantage. American Canyon's General plan is in fact just a developer's wish list for turning raw land into buildings. Almost every square inch of the City is to be developed into housing or commercial projects and the governmental projects needed to serve them. The Land use element is here. It is ludicrous to argue that an overriding consideration to significant and unavoidable impacts is that we have a plan that creates significant and unavoidable impacts. (as does the Napa County General Plan.)

"10. The Project will contribute to the long‐term fiscal health of the City by generating new taxable sales, development impact fees, business license fees, property tax, and other sources of revenue."

As Volker Eisele warned:
Development doesn't pay for itself. It doesn't. [If] you are looking at Napa Pipe now in south Napa, where a developer again is circulating memos showing how much profit it would generate, the profit might be actually true but it isn't really profit, because the cost items are all left out, whether it's traffic, clean air, noise, health, education and other items [concerning] social welfare.

Residents of American Canyon, the County and the State will end up subsidizing this project through increased taxes and bond measures to pay for the infrastructure and service costs that are never covered by the project's mitigation fees. Again ask yourself, do big city residents pay more or less in taxes to support their government? Are large cities fiscally healthier than small towns? Will the city end up spending more to maintain and service 30 acres of industrial development or 30 acres of wetlands?

The city is already desperate (with a $1.2 loss in 2016) for the revenue generated by this project to help pay for the long term burdens of previous urban development. How much will residents have to pay for the road widenings, and intersection upgrades and eventual freeways needed for the thousands of additional daily vehicle trips generated by this project and Napa Logistics Park? How much more for the services and infrastructure upgrades that an increased daily population will need?

It's not like the County is being flooded by immigrants looking for jobs and homes. The long-term population growth in Napa County is projected to be less than .5%. These building projects are inducing population growth in the county (and the impacts that come with it) so that a handful of developers can make some money.

The solution to Napa County's urban problems of traffic and lack of affordable and ever rising taxes and bond measures to pay for increased infrastructure is to stop urbanizing. Develop a general plan created by residents who must live with the results rather than businessmen who profit off it.

The exploding hospitality sector on: Growth Issues


Bill Hocker - Aug 21,18  expand...  Share

NVR 8/21/18: NapaStat | 14,000: That's the current number of leisure and hospitality jobs in Napa County. That's 700 more jobs than one year ago.

As just pointed out in the news post related to the resurrection of the Stanly Ranch resort and its 500 hospitality employees that will need affordable housing, this NapaStat reinforces what the current tourism boom portends for the problems of traffic and housing that already plague the quality of life in the County. 700 new hospitality workers this year. How many affordable housing units were brought online in the same period? The number of proposed or approved facilities in the County, with employees yet to be added to the EDD database, is vast. Over 150 new or expanded wineries and a few thousand hotel rooms not yet realized will add thousands to the hospitality workforce. In addition are millions of square feet of commercial and industrial facilities. And a Costco. As outlined here, providing affordable housing for this workforce will be excruciatingly difficult. The wisdom of continuing to approve new hospitality and commercial development, with no strategy to provide the thousands of affordable housing units for the workforce required, is irresponsible urban planning.

Coincidentally this same subject was reprised on the PBS Newshour today, the challenge of finding affordable housing for workers in Anaheim, California's most touristed place: PBS 3/27/18: Why Anaheim’s low-wage workers struggle to keep a roof over their heads

The county will, of course make an effort to provide more housing - the state will require it based on the number of new jobs created. And the county will make an effort to mitigate the increase in traffic and population with more infrastructure projects. And this place will be steadily urbanized in the process, eventually crowding out the agriculture that a previous generation fought so hard to preserve.

Stanly Ranch on: South Napa County


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

Update 8/16/18
NVR 5/9/15: New $45 million investment for a planned Stanly Ranch resort in south Napa

Stanly Ranch returns from funding limbo. The project would add another 500 low wage employees looking for affordable housing. It would also contribute $4.4 million to the city's affordable housing fund. The cost of 50 units of affordable housing in Napa was just pegged at $24 million. By that standard the $4.4 million will be enough for 9 affordable housing units, enough to house perhaps 18 of the 500 employees. The continuing imbalance of jobs and housing in Napa County, increased with each new development project, is not sustainable.

This is also another example of the trend toward the winery hotel that will eventually be demanded in the unincorporated areas just as restaurant wineries are now.

5/7/17
Update 5/7/17: Only recently, after stumbling upon these documents, have I become attuned to the third mega-project that will be urbanizing the agricultural entry to the county just south of the Hwy 29 and 121 junction in Carneros. It is a housing project and resort known as Stanly Ranch. The project was approved by the City of Napa in 2010. Sometimes, until you see a site plan, the numbers representing the project in a table don't have an impact. A big chunk of vineyards at the approach to the Valley is to become suburbanized and another bit of Napa's forlorn effort to maintain a greenbelt separating the city from the sprawl moving up from American Canyon will disappear.

How the parcel became a part of the city needs a bit of research. As a far-removed extension of the urban-rural limit line, it seems to violate every concept of maintaining the separation between existing urban and rural uses that the county and cities have been committed to since the ag preserve and Measure J were enacted.

Articles
NVR 12/20/15: City gives thumbs-up for luxury hotel at Stanly Ranch
NVR 11/2/15: Stanly Ranch receives recycled water go-ahead
NVR 5/9/15: Stanly Ranch resort developer promises 'authenticity'
NVR 11/19/13: Pipeline project to bring water to Carneros area
NVR 11/6/10: Settlement says St. Regis developer must support affordable housing
NVR 1/23/10: Critics blast St. Regis project, but city touts revenues; more hearings ahead
NVR 4/17/05: Merryvale set to begin Stanly Ranch renovation this summer

Documents
2009 Stanly Ranch documents

Bill Dodd and PG&E on: After The Fire


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

An epic battle will take place in the courts in the next couple of years between PG&E and the thousands of residents affected by the Sonoma and Napa fires of 2017 [and the Camp Fire of 2018!]. Dan Mufson sends along this link to an article about our State Senator, Bill Dodd in action on both sides of the issue. The article and video gives a sense that the Senator knows who he works for.

ConsumerWatchdog.org 8/15/18: Senator Dodd Busted Shutting Down Wildfire Hearings To Rush To Fundraiser With Utility Lobbyists

Dan adds: "Check out the video. At 2:13 our own John Harrington can be seen on the right side of the frame. He went to Sacramento with his family to lobby Dodd, the Governor and others not to let PGE off the hook for liability.

Napa County CAP returns on: Climate Action Plan


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

Update 8/15/18
NVR 8/15/18: Napa County's draft climate action plan has its critics

A public "Scoping Session" on the plan will be held on Aug 15th, 2018. See Calendar

NVR 8/12/18: Gas water heater phaseout is part of new Napa County climate action proposal (a modest top proposal indeed, as the world burns.)

Planning Director's responses to the Grand Jury report on the shortcomings of the County's Climate Action Plan

Notice of Preparation of a Napa County Climate Action Plan Draft Environmental Impact Report

Redlined version of Draft CAP showing changes between Jan 2017 and Jul 2018

The County Climate Action Plan page is here

From the Revised Draft CAP:
"In response to public comments received in 2017, the County has since prepared a Revised Draft CAP that will be circulated for public review in the Summer of 2018. Public comments will be accepted on the Revised Draft CAP and the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the plan during the comment period. The County is also preparing an EIR for the CAP pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The EIR will be released for public review following the public review period for the Revised Draft CAP."


Update 1/5/18
NVR 1/5/18: Napa County's climate action plan again delayed

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

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

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

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

The video of the hearing is here

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

Jim Wilson transcription of major portions of the hearing

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

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

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

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

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

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




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