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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wed, Jul 5, 2017

County Planning Commission

Agenda and Documents

8A Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance

10:00am 8B Climate Action Plan Final Draft review
County's CAP page
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Christina Benz' NV2050 comments

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.

Who's protecting Napa? on: Open Comments

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

Update 6/28/17
James Conaway, following the Alastair Bland article, (which he subtitles "the Rape of Napa") has weighed in on his own disillusionment with the demise of the great Napa experiment in rural protection:

James Conway, Nose 6/24/17: The existential choice today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hotel explosion rocks Napaon: City of Napa

Bill Hocker - Jun 25,17  expand...  Share
The Big City comes to sleepy Napa
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.

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
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

Update: 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


Daniel Mufson - Feb 1, 2017

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

Hello Napa Vision 2050 supporters,

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

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

Shelle Wolfe - Feb 1, 2017

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

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

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

Carl Bunch - Feb 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

Glenn J. Schreuder - Feb 2, 2017

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

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

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

Higher housing prices will trigger greater enrollment declines in Napa schools

A tale of two roadson: Sonoma County

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facing public discontent, the County lawyers upon: Open Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Caloyannidis sends over this link to the latest in Venice:

The Telegraph (UK): 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).

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

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

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

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

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

Slowing urbanization: the petitionon: Growth Issues

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

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

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

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

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

NapaVision2050 has also weighed in on the petition here.
More on the hotel frenzy in downtown Napa here.

Mountain Peak at the BOS: the epilogueon: Mountain Peak Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Shelle Wolfe - Jun 8, 2017

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

Voices, not grapes, get crushed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whose government is this, anyway?

More traffic for Bottleneck Junctionon: South Napa County

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America as one big holeon: Growth Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Promote community not tourismon: Calistoga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bill Hocker - May 29, 2017

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

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

The Caymus Letteron: Tourism Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Round two to Mountain Peakon: Mountain Peak Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SF Chronicle: Napa Valley Inflamedon: Vision 2050

NV2050 Admin - May 21,17  expand...  Share


Proposed helicopter pad inflames Napa Valley’s winery wars.

The latest assault on Napa County resident's homesteads hits the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle.

“When is enough, enough? People with lots of money are coming in here and doing whatever they want. They’re not the ones on the tractor, though. They don’t have any sense of the land.”
—Dan Mufson, President, Napa Vision 2050

Napa Vision 2050 supporters...

The San Francisco Chronicle today detailed the recent developments in the Palmaz Heliport proceedings, as well as the challenges facing Napa County residents at the hands of over development.

We need to keep the pressure on the Planning Commission and the Supervisors so that they wake up and start to represent all our voices. Please ask your friends to get on our mailing list! There's strength in numbers. Make democracy work for you!

Apocalypse Continued! on: Palmaz Heliport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments may be submitted to project planner Dana Ayres at

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

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

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

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

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


Henni Cohen - Feb 27, 2017

[Email to County Planner Dana Ayres]

Dear Ms. Ayers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your consideration.

Henrietta Cohen

Stephen P. Rae - Feb 28, 2017

[Email sent to Planning Commission]

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

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

Dear Chairperson and Commission Members:

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

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

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

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

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


Stephen P. Rae, PhD

Donald Williams - Apr 24, 2017

[Email to County Planner Dana Ayres]

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

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

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

Donald Williams

Mountain Peak: BOS statementon: Mountain Peak Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you

The return of Yountville Hillon: Yountville Hill

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

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

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

The County Yountville DEIR page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chilton MPW letter to the BOSon: Mountain Peak Winery

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

May 9, 2017

David Morrsison, Director
Napa County Planning, Building & Environmental Services Dept.
1195 Third Street, Suite 210,
Napa, California


Dear Napa County Board of Supervisors,

My name is Steve Chilton and I own property on Soda Canyon Road, Napa, CA 94558.

My wife and I constructed our home on a small acreage that has been in her family for nearly 100 years. While designing the house we worked around the 100+ year old oaks and Soda Creek. No oaks were removed for the house nor was the creek impacted. We practice positive environmental stewardship and expect the County and others on Soda Canyon Road to do the same. I recently retired from a career of 35 years with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I strongly support the Appeal of the Napa County Planning Commission approval of the Mountain Peak project and request that you uphold the appeal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time,

Steve Chilton

Defining an end to agricultureon: The WDO

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

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

Redefining "agriculture" will also do the job.

An open letter to the Board of Supervisors:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for the opportunity to vent.

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truck stuck on Caves driveway

Bus stuck on Soda Canyon grade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bill Hocker - Apr 17, 2017

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

The Definition of Agriculture changed!on: The WDO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Apr 4th, the Board of Supervisors approved (5-0) changes in County ordinance §18.08.040. The revision markup is here. (As Dir. Morrison noted the following day, it was the first of the APAC recommendations to be completed - almost a year after being made.) It adds farmworker housing ("agricultural employee housing" in the General Plan, another definitional discrepancy needing clarification), agricultural processing facilities and marketing facilities "accessory" to production facilities to the list of buildings that can be built in the ag zones of the county. I was pleased to see that wineries and event centers were placed below chicken coops in the pecking order of buildings permitted under the ordinance, though I expect that we will continue to see more event centers than chicken coops being built.

The meeting was contentious with residents negatively impacted by the "marketing of wine", i.e. tourism, up against the "wine industry" that sees greater profits to be made in tourism development. Sup. Pedrosa acknowledged the resident-vs-industry angst and tried to calm the room by pointing out that this redefinition was simply to bring the code into conformance with the general plan, (just as arguments were made in 2010 that changes to the WDO were merely clarifications) and that re-visioning the definition of agriculture was appropriate for another forum. Of course that forum was the APAC process, in which changes to the General Plan were never seriously considered. While much hot air was given to the subject at APAC (e.g. here), AG/LU-2 remained fixed in stone. Debra Dommen spoke up then, as she did today, to state that "we've" been working on this since 2006 and that the General Plan update in 2008 settled the issue. By "we" of course she meant the wine industry, not the citizens of Napa County.

Geoff Ellsworth's philosophical take on the issue is here.

Update 3/29/17

On Apr 4th, 2017 the Board of Supervisors will weigh in again (item 9H here) on the proposed update to the definition of "agriculture" in the County Code of Ordinances to bring it into alignment with the "marketing" aspect of the definition in the General Plan that has fueled the rapid transition from an agricultural economy into an entertainment economy.

Of interest are 2 documents from staff, demanded by the Board at the last meeting to give context to the issue, detailing the histories of Napa's peculiar definition of "agriculture" in both the General Plan and in the County Code.

Update 3/21/17

NVR 3/23/17: Napa County still struggling with its agriculture definition

After a presentation by Dir. Morrison to the BOS today on changes to the definition of agriculture in county ordinance §18.08.040 (item 9B here) and a stream of citizen arguments about the apparent equation of processing, marketing and housing in the definition and the confusion and inconsistencies that the definition portends for the "right to farm" and for unintended development in the county (and a couple of industry reps supporting approval as being in line with the developer-friendly definition they created for the General Plan in 2008), the Board had their say.

Sup. Dillon started out expressing frustration that the definition was not given appropriate context for the benefit of the two new board members and others unfamiliar with the long and fraught history of the definition in the county, seeming to feel that the definition was being presented as a fait accompli for their approval and not given appropriate due diligence appropriate to its primal significance to the county's soul. Chair Pedroza, obviously anxious to despatch the issue as quickly as possible, after rigorously enforcing the 3 minute rule for public comments, ran into wordsmithing issues from Sups. Gregory and Ramos who, with fresh eyes, were concerned about the ambiguity of the relation of agriculture to agricultural processing and agricultural processing to marketing.

Dir. Morrison spent a fair portion of the last two years dealing with this issue and seemed vexed that it was headed back to staff and council for yet another editing session. The item was continued and the Board will consider the definition of agriculture again at its April 4th, 2017 meeting at the very precise time of 11:15am.

Norma Tofanelli has updated her letter on the real dangers and conflicts of placing marketing activities, farm worker housing and all other accessory uses, under the "right to farm" protections of the code of ordinances. Her letter is here.

Geoff Ellsworth reiterated his opinion that the definition might be called the "Knott's Berry Farm ordinance", an issue more discussed here.

Ginny Simms (the only speaker with enough status to be able to ignore the 3 minute admonitions) brought forward the need in the definition for "bright-line" conditions that separate farming from processing and that separate processing from marketing. The various conditions sprinkled throughout the General Plan and the Code of Ordinances present some very muddy lines indeed, and this current proposal seemed to do nothing to brighten things up. A muddy definition is, of course, a boon for developers seeking to turn ambiguity into building projects.

Update 9/23/16

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

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

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

Update 9/21/16

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

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

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

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

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

    In addition, the uses will be protected by:
      §2.94.010 - Definitions.
        "Agriculture" shall have the same meaning as "agriculture" as defined in Section 18.08.040 of this code.

Her 3/20/17 version of the letter is here.
Her previous 9/19/16 version is here


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

Director Morrison sent along the email below [superceeded by this 3/20/15 markup] which shows proposed changes (in red) to the principal county ordinance defining agriculture. He also sent along a second email modifying the changes (shown in blue), cobbled on at the recommendation of staff and the county council.

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


The Napa County General Plan includes the following:

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

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

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

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

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




Section 18.08.040 - Agriculture

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

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

B. Grazing of livestock and feeding incidental thereto;

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

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

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

F. Farmworker housing as defined in Section 18.08.294;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The blue additions add even more confusion. Although there may be a different legal meaning, the dictionary indicates the word "notwithstanding" is synonymous with "in spite of" - meaning what?, that the requirements for obtaining a conditional use permit contain a different definition of agriculture? (the latest 3/20/17 ordinance mark-up is here and I'm glad to see that "notwithstanding" is gone.) Are these the requirements? Shouldn't the requirements be changed to reflect this prime definition, rather than this definition be qualified to accommodate inconstancies elsewhere? Should the conflicting requirements have to be stated here as well? (Recall also the county's recent dismissal of the Oak Woodland Initiative for not including the text of referenced documents.) More questions about the County's definition of agriculture seem to be raised than answered here.

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

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

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

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

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

Update 5/4/17
NVR 5/4/17: Possible Truchard winery, Napa Oaks subdivision developers clash

A clash between tourism urbanization and housing urbanization: The natural landscape of the county loses both ways. The Napa Oaks site should never have been incorporated into the city limits and the housing project is the infinitely more egregious insult to the rural character of the county. The site plan, which shows the tops of the hills being sheared off for building pads, is truly heartbreaking. Let's pray they lose the coming battle with their city neighbors to the east and the Truchards (who seem to be the county ideal of the family farm vintner) to the west. The housing developer's letter does just look like harassment in retaliation for the Truchard's opposition to their project. (The Truchard's opposition letter (at the bottom here), however, is a dead ringer for all of the letters we have written opposing tourism wineries these last 3 years). The best outcome, of course, would be for both to abandon their development plans in order to preserve "the sheer natural beauty of this place".

Napa Oaks II DEIR
Truchard documents Item 8B here

Update 3/1/17: Napa Oaks Development
The Greenbelt Alliance, an organization dedicated to preserving open space in an urbanizing world for 60 years, has just issued a 2017 report At Risk: The Bay Area Green Belt which features the Napa Oaks Project as open space under threat of development. (No mention of Walt Ranch?) More here from the Stop Napa Oaks group.

Stop Napa Oaks petition
Stop Napa Oaks Facebook Page

LTE 6/10/16: Development will have huge impact
LTE 5/4/16; A test of character
LTE 5/3/16: Don't destroy gateway to Napa
LTE 4/18/16: Development would scar the land
NVR 5/3/16: Homebuilder revives plans for rejected Napa development
Napa Oaks II DEIR
NVR 8/1/12: Neighbors demand study of Napa Oaks II hillside subdivision

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

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

9/4/16: Anderson Ranch Development
Now a second housing project, by the same developer pursuing the Napa Oaks project, is proposed to carve up more of the few remaining Oak Hillsides within the city:
NVR 9/4/16: Planners endorse 37 east Napa homes despite privacy, tree concerns

Visit Napa Valleyon: Tourism Issues

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

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

The latest Visit Napa Valley statistical analysis of the tourism industry is out; the numbers are good (oddly better, in fact, than the Visit California numbers outlined here). The number of visitors are increasing but at a slower rate than the previous 2-year cycle, fortunately. Revenues from tourist venues are way up, so the amount taken in per visitor is dramatically increased. (The median family income of visitors is $161,000, so let's hope the tech startup bubble doesn't burst.) The number of employees is way up so perhaps service is good, although the daily commute and need for affordable housing is getting much worse.

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

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

The Latest Reports are here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The winery glut selloffon: The Winery Glut

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

Ross Workman NVR LTE 5/2/17: Sell the wine or sell the winery

Mr. Workman has crafted another of his insightful looks at the "wine industry" in Napa County. (I've begun to collect links to his LTE's here.) As an outsider to the mechanisms of the industry I have always been a bit nervous in voicing conclusions that seem obvious but don't seem to be shared or voiced by the industry. I'm glad that someone more connected with it seems to have the same concerns, especially when they are stated in such a clear and concise form.

May 3, 2017 at the Planning Commissionon: Growth Issues

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

From the SCR Calendar:
May 3rd, 2017 County Planning Commission
Agenda and Documents

8A Flora Springs Winery Major Mod
26900 more vis/yr, 11 more employees, water and sewer upgrades to accommodate more people and more food.

8B Truchard Winery New Use Permit
100,000 g/y, 17900 vis/yr, 6-10 employees, setback variance

8C Beautiful Day Winery New Use Permit
30,000 g/y, 21300 vis/yr, 10 employees

8D Poetry Inn driveway road exception
"This existing road serves an Inn, an un-built approved winery, an existing residence and a replacement residence with its proposed second unit and guesthouse." How much urban development is possible on agriculture-watershed land? What will Napa look like when all 4500 parcels are so developed? How many exceptions and variances will be made to make it possible?

This upcoming planning commission meeting is a good window into the future of Napa County. The three winery projects being reviewed and the one that will become feasible with the road exception represent:

  • at least 66,100 new visitor slots to be filled meaning perhaps 22,000 more visitors/yr to be accommodated by county infrastructure and services
  • 28-36 more employees driving to work each day and needing affordable housing
  • 142,000 gal/yr of unnecessary processing capacity to make wine already being made elsewhere in the county.

Just one day's work for the Planning Commission.

If all are approved it will be a notable but not extraordinary addition of urban building projects in the ag zones. After preservationists' defeat at APAC and the election of development oriented Supervisors last year, the county has been on a push to draw down the large backlog of building use permits and modifications being requested. Can they do it faster than new projects are being submitted? Prior to this hearing, the Planning Commission has approved 7 new wineries and 9 major winery modifications this year, more, as the planning director seemed to boast at a recent hearing, than in all of 2016. They represent about:

  • 85,000 more visitor slots, meaning perhaps 28,000 more visitors to the county each year
  • 150-160 more employees on the roads and looking for affordable housing.
  • 270,000 gal/yr of additional unnecessary capacity to make wine already being made elsewhere in the county

Dan Mufson got up at the Supervisors strategic retreat on Apr 24 th with a simple recommendation to begin to address the affordable housing issues (and the traffic issues) that everyone, even the Supes, now sees as the lamentable future of the county: stop building wineries. The same amount of Napa wine will be sold each year whether theses projects are built or not. And some of the County's service costs to deal with the ever increasing tourism population will be curbed. It should be a no-brainier.

The Poetry Inn road exception request was an unexpected addition to he agenda. It shows the limits that the county may be willing to go to insure that all 4500 10+ acre parcels of land in the county's ag preserve and ag watershed zones can be maximized to their urban development potential. Vineyards may survive in the county, as vanity statements of the good life, but the price to be paid will be 3 houses and a showpiece winery on each parcel to cater to a burgeoning tourist population. Most will require setback variances and road exceptions to be feasible.

As with the Caves at Soda Canyon this would appear to be a totally inappropriate site for an industrial facility, up a road with substandard curves and in this case with a slope exceeding 22%.

And 'A determination was made that the winery use permit was "used" on April 15, 2017.' - 2 weeks before this hearing? Normally there is a 2 year sunset period on use permits if they are not "used". What's going on here?

And the Poetry Inn, a hotel, apparently built on ag land in the mid 2000's based on a b&b that may have been created in the 1990's? The 1983 General Plan allows only agricultural processing (and accessory activities) and farm labor housing. "No other use or development of a parcel located in an agricultural area shall be permitted unless it is needed for the agricultural use of the parcel." What is the story with this developer and why is none of this history at least mentioned in the agenda letter?

This meeting should be about more than just road exceptions.

BOS strategic planning retreaton: Open Comments

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

Update 5/1/17
NVR 5/2/17: Housing needs dominate Napa supervisors' 'coffee shop' talk
NVR 4/26/17: Napa County supervisors want to get a handle on winery code compliance

I wasn't there. It sounds a bit like the "big picture" strategic planning, i.e. asking what can be done to stop Napa County's continuing urban development in the next 35 years, (and allow an agriculture-based industry to survive), is getting lost in the weeds trying to accommodate the urban problems from previous planning approaches: traffic congestion, affordable housing and, it seems, legitimizing the scofflaws who have been flaunting the rules in expanding their commercial and industrial development into the vineyards.

Dan Mufson suggested one sustainable approach to the problems facing the county going forward: stop building wineries. When you're in a hole stop digging. Affordable housing shortages are the result of the County pushing tourism as the economic engine, an economy dependent on low wage workers.The need for more wineries to process Napa grapes ended long ago. In the first 4 months of this year the planning commission has approved winery projects that will add 150-160 new workers in the county all needing affordable housing, not to mention all of the other services a county provides to its citizens. An upcoming commission hearing will feature 4 more wineries adding 25-36 more employees. [3 approved, 1 continued]

Not only does the county encourage low wage workers by building more tourism venues, but they allocate millions of dollars each year to promote tourism, and events and the good life to be found here. As Supervisor Dillon pointed out existing housing becomes converted into vacation homes and rentals, and a sense of community disappears. And land speculation for vineyard estates puts increasing development pressure on the watersheds.

Sup. Gregory noted that the wine industry provides the tax base of the County, yet as we have seen, a wine industry devoted to tourism creates more problems than it solves. All that tax revenue from Napa's principal "growth" industry doesn't seem to be enough to provide affordable housing, or build a jail or upgrade the sanitary systems or keep the roads paved, and it is left to the residents to vote taxes and fees on themselves to support the growth of the tourism industry. That need for residents to pay for the long term costs of the wine industry's embrace of tourism doesn't seem to be a part of the thinking when talking about a balance between the interests of the industry and the residents. It should be.

Update 4/20/17
The Board of Supervisors and leaders of County departments will have another strategic planning retreat on Monday, Apr 24th, 2017 to discuss the future of Napa County in light of citizen comments gleaned from 5 community roundtables held in the last month. While there were few outside attendees at the first retreat, the meeting will be open to the public and you are encouraged to attend. The notice with time and location is here.

Gary Margadant sends along these shots of the work of the community roundtable in Yountville on Apr 3rd. Not a great outcry for more tourism development.

A report on the Mar 23rd community roundtable in Napa is here


NVR 3/15/17: Napa County looks at strengths, weaknesses during retreat

A few community members attended this County workshop on Mar. 14th designed to allow Supervisors and County department heads to sit down together and discuss county strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the coming years. It was a good exercise in team building and displayed a congenial county staff interested in the county's future.

The brief agenda described it as "the first of three strategic planning retreat sessions to identify the Board's priorities over the next three years and develop metrics to evaluate progress in implementing these priorities". There will be two more such staff workshops, on April 24th and May 22.

But before April 24th there WILL be 5 community (public) workshops on Mar 23rd, 28th, 30th, Apr 3rd and Apr 10th to to gather input and ideas for a community vision that can help shape the Board of Supervisors priorities. Meetings will be conducted in English and Spanish.

The notice and locations are here, and meeting dates and locations are also shown on the Calendar.


Amber Manfree - Mar 15, 2017

Is it just me, or are county employees concerned about all the same things we are?

Traffic, locals/working professionals being priced out, class conflict, decisions not being based on data, residents concerns not being incorporated in planning decisions, road conditions... the county being sued.

It's a familiar sounding list!

I think it's missing biodiversity/conservation/limits to growth issues, though.

Glenn J. Schreuder - Mar 15, 2017

I think we are witnessing the hollowing out of the Napa community:

- Spiraling housing costs.
- Projected declines in public school enrollments.
- Absentee home ownership - vacation/2nd home ownership all over cities from Napa northward.
- Monocultural agriculture (lack of agricultural diversity)
- A single dominant, primary industry (lack of economic diversity)
- Distant corporate ownership replacing family ownership of the means of production.
- A generation of kids who will find they need to leave the community they grew up in or risk becoming part of a significant economic under-class (with some limited exceptions i.e. kids from wealthy families)
- Conspicuous, ostentatious, tasteless displays of material wealth.

Definitely not the Napa I grew up in and not the one I fell in love with.

The spell is broken.

Napa Groundwater Sustainability Alternativeon: Watershed Issues

Gary Margadant - Apr 25,17  expand...  Share

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

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

The county's use permit problemon: Vision 2050

George Caloyannidis - Apr 21,17  expand...  Share

Use permits regulate development and activities on properties in Napa County (e.g. at wineries the size, production, visitation, etc.), loosely defined in the Zoning Code. The county Supervisors have a great deal of discretion in adjusting the conditions of the use permits as they see fit upon applicants' requests. On the face of it, one would think there is nothing wrong with that. This, however, presupposes a fair and equitable government that enjoys the trust of the people.

The use permit process begins with the applicant spending thousands of dollars in preparing detailed plans, environmental reports and other studies for staff to review for a recommendation to the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission conducts public hearings attended by the applicant, county staff and legal counsel and the public. Such hearings may extend over two, even three, sessions before the commission approves or denies them. Its decisions may be appealed to the Supervisors involving additional public hearings. The Supervisors' decisions can then be contested in court at enormous costs, as is recently the case with the Syar quarry expansion and the Walt Ranch development.

While the applicant pays for the cost of staff time, he or she does not pay for the long-term costs of staff benefits and pensions, nor for the costs of the county facilities such as utilities, equipment, maintenance and depreciation. Nor does the applicant pay for the tens of thousands in consultants' fees paid by appellants, overwhelmingly meaning the impacted public. One must also consider that a proliferation in use permit applications necessitates ever-increasing numbers of staff. These enormous long-term costs are all borne by the public.

There are also unaccounted costs in lost productivity. The recent application by the Palmaz family to allow it to fly a personal-use helicopter from its property on Hagen Road, has already had three public hearings, each time attended by over 100 citizens, with a fourth scheduled. By the time appeal hearings are over, this use permit process will have cost the citizens between 3,500 and 4,000 hours of unaccounted for loss in productivity. Whether it is for one winery to increase its visitors or for a single person to use his property for the recreational activity of flying his helicopter, this system, in terms of public expenditure and in human capital investment, is grossly out of balance in favor of the applicant.

Equally, if not more important, are ethics issues arising when commissioners and supervisors have more and more discretionary power, which is what use permits give them.

The amounts of money spent on supervisors' election campaigns has mushroomed to obscene levels, primarily funded by wineries and other special interests certainly not motivated by charity but in the hope of gaining favorable outcomes to their use permit applications. The system is so grossly out of kilter that even wineries, that for years have been violating their use permits, not only receive forgiveness but are rewarded with many times over their production and visitation.

When the Reverie Winery received its forgiveness last year, including for serious environmental violations, it was also rewarded with triple its production levels and tenfold its visitation. Before the ink had dried on its new use permit, it turned around and sold it within days after the supervisors added millions of value in scandalous rewards.

If you are the director of corporate development for a winery tour company that relies on good winery relations for access, as one of our commissioners is, or a supervisor voting for a large donor's use permit, would it not be fair for the public to question the independence of their vote?

This is not a government that can be trusted - even in appearance - to make equitable and unbiased administration of the power it keeps giving to itself in the form of the use permit process?

There are measures that can be employed toward a solution.

First: For the government to regain credibility, any commissioners and supervisors who have a direct or proximate interest or have received substantial financial contributions from an industry or an individual seeking a use permit must recuse themselves from voting on them.

Second: A serious effort must be made to substantially tighten the Zoning Code - perhaps review it every five years - so that what is permitted and what is not, is clear. This will reduce the number of use permit applications, limiting the discretionary power of commissioners and supervisors. It will also reduce the cost in both monetary and human capital expended in the inefficient and unfair current system.

Finally, it will free up staff, commissioners and supervisors to allow them to devote their energy in addressing the fundamental issues the county is facing now and into the future.

Where have all the vineyards gone?on: Watershed Issues

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

NVR 4/19/17: Napa County's 2016 crops worth a record $737 million -- nearly all wine grapes

The numbers of the latest Napa County Crop Report are out. The county's Crop Report archive is here. The crop reports make for interesting reading even if you're not into crop reports because of the agrarian drawings and paintings of budding young artists that illustrate them. The 2016 contest winners are here. There are other graphs and photos and news and historical articles as well which liven up the raw numbers.

The ever increasing value of the Napa grape crop is always of great interest to everyone: it is a nominal sign of the health of the industry and the potential for the survival of an economy based on agriculture rather than, say, tourism. The value of this increase was put into a chart in the 2013 Report, page 6 here. Economists and stock market analysts might have some concern when seeing price gains such as these, but obviously the industry takes pride in the numbers. The increased value of the crop probably comes from different sources. The often stated reason is that the wines made from them are so good that the price is justified. In fact, it is probably simple supply and demand: as the total crop is divided among more and more vanity labels (175 new wineries have been created since 2006), each willing to pay any price to build their high-end brands, the price has exploded.

From an urban development standpoint it is not the rise of the crop value, but the stability of the supply that has interested me. In 2016 43,000 producing acres of grapes were harvested in Napa County. In 2006, the number was 42,188 acres. In 2008 it was at 42,870 and has gone up and down by less than 2% since, a normal seasonal variation.

Yet my intuition over these 10 years, as I have driven up from Berkeley each weekend, is that a fair number of vineyards have come online in that period. Is it true that vineyard creation stopped in 2006?

In the article (and later directly verified), Planning Director Morrison indicated that 4,347 gross acres of vineyard development has been approved since 2006, a period in which approvals have been slowing. That would translate to perhaps 3477 net acres of actual vines. While not all of those would be producing acres in 2016, it can be assumed that there is an equal quantity (or more) of vineyard acres approved before 2006 that began producing in the 2006-2016 period. So at least 3400+ acres of new vines have probably been added to the "producing" acerage since 2006, but only a 1000 acre increase has shown up in crop reports.

Why are approvals for new vineyard developments not translating into a similar increase in the Napa crop acerage being harvested? Where are the missing 2400+ acres? From the perspective of someone concerned about the urban development of the county, I would like to know what that missing acerage is currently being used for.

Definition of agriculture gone awryon: The WDO

Stephen J Donoviel - Apr 19,17  expand...  Share

Regarding "Supervisors OK definition of ag zoning,” (April 10):

Defining agriculture, a seemingly simple task, (Webster New World Dictionary: "The science and art of farming; work of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock" but, as it relates to the county General Plan, land use policy, codes and ordinances, thoughts of various trade and citizen groups, etc., has proven vexing over the past decades and an exemplar of the saying, "the devil is in the details."

On April 1, 2008, the Board of Supervisors proclaimed April to be Agricultural Preserve Appreciation Month and pledged to support the letter and intent of the Ag Preserve. That proclamation honored the visionary leaders who in the late 1960s, "...realized that agriculture is and should continue to be the predominant land use in the fertile valley and foothill areas of Napa County, where uses incompatible to agriculture should be precluded and where the development of urban type uses would be detrimental to continuance of agriculture and the maintenance of open spaces, which are economic and aesthetic attributes and assets of Napa County."

The proclamation also summarized several milestones:
  • April 9, 1968, the Supervisors adopted Ordinance 274, establishing the Ag Preserve District (APD) protecting 25,950 acres from urban development;
  • 1979, Supervisors adopted Ordinance 610, increasing the minimum parcel size in the APD from 20 acres to 40 acres;
  • 1980, voters passed Measure A, limiting the population growth in the unincorporated county areas to 1 percent per year;
  • Nov. 6, 1990, voters passed Measure J, which spoke to certain land use elements of the General Plan of June 7, 1983 and prohibited changes without a vote of the people.

The Finding and Purpose Section of Measure J reads, in part, "Uncontrolled urban encroachment into agricultural and watershed areas will impair agriculture and threaten the public health, safety and welfare by causing increased traffic congestion, associated air pollution and potentially serious water problems, such as pollution, depletion and sedimentation of available water resources. Such urban encroachment, or 'leap-frog development,' would eventually result in both the unnecessary, expensive extension of public services and facilities and inevitable conflicts between urban and agricultural uses.”

Measure J was tested all the way to the California Supreme Court where it was upheld. Subsequently, Measure P, which readopted portions of the General Plan land use tenets of J, viz., agricultural, watershed and open space lands could not be re-designated and made available for more intensive development without a vote of the people.

Over the years, something has gone terribly awry with the codification and implementation of the vision and wisdom of the leaders in the 1960s, the drafters of Measures J and P and the wishes of the people who voted for them. Decades ago, the activities of agriculture, (for which there was little or no regulatory restriction) were pretty much as Webster's definition encompassed and the "rural lifestyle" people enjoyed and many still seek, existed. Over time, more and different activities have been added or changed to those originally assigned to agriculture.

Recently, activities related not to agriculture, per se, but to the business of it, such as housing, marketing, branding, entertaining, serving food, and it seems from the level of limo and general traffic, have taken center stage ahead of the product (wine) and have resulted in the uber-glitzy experiences that have been leapfrogging through the Valley.

The regulatory language related to the implementation of what was meant to protect the Valley, its farming and its citizens has been ratified without attention to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and environmental impact report analyses, resulting in the problems we experience currently and those that the visionaries hoped to avoid. They include multiple ecological degradations, markedly increased traffic congestion, resulting in increased driving hazards and road damage, pressure on all infrastructure spheres, to name a few.

It seems there are two basic camps regarding the latest revisions to the definition of agriculture and modification of the zoning code that the Supervisors favored in their vote of the first reading on April 3. One seems to view it as "no big deal" and a mere alignment of regulatory language, and the other, to which I belong, views it not only as an assault on the English language, but, more importantly, as an assault on the hope and expectations of the visionaries and the will of the people who passed Measures J and P.

Land-use changes can only be made solely by the Supervisors if certain, specific conditions are met, and they are not in this case. Therefore, I think the Supervisors should place this as an initiative for the voters to decide in 2018. If you agree that the electorate should have a say in this matter, please let your Supervisor know ASAP since their second vote will probably be coming soon.

NVR LTE version 4/19/17: The definition of agriculture

Stuck on Soda Canyon Roadon: Soda Canyon Road

Alan Shepp - Apr 17,17  expand...  Share

Update 4/19/17
Some of the members of the Soda Canyon community on their way to the hearing on the very inaccessible Caves at Soda Canyon winery almost didn't arrive because of a typical example of inaccessibility on our road.

Update 3/27/17
Just another day on the road.

Update 2/15/17
Residents send along these photos of an encounter that may become all too familiar along the grade: stranded tour buses awaiting reinforcements in their assault on the Rector plateau.

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

It appears that the van was headed to the Beau Vine vineyard as part of a release party at their nascent winery on the Trail at Soda Canyon Road. Approval of modification to the Beau Vingne winery just happened at the planning commission (the hearing is item 9B here) in what one could only consider as a love-fest about what Napa "family" wineries should be about.

The visit to the vineyard in conjunction to a event at the winery does raise a question that I have always had about visitation to vineyards as opposed to wineries. Visitation to wineries is regulated to the nth degree, implying that unpermitted tourism visitation to vineyards might be illegal. Is that true? Even as an opponent of tourism to remote areas of the county, if the allowance of vineyard visitation defuses the need to build wineries in remote vineyards, that is a much preferable alternative. Provided that visits to vineyards don't become events, with food service and large quantities of people, there should be some codification of the process which does not now exist. (Of course, containing the extent of a privilege once codified has been at the heart of problems now confronting the county.)

It begins again, our first for 2015, overloaded vineyard truck dead on last curve, had to be towed with tractor.

Chain of Commandon: Vision 2050

NV2050 Admin - Apr 14,17  expand...  Share

Why is the Napa County Chain of Command plaque in the basement of the County Administration Building, where almost no one sees it? CITIZENS are at the top of the organizational chart of Napa County, so why do supervisors hold public input sessions where none of the supervisors show up? In their place they send expensive, paid consultants to make expensive reports about what we say, paid for by our taxes. You do not hear it from US.

Supervisors and Commissioners: here are some suggestions for more transparency in decisions that affect our county:

  1. Be clear about who you have talked to and what about, before taking any vote on a new winery, vineyard, heliport, etc.Disclose not only these conversations but also fiduciary and business relationships, including cumulative campaign donations from project owners. If a campaign donation surpasses $500, recuse yourself from from discussions about or voting on the issue.

  2. Without a strict Conflict of Interest Ordinance/policy the public’s trust is violated and suffers.

  3. During the decision-making process, treat citizens’ expertise with respect. There is an apparent lack of regard or weight paid to citizens’ knowledge of issues, concerns of risks/negative impacts to their well-being and damage to the environment. Three minutes for public comment is too short. It is insulting to let a project’s consultants go on and on, and then cut off citizens who often have more accurate and critical information than the consultant . There is also no serious deliberation about the points we raise.

  4. Hold town hall or public comment meetings on evenings or Saturdays in larger venues where more can attend, including working families. Involve Youth. Make sure so-called town hall meetings are attended by two supervisors and/or commissioners.

  5. Provide supporting data of any project to the public at least a week before a hearing.

  6. Have district supervisors and their appointed commissioners hold monthly town hall meetings in their districts with the electorate.

  7. And last, but not least, move the chain of command plaque to the main lobby and have a copy of it outside the 3rd story, Board of Supervisors chamber, where we all can be reminded of it every time we meet!

And By The Way! Join us at the all day Board of Supervisors' Strategic Planning Session on Monday, April 24, 2017, 8:30AM-5PM. They need our input! Held at the Napa Valley College Community Room. Details to follow.

2008 General Plan EIR Archiveon: Growth Issues

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

Occasionally, in Planning Commission and Board meetings, references are made to the Environmental Impact Report done for the 2008 General Plan update. (As mentioned in this NVR article.

The county's 2008 General Plan documents are here. The DEIR and FEIR for the General Plan, unfortunately, are presented somewhat randomly as atomized documents in the PBES archive. The PBES archive is here. Select the pull down menu "Filter by Category -> Planning - Environmental Document" to bring up the documents.

I have take the liberty of organizing some of the documents here:

2008 General Plan DEIR
Full Document
Appendices Table of Contents (find appendix documents in PBES archive)

2008 General Plan FEIR Vol I
Title Page
Table of Contents
Executive Summary
Text Changes to DEIR
Preferred Plan

2008 General Plan FEIR Vol II (Comments and Responses)
Title Page
Table of Contents
responses - agencies A-Z
responses - agencies AA-II
responses - letters 1-50
responses - letters 51-100
responses - letters 101-125
responses - letters 126-150 (missing)
responses - letter 151
responses - Letter 152
responses - letters 153-188
responses - Public Hearing comments

Watson Ranch developer takes overon: Watson Ranch

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

ACEagle 4/5/17: City officials criticize Watson Ranch talks with Caltrans

The hardest work developers do is probably not the building of projects, but the cajoling, coercing or bamboozling of taxpayers and governments into paying for the infrastructure necessary to make their projects, and profits, possible. It is no coincidence that our current developer-president is proposing a massive public expenditure in infrastructure in opposition to his own party's conservative orthodoxy. Developers everywhere are no doubt slavering at the thought.

The real question is who, beyond the developers and their campaign contribution recipients, benefit from the projects. The taxes and fees that developers and government officials claim will be generated by the projects will never offset that costs of the impacts that must be addressed at public expense. Taxpayers and residents will end up paying more to accommodate the increased costs for road, sanitation and water systems, for emergency services, and school expansions. In the process the environment becomes more dense, urbanized and congested, and the rural small-town character of the county, often extolled by officials in comparison to the suburban sprawl of the rest of the Bay Area, will continue to disappear.

There are places willing and committed to turn their open space into urban agglomerations, providing jobs and housing for an ever expanding population and they should be encouraged to do so. But Napa County has a viable agricultural resource and industry that requires a different vision of its future, and it should be acting, even in its municipalities, to protect that vision from the constant promotion of urbanization by developers.

Community Vision Roundtable #1on: Open Comments

Gary Margadant - Mar 24,17  expand...  Share

one resident's wistful response
NVR 3/25/17: Citizens pepper Napa County leaders with ideas for the future

The BOS strategic meeting at McPherson Elementary 3/23, was attended by 27 residents, 14 staff (including 2 moderators) BUT no Supervisors.

Staff included Leanne Link (CEO), Helen Franchi, Molly Rattigan, Greg Morgan, etc.

Kathy Felch and David Hallett walked out - Yerios, Barry Eberling, Myself, David & Cindy Heitzman, Tony Norris & Chris Malan, Jana Waldinger and Lowell Downey.
Kathy and David had a long contentious discussion with Leanne Link and Molly Rattigan outside the door after leaving.

The meeting started off badly when the crowd realized the Supervisors, not even one for welcome, would show. They are living in a bubble and only want public interaction on a 3 min or private office basis. Both Diane and AP attended the WICC meeting from 3-5:30, so they were both mobile and nearby, but no show.

Excuse from Leanne: Brown act problems if all the supes were in the same room with the crowd.... Also, the public talks too much and too long (my words - but her emphasis)

The staff & moderator questions were geared to public with little experience with Supervisors - I will be sending around a copy of their guidance flyer used. Essentially it was humiliating to experience their perception (paradigm) of the public's government experience.

More to follow.


Kathy Felch - Mar 24, 2017

Here is the Ice Breaker the public is expected to fill out. In addition we were asked to put our answer on a 3x5 card that was read out loud to the group. I would not call our discussion with Leanne/Molly contentious but rather very frank yet polite. Essentially that the process is insulting and not effective to convey to our elected officials what their constituents want them to work on. More detail to share with you at a meeting.

Eve Kahn - Mar 24, 2017

The county leadership had a similar ice breaker about sharing values and to provide examples in their workplace. Then they all wrote strength, weaknness, opportunities and threats.

Will be curious how the next meetings go and if they change the format at all. Thanks for sharing.

Gallo buys Stagecoachon: The Rector Watershed

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

WineSearcher 3/27/17: Napa Vineyard Sale's Knock-on Price Effect

SRPressDemocrat 3/23/17: Gallo buys Napa County vineyard

Winespectator 3/23/17: Gallo Buys Stagecoach Vineyard and its 600 Acres of Napa Valley Hillside Vines

NVR 3/23/17: Gallo buys Napa's Stagecoach Vineyard

Winespectator 6/9/16: E. & J. Gallo Purchases Wine Brand Orin Swift Cellars

Please note in the articles that Gallo is considering planting another 100 acres, the same acres, no doubt, that Dr. Krupp decided to back away from in the face of a $220,000 EIR, and the knowledge that someone else would be along shortly to deal with it.


Anthony Arger - Mar 24, 2017

If you havent read the book on the Gallo family titled "Blood & Wine," (, I strongly encourage you to do so.

In short, if the company is run anything like it was when Ernest and Julio Gallo were involved, this is VERY BAD NEWS for SCR. If MPV makes it through, you can guarantee Gallo will be next in line for a big visitation center.

The silting of Rector Creekon: The Rector Watershed

Bill Hocker - Mar 22,17  expand...  Share
Rector Creek Siltation, Feb 2017
At the Yountville City Council on Mar 21st, 2017, the residents of Soda Canyon Road presented a white paper on the dangers of the potential pollution of Rector Creek and Rector Reservoir caused by the construction of the Mountain Peak project. The project envisions moving massive amounts of earth around on a constrained site bordering one blue line tributary to the reservoir and bisected by another.

The construction calls for 29,500 cubic yards of cave spoils, another 19,000 cy of other excavation, the removal of approx 7 acres of topsoil so that the excavated spoils can be distributed on the site and then the recovering of the spoils with the topsoil (calculations here). The excavated crushpad, through which all of the cave excavation must be moved, is within 100 ft of Rector tributary. A major fill area, comprising 2 acres of soil removal, placement of spoils and redistribution of topsoil, is just adjacent the tributary that bisects the site. A second area of fill surrounds a wetlands area of the site that also drains within a few hundred feet into the canyon.

The environmental concerns are obvious. Silting from vineyard development in the Rector watershed in the 1990's caused damage to the Rector Reservoir filtration system resulting in millions of dollars in repairs. The county should be requiring Environmental Impact Reports (EIR's) to assess similar impacts on this project and other land clearing projects now going on in the watershed. The Mountain Peak project was approved by the Napa County Planning Commission on a 3-1 vote at the beginning of the year and is now on appeal to the Napa Board of Supervisors. An EIR should be required.

Rector Watershed White Paper

Ag Definition Letter to the BOSon: The WDO

Norma Tofanelli - Mar 21,17  expand...  Share

20 March 2017

Napa County Board of Supervisors
Chair Alfredo Pedroza and Supervisors:
Brad Wagenknecht
Ryan Gregory
Diane Dillon
Belia Ramos

    re: Changes to Definition of Agriculture (§18.08.040)

The stated “purpose and intent of the proposed ordinance amendments are to conform the definition of agriculture in the County Code with the definition adopted in the 2008 General Plan." AG/LU-2.1 is relied upon for authority.

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

AG/LU-2.1 does NOT mandate amending Napa County Code §18.08.040 to include additional uses into the definition of agriculture. These additional uses have already been populated into the code, ie: §§ 18.08.370, 18.08.620, 18.16.030 and 18.20.030. Marketing activities at wineries have been further clarified by Ordinance No. 1340 and Resolution No. 2010-48.

The mandate of AG/LU-2.1 is to ensure that the identified uses remain conditional uses that require a use permit. As currently proposed, the ordinance, instead, has the potential to undermine our agricultural land protections by unnecessarily creating conflict and uncertainty within the code itself.

1) The proposed ordinance amendments §18.08.040.D & .E create conflict within current code.

§§18.16.020 and 18.20.020 mandate that “Agriculture” shall be allowed in all AP and AW districts without a use permit:

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

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

If §18.08.040 is amended to include additional uses to be conditioned by use permit (§18.08.040 D & E), those sections will be in conflict with the mandate of §§18.16.020 and 18.20.020 to allow “agriculture” (as defined by §18.08.040) without a use permit (“by right”).

How will such conflict and uncertainty ultimately be resolved? Instead of ensuring that these uses remain “incidental and subordinate”, addition of these uses into the definition of “Agriculture”

§18.08.040 may ultimately allow them by right, without a use permit, in any zone that allows "agriculture" as defined by §18.08.040.

2) Such accessory uses will also be protected by Napa County’s “right to farm”:

    §2.94.010 - Definitions.
    "Agriculture" shall have the same meaning as "agriculture" as defined in Section 18.08.040 of this code.

    §2.94.010 (4)
    "Agricultural operation" means all operations necessary to conduct agriculture as defined in Section 18.08.040 of this code...

    §2.94.020 - Right to farm - Conditions.
    No existing or future agricultural activity, operation or facility, or any of its appurtenances, ... shall be or become a nuisance, public or private, due to any changed condition in or about the county, ...
    (Emphasis added)

Marketing and such “accessory” uses clearly are not intended to be afforded Napa County’s right-to- farm protections. But, the word "shall" is mandatory and legally binding - it allows no discretionary interpretation. Once the proposed definition is adopted, all uses identified in §18.08.040 will be protected by Napa County right-to-farm regulations. Napa County will have no means to mitigate the detrimental impacts of such urban uses on ag lands.

Not only does the ordinance as presented have the potential to create conflict within County code, it is redundant and not necessary to achieve the mandate of AG/LU-2.1, which is to ensure that the identified uses remain conditional uses that require a use permit. Current code already requires agricultural processing facilities to obtain use permits; “marketing, sales and other accessory uses” are already conditioned by use permit and required by code to be “incidental and subordinate to the main use”.

I urge you NOT to carelessly approve changes to the definition of agriculture, §18.08.040. The consequences, unintended or otherwise, will ultimately facilitate even more destruction of our ag lands, which we are losing daily, inch by inch, through conversion to increasingly urban uses, under the mask of “agriculture.”

Norma J. Tofanelli
Fourth-generation Calistoga farmer

PDF version of this letter is here

Why You Should Care About the Definition of Agriculture (updated)on: The WDO

Eve Kahn - Mar 20,17  expand...  Share

Update 3/16/17: Editor's note: On Mar 21st 2017 the Board of Supervisors will consider changes to the County Code of Ordinances to reflect 2008 changes to the General Plan which include agricultural processing, tourism processing (marketing) and farmworker housing projects all as part of the definition of agriculture. (item 9H here)

[letter first published in this NapaVision2050 newsletter in Dec 2016]

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane Dillon
Alfredo Pedrosa
Ryan Gregory
Brad Wagenknecht
Belia Ramos

The Raymond Decisionon: Tourism Issues

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

The orgy next door
NVR 3/20/17: Split Napa County Planning Commission approves Raymond Vineyards changes

On Mar 15th 2017 the County Planning Commission, after years of presentations, approved modifications to the Raymond Winery use permit. It has been a tortured process involving the recognition and allowance of years of permit violations, the clash of two iconically different players in the valley, and the impacts of the subordination of wine making to wine marketing in the economy.

The use permit application has pitted Raymond's owner, the flamboyant good-life entrepreneur Jean-Charles Boisset, against his next-door neighbor, mega-grapegrower Andy Beckstoffer, in a symbolic battle for the soul of Napa County. As has happened in countless, but increasingly intense, planning commission battles over these last years, the forces for more tourism development have won over the preservation of Napa's agricultural heritage, and a few more acres of vines get paved over for buildings and roads and parking lots.

This is the second Raymond proposal to come before the Commission. The first in 2014 ran into concerted opposition not just from Beckstoffer, but also residents on Zinfandel Lane faced with ever increasing traffic to the winery. The proposal was dropped after 2 continued hearings. Beckstoffer continued to challenge Raymond on non-compliance independently of the use permit request.

Raymond defused Zinfandel Lane opposition in this second project by buying an adjacent property, giving the winery direct access to Hwy 29 and dividing the service, visitation and employee traffic load into two access points. It also added another entertainment venue to the complex. It was apparently enough to placate residents of Zinfandel Lane who did not turn out for this meeting, although it did rile the residents of problematic Whitehall Lane junction just across Hwy 29 from the new Raymond driveway.

Mr. Beckstoffer was not assuaged by the new proposal, and, although he did not make the impassioned defense of the ag preserve that he has made in previous hearings, his lawyer made a CEQA-esque presentation in preparation for the appeal and, no doubt, court challenge ahead. The commissioners voted 3 - 2 to approve. Comms. Basayne, Scott and Gill seem to be reliable pro-development backers so far this year. Comms. Gallagher and Cottrell seem to be taking the position that where there's controversy on projects extra concern must be given to the negative impacts. I wish that all of the commissioners were willing to make the effort to balance the lives of impacted residents, the potential future impacts on the rural character of the county and on the integrity of the concept of the Ag Preserve, against the increased profits of individual applicants. (Comm Cottrell in her dissent made a strong argument against the precedence of "recognizing and allowing" non-compliance that this project embodies.)

As reported in the NVR article, Comm. Scott repeated a statement often used in these hearings to justify pumping up winery tourism:

    “The marketing of wine has changed dramatically and direct-to-consumer sales and relationships are what create wine club members and purchasers of wine. Frankly, I don’t think a lot of our wineries would survive without the marketing events they need to establish those customer relationships."

Given the impact that this assertion is having on the number of tourist venues being proposed and approved in the county, and the impact that the increased tourism will have on our resources, environment, infrastructure, and the rural quality of life that is the hallmark of the county, someone should be asking if tourism is really necessary to the survival of the wine industry. What percentage of the wine industry is dependent on at-winery sales to survive? Why are so many wineries able to survive with very little or no winery visitation? Isn't it only new entrepreneurs, who must poach customers from established brands for the finite quantity of Napa wine available, that must rely on d-t-c tourism marketing because they are too small to be distributed? Are those new brands simply being approved because they increase the tourism draw to the county? Are there other methods to promote the sale of high-end wines besides the destructive invasion of mass-market tourism into the county?

Of course, Raymond is not a startup needing the tourist trade to kept it afloat in post 3-tier world. It is a mature and successful business acting on the reality that there is more money to be made in entertainment than wine. The Ag Preserve was created in the knowledge that there are many enterprises more profitable than making wine, and that controls were necessary if an agricultural economy were to survive. Raymond has flouted those rules to increase profits. And several acres of prime Rutherford acreage has been lost to roads and parking lots needed for its several tourism venues. Tourism, and the urbanization necessary for its success, is hardly less a threat to agriculture now than the housing business was in the 1970's. The dissenting commissioners were right not to recognize, allow and increase the changes that Raymond has requested.

3/15/17: PC hearing video[approved 3-2]
3/15/17: PC hearing agenda and Documents
2/1/17: PC hearing video [hearing continued]
12/16/15: Beckstoffer SMW letter on Raymond to BOS
4/29/15: Beckstoffer Abbott & Kindermann letter on Compliance to BOS
8/20/14: PC hearing video [hearing continued]
8/2014: PC hearing agenda and documents
8/20/14: Beckstoffer statement at Aug 20 hearing
7/16/14: PC hearing video [hearing continued]

A standard condition of complianceon: Compliance Issues

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

At the Mar 15th, 2017 use permit hearing for the Raymond Winery, in her dissenting opinion to the 3-2 approval of the project, Commissioner Anne Cottrell made a statement that should be considered as a "standard condition of approval" for any winery asking for forgiveness for use permit non-compliance. After citing several objections to the application, she said:

    "My biggest issue of concern about this project is the issue of non-compliance... We have several violations that have occurred over quite some length of time. I think about other projects that this commission has seen. Two that jump to mind are the Caves at Soda Canyon and Summers Winery, both of which had fewer violations than we have at present. In both those situations the Planning Commission said to the applicant you need to live within the terms of your use permit before we will grant an expansion of entitlements. We've also heard from the community the importance of this body being consistant in applying the rules and regulations. I feel that if we have asked other violators to live within the terms of the use permit, we need to ask that of Raymond as well. It's worth noting that problems with non-compliance are not just about checking boxes to say we're following the rules. It goes beyond that. It's not only an unfair business advantage to other wineries who are following the rules, but it's also straying from the General Plan's goal to protect the Ag Preserve. The General Plan and the county codes flow from the concept of ag protection, and the violation of those codes undermines the ag preserve."

The labor shortageon: Open Comments

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

Two articles point to big problems for the agriculture and and tourism industries:

LA Times 3/17/17: Wages rise on California farms. Americans still don’t want the job
NVR 3/15/17: Napa hospitality businesses collaborate in new ways to find workers

Highway improvements increase traffic (updated)on: Traffic Issues

George Caloyannidis - Mar 16,17  expand...  Share

Katy Freeway, Huston - never wide enough
Update Editor's note: NVR 3/16/17: Napa officials talk about scrapping Hwy 29 widening in American Canyon

This is one of the few government acknowledgements that road widening doesn't relieve traffic congestion, it enables future development and induces traffic increases to fill the lanes available, a fact already known to traffic researchers. This comes one day after the City of American Canyon presented their plans to widen Hwy 29 to encourage more development. The NVTA director then took issue with the reporting on this article in an editorial here. Kudos to the NVTA.

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

Research at UC Davis -- one of the best in the nation on traffic studies -- has shown that the widening of traffic arteries does not alleviate traffic congestion. In fact, as Professor Susan Handy who was a contributor to that research explained during her last April's presentation at the NV2050 Forum on the Tourism Economy, the widening of traffic arteries alleviates traffic congestion for between one and two years and then makes congestion even worse than it was before. Though Caltrans has not yet adopted that policy, it has posted it on its website. In the face of overwhelming evidence, it will surely follow in time.

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

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

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

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

Sip the bubbly with caution!

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

Roundup Red: Alert! (updated)on: Watershed Issues

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

It's in there. Will it kill you?

Reuters 6/26/17: California to list glyphosate as cancer-causing; Monsanto vows fight

Update NYTimes 3/14/17: Unsealed Documents Raise Questions on Monsanto Weed Killer

KGO-TV 4/28/16: Weed Killer could be lurking in some California wines

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

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

Goodbye, Napa Valleyon: Vision 2050

George Caloyannidis - Mar 10,17  expand...  Share

We thought we would share with you a recent letter to the editor to the St. Helena Star, written by Chuck O'Rear. As many of you have, we knew Charles (Chuck) O’Rear and his wife Daphne Larkin.

Some people, like Chuck, have helped put the Napa Valley on the map, set it on a solid foundation towards a bright future and entrusted it to our local governments for its stewardship. Chuck's odyssey, rather late in life is a testament to our failed leadership from Calistoga to American Canyon. That leadership continues to remain oblivious to the distraction it keeps promoting week after week invoking mock environmental analyses and lending nothing but a deaf ear to citizens who have been sounding the alarm and continue to do so at public hearings.

I could do without all those irresponsible leaders if the Napa Valley could get its Chuck O'Rears and other locals back who have been leaving in alarming numbers. Supervisors, Mayors, Council members and Planning Commissioners you have done it! You took our valley from us and handed it over to those who never put in a day's honest work in its behalf.

As Chuck says: Goodbye, Napa Valley; and it is for good.

Deforestation leader: Cal Fire or County?on: Watershed Issues

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

Napa County generates the most Timber Harvest Plans in the State!
At the BOS on Mar 7th 2017 (item 9A here) the Board considered a request by the California Department of Forestry (Cal Fire) that the County should become the lead agency on deforestation projects within the county that involved Timber Harvest Plans (THP's). The staff letter on the issue is here. Normally in projects that involve THP's (i.e where there is harvesting of timber species in preparation for agricultural or development clearing) Cal Fire acts as the lead agency for CEQA review and the county chimes in on conservation regulations where appropriate. But as the Cal Fire administrator indicated at the hearing, Napa County ECP and CEQA review has become so much more thorough that they feel it is better for the County to be the lead agency with Cal Fire providing their own input to the county. Their concerns were first aired in this letter concerning 4 projects they currently reviewing. Two of the projects are well along in their Cal Fire review and two of the projects are only at the Notice of Preparation (NOP) stage. Apparently after a meeting between Cal Fire and the County it was decided that Cal Fire would retain lead agency status on all 4 projects as indicated in this letter two months later. It wan't clear how the decision was made.

Given the punishing process on Walt Ranch, given the fact that Cal Fire doesn't seem to charge for CEQA reviews?!! and given the much more opaque process that Cal Fire uses, I can understand why developers would be anxious to avoid having the county as the lead agency, and assigning lead agency to Cal Fire might be seen as a way to lessen the scrutiny that deforestation projects might otherwise receive, essentially an end run around the more robust concerns that the county and its citizens have concerning these projects.

Sup Wagenknecht asked the Cal Fire administrator if the proposed arrangement was unusual. This would be the first such arrangement, she indicated. In addition to the greater thoroughness of the County ECP process, she said, Napa has the most timber conversions anywhere in the State, a remarkable statement but understandable when looking at the many patches of converted timberland on Google Map images of the watersheds (see photo).

The Supervisors passed a motion to make the County lead agency on future development conversion projects that involve THP's, and to request, at Sup Dillon's insistence, that Cal Fire make the county lead agency on the 2 "NOP" projects currently under review.


Chris Malan - Mar 9, 2017

At the Napa County BOS [see list of acronyms at end] yesterday they voted to approve two changes in regards to the approval of erosion control plans for the conversion of lands to vines.

1. ECPA CEQA process for THP/TCP is now going to be done through Napa County. This is good for us for several reasons:

  • costs go up for the applicants because the County charges and the state didn’t for CEQA admin on THP/TCP

  • we have local access to the complete THP/TCP file (before we had to travel to Santa Rosa to see the complete THP file and Sacramento for the TCP)

  • the THP/TCP goes through CEQA and the ECPA also-so there are technically two opportunities to comment-the BOS want a ‘road map’ of the approval process-therefore, we will see where all the opportunities are for public hearings

2. The PBES is now taking over the ECPA process from the RCD who was NOT qualified to oversee these engineering plans . This is good news on several fronts because:

  • The RCD along with the vineyard consultants developing the ECPAs can no long 'play games' with modeling the hydrologic soil groups (HSG) post deep ripping and deforestation. They have been claiming that deep ripping (after deforestation) improves soil infiltration of water thereby improving groundwater recharge, decreasing runoff and erosion post project.

  • the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board (SFRWQCB) met with LRC and our consultant on 12.2016 to understand the failings of the ECPA modeling so as to properly implement the WDR for vineyards in Sonoma and Napa Counties to comply with the 303(d) listing of the Napa and Sonoma River for sediment pollution (first ever DWR for vineyards in the State).

    LRC has been communicating with the SFRWQCB since 2000 along with filing a CEQA lawsuit on the Sediment TMDL and inadequacies of the ECPs not meeting water quality parameters to support salmonids.

    The CEQA process for the draft WDR finally gave a window of opportunity to collaborate with the SFRWQCB developing a WDR that adequately deals with the failings of the ECPAs and properly implementing the Sediment TMDL.

    The SFRWQCB staff asked for a meeting with LRC and our hydrologist for information about how to deal with the ECPA failings in the WDR. We met and discussed the 'games' being played by the RCD and applicants consultants on manipulation of HSGs post ripping and deforestation producing false information about runoff, infiltration and erosion.

    LRC declared these scientific truths with the SFRWQCB that: 1.) water infiltration may increase slightly after ripping but then the soil compacts and the pores close and water sheets off. 2.) because of #1 there is increased rate of runoff in some soil types that has not been mitigated for in the past (WALT Ranch vineyard project in litigation now) because the RCD and consultants had a theory that the water infiltration increased post ripping through the newly ripped loose soil. This is now completely debunked by the LRC consultant along with the NRCD who confirmed our consultant is correct. The SFRWQCB agreed too!

    So successful is LRC on this through past litigation and open communication with SFRWQCB during the WDR comment period that a workshop is being held on March 18th and outreach is happening with the vineyard consultants that they can NO longer make these false claims to get a pass on CEQA that the project impacts on hydrology and sediment discharge are less than significant! Because the SFRWQCB agrees with LRC the WDR requirements for hydrology and sediment must be properly modeled!

    Finally yesterday the County of Napa's PBES department engineer testified to the BOS that vineyard projects that do deep ripping (often preceded by deforestation) can no longer apply their false theory and manipulate HSG modeling to get a pass on rate of runoff, erosion and recharge.

Living Rivers Council has worked on this for over 17 years and finally there are changes coming through the SFRWQCB telling the Counties that their erosion control plans must have robust engineering/modelling that shows scientific evidence of deep ripping and deforestation impacts on soil types. This is a much higher CEQA bar now for these projects. The SFRWQCB is collaborating this with the NCRWQCB for the implementation of their WDR in Sonoma County and beyond!

FYI-with this the WDR will be rolled out soon and the BMPs for vineyards will be such that the ECPA must demonstrate no increased rate of runoff-this will limit the amount of deforestation in certain soil types.

Cal Fire told the BOS that Napa County has the most TCP’s in the STATE! We need to really use this in our Initiative language, PR and fundraising. This means that Napa really needs initiative protection.

Chris Malan

Hydrologic Soil Groups (HSG)
Timber Harvest Plan (THP)
Timber Conversion (TCP)
Wastewater Discharge Requirement permit (WDR)
San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board (SFRWQCB)
North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB)
Resource Conservation District (RCD)
National Resource Conservation District (NRCD)
Living Rivers Council (LRC)
Best Management Practices (BMP)
Erosion Control Plan Application (ECPA)
California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
Board of Supervisors (BOS)
Planning Building and Environmental Services (PBES): Napa County department where ECPAs are processed
Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire)

Chris Malan - Mar 9, 2017

We know now that the County planning staff are hearing us (italicized and copied from the BOS agenda letter here):

There have been two recent items of note regarding the ECPA review process.

On January 20, 2017, staff sent a notice to stakeholders and interested parties indicating that PBES would no longer accept hydrologic analyses and vineyard ECPAs designed in reliance on modified hydrologic soil group (HSG) assumptions. The HSG methodology is no longer recommended by either the Resource Conservation District or the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and is not supported by Department engineering staff. We are working with those applicants who have not yet transitioned to the preferred approach.

(LRC debunked the Walt project soil analysis claims that after grading the soils are more permeable therefore, groundwater has a high recharge value with vineyard development-an utter false assumption. I wonder what this will do for our litigation)

Recently, CalFire held a training exercise on private property in the Soda Canyon area. It generated complaints from nearby residents who were concerned that illegal brush clearing and/or grading was occurring. Section 18.108.050.(H) of the County Code exempts the creation and/or maintenance of firebreaks required by, and completed under the direction of the California Department of Forestry. However, the exemption does not specifically address fire training exercises. Similarly, work to create fuel breaks (not fire breaks) is being proposed by Napa Firewise. Staff is working closely with both Firewise and CalFire to ensure that necessary fire prevention work is allowed to move forward, in a way that does not impact the environment or create violations of County Code.

(so we know now that the grading on Soda Springs road was actually NOT Allowed and NOT specifically exempt!)

Greenbelt Alliance and the Ahwahnee Principleson: Growth Issues

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

At Risk: Napa City powerpoint slide during the final Napa Pipe deliberations
Greenbelt Alliance: At Risk: The Bay Area Greenbelt

NVR 2/4/17: Greenbelt Alliance has praise and warnings for Napa County

The Greenbelt Alliance has done their periodic checkup on the trajectory of urban development in the Bay Area and in Napa County. The county has received a few dings. The specific callout on winery development and other tourism development is noteworthy, a case strenuously made for the last 4 years by numerous community groups. Three other projects of specific concern were also called out, Napa Oaks II, Watson Ranch and Syar.

The Report seems to have generated a discussion about the pace of development in the county, with Director Morrison at pains to stress that winery development is within development parameters laid out in the 2008 Napa County General Plan.

NVR 2/27/17: Wine country growth within general plan numbers

The General Plan, at least in those areas of interest to the wine industry, were heavily influenced by the industry's perspective, a notion substantiated during the APAC hearings when wine industry members on the committee would preface their comments with "When we were working on the General Plan update..." As is evident from the equation of marketing to processing in the AG/LU-2 definition of agriculture in the Plan, that interest was already shifting from a need for new processing capacity to accommodate increasing vineyard acreage, to a need for more tourism d-t-c sales to increase profitability in the face of a leveling grape supply. Despite Dir. Morrison's statistic that 4315 acres have been developed since 2006, the net increase in producing vineyard acreage up to 2015 ( from crop reports) hovers around 1000 acres. Using 2008 as the datum the net increase hovers closer to 100 acres.

As is pointed out, while the raw numbers of new wineries being developed hewed to predictions made in the EIR for the General Plan update, the impacts of wineries as tourism generators was lightly discussed if at all. Many winery expansions are now being done strictly to increase visitation, encouraged under loosened marketing restrictions made in 2010 to the Winery Definition Ordinance. Net vineyard increase, and the need for new processing capacity, has leveled out since 2006, while approved visitation slots have increased by 2.4 million, with some 400,000 slot requests still under review. In the NVR article on wine country growth, the Vintner's Rex Stults restates the canard that this doesn't represent an increase in vistors, but that it just divvies up the 3.3 million tourists already here among ever more wineries. He didn't mention which wineries were going to give up their visitors to the newcomers.

This renewed long term look at the development trend in the county is hopefully the beginning of the combined effort by the County and municipalities to look at urbanization here. The concern was touted as the "big picture" in the May 20th 2014 joint BOS/Planning Commission meeting that led to APAC, is hopefully being reconsidered. (Interestingly Sup. Dillon just referred to the "Big-picture thinking" in this 3/8/17 article on LAFCO. Sup Gregory talked about promoting high rise buildings in Napa City.)

The Ahwahnee Principles

This renewed concern is also possibly responsible for the raising of the Ahwahnee Principals, a set of urban growth restraining principles originally proposed in 1991 as part of the slow growth movement that gave rise to the Greenbelt Alliance in the 80's. Director Morrison has combed the General Plan to find the correspondences between the Principles and GP policies. The Board of Supervisors will probably take some action on a resolution to formally adopt those principles at their meeting on Mar 7th 2017. Let's hope this is the beginning of a closer look at the urban development impacts we are all beginning to feel here, and not just chest thumping in response to the Alliance callout.

One of the "Whereas's" in the resolution caught my eye because it speaks to the urbanization of the county as it pursues the development of a tourism economy to replace its agricultural economy:

    Whereas, cities and counties face major challenges with the existing patterns of urban and suburban community development they create: congestion and air pollution resulting from our increased dependence on automobiles, the loss of precious open space, the need for costly improvements to roads and public services, the inequitable distribution of economic resources, and the loss of a sense of community;

The current d-t-c marketing strategy of the wine industry is in fact based on bringing ever more visitors and hospitality employees into the county resulting in "congestion and air pollution resulting from our increased dependence on automobiles". The industry has survived quite well as an export industry and the vast majority of Napa wine is still trucked with relative efficiency out of the county, one truck handling several thousand bottles. In the new economic model one car is used to haul a few bottles out of the county on a two-way trip. In addition, the County's encouragement of more winery development in the watersheds insures that that there will be a lot of car traffic within the county once the cars cross the county line. This hardly fits the Ahwahnee principle on automobile use.

The importation of this transient community also requires the construction of hospitality facilities and infrastructure needed for visitors and employees, most of whom are also commuters, requiring "the need for costly improvements to roads and public services".

The d-t-c model is also encouraging the development of ever more wineries being built not to process grapes (all of Napa's grapes are already being processed into wine) but to process tourists, consuming agricultural land with unnecessary buildings and parking lots and hence exacerbating "the loss of precious open space".

And the development of a tourism economy is beginning to have a severe impact on the "sense of community" in towns which lose affordable housing and local businesses, and in rural areas which transition from residential-agricultural communities to commercial-agricultural zones.

And what of "inequitable distribution of economic resources"? I'm not quite sure what the intent is here, but it could mean, as one resident at the Palmaz hearing said, that this is becoming a place "of, by and for the 1%er's", a result, I might argue, of the glitzy promotion of this as a world-class tourism and good-life destination. It is the fact that a handful of plutocrats and corporations are destroying the sense of community and consuming the precious open space and creating the need for ever more taxpayer-funded infrastructure, all adversely impacting the environment and quality of life for the rest of us, that has driven the community resistance to Yountville Hill, Wools Ranch, Calistoga Hills, Walt Ranch, Napa Oaks, Syar, Angwin PUC, Mountain Peak and Palmaz. Even in a high-median-income place like Napa, the impacts of an inequitable distribution of economic resources are keenly felt in this new age of plutocrats.

Update 3/7/17: At the hearing on this issue Eve Kahn brought up the number of references in the Ahwahnee Principles to "watersheds" and noted that none of the "whereas" statements of the resolution mention watersheds.

Standard Conditions of Approval at the BOS (updated)on: Growth Issues

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

Update 3/7/17: The Standard Conditions of Approval for wineries were approved by the Supervisors with only one change required by Richard Mendenhall, lawyer for the Napa Valley Vintners: deleting the word "original" from the expression

    "At least 75% of the grapes used to make the winery’s wine at the winery shall be grown within Napa County. [ADD THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT IF A PRE- WDO WINERY: provided that this requirement does not apply to the winery’s original __________ gallons of production that were approved prior to the adoption of the Winery Definition Ordinance.]"
Wineries may have added new capacity to their "original" capacity before the 1990 WDO, and it must be clear that the added capacity is also exempt from the 75% rule. Insuring grandfathered rights seems to be the principal function of industry lawyers whenever county changes are proposed.

The Farm Bureau's Cio Perez brought up the issue that retail sales of wine should be included in the SCofA as a by-appointment function. Mr. Mendenhall, as he did previously (see original 8/5/16 post below), was adamant in stating that the WDO did not require appointments for the retail sales of wine at a winery. Drop-in liquor stores are OK in the ag zones.

No discussion was given to the Standard Conditions of Approval for Other Projects or Special-Area Projects which were also approved. Wine is all anyone seems to care about in Napa County.

Update 3/3/17:
The Standard Conditions of Approval for development projects in the county, approved by the Planning Commission on Dec 21st 2016, will be reviewed and possibly adopted by the Board of Supervisors on Tues. Mar 7th.
Agenda Letter is here

Update 12/6/16:
PBES has just released updated Standard Conditions of Approval for non-residential development in the county with markups of changes made since the Aug 3, 2016 presentation to the Planning Commission:
    Hello Regular Customers of Napa County Planning, Building and Environmental Services,

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

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

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

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

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

    Best Regards,

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

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


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

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

The NVV's lawyer, Richard Mendenhall raised some points about the winery conditions, one of which set off some bells. The new standard conditions of approval regarding wine sales stated that "Retail sales shall be limited to only those persons visiting by appointment or attending marketing events. No drop-in retail sales shall be permitted." This is entirely consistent with the fact that tours and tastings have been allowed at wineries only by appointment in new use permits since 1990. Mr. Mendenhal sought to remind everyone that wine sales have never been restricted by the "by appointment" provision ot the WDO. I don't know if anyone else was struck by this revelation but I was immediately agog. (Much as I was finding out that the supervisors and mayors could agree to city annexation of county land without the voter approval required under Prop P).

A whole bunch of questions were suddenly raised. Anyone at any time can drive into every winery in the county to buy wine. How does the county monitor whether a patron is a buyer or a taster? Is someone buying wine not allowed to sample the goods? How does a neighbor know whether the vans arriving next door are there to taste wine or just to buy it? Are people who buy a bottle at a winery and then drink it at a picnic table buyers or tasters? It makes the "appointment only" provision a bit meaningless. And it opens an entirely new strategy to reduce the barriers meant to keep a rural industry from being overwhelmed by urban commerce. Does it matter whether the winery is being used as a bar or as a liquor store when it comes to neighborhood impacts?

Most interestingly, Mr. Mendenhal wished not to discomfort the commissioners with this revelation by pointing out that the number of people dropping into a winery just to buy wine would be very small, so no problem. He didn't think it so small, however, to think it not worth mentioning. So when it comes to the direct-to-consumer function of wineries, so touted as the reason that the modern winery with its neighborhood impacts is built, it is not being built to sell wine to visitors but only to sign them up on a wine club list?

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


Gary Margadant - Aug 31, 2016

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Best Regards,
Charlene Gallina
Supervising Planner

Vallejo Cement Factory (updated)on: Growth Issues

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

Update VTH 3/7/17: Vallejo Planning Commission rejects Orcem/VMT project
Update 2/27/17: Sierra Club statement on the proposed project

Update 3/10/16: Two websites are up in opposition to the ORCEM plant and are promoting a new direction in Vallejo's waterfront development:
Voices of Vallejo
Fresh Air Vallejo

Peter Brooks LTE 3/8/16: Vallejo or Napa — whose river?
Geoff Ellsworth 5/16/16: Mare Island is Napa Valley!


Judy Irvin LTE 2/17/16: Vallejo development threatens Napa

I have perhaps risen to the bait of the provocative title of this LTE, but a look at the location of the plant does give one pause in considering the addition of a new heavy industry operation in the San Francisco Bay, even though down stream (a pretty flat stream at this point) from Napa. Fish must swim past the factory to reach the Napa Valley, and the breezes that cool the Valley first pick up the factory's emissions.

City of Vallejo info on the project is here
The project website is here.

Palmaz at the Planning Commission - Day 1 on: Palmaz Heliport

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

NVR 3/1/17: Napa County planners open Palmaz heliport hearing

The first of two (or three) days of hearings on the proposed Palmaz heliport on Mt. George occurred today at the Napa County Planning Commission. 2 members of the public spoke in support of the project. 46 people spoke in opposition.

The Palmaz heliport is one of the numerous projects that have roiled all who feel the rural tranquility that has been the hallmark of Napa County is slipping away into the maw of an urbanized future. Like Walt and Syar and Yountville Hill and Woolls and Mountain Peak (and APAC) and numerous other projects around the county, the residents come out in mass to protest these tangible examples of the loss of Napa's irreplaceable rural character. Government councils patiently give them due diligence and then sanction more development on the basis that impacts have been abstractly rendered "less-than-significant". But the impacts are significant, in traffic, loss of affordable housing and local businesses, the littering of vineyards and hillsides with building projects, deforestation, ever more taxes for infrastructure, and now the looming presence of skies filled with helicopters.

The Palmaz heliport should be a no-brainer. The discomfort of the entire population of Napa county having to bear the noise of more helicopters overhead is put against the desire of one person with means to avoid the 10 mile drive to the airport. Given the more remote location of the proposed alternative pad site, it is not even about saving time. There is no public welfare benefit, only a major impact. And yet the county staff has made every effort to find a way that the project can be approved. But, as one protestant said to the commission in the packed chamber "Your job is to oversee the welfare of the community. The community is here and they don't want this project."

While many speakers made the case eloquently about noise and wildlife impacts and the precedent it would set in a place crawling with plutocrats potentially lusting for a helicopter-of-their-own, it was the last public speaker that appropriately seemed to sum up the big picture of Napa's future and what's at stake here:

    "My name is Stephen Winiarski. I have a house out there on Mt. George Ave. I'm coming late to the hearing and I don't know what's been said up until now, but I do feel like we're at a watershed moment for the valley where we need to collectively decide what kind of future we want for the valley here, whether it's something that's going to be of, by, and for the 1%er's, or it's going to be something that's for all of us. I feel like the idyllic and bucolic and tranquil nature of the valley which, given, is under pressure, there's something we all need to decide - how we want that to be preserved and how helicopters would negatively impact that lifestyle and that way of life that we all enjoy here in the valley. I think that once this starts then there's really no going back, and there's going to be more and more helicopters. Everyone who can afford it, and wants to have one and has the recsources and place to do it will do it. I understand that the staff is recommending approval. I find that a betrayal, honestly. I just wanted to make my thoughts and feeling known and how negative I believe the impacts would be for all of us. Thank you."

Mountain Peak earthmovingon: Mountain Peak Winery

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

The excavation of 33,000 sf of caves and a crushed on the Mountain Peak site, and the necessary topsoil clearings, redistribution of the excavated spoils and replacement of topsoil, means that a lot of earth will be moved in the project. The amount is enough to justify a great deal of concern in terms of soil runoff into the watercourses adjacent and bisecting the site, and of the impact of dust on neighbors surrounding the constricted site. How much earth will be moved?


Mountain Peak Civil Plans
Mountain Peak Updated Cave Plans
Cave Feasibility Report

Excavation from table on Civil Plan UP4 and Cave Plan
Cave excavation: 21070 cy x 1.4 bulking 29500 cy
Other excavation (crush pad, stormwater basin, parking lot?):
14000 cy x 1.4? bulking
19600 cy
Total excavated spoils to be redistributed: 49,100 cy

Fill from Civil Plan UP1
Spoils fill areas shown on Civil Plan UP1: 10,100 cy + 5,900 cy 16,000 cy
Spoils fill NOT NOTED on plans: 49100-16,000 cy
destined for the service driveway and
berms at southernmost area of the site
33,100* cy

*Will the service driveway and berms around parking actually absorb twice as much in spoils as the designated spoils areas? This does beg unanswered questions about the ability of the site to accommodate all of the spoils.

Topsoil removal and replacement

Note that the amount of dirt to be excavated and repositioned on the site is much larger than just the cuts that produce spoils. ~ 2 feet of topsoil must be removed in all areas to receive spoils, stored on the site and then recovered over spoils.

From the site plan it appears that about 7 acres (Includes some guessing around the winery) will have to be stripped of their topsoil and replaced after the distribution of spoils.

Removal, storage and replacement of 6.9 acres of topsoil, 2 feet deep 22,300 cy

Total amount of earth being moving around the site
49,100 cy spoils + 22,300 cy topsoil

71,400 cy

In all about 71,400 cy of topsoil and spoils must be moved around the site. To put that into perspective, if the earth being moved around on the site were piled on a football field (including end zones) the height would be 33 feet, the height of a 3 story building.

Football field = 57,600 sf
Dirt piled 33 ft high: ~ 71,400 cy

Another way to put that amount of dirt into perspective: it is a volume equivalent to 3.25 Napa County Buildings.

County Building = ~ 16,500 sf
If 36 ft high: ~ 22,000 cy each

Las Vegas and the lessons of growthon: Vision 2050

George Caloyannidis - Feb 28,17  expand...  Share

During the Napa Vision 2050-sponsored forum on the "Tourism Economy" in April 2016, one of the panelists, Mr. Eben Fodor of the planning firm Fodor & Associates who conducted studies on the long-term fiscal impacts of urban growth, cited his 1998 findings on the Thornburgh mega destination resort in Oregon.

He calculated that after all fees and public improvement costs were paid, the net uncollected cost of incremental service capacity for a single residential unit was $33,408 for a total unaccounted public cost of $46 million.

As we have come to believe that growth and a balanced budget are the barometers of a healthy economy, the Thornburgh development in spite of its enormous size of 1,375 homes, hotels and golf courses did not garner the proper attention, considered specific to that development.

But, during a recent visit to informed friends in Las Vegas and based on a Feb. 6 article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, there is evidence that that metropolitan area -- one of the fastest growing in the nation -- which hosts 75 percent of the state's population is experiencing similar negative development-induced effects. Both Las Vegas and the Napa Valley are tourist-based economies, and as they both found out in 2008, they are singularly vulnerable when the economy contracts.

But, according to Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts International, the Las Vegas economy is poised for a "giant leap" with 170,000 new visitors, especially from China. The projected $200 million in economic growth will fuel additional casinos, hotels and a variety of new entertainment venues and homes.

In addition, when one considers the beginnings of some economic diversification attracting company headquarters and some 42,000 manufacturing jobs, the massive housing developments that keep prices and rents affordable ($875 for a 1-bedroom) in the ever-expanding outskirts, one would think that the Las Vegas fiscal future based on such growth couldn't be brighter.

However, there are signs that the growth model is not working out as planned for existing residents. For the past 12 years, Nevada has had and made do with a 3 percent cap on the annual property tax increase on owner-occupied residential units and an 8 percent tax on other residential and commercial properties. But instead of the cap being lowered by the revenue of the tens of thousands of new residential and commercial units as would be expected, there is a push to increase it. If development growth is a metric of economic success, shouldn't services improve and their costs go down rather than up?

According to the Journal, local officials rationalize that, "population continues to rise, oftentimes growing the demand for government services, but property taxes haven't grown at the same rate." This just proves Mr. Fodor's point. Here now, we have a major city asking its residents to finance its growth. Who benefits?

One must also consider that Las Vegas -- the only major U.S. city established in the 20th century -- has not yet faced the huge bill for the maintenance of the massive expansion and increased tourist use of the infrastructure due in the next several decades. But in the Napa Valley, that future arrived a long time ago.

The reality, as Mr. Fodor explained, is that once the economy enters the vortex of development growth, government becomes increasingly beholden to the immediate revenue of developer fees and other taxes just to keep up with the increased demands growth itself generates. "We do not charge developers enough," he said. The evidence is in the unending general revenue bonds, measures, fees, assessments and taxes to finance the repair and expansion of roads, schools, water districts, sewer plants and more growth-serving public employees and their pensions.

The big growth winners of the model are the handful of developers. The enablers are the growth-dependent governments playing catch-up to balance their ever- increasing budgets one year at a time. The loser is the working middle class that is footing the bill of this ingenious arrangement. And so the income gap widens.

Of course, there is good and bad growth. There was a time when the development growth model was in a contributing mode, the one that builds our bridges and roads. But when it crossed the line from contribution to exploitation on so many levels as it has, it left potholes in its wake for the common man to fix, a sign that the model has run its course.

It is high time for our small valley to explore new paradigms if it is to survive the induced-growth model pursued by its governments. The decades-old words of Robert Parker calling it, "the most beautiful wine country in the world" are hanging by a thread.

NVR version 2/28/17: Las Vegas and the lessons of growth

Wine country crash courseon: Traffic Issues

Glenn J. Schreuder - Feb 27,17  expand...  Share

The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) finally released its 2014 data of its ‘relative’ ranking of California counties by Vehicular Collisions. The rankings are given for years 2008-2014 here.

It takes forever for OTS to finish a year (in this case 2014) because they have to gather vehicular Collision data from over 360 separate police agencies in California and compile it into a statistically meaningful report. My understanding is the state uses this data to dole out highway funds (think ‘blood alley’ which was that stretch of Hwy 101 on the way to Salinas back in the 70’s and 80’s. Caltrans spent big $ to make it safer)

So how this highly statistical report works in broad, general terms is that it looks at:

· Collision data from each of the 58 counties in California,
· The number of accidents of different types, then,
· The OTS compares that information to both the ‘population of each county’ and also the ‘estimated number vehicle-miles driven in that county’, then,
· OTS develops this data into a ranking system whereby each county is ranked, apples to apples, against all other 58 county.

So say for calendar year 2014, Napa County is the 7th worst county in California in the category of “Total Fatal and Injury” accidents. It’s ranking is expressed as “7/58” or using words “Napa County is the 7th most dangerous (or worst) county out of the 58 counties in California when measuring the total number of fatal and injury accidents”.

I added a color coding scheme to help with the interpretation the data, please refer to the Color Coded Legend at the bottom of the page. This is solely my own idea and not that of the OTS. I did Napa County and Sonoma County.

Napa Traffic Accidents 2008-12

Sonoma Traffic Accidents 2008-12

I think the data tells an important story but I will allow you draw your own conclusions regarding the meaning of this information.

SR PressDemocrat LTE 2/26/17: Close to Home: Are Sonoma County’s byways becoming inebriation highways?
NBC 2/16/12: Driving Drunk In Wine Country

Concerns over water planon: Watershed Issues

Stephen J Donoviel - Feb 26,17  expand...  Share

On Dec. 19, 2016, the Register carried on article, "County Touts Water Plans," summarizing the Board of Supervisors' approval of the GSP-Alt plan which (in order to meet the requirements of the California Groundwater Management Act of 2014) is to be submitted to the State Department of Water Resources in lieu of forming a groundwater sustainability agency.

This act, which was designed to prevent unbridled over-draughting of ground water and to afford greater transparency and opportunity for public input, also allowed the procedure chosen by Napa, when various requirements were met. It provided a time period for the public's input, which ended Feb. 14.

Over the past several years, Napa Valley has experienced an ever-increasing growth in the number of vineyards and wineries accompanied by a proliferation in the numbers of wells and demands on ground water as more and more projects have shifted away from dry farming. Also, as proper farm land on the valley floor has been exhausted, more and more parties have sought and received approval by the planning commission and board of supervisors to farm the woodland hillsides which has resulted in the removal of untold numbers (undoubtedly in the hundreds of thousands) of centuries-old oaks from the watershed which in turn affects groundwater.

The presentation on which the Supervisors acted in December stressed that "a central feature of the Act (SGMA) is the recognition that groundwater management in California is best accomplished locally." I think the validity of this assumption is contradicted by the disastrous results in many of California counties, e.g., land sinking up to two inches a month in the Central Valley caused by massive over-draught of its aquifers and a poignant article in the August 2016 issue of the National Geographic, which chronicled the disastrous results for many communities across the entire central portion of our county, caused by the over-draught of the Ogallala/High Plains aquifer. Undue self-interest, greed and political pressure too often override good judgment and scientific analysis when decisions for all citizens are considered.

If one accepts that one of the intents of SGMA was to include the concerns, input and suggested solutions of affected citizens, I think that, despite the hard work and helpfulness of some civil servants, this intent was not met in Napa. Most of the data and conclusions required extensive review of relevant materials for the public to be able to understand and interact in a cogent fashion, which was not possible due to its very restricted availability.

Public meetings were announced with short notice; documents to be discussed and analyzed were in short supply, if available at all, and there was never time (3 minutes usually) for the affected citizenry to engage in meaningful dialog. It was not difficult to leave the meetings/hearings with the feeling that decisions had been made much earlier and the outcome had been a forgone decision.

A major concern involves an issue raised at a meeting of WICC, when one of the commissioners questioned the validity/reliability of the data presented by the consultants and used to support the Alt-Plan, viz., conclusions based on data collected from a very small sample of wells clustered near the Napa River raising the question of "cherry picking" the data.

Another requirement for an Alt-Plan to be acceptable requires evidence of 10 years of sustainable yield of groundwater. It appears this conclusion is not met because it was drawn by intermingling data from different wells across time, which, again, amounts to a major sampling error.

Another issue raised at the WICC meeting continued the use of drain-tile systems and its impact on ground water supplies. The handout indicated they had no data on the subject. However, casual observation suggests that huge amounts of ground water are being pumped into drainage ditches that flow to the Napa River, unlike earlier times when farmers pumped that water into mini-reservoirs/ponds for use during the summer.

The consultants' reports, other documents and presentations at the Board of Supervisors meeting made it clear that GSP-Alt does not apply to all the people living/farming, etc., in the entire county. It excludes our watershed and known locations with poor ground water. In my opinion, this creates a rather bizarre and untenable situation of how our elected officials can provide for necessary and expected governmental services to a large number of residents by excluding them from the plan while, at the same time, despite water rationing, cities and the county continue to "sell" water to certain businesses. Wineries and vineyards continue to be approved despite protests by neighbors -- often numbering in the hundreds -- noting their negative impact on ground water and water-related issues affecting the long-term residents making the rational for such decisions unclear and difficult to understand.

Donoviel NVR LTE version 2/26/17: Concerns over water plan

Helicopter Landings in Napa Countyon: Vision 2050

George Caloyannidis - Feb 23,17  expand...  Share

In 2004, Constant Diamond Mountain Winery and a Wine Country Helicopter operator filed an application for a landing use permit, arguing that winery helicopter landings would provide an economic benefit to the county and have a minimal contribution to traffic reduction. Thanks to the efforts of one Napa Vision 2050 Board Member, the supervisors were not convinced and made such landings illegal, under Napa County, Ordinance # P 04-0198-ORD, enacted June 15, 2004. This ordinance effectively prevented an entire new industry of helicopter operators from crisscrossing the sky and disrupting the Napa Valley scenic and quiet agricultural environment.


NVR 2/27/17: County prefers Mount George site for Palmaz heliport

Currently, there is a private use helicopter application for a Landing Use Permit on Hagen Road in Napa (UP# P14-000261) making its way through the process at the County with the scheduled hearing at the Planning Commission on March 1, 2017. Private use helicopters are solely for private recreational or convenience purposes with only negative impacts on the public on a variety of fronts, including risks of accidents, which helicopters are prone to, higher CO2 emissions and, especially, noise pollution . Absolutely nothing justifies their use.

Currently there are helipads on Diamond Mountain, Pritchard Hill, Hennessey Ridge and reported landings at the above locations and on Tubbs Lane in Calistoga and Atlas Peak Road. All are illegal. Many other landings are also reported taking place around the county due to lack of enforcement . All are waiting for Palmaz approval, which will open the door for them.

If this first use permit is granted, hundreds of wealthy homeowners will follow. Air taxi operators may also avail themselves of the business opportunity.

If this sounds farfetched, Uber tested this model during the recent Aspen Festival. The sure to follow proliferation of helicopter flights over the Napa valley skies will drive the final nail to our peace and quiet environment.

Stop private heliports in Napa County! Show up at the March 1, 2017, hearing, 9 am, and voice your objection. County Administration Building, 3rd and Coombs Street, Napa, CA.

Sign the Napa Vision 2050 petition opposing private heliports in the county here.

Ubercoptors? Heli-no!

Cakebread makes a valiant efforton: Traffic Issues

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

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

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

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

That would be pilot program with a chance to succeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The County's Climate Action Page is here

The Draft Climate Action Plan is here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concerns over Milliken Damon: Watershed Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please advise.

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

Executive Director

The so-called wine industryon: Tourism Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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