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

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

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

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

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

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

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Upcoming Events (full calendar here)

Tue, Oct 15, 2019

Board of Supervisors

Agenda and documents

9B Commercial Cannibus Prohibition Ordinance
Draft Ordinance

10A Small Winery Streamlining Ordinance presentation
Draft Ordinance
Public Comments
Wed, Oct 16, 2019

County Planning Commission

Agenda and documents

Bremer Family Winery stream setback exemption
[continued from 9/18/19 hearing]
County Bremer Con Regs Exemption files
NVR article on County's lawsuit against Bremer
KCET article on wine scofflaws
NVR 9/11/19: Bremer winery request going to Napa County Planning Commission

Hard Six Cellars new use permit
20,000 gal/yr, 4535 visitors/yr, 3 employees, exceptions for road standards and stream setbacks
1755 S. Fork of Diamond Mtn Rd
Hearing notice
County Hard Six Cellars page
Caloyannidis letter

Envy Winery Major Mod
50,000 more gal/yr, no visitation changes
Hearing Notice
No county Envy documents page

Kitoko Winery new use permit
40,000 gal/yr, 7680 vis/yr, 7 employees, 7 parking spaces
Hearing notice
3201 Atlas Peak Road
County Kitoko page

Latest Posts

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

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

Bill Hocker - Oct 5,19  expand...  Share

South County Big Map of Everything:
and the numbers
Update 10/5/17
NVR 10/5/19: Caltrans depicts Soscol Junction as big congestion-buster

Update 7/31/17
NVR 7/3/17: Napa transportation leaders try to speed up fix to 29/221 intersection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The restaurant-winery impact on: The WDO

Bill Hocker - Oct 2,19  expand...  Share

Update 10/2/19
NVR 10/2/19: How much dining can you do at a Napa Valley Winery? It depends.

NVR 9/30/19: Local Tastes: Challenges continue for Napa Valley food and wine Tim Carl continues his documentation of the slow and possibly sudden demise of Napa as a good-life paradise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walt Ranch in Court on: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Oct 1,19  expand...  Share

Update 10/1/19
NVR 10/1/19: Court says Napa County's Walt Ranch vineyard project needs more work

Update 3/1/18
A hearing participant reports that on day two of the court hearing, the Circle Oaks attorney and the attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity each made their points to Judge Warriner, but that he seemed somewhat bored by the proceeding and left as quickly as possible after the presentations were made. The hearing lasted just over an hour. Let's hope this isn't the whimper of an end to four contentious years.

Update 2/14/18
On Feb. 13th the Circle Oaks County Water District and CO Homeowner's Assoc, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club, and the Living Rivers Council began presenting their CEQA lawsuit against the County for approving the Walt Ranch development. After testimony from attorneys for the Living Rivers Council the Circle Oaks Water District, the hearing was continued to March 1st, 2018. Prior to the hearing, the Judge in the case had already issued a tentative ruling in favor of the County.

Text of Tentative ruling by Judge Warriner prior to the hearing

NVR 2/13/18: Tentative court ruling sides with Napa County and Walt Ranch

Sue Wagner's notes from the hearing

NVR 1/21/17: Walt Ranch approvals head to court

The Ellman Winery on: Soda Canyon Road

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

Update 10/7/19
NVR 10/87/19: Proposed Ellman Family Winery wins county approval

The Ellman Winery was approved by the Planning Commission on Oct 2nd. There was no opposition, with the adjacent neighbors in support. Commissioners agreed this is just the type of "family" winery that they wish to encourage. There are now 8 wineries within a quarter mile of the entrance to Soda Canyon Road, 6 of them yet to be built.

Ellman and Reynolds will go together on the widening of the Trail to 3 lanes. Once the remaining wineries are built, 2 miles of the Trail will probably have become a three-lane highway - a harbinger for the expansion of the rest of the Trail as more wineries are added.

Following a several-month hiatus on winery approvals, the planning commission docket is once again stuffed with winery proposals for the foreseeable future. As Geoff Ellsworth's potential winery map shows, filling up all 4000+ suitable properties with family wineries may take a while - but the process is proceeding as rapidly as possible.

Update 9/11/19
The Ellman Winery is up for review at the Planning Commission on 10/2/19; another tourist venue to be added to the winery strip mall developing at the base of Soda Canyon Road. As I have noted before, this stretch of the Trail is a harbinger of what the rest of the Trail will become as the winery applications keep coming.

The Ellman driveway is in a particularly egregious location: turning left onto the Trail from Soda Canyon Road can be a hair-raising prospect with heavy 55mph traffic, and pushed acceleration after making the turn is essential. Yet just a hundred feet up the road people may be making their own left turn (having seen the same hole in the traffic that you saw) from the Ellman driveway right in front of you while you're accelerating. It's a recipe for disaster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stanly Ranch on: South Napa County

Bill Hocker - Sep 23,19  expand...  Share

Update 10/3/19
NVR 10/3/19: Napa city to review designs for Stanly Ranch resort residences

NVR 9/23/19: Napa's Stanly Ranch resort starts construction

Update 8/16/18
NVR 5/9/15: New $45 million investment for a planned Stanly Ranch resort in south Napa

Stanly Ranch returns from funding limbo. The project would add another 500 low wage employees looking for affordable housing. It would also contribute $4.4 million to the city's affordable housing fund. The cost of 50 units of affordable housing in Napa was just pegged at $24 million. By that standard the $4.4 million will be enough for 9 affordable housing units, enough to house perhaps 18 of the 500 employees. The continuing imbalance of jobs and housing in Napa County, increased with each new development project, is not sustainable.

This is also another example of the trend toward the winery hotel that will eventually be demanded in the unincorporated areas just as restaurant wineries are now.

Update 5/7/17: Only recently, after stumbling upon these documents, have I become attuned to the third mega-project that will be urbanizing the agricultural entry to the county just south of the Hwy 29 and 121 junction in Carneros. It is a housing project and resort known as Stanly Ranch. The project was approved by the City of Napa in 2010. Sometimes, until you see a site plan, the numbers representing the project in a table don't have an impact. A big chunk of vineyards at the approach to the Valley is to become suburbanized and another bit of Napa's forlorn effort to maintain a greenbelt separating the city from the sprawl moving up from American Canyon will disappear.

How the parcel became a part of the city needs a bit of research. As a far-removed extension of the urban-rural limit line, it seems to violate every concept of maintaining the separation between existing urban and rural uses that the county and cities have been committed to since the ag preserve and Measure J were enacted.

NVR 12/20/15: City gives thumbs-up for luxury hotel at Stanly Ranch
NVR 11/2/15: Stanly Ranch receives recycled water go-ahead
NVR 5/9/15: Stanly Ranch resort developer promises 'authenticity'
NVR 11/19/13: Pipeline project to bring water to Carneros area
NVR 11/6/10: Settlement says St. Regis developer must support affordable housing
NVR 1/23/10: Critics blast St. Regis project, but city touts revenues; more hearings ahead
NVR 4/17/05: Merryvale set to begin Stanly Ranch renovation this summer

2009 Stanly Ranch documents

County proposes winery fast-track on: The Winery Glut

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

Update 9/13/19
Dir. Morrison has released an update to the fast track ordinance for small wineries intended to enable small wineries to participate in the wine tourism economy without the enormous cost and time needed for the current use permit modification process. He is asking for public comments to be submitted by Oct. 4, 2019 (to and will present the ordinance and comments to the Supervisors on Oct 15, 2019.

Dir. Morrison's email and request for comments
Revised Outline of Ordinance

Update 7/18/19
NV2050 Letter to Dir. Morrison concerning the proposed ordinance

Update 6/24/19
NBBJ 6/24/19: Napa County creating special blend of regulations for small wineries

The note has been sent from Planning Director David Morrison to various stakeholder groups in the county to elicit comments on a proposed small winery definition ordinance:

From: Morrison, David
Sent: Thursday, June 20, 2019 5:05 PM
Subject: Small Winery Protection and Use Permit Streamlining Ordinance

On May 21, 2019, the Board of Supervisors directed staff to prepare an outline for discussion of a future ordinance focused on four areas:

  • Protect small wineries by allowing them to reasonably expand their business through the use permit process, in a way that isn’t cost and time prohibitive;

  • Create a path that allows facilities operating under a Small Winery Exemption to transition so that they can fairly compete in the modern economy;

  • Streamline the use permit modification process, so that County resources can be focused on more complex projects and policy issues; and

  • Provide incentives for wineries to expand operations in the Airport Industrial Area Specific Plan (AIASP), to relieve traffic up valley and create shorter commutes for out-of-county employees.

A draft outline of an ordinance to accomplish these goals is attached here.

You are being provided this outline as one of our key stakeholder groups. Your comments on this draft proposal would be greatly appreciated.

The draft outline, as modified by any public feedback, is tentatively scheduled to go back to the Board of Supervisors in late July for additional direction.

Please provide your organization's comments to me by July 11, so that they can be incorporated into the staff report when this item goes back to the Board.

I am also available to meet with your group and discuss the outline anytime within the next three weeks and welcome the opportunity to discuss with you.

A draft ordinance is expected to go to the Planning Commission for recommendation in October, and to the Board for adoption in November.

I know that we all have busy schedules and vacations this time of year. Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.


Update 5/23/19
NVR 5/23/19: Small wineries plead for regulatory relief from Napa County

Good luck coming up with an ordinance based on the free-for-all of ideas thrown out at the meeting, many requiring changes to the WDO, the General Plan EIR and the entire winery regulatory regimen of the last 50 years.

Update 5/16/19
In the glow of positive public reaction to the Matthiasson Family Winery at the 5/15/19 Planning Commission, the BOS is going to take up the issue of the small winery ordinance again at their 5/21/19 meeting. The Staff letter is here.

While the emphasis seems to be on simplifying the process for the approval of small wineries, there is still the unresolved question of what the definition of a small winery is. In Napa county 30,000 gal/yr is a medium-sized winery. 60% of the wineries in Napa county are 30,000gal or smaller. The proposed 9800 visitors/yr to be allowed for small wineries (an approximation assuming half of the proposed 40 vehicle trips/day are visitor's cars+events) would be many times the median visitation of existing wineries that are 30,000 gal or smaller. Meaning that the impact of fast-tracking is not to encourage more wine making (it would just redistribute the existing Napa wine output to a greater number of makers), but to encourage more wine tourism venues and more urbanization to accommodate a larger tourist population.

Actually, the Matthiasson approval shows that the current review process can be expeditious for small wineries - as long as the proposals are appropriate for the communities in which they are located. The multi-year battles that some wineries are experiencing in obtaining approval are a direct result of the scale of the disruptive industrial and commercial impacts that they will bring to bucolic rural farming neighborhoods. A fast track process is a developers' (or realtors') solution to put small winery development beyond the reach of community participation; a willingness and mechanism to achieve community consensus about appropriate scale, beyond just telling residents and developers to work it out between themselves, is needed instead.

NV2050 Newsletter on the proposal

Update 11/5/17
Eve Kahn sent along this update on the decision to table the ordinance:
"David Morrison was reviewing staff priorities with the board in late Sept and when Limited Winery Ordinance was discussed the board opted to table it to an unknown date. Diane felt that this was a solution looking for a problem - and was definitely not what she expected or wanted to see.

SO - bottom line, between given a low priority prior to the firestorm and more pressing issues at hand - this one is off the radar for now."

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

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

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


    Thank you for the inquiry.

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7/29/17 LTE version: Fast tracking Napa County wineries isn't the answer

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

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


George Caloyannidis - Jul 10, 2017 7:50AM

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

Dear David,

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


Small Winery Ordinance Comment

And Divid Morrison's response:

From: Morrison, David []
Sent: Wednesday, August 02, 2017 1:14 AM


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G. See F above.

H. See F above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for you comments.



And George Caloyannidis' response

Sent: Wednesday, August 02, 2017 11:37 AM
To: 'Morrison, David'

Thank you David.

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

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

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

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

• They do not explain why potential impacts of the Ordinance have not been presented to the Planning Commission or even a suggestion by staff that there may be worthy of consideration.
• They fail to explain which specific provisions of the Ordinance are the ones which facilitates its "streamlining". What specifically has been eliminated from the current process and what is its downside?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tourism threatens the world on: Tourism Issues

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

Update 9/14/19
NVR 9/14/19: Increased tourism worsens the staffing crisis

Tim Carl, as he did here previously, again dissects Napa's even expanding tourism economy and asks if it isn't time to begin to explore alternate and sustainable solutions.

Update 8/14/19
Yahoo Finance 8/13/10: Tourism Is Eating the World

Update 5/24/19
CNN 5/23/19: How Amsterdam is fighting back against mass tourism

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

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

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

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

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

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

When will our elected officials acknowledge this?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compare this to the other cities mentioned in the articles that have been experiencing tourism backlash:
    Venice 75 tourists/resident
    Charleston: 38.4 tourists/resident
    New Orleans: 27 tourists/resident
    Amsterdam: 21 tourists/resident
    Ankor Wat 9.1 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)

Our local stats:
Napa 27 tourists/resident (2018)
Sonoma 14 tourists/resident

Napa currently is at the upper end of the ratio and is rapidly gearing up for even more.

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.

Bloodlines Vineyards EIR on: The Rector Watershed

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

Update 9/14/19
Bloodlines vineyard conversion Final EIR The County's Bloodlines page is here. The FEIR is scheduled for certification on Sept 23, 2019.

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

Other response letters are here including pushback from the Ca. Dept of Fish and Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity. 3/6/2019: Dave Phinney Plans to Develop Vineyard East of Napa

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

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

The ECP is here (EIR coming soon hopefully)

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

November 14th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dave S. Phinney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hotel explosion rocks Napa on: Tourism Issues

Bill Hocker - Sep 13,19  expand...  Share

Update 9/14/19 Franklin Station Hotel
NVR 9/14/19: Updated design for Napa's Franklin Station hotel

Nicer renderings.

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

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

NVR 6/7/19: Napa County Landmarks questions design of post office-to-hotel conversion

Napa County Landmarks letter

NVR 6/4/19: Napa planners to get their first look at the Franklin Station hotel project

It's a shame that this hotel building boom is happening during the current revival of the boxy modernism from the 1950's through the 70's that severely dehumanized the Beaux Arts character of most American Cities up to that time. While it is commendable that the developers have made the costly effort to incorporate the historical structures on their sites, the two prewar remnants embedded in the Franklin Station and Archer Hotels will be only forlorn reminders of Napa's lost, small-town environment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hotel explosion raises several issues.

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

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

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

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

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

Update: 6/8/17

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

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

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 ability 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


Harris Nussbaum - Jul 10, 2017 7:27AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

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

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

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

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

Higher housing prices will trigger greater enrollment declines in Napa schools

Carl Bunch - Feb 1, 2017 5:37AM

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

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

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

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

Shelle Wolfe - Feb 1, 2017 5:36AM

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

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

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

Daniel Mufson - Feb 1, 2017 4:04AM

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!!

The End of the Trail on: Soda Canyon Road

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

Existing (black) and proposed (red) wineries and left turn bumps
Update 9/11/19
The Ellman Winery is up for review at the Planning Commission on 10/2/19; another tourist venue to be added to the winery strip mall developing at the base of Soda Canyon Road. Comments specifically on the Ellman development are here.

Update 1/10/19
Yet another winery has been proposed at the Soda Canyon Junction. It is the Ellman Winery. As I have lamented below the winery congestion at the Soda Canyon intersection with the Trail has been a particular concern both on the impact in this one corner of the county and as a harbinger of and prototype for continued winery development on every possible parcel in the county.

Update 11/5/17
NVR 11/5/17: Reynolds Family Winery wins Napa County expansion approval

Update 11/3/17
The expansion of the Reynolds winery was approved 4-1 by the planning commission on Nov 1st with Comm. Cottrell (and Comm. Gallagher) concerned about the cumulative impacts of ever-expanding visitation demands by wineries.

Planning Manager Vin Smith (a new county position?) repeated the mantra that the number of new wineries is still within the parameters laid down in the 2008 General Plan EIR - so no problem. The number of new wineries predicted in the 2008 DEIR was 150 from 2005 to 2030. (page 3.0-23 of the DEIR - page 120 of the pdf . This was inexplicably raised to 225 in the "Preferred Plan".) The reality is that 108 new winery permits have been issued since 2006 (88 through 2015 and 20 since) . Continuing at the same rate will mean 245 new wineries by 2030.

Of course the EIR only quantified the number of new wineries, not the expansion of existing wineries. And it said nothing about the impacts of visitation generated by each.

Allowed visitation continues to grow at a much faster rate than the historical trend before 2008. The Reynolds approval is an example of the trend: a 100% increase in capacity and 350% increase in visitation. (The Reguschi modification, approved two weeks after Reynolds, really emphasizes the trend: 100% increase in production, 5000% increase in visitation.) The DEIR does not have one reference to the impacts that the growth of additional winery visitation will have on the environment of Napa County. In that omission, the EIR for the 2008 General Plan was a farce. We are now facing not only the significant and unavoidable impacts recognized in the DEIR, but the significant impacts of the growth of the tourism/visitation/hospitality industry (the most expansive industry in the county) not even mentioned in the DEIR. And our County government, controlled by development interests as local governments always are, is quite content to pretend that as long as tourism is defined as agriculture, the impacts are simply an unregulated and unobjectionable "right-to-farm" issue, beyond the purview of cumulative impact analysis.

The Reynolds Family Winery will be up for a modification at the Planning Commission on Nov 1, 2017 to add 12,500 more tourism slots, 16 more parking spaces, and 5 more employees. (Agenda item 8B here). it is the last of the proposals around the Soda Canyon Junction under review in the last few years. The Krupp Winery was approved in June 2012. The Corona winery was approved in Nov 2013. The expansion of the Beau Vigne was approved in Sep 2016. The Sam Jasper Winery and the Mountain Peak winery were approved in Jan 2017. The Grassi Winery was approved in Feb 2017. And now finally the last of the pending projects, Reynolds, will no doubt also be approved. (Approved 4-1)

It will not be the last. Just north of the Reynolds winery a new "estate" is being constructed for the very un-residential appearing Ellman Family Vineyards brand.

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

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

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


Anthony Arger - Oct 31, 2017 7:28PM

[Statement to County Planning Department re. Reynolds Winery]

Dear Ms. Balcher,

Attached please find my comments on the Reynolds Winery Major Modification (P14-00334) that I would like to be submitted as part of the public record in advance of tomorrow's continued hearing on the matter. Please note that I am including seven (7) exhibits along with the letter, which I will try to attach to this email. However, if they do not fit, I will send in separate emails. Either way, please include them with my letter and confirm receipt once everything is received.

Please do not hesitate to let me know of any questions or concerns and thank you in advance for your assistance.

Sincere regards,

Exhibit 1: Wineries at the SCR-Trail junction

Exhibit 2: Traffic at the SCR-Trail junction

Exhibit 3: Incidents at the SCR-Trail junction

Exhibit 4: CHP incident report SCR at the Trail
Exhibit 5: Sheriff Calls for service on SCR 2014-17
Exhibit 6: Calfire Incident Summary 2005-17

Stuck on Soda Canyon Road on: Soda Canyon Road

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

Update 9/6/19

The latest examples of the driving rigors on a this most problematic road. One, a narrow escape on a very steep section of the grade; and another, a tourist highlight as wine barrels end up scattered across the landscape near the blind curve beyond the Soda Springs gate. Glen writes about the upper photo:

    "took this photo at about 8:30am PDT 09/10/2019. That guy is very lucky. Would like to know how his truck ended up in that position. Could have started a fire, could have rolled down to the creek, could easily have been seriously injured or worse. I keep saying SCR is not a fundamentally safe roadway for increasing traffic loads. Fully pave it and people will start hauling ass increasing the frequency (and severity) of vehicular accidents. Only workable solution: Stop treating Soda Canyon road like it's an appropriate place for more and more commercial development."

Update 7/13/18
Shelle Wolfe sends this video of un-notified paving of our gravel road, which given the traffic now on the road, will be a noise mitigation for her and a dust mitigation for those on the road.

But another bit of rural Napa is paved over.
Since we are here only 2 days a week and only have a short stretch of the gravel road to traverse and are removed from the dust thrown up, we have little right to complain. But I will anyway.

As with the loss of the mailboxes, the paving of the road is just one more step in the conversion of a truly rural place into a suburb.

Old man McCabe talked about the time that neighbors got together to regrade the runoff wash that was the access to houses here, into the gravel road we know. "It was the worst $400 I ever spent." The gentrification continues.

I agree with Yeoryios' email response to the news. Improved access is generally a harbinger of further development.

Update 10/25/17
Two vehicle accident off into the creek at the McFadden curve on 10/25/17. The first responders arrived in force, not taking any chances.

After the fire, just at harvest, the road is busier than I have ever seen it. There are the grape trucks, repair trucks servicing fire damaged properties, utility trucks, and residents in what amounts to an almost continuous stream (by Soda Canyon standards) of vehicles on the road. It will not end anytime soon. All of this activity will be supplanted first by debris loading and hauling equipment and then by construction vehicles as residents rebuild in the coming years. As in the argument concerning tourism traffic, with each new vehicle on the road the potential for accidents on the blind curves and rises increases.

Lauren Griffith's photos stuck on the road.

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.

NV2050 on the erosion of the Ag Preserve on: Napa Vision 2050

Bill Hocker - Aug 13,19  expand...  Share

Update 8/13/19
The Aug 12th issue of the Vision 2050 Newsletter discusses the two voter initiatives, Measure J of 1990 and Measure P of 2008, that took the decision of rezoning county lands away from the supervisors and gave it to the electorate - based on the assumption that voters would be better stewards of Napa's agricultural heritage than its elected officials. Given the shift on the County Board of Supervisors in the last 20 years toward an emphasis on tourism, industrial development and now housing growth, the concern was well founded.

Unfortunately, the protections afforded by Measures J and P are not absolute. The supervisors can still agree to annexations of county land by the municipalities, converting ag land to urban use. They have changed the definition of "agriculture" and of "winery" to allow more urban uses on agriculturally zoned lands. And they have expanded non-ag industrial uses, like gravel quarries and solar farms, that consume enormous amounts of ag land.

Also, the voter protections of Measure J and P are not a sure thing. Housing construction in the municipalities, and the county's support of tourism and industrial job creation needing that housing, has increased the urban population in the county and shifted the concerns of the electorate away from the desire to preserve ag land and open space toward a need for more infrastructure, urban amenities, ever more revenue-generating development, and of course more housing in a futile effort to lower housing costs. The electorate is growing ever further from the notion of an agricultural-based economy and the shift only promises future development more in line with the urban expansion of the rest of the bay area. Voters are no less susceptible to the promises of developers than elected officials are, and only modestly more expensive to convince.

For better or worse, the preservation of the rural character of the county will still depend on the vision and guidance of an enlightened majority of supervisors, with their historical understanding of the unique experiment of the ag preserve and its value in an urban world. That majority doesn't currently exist, but there is always hope that enlightened heroes will rise to the challenge once again. Three votes on a given Tuesday created and maintained the ag preserve for 50 years and can do so again - if there is the will.

Update 7/30/19
The July 30th issue of the Napa Vision 2050 newsletter brings a third installment of their look at the history of Napa's agricultural protections, and how the many potential environmental impacts of the 1990 Winery Definition Ordinance and proposed mitigations needed to counter those impacts have been ignored (or buried!) for the last 30 years.

Update 7/24/19
Mike Hackett LTE 7/24/19: Take real action on water and development

Update 7/18/19
The July 18th issue of the Napa Vision 2050 newsletter brings a second installment of their look at the history of Napa's agricultural protections, now currently under threat of a development boom and growth-oriented officials.

In their July 11th newsletter, Napa Vision 2050 is pushing back against the proponents of "Save the Family Farms" wishing to be permitted tourism tastings and events at their rural venues even without a permitted winery.

In doing so, NV2050 is making a much broader case that this is further attempt to introduce commercial non-conforming uses into the agricultural zones of the county, contrary to the county's history and its General Plan commitments to protection of agriculture and open space in the face of urbanizing pressure.

They cite an important document: the 1987-88 Grand Jury concerns about the proliferation of non-conforming and accessory uses at wineries. The report was made just prior to the drafting of the original WDO in 1990. The concept that tourism uses of wineries would lead to general urbanization of the county and threaten its agricultural lands is clearly stated in the report:
    "In recent years there has been a increase in the number of commercial promotional, cultural and entertainment activities occurring in wineries and other facilities located on agriculturally zoned land outside of city limits... The increase in these urban activities underscores the growth of wineries and other facilities as cultural and community centers, and raises questions as to their urbanizing influence...The movement of people from populated urban areas to less populated rural areas opposes the major intent of the [General] Plan creates problems of traffic, sanitation, and other services..."

There is an even more detailed look at the impacts of non-agricultural uses at wineries made in the Environmental Impact Report done for the WDO in 1989. The sections of the WDO EIR are linked here. In particular, comments on the Growth Inducing Impacts and Cumulative Impacts cited in Vol III the EIR (beginning on page A-82) are quite germain to this discussion. The EIR recognizes that "Winery development under the DWDO as proposed, or with mitigation, would cause irreversible and irretrievable environmental effects". (It also states that the profits to be made from winery tourism would be worth it.) The EIR lists some 116 mitigations (beginning on p. A-84) that would ease the negative environmental impacts created by the WDO. It is worth going through the list to see how many (or rather how few) of the mitigations have actually been adhered to.

The Grand Jury Report takes as its base the County General Plan as it was in 1982, in which agriculture still had a dictionary definition and marketing activities were clearly seen as non-conforming uses of an agricultural production facility. (I hope a copy of the 1982 General Plan shows up at some point.) In 1990, the WDO codified tours and tastings and trade marketing events at wineries. In 2008 the Plan was updated to include visitation and marketing as accessory agricultural uses at a winery, and in 2010 the WDO was updated to allow food service with tours and tastings and public marketing events. In 2017 visitation and marketing were officially added to the definition of agriculture in county code, solidifying the county's commitment to legalize the use of agriculturally zoned land for commercial tourism development.

The point in looking at these historical documents is only to see the concern that a previous generation of officials had about the dangers of urban uses proliferating in agricultural areas. It was a level of concern that protected agricultural lands for 50 years. Napa Vision 2050 is to be lauded for bringing this history forward.

Now, under the pressure of a boom in worldwide tourism transforming every charming location and quaint industry on the globe into an urbanized mass-market commodity (destroying the character of the locales in the process), our current officials should be encouraged to look at these documents one last time to see what efforts were made by their predecessors to prevent the urban growth that they now so readily embrace.

Napa Groundwater Sustainability Alternative on: Watershed Issues

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

Click image to open Basin widget. Click on Napa basin in widget for basin data
Update 7/24/19
NVR 7/19/19: State dissatisfied with Napa wine country groundwater plan

Mike Hackett LTE 7/24/19: Take real action on water and development

Update 3/20/19
NVR 3/20/19: Report says Napa County's 2018 groundwater levels stable

2018 Napa County Groundwater Sustainability Annual Report
Report Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information or to submit a comment, please visit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Malan

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

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

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

"Good morning David,

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

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

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

Mike Hackett"

County shuns evidence-based decision on Mountain Peak on: Mountain Peak Winery

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

Soda Canyon Road 10/8/17 - one way out
Update 6/25/19
NBBJ 6/20/19: Judge Orders Napa County Supervisors to Review Mountain Peak Vineyards Project

The Napa Superior Court has reaffirmed its decision to remand the Mountain Peak project back to the supervisors to consider the new evidence that contradicts their finding in approving the project that Soda Canyon Road has the capacity to allow evacuation and emergency response in the event of a fire. In the Atlas fire it did not. The remand order must be presented by County Council to the Supervisors no later than July 8 2019 after which the Supervisors will set a public hearing date to consider the remanded issues. A status hearing on the case in Superior Court will occur on Aug 21 2019.

The Judge's remand order is here

Update 4/23/19
Raymond C Martinez LTE 4/23/19: It's a question of life and death

Update 4/16/19
The County's appeal of the remand was denied by the First District Appellate Court. Absent a further appeal, the Supervisors will have to reconsider the new evidence of the fire in their approval of the Mountain Peak project. A hearing in Napa Superior Court to set the scope of the remand will be held on May 7, 2019.

Soda Canyon Group Opposition Argument to Appeal
First Appellate District Court's denial of the appeal

NVR 4/2/19: Napa County opposes post-Atlas fire rehearing on Mountain Peak winery

On Aug 22, 2017 the Napa County Board of Supervisors approved the use permit for the 14,575-visitor/year Mountain Peak Winery 6 miles up the dead-end Soda Canyon Road.

From the "Findings of Fact" issued by the Supervisors in approving the project:

"Neighbors' opinion that winery visitors will cause traffic congestion during a fire is not supported by fact."

"In the event of a fire that results in mass evacuations from this area, the road has sufficient capacity and roadway width to accommodate all outgoing traffic while allowing incoming fire response units."

"Appellant's claim that fire rescue/response efforts will be impeded along Soda Canyon Road if the Project is constructed are unfounded and not supported by factual evidence."

In fact, supporting factual evidence arrived six weeks later on the night of October 8th, as the Atlas fire erupted in fierce winds and quickly engulfed lower Soda Canyon Road. A fallen tree blocked traffic coming down the road and fire trucks coming up as the fire burned on all sides. Frantic effort cleared the road just enough to let the line of cars get by. Dozens of residents, unable to make it down through the fire, had to be evacuated by helicopter from the top of the road. 134 of the 163 residences on Soda Canyon Road were damaged or destroyed, 118 of them a complete loss. Tragically two lives were lost.

One year later, in BOS meetings to discuss the issues of remote wineries, Supervisor Diane Dillon questioned the use of winery visitation on the valley floor to evaluate that in remote areas of the county. She called out the approval of Mountain Peak's visitation numbers based on comparable 100,000 gal/yr wineries in highly accessible locations. At one meeting, Sup. Dillon recognized that "we would have had a disaster if there would have been a major event happening of any kind..." at Mountain Peak during the fire. She was referring, no doubt, to a human disaster, but I'm sure it would be seen as a political disaster as well. Sup. Dillon was away during the Mountain Peak appeal, but her Planning Commission appointee, Anne Cottrell, had been the only commissioner to vote against approving the project - on the basis of its access constraints.

Soda Canyon residents presented ample first-hand experience and data-based assessments of fire danger on Soda Canyon Road at Planning Commission and BOS appeal hearings for Mountain Peak (beginning at slide 117 here). The Supervisors dismissed the presentation in their findings. Following the fire, residents petitioned Napa Superior Court to include the relevant new substantial evidence it offered as part of their CEQA case against the Supervisor's approval. The Court agreed and ordered that the project be remanded to the Supervisors, noting that the possibility of "the complete inaccessibility of Soda Canyon Road during a fire and resulting helicopter evacuations of stranded individuals" had not been considered by the Supervisors in approving the project. It was "truly new evidence of emergent facts."

There has been a lot of posturing lately in government meetings about the need for evidence-based decision-making. Unfortunately, rather than confronting an approval based on incorrect findings backed by little evidence, the Supervisors are challenging the court order to ensure that substantial, factual evidence of the danger of a fire in Soda Canyon will not require them to reconsider their decision.

There are reasons, aside from fire danger, why Mountain Peak is inappropriate in its location: 60 visitors and 19 employees a day will only add to the dangers of an already dangerous road; the precedent of this first event center on the Rector plateau will only encourage more tourism development and more traffic risk; and the excavation and movement of millions of cubic feet of earth within feet of two blue line streams feeding Rector Reservoir will pose significant risks of siltation;

And there are reasons, aside from fire danger, why event venues in general don't belong in the hillside areas of the county: their presence damages the quality of life of residents who treasure the quiet enjoyment of a rural place; their disruptive potential engenders animosity between residents and the wine industry, fueling many battles in recent years; building projects and the commercialization of rural areas hasten the urbanization of the county that will diminish farming as a viable activity, as it has throughout history; and a mass tourism business model that transports large numbers of people to the remote areas of the county each day, and attracts large numbers of tourists to the county each year, will only add to greenhouse gases in an age of global warming.

But obviously the potential loss of life when concentrating visitors in fire prone areas, in an age when raging wildfires have become all too common, should be a significant concern to Supervisors as they make their decision to sanction these venues. The remand is an opportunity to reconsider the substantial evidence of that danger for Mountain Peak and for other venues in the watersheds. It is unfortunate that the Supervisors wish to ignore it.

NVR LTE version 4/13/19: A decision in the face of evidence

Climate Action Plan DEIR on: Climate Action Plan

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

Update 6/21/19
Video and documents of the 6/19/19 Planning Commission hearing

NV2050 Newsletter 6/19/19: NV2050 comments on hearing (scroll down)
NVR 6/22/19: Napa County hones climate action plan; cities to be asked to join in

Update 6/14/19
Bohemian Geoff Ellsworth LTE 6/16/10: Napa Farm Bureau ignores climate change science

NVR 6/17/19: Climate action plan heads to Napa County's Planning Commission for comments

The County will hold another Planning Commission hearing on the Draft Climate Action Plan on June 19 2019.

Comments on the Plan and its Draft Environmental Impact Report may be made at the hearing or submitted to Planning Director David Morrison or Planner Jason Hade through July 9, 2019.

This NapaVision 2050 newsletter discusses one specific change between the 2018 Draft CAP and the Draft 2019 CAP: the elimination of woodland conservation as a strategy to reduce GHG emissions. It is a contentious deletion given the ferocious focus on oak woodland preservation over the last few years.

That deletion and the DEIR's concentrated reliance on rooftop solar on new industrial buildings as a GHG reducing measure both point to the County's (and humanity's) unwillingness to confront the growth-is-good mentality that has left us with a melting planet. The County's proposed growth-minded solution to the global warming caused by human development seems to be more vineyards and more industrial buildings, i.e. more development.

But the magnitude of the changes necessary to reverse global warming are unlikely to be achieved by pretending that ever expanding economic growth (more visitors and workers and housing and industries) can continue at the current rate with just some tweaks to the power source. As the recent UN report highlighting species extinction noted:
"...a key element of more sustainable future policies is the evolution of global financial and economic systems to build a global sustainable economy, steering away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth."

Napa was a leader in tempering the paradigm of economic growth: In protecting agriculture by zoning out the possibility of urban sprawl in 1968, it created a sustainable economy resulting in a beautiful place to live and a profitable place for a limited number of entrepreneurs. But now, in the boom following the great recession, the growth paradigm has returned with a vengeance. Proposals and approvals for ever more visitors and workers and venues and housing and industry already promise to urbanize the county beyond sustainability. Despite all the new solar collectors on all the new industrial buildings, the GHG's will continue to rise and the planet will continue to cook.

Napa can again be a leader in renouncing the paradigm of mindless economic growth that now threatens our very existence, by stopping once more the urbanization taking place. 50 years ago the county decided to stop the replacement of orchards with housing and to stop the replacement of roads with freeways. Now is the time to stop the replacement of woodlands with vineyards and gravel pits; stop the replacement of vineyards with event centers and solar farms; stop the replacement of wetlands with warehouses and hotels.

In rejecting the unsustainable desire for an economy based on continual growth, by rezoning and denying project approvals to discourage more urban development, Napa can remain a model of sustainable economy and livable environment based on a low impact agricultural product, and do more than its part in protecting a habitable planet. It was done before. It can be done again.

The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the County's Climate Action Plan is out. The notice of availability is here

Napa County Climate Action Plan page
Climate Action Plan with redline revisions from last iteration
Climate Action Plan DEIR

A Planning Commission hearing on the DEIR will take place on June 19, 2019 at 9:00am on the 3rd floor of the County Bldg.

The DEIR's conclusion after a couple hundred pages of evaluation:
"Based on review of the other alternatives considered, the County has determined that the Roof-Top Solar for Commercial Properties Alternative would be environmentally superior to the project because it would reduce impacts related to construction and operation of larger-scale GHG reduction measures while still achieving both the primary objective of GHG emissions reductions consistent with SB 32 and all other supporting project objectives."

There is a bit of a disconnect between the DEIR and the redlined CAP. The County is required to propose GHG reductions that will achieve State mandated goals. The CAP proposes a bundle of GHG reducing measures and crunches the numbers to achieve better reductions than required for 2020 and 2030 reduction goals. But it fails significantly to meet 2050 goals. The solution is the environmentally superior alternative proposed in the DEIR: mandated solar systems on new industrial buildings. The systems, on commercial building rooftops (and perhaps some parking lots), will be tied into the MCE (formerly Marin Clean Energy) community aggregator's Deep Green program for 100% renewable energy generation.

As was mentioned in the discussion of solar farming (where Sup. Ramos brought up the industrial solar solution), the State already requires that all new commercial projects to be "solar ready". The step of requiring the actual installation for county approval is a quick fix for the CAP. Whether building developers will see this solution in the same light will become apparent in the DEIR review process. It will be a significant added expense to their projects, but solar energy generation can also be used as a revenue source and would substitute for PG&E power, so the economics may not be too bad. Plus the subsidies, of course.

There is, unfortunately, an underlying assumption with the quick fix that is probably the reason that developers, and perhaps the County, are keen to enact it. Meeting GHG reduction goals provided by the commercial roof-top alternative requires continued construction of major building projects. Like Napa Pipe, the solution to the ills of urban development (the generation of GHG's) are so construed to require more urban development.

I haven't yet found projected reductions in GHG's based on an industrial solar mandate in the DEIR (the empty item BE-11 in the CAP). One wonders how the GHG's saved by a building's solar panels can possibly compensate for the GHG's generated by the construction process, the operating energy, the daily traffic to the new facility, the added employees needing more GHG generating businesses and services and housing. The added buildings and cars and homes may be creating their GHG's more efficiently, but none will produce negative GHG's, so it's hard to see how they will not be adding to rather than subtracting from, the the county's GHG's totals.

[As often happens in these posts, there is probably something I'm missing. I will eventually get it straight.]

I was most interested in the summarily rejected "No Growth/Moratorium Alternative" in the DEIR (excerpted here). The paradoxical argument is made that a building moratorium might impede GHG reduction on existing buildings. Huh? They have made the specious, and conclusion-serving assumption that a moratorium must be an alternative to the CAP rather than an addition to it.

This alternative discusses the two issues that represent the moral failure of the County to address the climate costs of a tourism economy in their CAP. As usual, tourism is the force that dare not speak its name in county politics, and the relation between tourism and GHG's, as with traffic and winery proliferation, is quickly rejected. This alternative alludes to the Sonoma lawsuit that successfully challenged the lack of global GHG consideration in that county's CAP. The discussion of VMT and the GHG costs of an economy based on transporting millions of people from all over the world into the county and then building remotely dispersed venues to entertainment them, to insure maximum VMT while here, is the height of global warming irresponsibility. Tourism is not discussed in the CAP, just as the significant impacts of tourism, apparent to all who live here, are barely discussed in the County General Plan.

Why oak woodlands matter on: Conservation Regulations

Mike Hackett - Jun 14,19  expand...  Share

[One in a series of articles in the Register presented by the Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture]

For all of us fortunate enough to call the Napa Valley home, its apparent that the beauty of our surrounding hillsides is very important to us. It's also a very important reason visitors return to our famous wine-growing region.

We all realize that open space, forests and the natural environment we cherish moves us emotionally and provides that much needed rhythm of life. Did you know that Napa County has the highest density of oak woodlands in all of California? Not the most oaks, because we are small geographically, but the highest concentration.

The oak woodlands provide that much needed connectivity with our eco-system and natural beauty, and free of charge, they provide two-thirds of the water running down into the valley floor, they aid in cooling our climate and provide homes for thousands of species important for biodiversity. Most importantly, is that the oak woodlands combat climate change right here at home.

Although written specifically about blue oaks, Professor David Stahle, University of Arkansas writes: "In a state famous for remarkable forests, the blue oak woodlands must be included among the most exceptional. Blue oak woodlands are a mosaic of forest and savanna on the foothills of the Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada, encircling the Central Valley of California.

"These beautiful woodlands are one of the largest ecosystems in California, but they are imperiled by agricultural development, suburbanization and by the apparent decline in natural regeneration.

"Many of the remaining blue oak woodlands were never systematically logged and still contain canopy-dominant individuals that are 150 to over 600 years old. In fact, that remaining blue oak woodlands may be one of the most extensive old-growth forest types left in California. These ancient woodlands contribute to watershed protection and preserve an important component of the eroding biodiversity of California."

The California Wildlife Foundation/California Oaks proudly state that the window that blue oaks provide into California's hydrological history offers a roadmap for stewardship as the climate warms.

The annual growth rings of blue oaks record the history of California's rainfall, because the trees are an integral part of the watershed.

Oak litter, duff, downed logs, understory and root systems stabilize and enrich soil, regulate run-off, prevent erosion, cool riparian corridors and access groundwater and soil moisture. It is estimated that California's oak woodlands protect the quality of greater than two-thirds of California's drinking water supply. Keeping our old-growth oak forests standing is essential to achieving a secure water future.

The persistence of California's old-growth oak ecosystems through prior climate shifts offers a degree of certainty during uncertain times. In addition to their importance to watersheds, oak ecosystem services include the maintenance of biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

Blue oak ecosystems sequester an estimated 18,783,312 metric tons of above and below ground carbon in live and dead trees. In total, California oak ecosystems are estimated to sequester 675 million metric tons of carbon stored. Soil organic carbon is positively correlated with woody plant cover, and can be quickly degraded and lost upon the removal of oaks.

Enhanced and continued protection of all our oak woodlands is paramount here in Napa. We have the opportunity here in Napa County, to set an example for the world to follow. Preservation of our oaks is not mutually exclusive of the need to manage our forests. Let's do both and help sustain the movement needed to combat our climate crisis.

NVR LTE version 6/9/19: Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture: Why oak woodlands matter

Learning from Las Vegas on: Tourism Issues

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

An agricultural landscape?
We went to Las Vegas this past weekend to see a friend get an award. Some may enjoy it, but 44 hours in the trashy canyons of unfettered American capitalism and consumption was way too much for us.

On our return, a link was waiting in my inbox to a Fortune Magazine article about the economic direction that Napa is taking: The Wine Country Tasting Room Is Dead. But Long Live Wine Country. Wine Country is no longer about wine but about tourism entertainment. I couldn't help feeling that Las Vegas had something to tell us about the meaning of that movement from an economy based on a product to one based on tourism.

An article in Business Insider in 2013 dissected the arc of the Las Vegas economy. In 1990, tourism accounted for 40% of Las Vegas's revenue and gaming 60%. It was a gaming economy. By 2012 tourism had become 65% of the economy. .

In the 1980's tourism was seen as a means to make the product economically viable, Visitors were encouraged to come to the casinos with an offer of cheap hotel rooms and food. The object now, represented in the mega-hotels that continue to be built, is to pack as many beds and restaurants and shops and entertainment venues as possible into a consumption-rich environment. Losing money on the slots or tables may still be a draw for some, but Las Vegas now makes most of its money like any other tourist trap - rooms, food, amusements and trinkets.

Napa is currently Las Vegas in the 80's. The "direct-to-consumer" dogma often touted in support of new event center projects pretends that bringing tourists into Napa County is about the survival of the wine industry in a post 3-tier world. In reality the encouragement of Napa winery visitation is about the long term potential for hotel, food and entertainment revenue and, of course, associated transient taxes. County governments now spend millions on Visit Napa Valley promoting hotel stays and the tourism industry, and yet they spend nothing promoting wine sales outside the county to support the actual wine industry.

One only has to look at the quantity of hotel rooms in the development pipeline to realize that at some point in the not too distant future the amount of money taken from hotel stays and TOT will eclipse the amount of money to be made from trying to sell wine. And once the economy is firmly tourism-based, the need to maintain an agricultural environment (and the disinterest in highway construction that has been seen as an agricultural protection) will dissipate. Like Las Vegas, the object will be to pack as many hotel rooms as possible into the tourist destination fiction of "Wine Country" and build the infrastructure needed to keep the visitors coming.

"Agriculture in the 21st Century", in the words of one growth-minded supervisor, may end up looking a lot like Las Vegas.

See also: George Caloyannidis on Las Vegas and the lessons of growth

Syar back on the agenda on: Syar Expansion

Bill Hocker - Jun 2,19  expand...  Share

ag land or one big hole?
Update 6/2/19
NVR 6/2/19: Napa judge hears more arguments on Syar quarry expansion

NVR 5/23/19: Napa Court releases Syar tentative ruling

The Tentative Ruling is here

From the judge's ruling:
"One of the principal project locations is the so-called Pasini Parcel, which has a General Plan designation of Agricultural, Watershed, and Open Space (AWOS). Of note, it appears as though the EIR contains no discussion of the apparent inconsistency between the General Plan's stated goal of preserving agricultural land use, and the conversion of this parcel into use for mining operations."

It's becoming clear that residents have valid legal complaints about the development that Napa County has been pursuing in the last few years. There are impacts that have not been properly considered in the approval process, flagged by residents in the numerous hearings that vet projects, with Supervisors ignoring those concerns as being less-than-significant in order to move the projects ahead. In the past, residents may have been intimidated by the business and government forces arrayed against them. But the level of impact that development is beginning to have on the rural character that residents treasure is no longer possible to ignore, and appeals and lawsuits are becoming the norm.

In this case the judge has highlighted a primary inconsistency not properly discussed in the EIR as required by CEQA: the County is nominally committed in its General Plan to the protection of agriculture, but at the same time has approved a project that is not agriculture on land zoned for agriculture. (like the AmCan solar farm) The judge is not saying that the two are incompatible; only that the EIR failed to discuss and mitigate the conflicting attitude about mining operations on ag land.

If only it were possible to reconsider the same inconsistency of using agricultural lands for entertainment venues and housing estates.

Vallejo Cement Factory: proposal withdrawn on: Growth Issues

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

Update 5/28/19
The developer of the Orcem/VMT project, after being denied a use permit in 2017, have dropped their appeal of the denial effectively ending the development proposal.

City of Vallejo Press Release
NV2050 Newsletter article on the issue

Update 5/24/18
Dan Mufson sends along this link from the community group Voices of Vallejo fighting the Orem cement factory proposed at the mouth of the Napa River into San Pablo Bay: False Assurances Threaten the Napa River

Update 3/7/18
HuffPost 3/7/18: 'Our Bodies Can't Take That Kind Of Damage': The California Community Battling A Cement Factory
It has become a national story!

Update 3/7/17
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.

Napa City/County Watershed models on: Watershed Issues

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

Update 5/11/19
A revised Model Report is being presented to the Supervisors on Tues May 14, 2019, 9:00am.
Staff Letter
Redlined Model Report

Update 3/19/19
Napa city and county keep watershed study moving; Dillon questions research model
Video of the 3/19/19 BOS meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit Napa Valley on: Tourism Issues

Bill Hocker - May 8,19  expand...  Share

Welcome to Napa County!
Update 5/9/19
NVR 5/6/19: Visit Napa Valley celebrates national travel and tourism week May 5 - 11

2018 Visit Napa Valley Quick Facts
Visit Napa Valley statistics page

According to the VNV stats, the county now hosts 950,000 more visitors per year than it did 6 years ago, an additional 2600 more visitors per day on average. The total resident population of Napa County has increased by 1.4% in that period to 141,000. The yearly tourist population has increased by 33% to 3.85 million. The yearly visitor/resident ratio has gone from 21:1 to 27:1.

As VNV celebrates it will, no doubt, boast about how much residents benefit from the tourist dollars. But for many residents, the specious $1728/ household in generated tourist taxes (used to pay VNV salaries and the increased infrastructure of an expanding tourism population among other things) is a sop to cover the negative impacts of an expanding tourism economy. For those residents the clearing of vineyards for event centers and parking lots, loss of local businesses and housing for boutiques, hotels and airbnb, and roads clogged with tourist traffic and tourism events all represent a lost Eden that money, real or fictional, can't replace.

The rural, agrarian, small-town soul of the county that attracted many here, the
result of a successful economy based on a low-impact agricultural product within a beautiful natural environment, is dying under the tourism onslaught. Residents futilely show up at government meetings, write letters and vote to stop the pain of the loss. Eventually they will probably move to Oregon, because the lust for more money continues to ruin everything - as it always has.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Latest Reports are here:

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

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.

Wine tourism and global warming on: Climate Action Plan

Bill Hocker - May 8,19  expand...  Share

GHG generation: agriculture vs tourism
Update 5/8/19
A significant UN study has been released detailing the probable extinction of a million species in the coming decades as a result of human expansion and consumption and the resulting global warming. It covers a much broader set of facts and conclusions than just species loss. One of the conclusions: "8%: of total greenhouse gas emissions are from transport and food consumption related to tourism". The number appears to be based on the same study below which was initially pegged at 10% but has now been revised downward. It is still a significant percentage of the total.

Update 8/11/18
The Napa County Climate Action Plan begins a restart after a year's hiatus at the Planning Commission on Aug 15th 2018. For those hoping that the Sonoma County ruling (see below) would produce a much more comprehensive look at how Napa's development trajectory might change when considering the life cycle GHG impacts of its industries, the revised plan will disappoint. The CAP still contains the disclaimer that the "the preparation of the 2014 GHG emissions inventory for the County's CAP does not include the calculation of the community's global "carbon footprint."" The reduction of GHG's based on the basic land use decisions (like continuing to approve GHG-intensive tourism in the county's far reaches or bulldozing of carbon sequestering forests for carbon-questionable vineyards) will not be evaluated. Only ways to lessen the emissions resulting from those decisions.

Update 5/6/18
Space Daily 5/7/18: Tourism nearly a tenth of global CO2 emissions [subsequently corrected to 8% from 10%]

Space Daily, a science blog, has reported on an Australian Research finding on the CO2 cost of tourism dependent economies. (research abstract here.)

The county will soon be taking up the stalled County Climate Action Plan, which will presumably look at the CO2 costs of our increase in visitation and expansion of our vineyards at the local level. But the costs of a mass tourism economy go beyond that. "The multi-trillion dollar industry's carbon footprint is expanding rapidly, driven in large part by demand for energy-intensive air travel". ... to places like Napa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The unrelenting pursuit of economic growth on: Growth Issues

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

BBC News 5/6/19: Nature crisis: Humans 'threaten 1m species with extinction’

An agency of the UN has just issued a report projecting the extinction of one million species in the next decades due to human expansion and consumption and the resultant effects of global warming.

From the press release: "...a key element of more sustainable future policies is the evolution of global financial and economic systems to build a global sustainable economy, steering away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth." The IPBES press release is here. (The actual Report is hard to locate.)

Much of the loss is attributable to the conversion of natural lands into agriculture and the loss of species habitat. That conversion is the subject of current battles going on in Napa county between the economic motivation of developers (wine makers wanting new vineyards for their business expansion and homebuilders wanting to tap into the high end estate market) and the moral motivation of conservationists (activists, rural residents and growers and vintners that see benefits in retaining the natural environment).

The economic motive is easy to see - it is age old. The moral motive less so: how moral is it to risk Napa's water quantity and quality to encourage the expansion of its luxury product. How moral is it to continue the removal of carbon-sequestering woodlands for that product. And how moral is it to bulldoze and fence off the woodlands and shrublands needed for the movement and survival of a diverse group of wild species- and the point of the ISPEB report - that will be moved ever closer to extinction.

The amount of wine to be made from Napa grapes is finite in this small county. A successful wine industry exists despite this limited supply. (Some might see the limited quantity is part of the success.) While the wine industry may complain that the quantity must continuously expand to maintain that success, the reality is that much of the passion around the new conservation regulations seemed to have more to do with real estate speculation than wine making.

Pandering to the growth mentality of those who stand to profit from growth is a moral failure on the part of government to acknowledge the enormity of the damage to the natural world that growth is bringing. Unfortunately, the notion of limitless economic growth, upon which the American economy and self-mage were founded, has left governments unable to sustainably regulate natural resources to the benefit of all species, not just one, and to sustainably maintain our collective environment into the future without profit-induced calamity.

A good first step, but not enough on: Conservation Regulations

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

As part of Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture’s discussions related to Napa County’s recently passed Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance, this Op-Ed provides perspectives and specifics related to new rules. Amendments recently adopted by the Board of Supervisors will go into effect on May 9.

A study by Amber Manfree, PhD in geography and GIS mapping, determined that newly adopted rules will reduce total developable area by a mere 3 percent, leaving over 28,000 acres of trees on developable land open to deforestation in Napa County.

During the ordinance adoption process, Napa County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commissioners received comments from stakeholders, property rights advocates, subject area experts, and the general public. Numerous calls were made for science-based decision-making. Commenters including Ross Middlemiss on behalf of The Center for Biological Diversity, the California Wildlife Foundation and California Oaks, biologist Jake Ruygt, and others pointed to scientific research that shows conserving Napa’s wildlands has tremendous benefits for biodiversity, climate change buffering and adaptation, and water security. Essentially we need to preserve a minimum of 90 percent of our wildlands to maintain a healthy eco-system.

In the late 1900s, Napa Valley saw a shift from prunes, walnuts, and other crops to wine grapes. With the Napa Valley floor effectively planted out, large-scale vineyard developments now typically require removal of forested wildlands. In a time of increasing awareness of the related threats of climate change and biodiversity loss, bulldozing of wildlands is far less socially acceptable than it once was. At the same time, wildland conversion is often the only realistic way for new wine grapegrowers to enter the Napa market. But how much land are we really talking about, and what may the effects of newly adopted rules be?

Most remaining undeveloped land is in the 442,200-acre Agricultural Watershed Zoning District, which encompasses mountainous areas surrounding Napa Valley. There are a total of about 199,300 forested acres in the Agricultural Watershed. About 50 percent of the Agricultural Watershed has slopes over 30 percent, which are rarely permitted for development due to Napa County’s Hillside Ordinance and concerns about erosion. Prior to recent amendments, there were about 69,000 acres available for development in the Agricultural Watershed. About half of this developable area, or 34,400 acres, is forested. Over 70 percent of those trees are oaks. The remainder of the non-forested area is covered in grasslands, chaparral, and other land cover types. Changes to existing protections may reduce at-risk forest to 28,700 acres in the Agricultural Watershed. These rules may yield an overall increase of 5,700 acres, or three percent, in protection of Agricultural Watershed forests beyond existing rules. Will a two to three percent reduction in development potential meaningfully slow or prevent wildland conversion in Napa County? It will not.

NVR version 5/6/19: Your Turn: A good first step, but not enough

More traffic for Bottleneck Junction on: Traffic Issues

Bill Hocker - May 1,19  expand...  Share

think the traffic is bad now?
Update 5/1/19 Nova Wine Warehouse
NVR 5/1/19: Napa County approves large wine warehouse

At the Planning Commission hearing on the Nova Wine Warehouse the LIUNA union lawyer argued that cumulative traffic impacts had not been considered in the Mitigated Negative Declaration for the project. Comm. Hansen, in supporting the project, stated that cumulative impacts had been considered in the Specific Plan developed for the entire district and didn't need to be considered on an individual-project basis.

The Napa Business Park Specific Plan and EIR was done in 1985. In discussing traffic impacts, it made some mitigating assumptions: by the year 2000 the Soscol/29 and Jameson/29 junctions would be grade-separated interchanges and that Hwy 29 would be 6 lanes; by 2015, the Jameson interchange would have loop ramp access and that a secondary north-south road would link the entire site. By 2015 it projected peak-hour one-way traffic on 29 at the junctions would be 3600 vehicles. (In 2019 the infrastructure mitigations are still unlikely to happen any time soon. And the actual peak-hour one-way traffic in 2015 was 4600 vehicles.)

Even with the proposed mitigations the EIR concluded:
"By the buildout condition (i.e., in 50 to 60 years, according to Table 10), traffic congestion will be a serious constraint in the planning area vicinity, assuming that current industrial characteristics, transportation patterns and habits continue well into the 21st century. Regional roadways will become congested (even with recommended improvements) and congestion on local roadways will be a serious problem."

There is a similar conclusion in the 2018 EIR which was done for the Airport Corporate Center discussed below: "Transportation impacts remain significant and unavoidable:"

Comm. Hansen is right to say that traffic impacts were considered in the Specific Plan. But then they were ignored. And the mitigations didn't happen. Whatever their real motives, LIUNA is right to bring the impacts up again. There is a legitimate question about a planning process that promotes building development, goes through an elaborate process to show the development will cause problems in the future, and then ignores the problems in the holy name of promoting growth. One questions why a planning process is needed in the first place.

Update 4/23/19
The County Planning Commission will be taking up the Nova Wine Warehouse use permit application at their May 1, 2019 meeting. Agenda and Documents here.

It is 400,500 sf with parking for 263 vehicles that will add to the bottleneck and 20-40 new employees looking for housing. A Neg dec was issued with less-than-significant impacts according to staff, as usual.

The interesting thing about this project is that it has received a CEQA challenge (biological resources, air quality, traffic, stormwater) by a union, the Laborers International Union of North America representing construction workers. (This is the second project to run up against union opposition - Watson Ranch the other.) The Union's concern for the health of the environment, and its willingness to invest in the consultants and lawyers needed to protect it, is commendable - assuming no other motive. As happened with Napa Airport Corporate Center, a full EIR would probably show traffic and air quality impacts will "remain significant and unavoidable". Unfortunately, it would probably be approved anyway.

One side note: while all warehouse buildings are apparently now required to have the structural capability to support solar collectors, the county has not put in place a policy requiring the installation of panels. Instead, in approving its first solar farm and setting a really bad precedent, the County has decided to use up agricultural land for the purpose. An initial BOS discussion was held regarding solar farm regulations, and while the use of industrial buildings and parking lots was discussed as possible locations for solar farms, nothing was suggested to make it so.

Update 3/8/19 unnamed warehouse
NVR 3/8/19: American Canyon's latest wine warehouse overcomes location concerns

330,00 sf, 204-559 more trips/day.

Update 8/26/18 Napa Airport Corporate Center
NVR 8/26/18: American Canyon Council approves more warehouses parallel with Highway 29

It's not quite clear how the traffic analysis dropped from 4900 to 1100 trips/day - which is still a lot and caused a resident to respond: Alleviate traffic in American Canyon - not make it worse. Not to mention the cancer. Of course 1100 trips is a drop in the bucket compared to Napa Logistics soon-to-be-added 11,700 trip/day

Update 6/14/18 Nova Wine Warehouse
Another huge concrete box will be up for a use permit before the County Planning Commission on July 18th, 2018. The Nova Wine Warehouse will add 400,500 sf of space, 263 parking spaces, 80 loading bays 20-40 more employees to the congestion in this already badly congestion location. This follows the proposal down the road of another similar sized warehouse project which, unlike this one, went through the EIR process ending with a liftiny of significant and unavoidable traffic and cancer causing impacts. Will this project, and every project proposed in these two industrial zones, do anything but add to those significant and unavoidable impacts? As the EIR pointed out, there are no traffic fixes on the horizon.

There seems to be no end to the desire to link the urban sprawl of Napa with that of American Canyon to bring traffic in this bottleneck to a complete standstill while making the grand entry to the fabled Napa Valley as charming as a traffic jam on I-80 through Oakland. In an abstract effort to concentrate urban development lust in the south county, the ultimate buildout of American Canyon and of these industrial areas have never been considered from a regional traffic standpoint. Once the traffic is bad enough, the thinking seems to be, someone will build some flyovers, or freeways or something. NVTA, responsible for transportation projects in the south county, doesn't see that happening.

As an aside, in this case the project will fill in the lowlands surrounding the historic and bucolic Rocca Winery and tasting room, destroying their isolation and bringing noise and cancerous pollution from the vehicles looping around their property each day. A parking lot and blank wall of the project push up against and ignore the wooded meander of Soscol creek. This is not the 19th century. Creeks should be planned for human enjoyment, not left to become the forgotten back alleys of industrial operations.

The County Nova page is here
The hearing notice is here

Update 5/31/18 Napa Airport Corporate Center
NVR 5/31/18: New warehouses proposed along Highway 29 corridor in American Canyon

Video, Agenda and documents of the 5/24/18 American Canyon Planning Commission Hearing

The American Canyon Planning Commission has just approved another bunch of warehouses that will generate 4900 more trips per day to add to the traffic jam through American Canyon and south Napa that is Bottleneck Junction. Along with Napa Logistics Park it will clog up the S. Kelly Rd intersection to match the Jameson Canyon intersection. The project will also, incidentally, increase the cancer risk for American Canyon Residents!

From the staff summary of the proposed project EIR:

"Air quality impacts remain significant and unavoidable:"
-"The operational emissions from the total project evaluated in the EIR exceed the Bay Area Air Quality Management District's (BAAQMD) thresholds of significance for Nitrogen Oxides"
-"A community health risk assessment was prepared because of the proximity of two residences to the project site and found that the increase in cancer risk because of the project construction and operation exceeded the BAAQMD significance threshold"
-"Project Greenhouse Gas (GHG) gas emissions would exceed the BAAQMD threshold of significance"

"Transportation impacts remain significant and unavoidable:"
-" The addition of Project traffic to existing conditions would result in the [4] following intersections operating at unacceptable level..."
-"The addition of Project traffic to existing conditions together with other pending projects (background development) would result in the following [7] intersections operating at unacceptable levels..."
-"The addition of Project traffic to projected cumulative traffic conditions would result in unacceptable levels of service at 13 intersections"
-"the proposed project may conflict with the Napa and Solano County congestion management plans"
-And "While improvements have been identified to address these impacts, most of them are under Caltrans jurisdiction and funding and plans have not been approved. Therefore, there is uncertainty about whether the improvements would be implemented, so the impacts remain significant and unavoidable"

The solution to significant and unavoidable impacts that endanger the lives of Am Can residents and make traffic worse for everyone commuting to and from the Napa Valley? Draft some Findings of Overriding Consideration. All ten findings can be questioned on their merits, but these 2 are pet peeves:

"7. The Project will facilitate the logical and orderly development of the Devlin Road corridor in accordance with the City of American Canyon General Plan and Napa County Airport"

As we know from the 2008 changes made to Napa County's General Plan to equate winery tourism with agriculture, industry insiders shape general plans to their financial advantage. American Canyon's General plan is in fact just a developer's wish list for turning raw land into buildings. Almost every square inch of the City is to be developed into housing or commercial projects and the governmental projects needed to serve them. The Land use element is here. It is ludicrous to argue that an overriding consideration to significant and unavoidable impacts is that we have a plan that creates significant and unavoidable impacts. (as does the Napa County General Plan.)

"10. The Project will contribute to the long‐term fiscal health of the City by generating new taxable sales, development impact fees, business license fees, property tax, and other sources of revenue."

As Volker Eisele warned:
Development doesn't pay for itself. It doesn't. [If] you are looking at Napa Pipe now in south Napa, where a developer again is circulating memos showing how much profit it would generate, the profit might be actually true but it isn't really profit, because the cost items are all left out, whether it's traffic, clean air, noise, health, education and other items [concerning] social welfare.

Residents of American Canyon, the County and the State will end up subsidizing this project through increased taxes and bond measures to pay for the infrastructure and service costs that are never covered by the project's mitigation fees. Again ask yourself, do big city residents pay more or less in taxes to support their government? Are large cities fiscally healthier than small towns? Will the city end up spending more to maintain and service 30 acres of industrial development or 30 acres of wetlands?

The city is already desperate (with a $1.2 loss in 2016) for the revenue generated by this project to help pay for the long term burdens of previous urban development. How much will residents have to pay for the road widenings, and intersection upgrades and eventual freeways needed for the thousands of additional daily vehicle trips generated by this project and Napa Logistics Park? How much more for the services and infrastructure upgrades that an increased daily population will need?

It's not like the County is being flooded by immigrants looking for jobs and homes. The long-term population growth in Napa County is projected to be less than .5%/yr. These building projects are inducing population growth in the county (and the impacts that come with it) so that a handful of developers can make some money.

The solution to Napa County's urban problems of traffic and lack of affordable and ever rising taxes and bond measures to pay for increased infrastructure is to stop urbanizing. Develop a general plan created by residents who must live with the results rather than businessmen who profit off it.

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

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

6/2/17 Trinitas Hotel-Winery
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 Napa City 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 (not to mention concerns about housing the project's workers) 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 tens of thousands of vehicle trips per day to the traffic already there. The gridlock distances and hours will continue to expand. The legal problem is that all of the developers already with approvals are now expecting government to insure that people can get to their projects, and they will exert a lot of pressure. And the municipalities, concerned as always only with economic expansion and no concern about the urbanizing pressure their developments exert on the unincorporated county, have no interest in limiting access. Even residents who see the value of preserving what is left of unurbanized Napa will not tolerate an hour to get through the junction for long. And, because these are state highways, Caltrans will be forced to do something. The county's desire to disincentivize urban growth by limiting access will be forced to mitigate the traffic they have already sanctioned before they can implement a restriction plan - or be sued. The road will have to be widened to 6 lanes and the Soscol flyover built. Napa residents and state residents will have to come up with the money to do it. But what happens after that? Once built the increased access will induce more development. And so on.

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

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

Con Reg changes may have little impact on: Conservation Regulations

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

60/40 rule in action
The post-Measure-C-inspired Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance (WQTPO?) was approved by the Supervisors in April, 2019. The underlying assumption in the creation of the ordinance was that reducing the amount of natural land available for development into agriculture would benefit the quality and quantity of water supplied by the watersheds, provide a better chance for the survival of wild species, and provide that much more carbon sequestration in an age of global warming.

No one was happy with the ordinance. Wine industry interests felt the changes to the existing Conservation Regulations were being made in the absence of facts while feeling, without facts of their own, that the previous regulations are already sufficient protection for the watersheds into the future. Real estate interests felt it would curtail home and estate development in the watersheds. Conservationists felt that the Ordinance would do little to increase woodland or water quality protection, and that, in an uncertain age of global warming and ever increasing demands on water and land resources, even more stringent protections for the watersheds are necessary.

Some members of the wine industry do support stronger watershed protections. Prior to the approval of the new ordinance the Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture presented a fact-based analysis of developable agricultural land potential under pre-WQTPO land use policies as well as an analysis of the impacts of several possible policy alternatives, including the WQTPO changes.

The report is here:
Napa County Conservation Policy: Existing Conditions and Proposed Policy Impacts

While the wealth of statistical analysis can be a bit overwhelming, the basic conclusions of the report are that the Ordinance would do almost nothing to reduce developable land in the county. It concluded that previous policies to protect woodland and shrubland by percentage (60/40 rule) and by tree count (2:1 mitigation) in watershed areas often have no impact because the areas that count as "protected" are not developable in any case, whether by easement, terrain or other conservation setback proscriptions. The new ordinance changes that modify those numbers to a 70/40 rule and 3:1 tree count will likewise have little impact on land area developed, again because they are satisfied by areas that wouldn't be developed anyway. Increases in reservoir, stream and wetland setbacks that were added to the regulations likewise are shown to protect very few additional acres from development.

The report does show that the amount of woodlands and shrublands, and the environmental benefits that undeveloped land provides in combating global warming, protecting water resources and wildlife habitat, would be significantly increased by applying the percentage or mitigation rules only to otherwise "developable" land when evaluating new vineyard projects - a potential one word change (a clarification really) in current conservation regulations.

The Supervisors, unfortunately, chose not to let the facts presented in the report influence their decision. (Everyone now talks about the value of fact-based decision making, except, is seems, when the facts get in the way of development.)

The report's recommendation is only a start. Unfortunately, while such an increase in woodland protection over existing regulations would be welcome, when one considers the enormity of the impacts that climate change may bring (and is already bringing) to the wine industry and to life in Napa County, the benefits of a few acres of woodland spared are insignificant.

The required goal of any climate-change-related legislation should be to significantly reduce GHG's by 2030, not to mitigate the rate at which they are increased. Without a real effort to stop digging up and burning carbon-sequestering, water-retaining woodlands, shrublands and grasslands to turn them into water-consuming, erosion-prone, carbon-questionable vineyards (not to mention carbon-producing building projects), Napa's efforts to protect its water sources and present a serious GHG-reduction commitment will be seen by many as a poor response to the challenge.

The silting of Rector Creek on: The Rector Watershed

Bill Hocker - Apr 29,19  expand...  Share

Another episode of siltation in the Rector Reservoir water system is reported in the Sun this week

This last year following the fire, a neighbor just uphill from us cleared off the area surrounding the creek that then goes through our property on its way to Rector Reservoir. Removing the dead trees and brush was the right thing to do but there were consequences.

This year, after one of the large storms, an area of our creek, with a three-foot-deep channel, silted up, sending silt overflowing into an adjacent meadow. I was happy to have the additional topsoil but not so happy to have to re-establish the flow-line of the channel. After another storm, the silt was completely gone from the channel, ending up, doubt at the bottom of Rector Reservoir.

It was a demonstration, albeit small, of the relationship between land clearing, heavy storms and the quality of Yountville's drinking water.

There is continuous replanting going on in the Rector watershed, often with deep ripping to remove Smart-car sized boulders that was not done in the old days. There are two major ECP's in process in the watershed totaling 200 acres of new vineyards. And there is still almost a thousand acres of land on which new vineyards are possible in this already most heavily developed of Napa's watersheds.

There is only so much that Best Management Practices, straw and retention basins can do to prevent siltation from newly cleared land in the event of major storms. The runoff from one replanting done two years ago is shown below.

In this era of global warming the types of storms we experienced this last year, and worse, are predicted to become more frequent. The modest proposals made by the Supervisors following Measure C concerns over the development of the watersheds will do very little to reduce the siltation that earthmoving operations in the watersheds are likely to produce. The best protection against siltation, and the best protection for the global warming future that has become all too apparent, is to leave natural vegetation and its soil undisturbed.

The amount land that can be developed into grapes in this small county is finite, and the quantity of wine that can be produced with Napa grapes is likewise limited. (Some might see the rarity as a valuable attribute.) The continued development of the watersheds for vineyards is an attempt to ignore the limits just a few more years to squeeze a little more profit out of the land before the wine industry must really confront its limited resource. But, as the silting at Rector shows, it a gamble with the quality of drinking water of the people of the county as the wager.

Unfortunately, absent a more rigorous protection of Napa's watersheds, Yountville residents and the residents of the rest of the county that depend on watershed water should probably be looking at home water filtration systems.

Original post 3/22/17

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, with only a negative declaration of environmental impacts, was approved by the Napa County Planning Commission on a 3-1 vote at the beginning of 2017 and an appeal of the decision to the Napa Board of Supervisors was later denied. The BOS decision will now be challenged in court. An EIR should be required.

Rector Watershed White Paper

BOS begins solar farm regulation discussion on: Solar Farming

Bill Hocker - Apr 23,19  expand...  Share

MVR 4/24/10: Napa County formulates rules for utility-scale solar farms

NV2050 Newsletter writeup on the meeting (with a great photo)

At the Apr 23, 2019 BOS meeting (item 9A here) the Supes took up the issue of regulating the development of commercial solar farms in the County - unfortunately after the County has already approved its first solar farm on agricultural land in American Canyon. The staff letter is here.

The Supervisors did not rule out, in this initial discussion, the use of ag lands for solar development. Sup. Wagenknecht even went as far to say that there is only a limited amount of urban and industrial land in Napa County and that he would not want to limit solar farming to those areas which might reduce the amount of development that could occur there. It was ominous that Napa's greenest Supervisor would rather have solar competing with agriculture rather than industry for land. In a foreshadowing of the pitfalls of allowing solar development on ag lands, a solar power proponent spoke in public comments about using lands too steep for winery or vineyard development for solar power.

The idea of using industrial rooftops and parking lots for large scale solar installations was brought up by Sup. Ramos. It is the most sensible solution, particularly since the county seems committed, unfortunately, to millions of square feet of industrial development that involve both huge flat roofs and huge parking lots. State code now requires all non-residential buildings to be "solar ready", but why not go all the way. The solar energy developers should be working with the major warehouse developers to develop a synergy that is profitable for both. The county could produce such a desirable partnership by simply requiring that industrial facilities provide renewable power equivalent to their power usage as part of the conditions of approval.

A 400,500 sf warehouse, Nova Wine Warehouse, will be up before the Planning Commission on May 1, 2019. Hopefully there will be some carryover from the BOS discussion on solar farms to the commission review.

The solar farm discussion followed a previous agenda item (item 9M here) devoted to climate change. Sup. Wagenknecht proposed a proclamation on the need for a regional approach to climate change and the establishment of a county authority to address the issues. According to Dir Morrison, the county's Climate Action Plan is coming back for another public round in a few weeks.

NVR 4/23/19: Napa County looks at coordinated climate protection effort with cities

Gallo Stagecoach North ECP on: The Rector Watershed

Bill Hocker - Apr 23,19  expand...  Share

click to enlarge 4/23/19: E&J Gallo to Expand Stagecoach Vineyard

Gallo has taken up an expansion of Stagecoach Vineyards first proposed by Jan Krupp but then abandoned when he sold the property. The expansion adds 116 more acres to their existing 600 acres on the Rector Reservoir watershed.

The County documents page is here.

It's interesting to compare the Gallo proposal to Bloodlines, both similar sized proposals. Other than a couple of blocks which may not be developed, the Bloodlines proposal infills a development pattern that has already been established on the Rector Plateau which stays away from the ridgelines. The Gallo proposal pushes all the way up to the ridge, breaking the de facto development boundary and establishing a precedent for development on the rest of the ridges.

The Rector watershed is already the most heavily developed by percentage in the county. The impact of siltation on the capacity of Rector Reservoir has already been raised, and continued development of the the ridgeline slopes will only continue the process as well as further constraining wildlife movement.

The County, at the 4/23/19 BOS meeting, requested $330,000 to contract for an EIR on the project (paid for by Gallo). The EIR will probably take a year of so to be finalized.

Mare Island is the Napa Valley! on: Solutions

Geoff Ellsworth - Apr 20,19  expand...  Share

Update 4/20/19
NVR 4/20/19: Dave Phinney and Co. are on a spirited mission to transform Mare Island
SF Chronicle 1/7/18: wine mogul Dave Phinney poised to transform Mare Island with distillery
MBBJ 3/5/18: Vallejo’s Mare Island builds buzz with influx of wineries, distilleries, filmmakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture on: Conservation Regulations

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

Update 6/14/19
NVR 6/9/19: Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture: Why oak woodlands matter

Update 5/6/19
G/VfRA study on the impacts of proposed changes to the Conservation Regulations:
Napa County Conservation Policy: Existing Conditions and Proposed Policy Impacts

Update 4/14/19
NVR 4/14/19: Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture: Answering questions about Napa

This is one of a series of articles that G/VfRA is doing in the Register.

NVR 2/17/19: Protecting Our Napa Valley: Four key scientific facts on Napa Valley's vineyard expansion
G/VfRA concerns and proposals submitted for Napa Strategic Plan

Update 5/6/18
Letters to the Editor
Andy Beckstoffer 5/6/18: Rights require responsibility � Yes on C
Yeoryios Apallas 5/6/18: Don't be mislead by mailers
Joyce Black Sears 4/26/18: Measure C: Murky waters and mistruths in the Napa Valley
Yeoryios Apallas et al. 2/10/18: Oak woodland protection ballot measure is good for our community

Update 4/26/18
WineIndustryAdvisor 4/26/18: Long-Time Napa Valley Vintners and Growers Enthusiastically Support Measure C

Update 4/13/18
SH Star 4/11/18: Howell Mountain vintner Joyce Black Sears: Measure C protects environment

LTE from "Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture"

We are very happy that the Watershed and Oak Woodlands Protection Initiative has been approved for inclusion as Measure C on the June ballot. We particularly like that this was named Measure C, as "C" to us stands for conservation, which we favor because our natural resources are not infinite. Those of us who have come together now have a name � "Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture" � as we want to communicate to the citizens of Napa County that there are many of us in the Grower and Vintner community who support this initiative. Our focus is on stewardship of our watershed, and we recognize that Measure C gives the voters of Napa County the opportunity to ensure that our watershed is protected now and into the future.

The Agricultural Preserve (AP) came into existence in 1968 � its 50th Anniversary is being celebrated in many ways this year! Though it was very controversial when it was created, and though it was considered legally uncertain, it has prevailed all tests and it has protected Napa Valley for agriculture for the last half century.

Measure C aims to offer protection to our Agricultural Watershed (AW). Our Watershed is the source of most of the water we use. We, as members of the vintner and grower community, understand how important a healthy watershed is to the citizens of Napa County, to our natural environment, and to the perpetuation of sustainable agriculture in our community. To the latter point, we know that we have a right to farm, but we also know that it is our obligation to farm responsibly. It is for these reasons that Measure C has our fullest support.

Again, the question to be asked is, Will the Napa Valley itself be better if this measure is passed?" We strongly think so.

Yeoryios Apallas, Soda Creek Vineyards
Andy Beckstoffer, Beckstoffer Vineyards
Tom Clark, Clark Claudon Vineyards
Randy Dunn, Dunn Vineyards
Bob Dwyer, past Director of NVGG & NVV
Robin Lail, Lail Vineyards
Dick Maher, past NVV President
Beth Novak Milliken, Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery
Joyce Black Sears, Black Sears Vineyard
Warren Winiarski, Arcadia Vineyards

NVR LTE version 3/13/18: Grower/Vintner Support for Measure C

AmCan solar farm on: Solar Farming

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

Update 8/16/19
NVR 8/16/19: New solar farm 'greens' former cockfighting site in American Canyon

Update 4/10/19
Citizen Tribune 4/9/19: Renewable Properties Breaks Ground on American Canyon Solar Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Measure C: revised Con Regs on: Conservation Regulations

Bill Hocker - Apr 8,19  expand...  Share

What will watershed protection look like?
Update 5/6/18
A report commissioned by the Vintners/Growers for Responsible Agriculture on the likely impacts (or lack thereof, since it concluded that impacts would be negligible) of proposed changes to the Conservation Regs was made public recently. It had been presented privately to the supervisors prior to their vote. It was a significant effort to provide the data for data-based decision making that the Supervisors and the wine industry have been demanding since Measure C was a proposed. The Supervisors decided to ignore the data.

Update 4/9/18
The board passed the Ordinance 5-0 with some minor clarification modifications.
Water and Tree Protection Ordinance

NVR 4/9/19: Napa County passes controversial tree and water ordinance, so what's next?

Update 4/08/19
NVR 4/7/19: After marathon hearing, Napa County ready to finalize tree and water quality protection ordinance

Another meeting and a chance to nibble away more protections. It was unfortunate that the wine industry/homebuilder lobby badgered the Supes to throw out the ban on development over 30% at the last hearing. If the rationale was that so little is being done there now that protection is not warranted, then what harm would the protections do. The home builders and estate developers know that as land becomes more scarce, development will move up the slope. The Supervisors continue to refuse to address problems until they become unsolvable. The protection is needed now.

Update 3/26/19
NVR 3/26/19: After marathon debate, Napa County supervisors pass watershed, tree protections

The 7-hour video of the hearing and supporting documents are here

In the most consequential comment of the day, Dir. Morrison itemized the county development on slopes over 30% in the last fifteen years: 5 houses, 4 wineries, 0 vineyards. This, unfortunately, was interpreted by some supervisors as indicating that banning development on slopes over 30% was unnecessary, and the provision was struck from the ordinance, evidence-based decision-making in action. The ban was labeled a solution looking for problem, a charge made by many opponents about the entire ordinance. Of course the counter argument could have also been made: if so few things are developed on slopes greater than 30%, then little financial impact will occur to insure that much land will be conserved into the future.

As usual the Supervisors were waiting until a problem was beyond solving, like ridgeline houses or traffic congestion, or a landscape littered with buildings, before they would agree to consider it. The fact that several realtors made the impassioned argument that the 30% ban would impede their ability to develop homes in the hills seemed to be clear evidence of a potential problem. In fact, one real estate agent cited the necessary zig zag gashes on the steep hillsides of Soda Canyon needed to get to the ridgeline homesites overlooking Stags Leap and the Napa Valley. The Supes didn't see that as a problem and caved to the home builders.

The result of all the fire and fury over Measure C, as happened with Measures O and P a decade and a half ago, were some very modest Supervisorial tweaks to policy. The notion that the now obvious relationship between environmental stewardship and the looming extinction of life on earth would change the calculus in the battle between developers and conservationists, and concentrate minds wonderfully, was, alas, put off for another day.

Update 3/24/19
Discussion returns to the Board of Supervisors on 3/26/19. Agenda and documents are here.

NVR 3/24/19: Napa County supervisors search for elusive watershed middle ground

Center for Biological Diversity press release
Jim Wilson letter
Lisa Hirayama LTE 3/25/19: It's a protection, not an infringement
Stuart Smith (OTT) LTE 3/25/19: A cancer eating the county from within

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting Notice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The labor shortage on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Apr 8,19  expand...  Share

Update 4/8/19
Wine-searcher 4/7/19: Napa Staff Shortages Hurting Wineries

A Glenn Schreuder forwards this article commenting that "It would appear that our county's tourism-based economy is coming under significant economic stress and any new development only further exacerbates the fundamental problem.

It has continued to baffle me why the supervisors have been so (myopically)
interested in supporting new winery development projects when they needed to
be encouraging significant diversification of the local economy away from a
tourism-based economy."

This article follows by a day another Wine-searcher article with a similar concern about Napa's current worker woes, coming from a Measure C angle.
Wine-searcher 4/6/19: Napa's Problem is Cars, Not Drought

Update 12/1/18
Just on heels of his insights on the meaning of the opening of The Prisoner Winery, the Register's food and wine writer Tim Carl has done a deep dive, with statistics, into Napa's labor shortage.

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

Update 5/29/17
Glenn Schreuder send this link:
SF Chronicle 5/29/18: Wine Country institution Terra to close after 30 years in St. Helena
"The reason for the closure, said Doumani, who owns the restaurant with husband Sone, isn't profitability. 'We're making money (but) we can't get staff,' she says."

Update 3/17/17
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

NVR 11/19/16: Napa restaurants making extra effort to find workers

Glenn Schreuder just sent this article in the North Bay Business Journal:
NBBJ 9/30/16: Record Napa Valley hospitality job openings challenge employers

A main argument propounded on this site is that the hundreds of construction projects being approved in the county will create more commuting employees, requiring more urban infrastructure and services and place greater pressure for housing development in a never ending cycle of urbanization that will leave Napa county looking like the rest of the Bay Area in the next generation.

Based on the above article, I may have been wrong. Given the jobs boom occurring everywhere at present, the hassle of commuting to Napa Valley to work is apparently not worth it. And as I've said before, affordable housing in Napa is a pipe dream.

This lack of desire on the part of employees to work in Napa may presage another trend that has also been mentioned before: the incredible expansion of tourism venues now approved and scheduled to be built in the next decade may suffer the same reluctance by visitors who also don't want the hassle of gridlocked traffic and overpriced digs.

Napa County, thinking the attractive charm of a rural agricultural community can be visited by the world without the charm being destroyed, is rapidly building itself into a box. It appears we are headed for the worst possible outcome - turning a rural environment and way of life that has proven economically viable into an urban environment that can't support itself.

Rector Reservoir drying up? (probably not yet) on: The Rector Watershed

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

Update 3/28/19
The initial scare last year over a water shortage was probably related to this 2017 lawsuit brought by lawyer William McKinnon representing Water Audit California against the administrators of the Rector Reservoir for failing to provide enough water release to Rector Creek below the dam to maintain fish populations. It is one of numerous efforts Water Audit California has pursued with dam regulators, including Bell Canyon, Kimball, Milliken, and Hennessy to insure release enough water for fish habitat protected by California law.

The lawsuit contains some of the most extensive documentation and analysis of the conditions of the Rector water system.

Update 2/26/18
The subsequent article in the Yountville Sun notes that siltation has decreased the volume of Rector Reservoir from 4500 to 3100 acre feet in the last 70 years. Which means that in addition to the potential loss of spring water into the reservoir from groundwater pumping for vineyards, that siltation from the creation of those vineyards since the 1980's (1500 acres) is reducing the capacity of the reservoir and the water available for use. Which also means that it takes an ever diminishing amount of water to fill the reservoir each year, giving a false sense that agricultural development and a warming climate have not had an impact on water levels. The siltation shown in the photo in this post from last year is from a vineyard re-planting a bit up from the road crossing.

Again Rector Reservoir, given the high ratio of vineyard acerage to watershed area is proving to be an interesting indicator of the potential effects of ongoing vineyard development in the other watersheds of the county. This story just keeps getting more interesting.

NVR 2/21/18: As Yountville reservoir falls, state studies supply � and possible water purchases from Napa

An article in this week's Yountville Sun was pretty arresting: "Rector Dam water could Run out in Aug". I was both surprised, and, given concerns over climate change and the enormous amount of ground water being sucked out of the Rector watershed for vineyard development in the last 25 years, not surprised.

The prospect of Rector going dry, if indeed that is the case, will raise a couple of questions: What impact is vineyard development in the watersheds going to have on water availability, both surface and groundwater, as climate change happens. When it comes to apportioning water for residents, agriculture or tourism who gets preference?

Rector water level and watershed development

The Rector watershed is the most heavily cultivated of Napa's 5 watersheds with approximately 21% of its surface area in vines. The amount of ground water being pumped must be enormous. Does that pumping result in lower levels in the Rector Reservoir? Ground water and surface water are an integrated system, each impacting the other. The Rector Reservoir is over 1000' below the vineyards on the watershed and is undoubtedly augmented with the water of numerous springs from the sides of its steep canyon. While vineyard developer's consultants may try to make a case otherwise, the decreasing water table created by groundwater pumping undoubtedly contributes to a reduction in water reaching the reservoir. The water table is falling on the Rector plateau - I know that from changes in the water level of our spring-fed pond which no longer overflows into the canyon each winter and now dries up completely in the summer. Whether from less rainfall or from increased ground water pumping is impossible to say. Both have been happening since we moved there 25 years ago.

I have always felt that the Rector watershed, given the acerage of vines that cover it, should be a test case for all of Napa's watersheds, illustrating how continued development of the watershed for vineyard use will ultimately impact the water all Napans rely on. The fact that it is the first water supply experiencing the possibility of drying up, should be of concern to all.

Rector water level and tourism development

On the same page of the Yountville Sun, there is an article about a proposed rate hike for water and sewer services in the town. (The city of Yountville gets its water from Rector Reservoir, under contract from the State Dept of Veterans Affairs which owns it and the Veterans Home.) In the article and in LTE's in the same issue, there is a great deal of consternation among city residents that they should be asked to pay for the infrastructure costs of water and sewer systems when, as they rightly surmise, it is the continual increase in the tourism population that necessitates the upgrades. The resident population of Yountville has decreased slightly in the last 30 years from 3200 to 3000. By contrast, the hotel population, 460 rooms or so, has increased the daily population by 900 people, almost all since 1990. In addition, the day-tripper population has grown considerably as the valley has exploded into a good-life mass-tourism destination. The amount of water used and sewage generated has increased proportionately. In fact, high-end hotels and restaurants are high water users compared to residences. Residents are right to ask why they should pay. One frustrated resident recommended raising the TOT instead, stoking a huffy response from Visit Napa Valley's Clay Gregory, Napa's official tourism promoter, saying that the costs are fairly prorated based on water use. Which, of course, still means that residents are paying a portion of the costs necessary to accommodate the tourist population.

The problems of a drying Rector Reservoir highlight the tradeoffs that all Napans may eventually have to make between residents, growers, wine makers and tourists (as well as fish). In reading an article on the drying up of Cape Town's water one comment struck me: "Letting a well-heeled German tourist use some [water] to rinse beach sand off his bottom probably does more good for the economy than spraying it on a wheat field." At what point will the TOT be prioritized over the vines on the basis of the most profit for the available water? Perhaps not soon. But tourism is definitely a more profitable use of land than agriculture, and a water shortage will only accelerate the transfer from an agriculture to tourism economy. At some point, as I tried to bring out in my bit on Bali's water shortage, tourism and agriculture will be on a collision course over water as they are now over the county's economic soul.


Bill Hocker - Feb 20, 2018 1:59PM

There may be other issues to this story. Amber Manfree reminded me that there have been a series of lawsuits against Napa water districts forcing compliance with state environmental law regarding fish habitat protection which may play a part here. The suit against the State Dept of Veterans Affairs over the Rector dam is reported on here. She also warns there may also be issues with the accuracy of the data used to calculate the rates of inflow and outflow of the reservoir. More info is obviously needed from the State engineer that issued the advisory, and a report on the meeting of concerned parties mentioned in the NVR article. [see updated NVR article at top of post]

Cindy Grupp - Feb 20, 2018 10:31AM

Let see . . . we told the county that Soda Canyon has a long history of devastating wild land fires and that the canyon was over due to burn. And it did. We told the county (and the town of Yountville) that the Rector Watershed was over developed and the continued development threatened the water supply for the town of Yountville and the Vet's Home. And it has. We've also told the county that Soda Canyon Road is dangerous, over burdened, in deplorable condition and that increased tourist/wine visitor traffic on the road makes deadly traffic accidents (i.e. tourist bus plunges into the ravine) much more likely.

There is no satisfaction in "I told you so" when the consequences are deadly.

The Caldwell deliberation on: Tourism Issues

Bill Hocker - Mar 20,19  expand...  Share

Update 3/26/19 Darms Lane Winery approved
Katherine Borsetto LTE 3/26/19: A terrible decision on Darms Lane
NVR 3/20/19: Despite neighbor criticism, new Napa Valley winery wins approval for Darms Lane

The glimmer of hope that the County would begin to address the potential negative impacts of tourism venues on farming neighborhoods faded in the Planning Commission's review of the Darm's Lane Winery. As with Caldwell, the Darms Lane winery is at the end of a dead end road that passes through an uncommercialized neighborhood. Neighbors objected to the proposed change in their quality of life. The complaints were ignored and another tourist trap will use up agricultural land and drag more traffic to the minor roads of the county. Along with the O'Brien winery "recognize and allow" request approved later in the day, three more commercial building projects have now been added this year to the urbanization of the ag lands of the county.

Update 3/12/19
NVR 3/12/19: Napa County supervisors send Caldwell winery back to Planning Commission
Video of the 3/12/19 BOS meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Napa Vision 2050 comments and visuals on the project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bill Hocker - Mar 13, 2019 10:55AM

[Email sent to Dir. Morrison to clarify the County use of case law to defend PC's decision to deny Cadwell. No response received as of 4/12/19]

Subject: Neighbors' concerns vs the "Right to Farm"
Date: March 13, 2019 at 4:21:56 PM PDT
To: "Morrison, David"

Director Morrison,

My apologies for bringing this up. I know you are busy.

In the staff letter on the Caldwell Appeal, Staff made a defense of the Planning Commission's decision based on case law:

"Additionally, concern of neighbors is sufficient to constitute substantial evidence that a contemplated use is detrimental to the welfare of the community. Expert testimony on these issues is not necessary. It is appropriate and even necessary for the [planning commission] to consider the interest of neighboring property owners in reaching a decision whether to grant or deny a land use entitlement and the opinions of neighbors may constitute substantial evidence of this issue." (SP Star Enterprises, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 459, 460.)

The Appellant's lawyer then cited the County's "Right to Farm" ordinance which states that the County will not consider the inconveniences or discomforts arising from agricultural operations to be a nuisance. The General Plan also recognizes that "Right to Farm" provisions ensure that agriculture remains the primary land use in Napa County and is not threatened by potentially competing uses or neighbor complaints.

As you know, the "concern of neighbors" and "neighbor complaints" (particularly over visitation) are at the center of most battles over new and expanded wineries that come before the Commission.

As you also know, the revision of the definition of "agriculture" in 2008 and 2017, and by extension "agricultural operations" was about the inclusion of marketing, as defined by the 2010 WDO revisions, in the definition. The "Right to Farm" ordinance makes several references to 18.08.040. It seems hard to avoid the conclusion, which the Caldwell lawyer posited, that tours and tastings, wine pairings and event hosting now fall under the "Right to Farm" and that such activities are not to be threatened by neighbor complaints.

In light of the County's defense of the Planning Commission, it is now a bit unclear what position the County will take on the link between winery tourism impacts (and all farming impacts for that matter) and the rights of impacted neighbors to present substantial evidence in their complaints that a project is a detriment to the welfare of their communities. Projects like Caldwell will continue to come up before the Commission (Darms Lane, Anthem, O'Connell, Aloft are all on the horizon), and knowing whether or not the case law will be a part of the presentation made to Commissioners in future Staff letters would be helpful.

Bill Hocker

Bill Hocker - Mar 12, 2019 5:57AM

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


Thank you for this opportunity to comment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Hocker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open letter to voters regarding post-Measure C: clarifications on: Conservation Regulations

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

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

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

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

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

4. Enhanced watershed protections take away property rights.

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

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

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

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

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

Response: I call BS on all of that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mountain Peak in court on: Mountain Peak Winery

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

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

The Court's ruling is here

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

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

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

SCR Mountain Peak Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some science behind the watershed ordinance on: Conservation Regulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about Chicken Little on: Conservation Regulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Le Colline Vineyard DEIR: comments requested on: Watershed Issues

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

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

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

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

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

Comments should be directed to:

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

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

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

Fire Rebuilding Update on: After The Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original post 9/9/14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

County General Plan Circulation Element Update on: Traffic Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments may be submitted from Sat, Dec 8 through Tues, Dec 18 2018 to John McDowell at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCR on the GHG's of Remote Winery Tourism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Napa Moves to Oregon on: Growth Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom's (rather Trumpian) response to my comments.

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

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

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

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

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

Response to the Bloodlines DEIR on: The Rector Watershed

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

Response letter sent regarding the Bloodlines Vineyards Draft EIR

30 Jan, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Rd
Napa, CA 94558


Bill Hocker - Feb 4, 2019 9:35AM

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

Hello Mr. Hocker,

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

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

Amy Whiteford

January 29, 2019

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

Dear Brian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dave S. Phinney

Hendrickson Vineyards ECP on: The Rector Watershed

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

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

Public comments may be submitted to Planner Don Barilla through Mar 4, 2019, 5:00pm

Hendrickson Vineyards ND
County's Hendrickson page

The Hall Winery Hotel on: Tourism Issues

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

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

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

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

SH City Council is on the case!

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

Project notice
The county documents are here

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

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

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

More on science and vineyards on: Conservation Regulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jobs versus housing on: Napa Strategic Plan

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

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

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

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

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

Oxbow officially designated tourist trap on: City of Napa

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

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

Oxbow Branding study

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

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

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

The chain winery on: Tourism Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video of 12/18/18 meeting and documents
Napa County Strategic Plan 2019-2022
Email with comments

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

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

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

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

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

�� - Napa Strategic Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthem Winery at Planning Commission on: Anthem Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming to a vineyard near you. on: Tourism Issues

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

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

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

The beauties of a tourism economy.

Strategic Plan White Papers on: Napa Strategic Plan

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

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

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

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

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

Save the Family Farm on: Napa Strategic Plan

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

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

Save the Family Farms facebook page
Save the Family Farms on
Save the Family Farms Committee statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Compliance Ladder of Travesty on: Compliance Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note the bullet immediately preceding my COMMENT text.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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