Eternal vigilance is the price of preserving the Napa Valley.
 - Former Planning Dir. Jim Hickey 2008 (RIP 2017)
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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.


Upcoming Events SCR calendar page | County agenda page

Wed, Aug 19, 2020
9:00am

County Planning Commission


Agenda and documents

Saintsbury Winery Major Mod
30,795 more visitors/yr, 9 more employees, 11 more parking spaces, outdoor visitatiaon, sanitary/water upgrades.
Hearing Notice
Map
Wed, Sep 2, 2020
9:00am

County Planning Commission


Ballentine Vineyards Recognize-Allow-Expand Major Mod
75000 more gal/yr, 22835 more visitors/yr, 22 more parking spaces, 93 trips, 15 employees tot, setback varience
County current projects explorer
Hearing Notice
Map

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.

Inn at the Abbey on: The Hotel Binge


Bill Hocker - Aug 6,20  expand...  Share

Update 8/6/20
NVR 8/6/20: Napa County takes initial look at proposed Highway 29 hotel
8/5/20 PC meeting video
8/5/20 PC agenda and docs

7/31/20
A "scoping session" will be held by the Napa County Planning Commission on Aug 5, 2020 for The Inn at the Abbey, a resort project being developed as an extension of the Freemark Abbey north of St. Helena. The meeting agenda with project documents is here. The project will be presented, and the public and planning commissioners will have a chance to weigh in on the project prior to the Planning Department's preparation of an Environmental Impact Report.

Notice of Preparation of the Environmental Imapct Report

This is one of several projects under government review in which the wine industry is making its way into the hotel business. The Farmstead Hotel and the Hall Winery Hotel are also under review. In addition there are at least a couple of projects in which a winery is integral to the resort being developed: Marriott AC Hotel being developed with a winery next door. And the under development Calistoga Hills Resort bought the Reverie Winery and vineyards next door. And then, of course, there is the mammoth Guenoc Valley development proposed just over the county line.

The combination of wine making and hotel accommodation is a new paradigm in Napa County but also, in fact, just represents a continuum in the conversion wine production facilities into tourism venues, first with paid wine tasting and then with food service. Wineries are now only being built based on the tourism related "experiences" and income they produce. The incorporation of lodging into that "experience" is the next step. It is an ominous direction for those that feel that Napa County has already become overburdened by tourism impacts: traffic, housing shortages, loss of local businesses and small-town life.

There are well over 500 official wineries in Napa County. As more winery-hotel projects are realized, the wineries currently prohibited from increasing their revenue stream with overnight guests will agitate for the further loosening of the WDO, as they did for food service, to allow them to compete. Converting wineries into hotels puts Napa County on the road to become a wine-themed Las Vegas. It's easy to imagine what the Palazzo di Amorosa or The Prisoner Cells will be like. Considering how hard Napa has resisted the incursion of casinos into the county, it is odd that they seem to be so willing to consider this transformation.

George Caloyannidis, in a written comment for the scoping session, has asked county planners to consider the cumulative impacts of similar projects, existant and proposed, near the project as required by the State for the production of an Environmental Impact Report. It is an analysis often glossed over with token mitigations in the planning review resulting in a conclusion in the EIR of less-than-significant impacts. Yet the impacts of project after project being built in the county, bringing ever more visitors, employees, traffic, strain on services and resources, loss of rural character and small-town life, have begun to impact everyone that lives here - very significantly.
Caloyannidis Comment about cumulative impacts of resort projects

Lake Co Project to have major Napa Co impacts on: Growth Issues


Bill Hocker - Jul 21,20  expand...  Share

Update 7/21/20
NVR 7/201/20: Major Lake County resort development approved

Considering the two month turnaround between the Draft EIR presentation and the FEIR approval, given the massive scale of a project that will change the character of both southern Lake County and northern Napa County forever, this looks like a brazen example of a wealthy international investor squeezing a small county government to quickly rubber stamp a major project with the lubricant and promise of big, easy money.

Lotusland Guenoc Valley website
Lotusland Investment website: The connection to Soda Canyon Road: Howard Backen, the lead architect on the Guenoc project, is also the architect of the Mountain Peak Project (another international investment) as well as of a nearby $13.5 million estate prominently featured on the Lotusland website.

Update 7/16/20
SH Star 7/16/20: Second public hearing set for Guenoc Valley project, massive resort development

7/7/20 Lake County BOS agenda and documents
6/25/20 Lake County Planning Commission Agenda and Documents

Center for Biological Diversity Letter
Calif State DOJ Fire concerns letter
Other response letters here

Some 4400 vehicle trips a day will be added to Napa Valley's traffic by the project, all passing thorugh Napa CIty and many probably passing through Angwin (rather than the longer route through Calistoga and Tubbs Lane), and yet Napa county governments or their affected citizens seem to have no real influence beyond letters of concern. As the FEIR states, "It should be noted that no project components or related improvements would occur within Napa County." Butt out.

6/9/20
SH Star 6/9/20: Massive resort development planned in southern Lake County

16,000 acre development
850 hotel and resort rental units
golf course
1400 residential vineyard estates
500 worker SRO's on site
50 unit workforce houses off site
865,395 sf commercial/retail
spa, entertainment, equestrian, camping facilities
850,000 gal/yr wineries
2 heliports!

14783 trips/day generated
4434 trips/day through the Napa Valley, the only access from the Bay Area

Lake County Guenoc Valley Mixed-Use Planned Development Project
EIR Notice of availability
Final EIR for the Project

Lake County News 5/16/17: Middletown Area Town Hall hears update on Guenoc Valley project

Walt Ranch in Court on: Walt Ranch


Bill Hocker - Jul 20,20  expand...  Share

Update 7/20/20
NVR 7/20/20: Napa County questions how Walt Ranch vineyards will mitigate greenhouse gases

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

2/5/18
NVR 1/21/17: Walt Ranch approvals head to court

Streamlining diverted on Whitehall Lane on: The Winery Glut


Bill Hocker - Jul 20,20  expand...  Share

NVR 7/19/20: Napa County seeks middle ground in Whitehall winery/neighbor dispute
Agenda and minutes for 7/16/20 PC hearing

The county, in one of their first attempts to implement the new streamlining ordinance to handle winery expansions administratively rather than through a planning commission hearing, illustrates the concern in allowing County staff to decide which winery projects should be public knowledge and which should not.

For a large winery with massive visitation in the heart of the Hwy 29 tourism kill zone, the request was modest: a small building is to be rebuilt to be more visitation friendly. And event hours were to be extend from an old permit allowance of 6:00pm to 10:00pm. The winery has residential neighbors who objected to the extension of hours. Apparently even the heavily trafficked areas of the valley are still quiet and dark after nightfall. In this prime area of the valley the neighbors are well tied into the wine establishment of the valley and the opposition was led by John Williams, the founder and owner of Frog's Leap, one of the iconoic Napa brands established in the 1970's. Mr. Williams initial letter is here.

Mr. Williams concerns are not at all different from the concern over tourism impacts that we voiced in our opposition to the Mountain Peak Winery beginning 6 years ago. And that neighbors of every contentious winery project since have expressed about tourism impacts to their neighborhoods. This is not the first time that founding members of the wine industry have been impacted by the negative impacts of the entertainment model that their industry is adopting. Yountville Hill was torpeoded by the opposition of neighbors like of Dennis Groth and Christian Moueix. Andy Beckstoffer battled mightly with the tourism expansion of the Raymond Winery next door. Winery developer Paul Woolls was pained that B-Cellars across the street from his home was operating like a restaurant. Their are other examples.

No one who lives in the county wants tourism to spoil the quiet enjoyment to be had being in a rural small town community. Yet members of the wine industry continue to push the conversion of the economy from wine making into tourism, in their own economic self-iiterest only recognizing the pernicious, long-term effects of such efforts when the events and parties and traffic come to the property next door to their homes. Until the moguls of the wine industry recognize collectively that something they value personally is being lost by converting to a tourism economy, there is little hope that that Napa will escape the the sad trajectory of urban development that it is on.

Oxbow Hotels on: The Hotel Binge


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

Update 7/17/20 Foxbow Hotel
NVR 7/17/20: Napa's Planning Commission declines to recommend Oxbow hotel project
NVR 7/11/20: City to evaluate Napa hotel straddling Wine Train line; two historic homes to be moved

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 Wine Train Hotel
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

7/14/17 Black Elk Hotel
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.

Soda Canyon to receive fire safety funds on: Fire Issues


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

[Barbara Guggia, our Soda Canyon Firewise Council point person, has sent along this note about funds available for fire prevention measures on our road.]

GOOD NEWS FROM THE SODA CANYON FIRE SAFE COUNCIL:
The Napa Communities Firewise Foundation received a $130,000 fuel reduction grant from PG&E and $50,000 will be applied to work along Soda Canyon Road. We sincerely thank PG&E for funding this grant. This fuel break project will provide fuel reduction along Soda Canyon Road and will focus on roadside clearance of fuel, fuel spacing, and the removal of potential strike trees which could block access and egress along Soda Canyon Road. The work will be completed by November 2020. This is great news for the residents of the Soda Canyon community and we are extremely grateful to all the individuals from the Napa Communities Firesafe Foundation who worked hard writing this grant. Their support of our community is sincerely appreciated.

The Farmstead Hotel on: The Hotel Binge


Bill Hocker - Jul 14,20  expand...  Share

The wine industry is now venturing into overnight accommodation after their success in becoming restauranteurs. A prime example is the movement of Ted Hall's Long Meadow Ranch, starting from grape growing to wine making to the Farmstead Restaurant and now to the proposed Farmstead Hotel. Mr. Hall is so far the exemplar developer in the Valley. Each effort to move into tourism has been conceived in an understated, locationally appropriate and environmentally sensitive way. No Tuscan Castles, French Palaces or Bunny Foo-Foo's to litter the landscape.

But no matter how well done, the Farmstead Hotel represents an acceleration of the massive tourism expansion that has already distorted normal life in Napa. Wine makers are getting into the hotel business.

Ted Hall's project is a sensitive attempt to accommodate community concern while still tapping into the conversion of his home from a wine making region into a tourist destination. The project site, when viewed in the aerial photo, a field notched into the urban fabric of the town, is not destined to remain a field for long. The visual, traffic and water impacts on the town would be barely different and perhaps less than the townhouses that would probably be built instead.

But it is right to push back on the unceasing expansion of the tourism industry that is destroying the rural small-town authenticity that used to be the county's claim to fame. This project deserves scrutiny, especially since it is an early example of an ominous new trend in the wine industry toward hotel development. The winery hotel being proposed by the other Halls and the Freemark Abbey Hotel are also in the vanguard. The continued development of such projects at the more than 500 wineries in the county, developed by less community-conscious entrepreneurs than Mr. Hall, will have far reaching consequences for the character of Napa County.

Documents
7/14/20 City Council meeting agenda and documents
7/12/20 George Caloyannidis Letter
Staff Agenda Report and Graphics

Articles
NVR 7/12/20: St. Helena seeks input on Farmstead hotel proposal
SH Star 4/29/20: St. Helena to negotiate with applicant on potential Farmstead hotel
SH Star 2/19/19: Farmstead owner plans new hotel in St. Helena
NVR 8/1715: St. Helena council praises Farmstead hotel plan

Franklin Station Hotel on: The Hotel Binge


Bill Hocker - Jul 12,20  expand...  Share

Update 7/12/20
NVR 7/11/20: City planners to review post office-to-hotel conversion in downtown Napa

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

Nicer renderings, and the more solid box on the corner is a better fit with the Post Office. building.


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

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

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.

Wetlands and entry to the Valley take another hit on: Growth Issues


Bill Hocker - Jul 7,20  expand...  Share

click to enlarge
Another chunk of the wetlands that form the greenbelt between Napa and the rest of the Bay area suburban sprawl is to be put up for subdivision at the Planning Commission on 7/15/20. The rural character that used to define the entrance to the Napa Valley leading to the Soscol split and the Grape Cursher monument is being urbanized with the worst kind of industrial detritus. The really gross Chevron Station built a few years ago signaled the death knell of the expansive view of the wetlands on leaving the valley. This project will complete the destruction of the view and add greatly to the entry to Napa County as an alley of warehouses.

Water Audit California on: Watershed Issues


Bill Hocker - Jun 22,20  expand...  Share

Update 6/22/20
The Napa Water Forum and The Refugia Project Update

Update 2/10/20
NVR 2/10/20: Watershed forum looks to defuse Napa County water issues

1/27/20
Water Audit California, a public benefit corporation that has filed numerous lawsuits against water agencies in the state of California for failure to provide enough water to maintain fish habitats, has served notice of potential legal action to the Napa County Board of Supervisors to court over a new winery streamlining ordinance that will induce development of additional vineyard and winery estates.

Water Audit California Notice of Intended Litigation
(from this Napavision2050 article)
SCR on the Streamlining ordinance

Water Audit has also sued the Kimball and Bell Reservoir agencies.
Issues about the Rector Reservoir outflow and the Water Audit lawsuit are here.

Alta Napa Valley Winery on: The Winery Glut


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

Another new winery is up before the Planning Commission on Jul 1, 2020: the Alta Napa Valley Winery. It is modest; 10,000 gal/yr, 3660 visitors per year. It is just the kind of small "family winery" that is easy to approve. But there are issues nonetheless.

It will be located on the Trail just south of the strawberry stand. The building is about 85' from the edge of the Trail requiring a variance to the 600' required setback. It is so close to the road because that is the one tiny corner of the site that is not in the Napa River flood zone. (It seems the only affordable sites for new wineries these days need dispensations to be developed, and the County seems to want every 10+ acre site to have a winery on it.)

It is an unhandsome box of a building bristling with solar collectors surrounded by a parking lot and water tanks. It's entry is a couple hundred feet south of the strawberry stand increasing the dangers of the harrowing traffic movement already there. And It is one more winery adding to the strip-mall of wineries developing on the lower portion of the Trail.

This box will join the just-finished boxy house north of the strawberry stand and the boxy Ellman house completed last year. (I have a thing, obviously, about boxes in bucholic landscapes.)

Documents for the project are on the 7/1/20 agenda and on the new Napa County Current Projects Explorer. (You'll have to do some digging to find the documents - it is no longer possible to link to a individual project page.)

Napa County Website on: Open Comments


Bill Hocker - Jun 15,20  expand...  Share

Update 7/1/20
New discovery: County Winery Explorer Very nicely done.

Update 6/21/20
The county has once again updated an important part of their website: the Current Projects webpage (now defunct) has been replaced by the Current Projects Explorer.

Accessing projects in the Planning Commission pipeline from a map is good, but the info is no longer available through simple links to web pages and can now only be done by individually navigating through the dashboard. Even the County's own hearing notifications can no longer link directly to the project information. The dashbord currently always opens up, confusingly, on the "Red Lake Winery" and you must begin searching for the right project. The low key "here" link, buried in a sentence at the bottom of a scroll then makes it unintuitave for first time users to find a project's documents.

More importantly, just as with their previous website update, all the documents related to these projects are accessed through a new database with new URL's, meaning that hundreds of links on the internet (and my website) no longer work. Staff is probably in the process of updating everything but it will take time. Walt Ranch and Mountain Peak have no documents yet (nor does Red Lake Winery). This is the fourth attempt to organize current project data in the last 6 years. Each has been an improvement is some respects but the loss of document links with each change is a problem.

The fact each project page and its associated documents disappear once the project has been approved is also annoying. The "final" documents for each project, I suppose, reside in the granicus database linked to the BOS and PC agendas. But try finding the final documents of a particular project by scouring the meeting agendas, in some cases with numerous meetings going over years at both the commission and the board - it's an impossible task. On the current projects page all the documents related to a project are available. There is no reason why that page should not be updated when the project is approved and remain a permanent record available to all.


Original Post 1/3/18
NVR 1/3/18: Napa County tries to cut bureaucratic clutter with new, intuitive website

The County of Napa has just put up their new website at https://www.countyofnapa.org/

As an enthusiast playing around with data-based websites myself, I have been amazed at the transformation of the County site over the last 4 years in bringing its many disparate services, documents and data systems online into a consistent portal. As with anything that grows organically there was a level of eccentricity that made finding some things a challenge, but the fact that the most obscure information was available at all is a miracle.

The new site will probably create a more logical hierarchy and ease the ability to find stuff. It is presumably the first step in beginning to manage all of the documents being digitized in the coming years.

The "branding" has changed. Just like the Register, it now has a bunch of very big (and unnecessary) photos taking up space on its home page. And its livery is now blue and purple instead of green and yellow. Green seems a more appropriate color for a county committed to agriculture. Perhaps the change shows a change in commitment: note that "A Tradition of Stewardship" has been eliminated under the logo. I know it's human nature to want to redecorate periodically. Still, consistency over time should be a hallmark of a substantial institution. As the post about the new Napa City logo Indicated, I'm not a big fan of rebranding.

The downside of the change for me is that I have hundreds of links to county webpages and documents on this site. Many of them are now broken. The county webmaster has made some effort to "redirect" old main page addresses to the new pages, (and is doing so as I write). But many of the documents and sub pages may be harder to relink. For example, all of the documents related to the 2008 General Plan DEIR and FEIR are not yet findable on the new site. Not intentionally, I trust. In time I will do my best to repair the broken links.

Contact me if you find a link that you particularly want reestablished.

FIre-Safe Watershed Development Initiative on: Fire Issues


Bill Hocker - Jun 4,20  expand...  Share

Following the Supervisors denial of the Hard Six Cellars Winery on the remote Diamond Mountain Road, George Caloyannidis has begun a discussion, in the form of a draft initiative, to codify the conditions under which winery projects and their tourism programs may be developed in the watershed areas of the county in order to protect the health and safety of county residents and visitors. Planning Commissioners, in originally approving the project, expressed concern that they had no code justification to consider the severe access constraints on this property any differntly than a more accessable winery.


Update 4/4/20
George Caloyannidis letter to Supervisors and attached articles on human-caused wildfire danger:


Dear Napa County Planning Commissioners and Supervisors,

As an adjunct to my May 18 letter to the Supervisors urging additional restrictions for commercial activities in the AW when served by substandard roads, or ones with no secondary escape routes or ones on cull-de-sacs, I attach scientific data confirming that human activity is responsible for 84% of all wild fires -- 87% in Australia.

Yet, the Planning Commission, undeterred by science, keeps approving such winery activities at an unprecedented scale by adding human activity, industrial and visitor in our fire-prone areas.

Equally disturbing is the fact that during your recent joint meeting, this subject was ignored.

I believe this continued practice to be irresponsible if not downright immoral.

George Caloyannidis

Articles on prevalance of human-caused wildfires
George Caloyannidis LTE 5/31/20: Immoral policies in our fire-prone zones



Original post 5/18/20
George Caloyannidis letter to Supervisors on a proposed initiative to codify road access conditions for developments projects in the watershed areas of the county:

George Caloyannidis
2202 Diamond Mountain Road
Calistoga, CA 94515 May 16, 2020


RE: Proposed Firesafe Agricultural Watershed Development Ordinance

To: The Honorable Napa County Supervisors

Dear Supervisors,

My experience with Measure D has been cumbersome and expensive to both myself, to the generous funders who embraced its cause and to the Napa County taxpayers in defense of a subsequent frivolous lawsuit.

I attach the Draft of what at this point is a contemplated Voter Initiative for the year 2022, in the hope of avoiding this route if an Ordinance can accomplish that same objective before the end of May 2021 window of opportunity. Fully aware that the wheels of government are slow to turn, I must stress that once this time window is closed and legal and other expenses have been incurred, such window will close.

I am encouraged by the statements by all of you during the public hearings preceding Measure D arguing that a County Ordinance would have been a preferred route that such an alternative vehicle can be accomplished this time.

On the other hand, I like to remind you that in order to forestall Measure D, Mr. Frank Farella at his own expense through his law firm had submitted the language for an alternative Ordinance only to be asked by Staff to pay $1,700.00 for it just to be considered. This ingratitude caused him to withdraw it resulting in the subsequent expensive process.

It is everyone’s sincere hope that the upcoming fire season will not prove another deadly one but climate change points to the opposite scenario for decades to come.
Much organizational progress has been made since, especially by local citizen efforts in improving communications and obtaining limited public funds to minimize the quantity of fire fuel along some of the overgrown roads in the Agricultural Watershed. But as we have seen, failing communication infrastructure, power shutdowns and an overwhelmed fire personnel during rapidly spreading fire infernos do not guarantee orderly and gradual evacuations under the existing inadequate evacuation infrastructure. Major structural impediments exist. And as we have seen, they have been deadly.

The last Diamond Mountain Firewise Council meeting took place on February 29, 2020 just prior to the COVID-19 lockdown. Following expert presentations by CalFire officials and Wildfire consultant Carol Rice, some 100 attendees were presented the opportunity to fill out a questionnaire as to their desired actions to improve fire safety. They could be roughly sorted into immediate and long-term actions.

The first two immediate ones - removing hazardous vegetation and creating fuel breaks - received 59 combined votes but the next four on the list were long-term actions for improved access and escape routes which received a combined 61 votes.

Access and escape routes are considered by the Diamond Mountain and Kortum Canyon communities as life and death issues during a wildfire. The same concerns have been expressed by similarly situated communities on other western and eastern hills of the county. Inadequate access concerns were also cited by you in granting the recent appeal in the Hard Six Cellars winery application.

It is my sincere hope that the Board of Supervisors will prioritize consideration of this proposal so that our group can gain timely clarity as to its future action.

Sincerely,
George Caloyannidis

Napa County Fire-Safe Ag Watershed Development Draft Initiative
Napa County Road and Street Standards (General Minor Road profile on pg.26, Cul-de-sac pg. 27)


2020 Joint BOS/PC meeting on: Growth Issues


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

Update 5/23/20
5/19/20 BOS/PC Joint meeting video
NVR 5/20/20: Napa County looks at wine country growth

5/18/20
NVR 5/18/20: Napa County to tackle wine country growth issues in COVID-19 world

The 5/19/20 meeting of the Napa County Board of Supervsors will include a joint session with the Napa County Planning Commission to discuss planning issues and priorities coming up in the near future. Item 9H here.

The session was added at the last minute in the midst of public-participation Covid constrictions. The input of residents impacted by continuing urbanization will no doubt be muted. The last joint meeting, in 2015, drew hundreds of citizens to the process, and a lengthly, though ultimately unfruitful, airing of concern over the pace of development in the county.

How tourism and the wine industry will rebound from the Covid crisis is still unknown, but the people packing bars in Wisconsin and the pro-tourism legislation in Napa passed after the 2008 downturn indicate that tourism impacts will probably be a bigger issue after the virus than before. The direction toward more urban development projects -- hotels and winery tourism venues, housing, road and warehouse construction, deforestation for vineyard estates -- has solidified in the last years, and the battle to limit that development seems, unfortunately, to be more and more a lost cause.

The emphasis in the Staff letter to the Supervisors for this session seems to be on the next ABAG RHNA affordable housing requirement for 2023 to 2031. The previous requirement for the 2015-2022 cycle was 180 uints which were accomodated after incredibly convoluted negotiations within the Napa Pipe project. In fact the County's desire to develop Napa Pipe was based on the affordable housing it would provide to meet ABAG requirements. Ultimately it will be a counter productive effort. In addition to 180 affordable units the project will have 750 market-rate units, 200,000sf of industrial/commercial space, a hotel, nursing home and a Costco. The number of added employees in the county created by the project and needing affordable housing will no doubt be greater than the affordable units added. Building the project will exaserbate the housing shortage, not reduce it. Probably another developer is currently in the wings with another massive urban project on county land promising to accomodate the 2023-31 allotment.

The only site currently identified as a potential for affordible housing in the unincorporated county is one owned by Pacific Union College in Angwin. Napa's oldest commmunity pushback organization, Save Rural Angwin, challenged the potential use of Angwin sites to meet the 2015-22 RHNA allotment in the 2014 General Plan update. The organization is still quite active in opposing development in Angwin.

Saving the Bay on: Growth Issues


Bill Hocker - Apr 9,20  expand...  Share

PBS has just re-aired the 2011 documentary, Saving the Bay. It covers the history of the bay and the more recent efforts to restore its wetland ecology. But it is the political effort to preserve the bay from landfill development in the 1960's (clips 24 and 25 here) that had the most resonance in the current effort to preserve Napa County from the wave of housing, tourism, industrial and good-life development brought on by the Bay Area tech boom. While the significance of saving the agricultrural and rural character of Napa County perhaps doesn't rise to the same level of importance as preventing the San Francisco Bay from being paved over in the post war development boom, it is inspiring to see an example of a grassroots effort that thwarted the never ending ambitions of developers to fill up open space with buildings.

Napa County and Coronavirus on: Open Comments


Bill Hocker - Apr 3,20  expand...  Share

Update 4/11/20
George Caloyannidis LTE 4/10/20: County must reassess its public hearings policy
CNPA 3/12/20: Governor suspends some Brown Act provisions to allow teleconferencing

3/18/20
The County sent this notice regarding the 3/17/20 BOS meeting:

Public Participation Notice re: 3/17/20 BOS meeting
The meeting will feature the use of Zoom videoconferencing technology to allow remote public participation as will as a limited number of people to attend the actual meeting.

The meeting will deal with the appeal of the Bremer Winery "recognize and allow" use permit modifications approved by the Planning Commission on 10/16/19. More on the Bremer Winery Saga here.

Bay Area Counties, NOW including Napa County, have announced a complete "Shelter in Place" policy which will prevent all movement, including to public meetings, except for the purchase of necessities, in the affected counties.

George Calyoannidis has just sent a link to the Australian 60 Minutes (very informative) report on the potential of the coronavirus: https://youtu.be/Y7nZ4mw4mXw


NVR 3/18/20: Updated: Napa County orders people to shelter at home because of COVID-19

The Bremer Saga on: Compliance Issues


Bill Hocker - Mar 16,20  expand...  Share

Update 7/17/20
NVR 7/17/20: Napa County gives split decision in Bremer winery stream case

Update 3/17/20
The 3/17/20 BOS Appeal hearing for the Bremer WInery took place with 2 supervisors videoconferencing and dificulties in the tansmission. No appellants were able to make it into the hearing. The appellant William McKinnon of the Calif Water Audit did manage to make the somewhat garbled Zoom connection and made a somewhat circuitous and philosophical presentation about the County's handling of the Bremer bootlegs through speed-cop analogy.

He said that he has already submitted the case to the courts on the basis of the existing record and that he feels that the hearing conditions are untenable and that the Board's decision today is, in any case, superfluous.

Chair Dillon is struggling to keep the hearing going when, in fact the hearing should probably be continued. Applicant lawyer Kathy Felch says she is having trouble on Zoom. The Board's lawyer is making a case that the board is taking significant steps to meet all legal requirements no doubt in preparation for future lawsuits. The Board is making an extrordinary effort to proceed with the hearing despite no appellants, bad zoom connection and a process that is wildly irregular. It is impossible to believe that any hearing decisions will not be legally challenged just on the chaotic nature of its process.

David Galbreth, Bremer's lawyer, presented the appeal as just a punitive attempt to make a poster-child case for watershed con reg strengthing. Fish and wildlife has signed off on creek modifications. Phil Blake of RSA testifies that the creek does not violate any wildlife and fish regulations or the intent and spirit of the conservation regulations in protecting the water flowing through the creek. Other consultants said the same.

Supervisor discussion revolved around the 6 constructed items identified on the staff map of the disputed additions within the creek setbacks. On items E and F, the rock walls retaining the creek and two bridges over the creek they decided to approve (ie deny the appeal on those two issues). On items A, B, C and D, a newly built barn, a patio, an addition to the house and free standing bathrooms, the decision was to was to remand those issues back to the planning commission for review. The vote was 5-0 to remand A thru D and deny appeal on E and F. Sup Dillon in the end did manage to provide an orderly process despite the extreme technical difficulties.

It seems like a punt on the part of the Supes. It is difficult to see how the planning commisssion will be any better judges of the appropriate course of action than the Supes who seemed to show a lack of courage foisting the decision back on the the PC. If the PC does change its mind and recomment tearing down the buildings the Supes will again have to hear an appeal this time from the Bremers side and be confronted with the same decisions they have punted on today. In any case it apears that the project is already headed to the next phase in the courts regardless of the County's decision. Mr. McKinnon has proven himself a very tenatious litigator.

Update 3/16/20
The Bremer Winery "recognize and allow" use permit modifications approved by the Planning Commission on 10/16/20 are being appealed before the Board of Supervisors on Tue, 17 Mar 2020, 9:00am.
BOS agenda and documents
Staff letter to BOS about appeal
Special meeting participation precautions because of coronavirus

2/2/20
The Bremer Winery has become the poster child of good-life developer hubris and county impotence in dealing with it. The feeling that it is better to ask forgiveness than permission is evident in all of the efforts the Bremers have taken to develop their wine county ambitions. They developed their vineyard beyond their permit, were called out by both the county and regional regulators and were required to restore their alterations to waterways. At the same time they asked the county to legitimize additions to their winery and to increases in wine production and tourism on the basis of unstated limits on their use permit as well as allow illegal encroachments into stream setbacks. The county denied the increases and exceptions and then sued the Bremers for violation of the county's ordinances. The Bremers technically lost the suit, and in a settlement agreement, paid off the county $271,000 and reduced visitation and production with the agreement that the county would reconsider their legalize their illegal conditions after a year. The Bremers then sued their layers for losing the suit! After several months they reapplied for legalization of their encroachments to the Planning Commission, which the county then approved in accord with the conditions of their legal agreement!

It is now up to residents impacted by the Bremers' arrogant flouting of the county decisions and actions to litigate (with time and money) the county's convoluted sanctioning of that illegal activity.

The appeal of the Planning Commission's approval of Bremers' illegal upgrades is now scheduled to be heard at the 3/17/20 Board of Supervisors meeting.

The Appeal packet is here
10/16/19 Planning Commission video
10/16/19 Planning Commission agenda and documents


Articles
winebuisiness 12/11/19: Napa County Board of Supervisors to Review Planning Commission Vote in Bremer Case
NVR 10/17/19: Napa County grants Bremer winery exceptions for footbridges, storage barn
NVR 4/23/19: Napa County's Bremer winery sues local law firm, alleging negligence
winebusiness.com 4/24/19: Napa Valley Winery Sues Law Firm
NVR 2/12/19: Napa County, Bremer Family Winery reach lawsuit settlement
NVR 12/24/18: Trial date for Napa County suit against Bremery winery pushed back
NVR 9/25/18: Napa's Bremer case may have larger winery visitation implications
SH Star 8/8/17: Napa County decides to take Upvalley winery to court
Michael Honig LTE 7/19/17: Stop allowing them to ask forgiveness
NVR 7/12/17: Upvalley winery hit with water agency violation
NVR 12/30/16: No. 1 story of 2016: Wine industry under fire
Micheal Sutty LTE 9/26/16: Why not plant more cover crops
NVR 9/17/16: Napa red-tags Bremer soil-hauling vineyard creation project
NVR 8/26/16: Angwin winery importing Napa Valley soil for hillside vineyard
7/22/16 Kellie Anderson letter to county about the Bremer ECP


Incumbents remain: more development ahead on: 2020 Campaign


Bill Hocker - Mar 9,20  expand...  Share

Update 3/21/20
NVR 4/21/20: Napa County Election Division posts final certified results from primary election
Final 2020 Primary Election Certified Results

3/9/20
County Mar 3, 2020 Election Results as of 3/10/20 ("last" unofficial results?)
NVR 3/4/20: Measure K short of approval threshold; supporters still hopeful
NVR 3/4/20: Pedroza, Ramos lead Napa County Board of Supervisors races
NVR 3/4/20: Incumbents take lead in early Napa County returns

Amber Manfree, in the 3/9 unofficial results, trails Alfredo Pedroza by about 800 votes in the election for District 4 Supervisor. Pedroza has 4449, Manfree 3,672. 6,700 ballots still to tabulate? (I think...the numbers are a bit confusing.).

In the race for District 5, Belia Ramos leads Mariam Aboutdamous 4125 to 3,620. 9,500 votes still to count

In another potential blow for preservationists, Measure K doesn't look like it will reach the 2/3 threshold needed to pass at about 63% yes to 37% no. The lack of a predictable funding source for the purchase of open space in the county by the Park District means that keeping those lands out of the hands of private developers will be much more difficult.

In all, the election seems to be a rout for anyone wishing to protect the county's rural and natural heritage. The majority on the Board remains the same, and so far that majority has been consistent in allowing development of vineyard property into event centers and in encouraging the development of woodlands for vineyard estates and of industrial development of the wetlands in the south county.

Added to these worries are the inducements that the pandemic, stock market crash, short term impact on tourism and long term fall in wine sales, will create for future dilution of rural protections. Following the 2008 recession the wine industry and government made an effort to spur tourism development by loosening the restrictions on winery entertainment, a more profitable business than making wine. Visit Napa Valley was empowered. The municipalities also threw out the welcome mat for hotel development the effects of which we are just beginning to see. Another dose of tourism stimulus is to be expected.

NVR 3/16/20: Amid declining travel, Napa's wine industry braces for coronavirus impact

But already the direction of urban development in the county has shifted away from tourism and is headed in the more traditional directions of housing and roads, the directions explicitly rejected by the founders of Napa's agricultural economy. Mr. Pedroza ran on the basis of encouraging housing and transport projects. Promotion of such projects, by developers and politicians alike, is touted as relieving existing problems. The reality is that, by bringing a larger population into the county, they just induce even more development, urbanization increases and the problems get worse.

Statewide election results: CNN results by county here

Oak Knoll Hotel on: The Hotel Binge


Bill Hocker - Mar 4,20  expand...  Share

Update 3/4/20
3/4/20 Planning Commission video
3/4/20 Planning Commission agenda and documents

In perhaps one of the more interesting discussions from a policy standpoint in the last so many years, the County Planning Commission seems to be saying that approval of the Oak Knoll Hotel EIR might require the applicant make a real solution to the housing need created by the new jobs at the project. Either through a COA that so many units of a market-rate housing project elsewhere will be made affordable by the applicant or that the applicant will be directly involved in the creation of affordable rate units elsewhere. This new emphasis on providing housing follows the concern of nearby Yountville mayor John Dunbar expressed in this letter. And following the example of Gasser allocating affordable housing specifically to support its hotel project.

The applicant has proposed an increased one-time contribution to an existing housing project to subsidize the costs of providing affordable housing at the time of the building permit is issued. (Say toward to Napa Pipe's affordable housing units.) One developer contributing to another developer? hmm. Planning Commissioner. Mazotti, a developer himself, has the most significant comments in all this and he does have concerns about tying this payment and the permit to vagaries of the execution of another project.

$1 mil seems to be the amount the applicant has offered as a one time contribution.

Planning Director Morrison acknowledges that building affordable housing is really expensive and tying the contribution to the building of new units might be ineffective. The county does have a worker proximity housing fund which might be a better place for the contribution. That fund is for home buying rather than rent, and hence would probably preclude most new workers in the county.

He aid the 150 units at Napa Pipe cost $30mil, or $200,000 per unit (which seems really low to me compared to this in-constructtion recent example). $1mil would provide 5 units for the 33 employees of the hotel, i.e. at most 30% of the new housing need created assuming 2 employees per house. Napa Pipe has also taken 12 years of convoluted effort to begin. On the other hand, $1mil divided as monthly rent subsidies of say $1000 per month per unit would amount to 5 years of subsidies for the 33 workers assuming 2 workers/unit.

This whole discussion and the COA that the Commission wants to add, represents a major policy issue that should be made through the BOS on a county wide basis applying to all new projects, including wineries, industrial buildings, as well as resorts and hotels, that add to the affordable housing need in the county. The easiest COA might be to add a condition that for each employee of the project, a yearly payment, or a one time payment covering say 10 years, is made by the owner of the property that amounts to the difference between affordable and average market rate housing in the county. Employees could then draw from that fund (presumably a more inclusive worker proximity fund) to supplement their housing pay. How that fund is administered and regulated, since it would be substantial and need a lot of bookkeeping, might require a greater effort than the county currently makes on the worker proximity fund. As a major effort to combat the housing crisis and make developers and owners factor in the impacts they create, some similar policy would be a landmark piece of legislation. It is a decision that needs to be made by the Board and not the Commission.

The FEIR was certified 3-0 with Gallagher no and Hansen gone, with the added COA that $1mil would be handed over upon issuance of a building certificate, to another housing developer or to the county's proximity workforce housing fund.

Update 2/28/20
NVR 2/28/20: One rural Napa County hotel wrapping up, another on the horizon

The Oak Knoll Final EIR will be certified by the County Planning Commission on Mar 4, 2020. The meeting agenda and documents are here. It is the only item on the agenda.

And now a new winery hotel is being proposed, The Inn at the Abbey, following on the Farmstead Hotel at Longmeadow Ranch and the Hall Winery Hotel. It is only a matter of time, perhaps when the next recession occurs, before a push will come from the industry for a change in the WDO to allow overnight accommodation in addition to food service. As we've seen, it is difficult to limit the profits to be made from tourism entertainment solely to the major wineries. The vanity vintners want in on the act.

The trend seems fairly predictable. The consideration of food service as an agricultural process has been promoted by the industry and legalized in successive ordinances since 2008.

Update 1/23/20 Oak KnollFEIR
NVR 1/23/20: Proposed hotel on Solano Avenue wins Napa County Planning Commission praise

And there you have it: "Planning Commission Chair Dave Whitmer said the commission wouldn’t consider a hotel in this area if the property wasn’t zoned commercial. But it is." Zoning changes are a one-way street: urbanizing density can only be increased, not decreased. The future urban development of the county is assured.

Update 1/2/20 FEIR
The Final Environmental Impact Report of the the Oak Knoll Hotel project is done and will be presented at the Planning Commission on Jan 22, 2020.
Hearing Notice
County's Oak Knoll Hotel page
Oak Knoll FEIR, comments, responses
NVR 1/2/20: Napa County answers questions about proposed Solano Avenue hotel

I had forgotten that I had submitted a letter on the project. (It was the 6/30/17 entry below). Ascent's response to one point in the letter restates a circular argument made often by EIR consultant's to less environmentally impactful alternatives:
An alternative using the project site for agriculture would not meet most of the project’s objectives as presented on page 2-1 of the DEIR and would not be considered feasible.

Less impactful alternatives are infeasible because they are not what the developer wants to do. As is the case with most of the winery projects being approved in the county, this project's actual objective, given its suitability as prime vineyard land, is simply to make more money from the land than can be made with agriculture. To dismiss the feasibility of raising crops because a developer wants to make more money than agriculture can provide is a slippery slope in a place with the purported objective of preserving ag land. The slide has well begun.

Update 7/5/18
NVR 7/16/18: Napa Planning Commission gets a first look at rural Oak Knoll hotel project
NVR 7/5/18: Proposed Solano Avenue resort under environmental scrutiny by Napa County

Update 6/22/18 DEIR
A Draft EIR for the Oak Knoll Hotel project is now available.
The Notice of Availability is here
The DEIR is Here

Original Post 6/30/17
NVR 6/29/17: County studies proposed Oak Knoll hotel on rare rural commercial property
Yountville Sun 6/29/17: Neighbors Not Sold on Oak Knoll Hotel Project

County Oak Knoll Hotel page
EIR Notice of Preparation

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

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

This parcel is eminently viable for agricultural use, leased perhaps to the owner of the adjacent vineyards. This project will not have a "minimal impact". The impact of a 50 room hotel, 33 employees and 109-space parking lot, on the open-space character of the surrounding vineyards plus the increased traffic and water and sewer concerns such a project presents, should be a point of contention between the county and the developer. Perhaps the various alternatives presented by staff to the planning commission represent some pushback from the county. But it is not enough.

An alternative not presented in the DEIR (which might be considered "2c-No Project-Existing Entitlements Alternative (Agricultural Restoration)") is the use of the property for agriculture. Money can actually be made growing grapes in Napa County. It is not a taking to disallow building construction on prime arable land at the center of the Napa Valley.

Paradise is being paved over in one building project after another as the official guardians of the county's rural heritage continue to promote development interests, hoping to bolster government coffers while really just adding to the government expense of maintaining a more urban environment.

This project is an opportunity to mitigate that development trajectory and suggest that the urbanization that is currently nibbling away at Napa's agricultural land, with building projects approved at almost every planning commission meeting, can not only be slowed but in fact reversed.

Amber for District 4 Supervisor 2024 on: 2020 Campaign


Bill Hocker - Mar 3,20  expand...  Share

"No matter what the outcome of this election, win or lose, we need to keep pushing as hard as we can for these agendas in this county because we have an incredible amount of energy right now and everyone is paying attention...Whether you voted or not I'm interested to hear what your concerns are. Let's make this a better place."

Election Night Speech


Documents
Website: ambermanfreeforsupervisor2020.com
Facebook: facebook.com/ambermanfree2020/

Articles
NVR 3/4/20: Pedroza, Ramos lead Napa County Board of Supervisors races
Bill Hocker LTE 2/24/20: Vote Amber: 20 years of "growth" is killing Napa
Elaine de Man LTE 2/22/20: Democracy drowning in a sea of money
Ron Rhyno LTE 2/22/20: Governance for sustainability, or vulnerability and decline
Rebecca Steinschriber LTE 2/19/20: Amber Manfree: Adding expertise to the board of supervisors
Donald Williams LTE 2/13/20: Fresh perspectives are needed in elective office
George Caoyannidis LTE 2/11/20: Buying elections in Napa Valley’s 4th district
Jim King LTE 2/7/20: Endorsing the wrong candidate
Beth Nelson LTE 2/7/20: Amber Manfree is needed on the Board of Supervisors.
Patricia Damery LTE 2/6/20: Vote for Amber Manfree
Harris Nussbaum LTE 1/25/20: Support Amber Manfree for Napa County supervisor
NVR Editorial Board 1/26/20: The choices for Napa County supervisor
NVR 1/25/20: Napa County candidates give wine country visions
Elaine de Man LTE 1/23/20: Support Amber Manfree to unseat Alfredo Pedroza
Napa vision 2050 Newsletter 12/10/19: Genuine Amber "Putting Locals First"
NVR 12/5/19: Pedroza vs. Manfree could be only contested Napa County supervisor race

Ron Rhyno writes:
Amber Manfree, is the choice for decision-making based in extensive scientific knowledge, commitment to actually researching community issues, reflective thought, critical thinking, extensive life experience, and revealing and speaking factual truths to Power.

Rebecca Steinschriber writes:
What Amber gives us is the invaluable perspective of a highly-trained problem-solver, an even-handed, open-minded spirit who has made a career out of approaching complex issues with a combination of data, discipline, and heart.

Jim King writes:
Amber Manfree is the leader we need now and into the future. The issues facing Napa County are too important and complicated to continue with the direction of the current board. It is time that the people lining up to speak about how a project before the board that will affect their lives are listened to. It is time that what we say has an impact on the decisions made.

Beth Nelson writes:
[Dr. Manfree has] a clear vision for the future of Napa County: a government that serves all the people who live here, rather than the ones with the most money to spend on politicians, and to balance our agricultural heritage with protecting the watershed and mitigating climate change--a Board of Supervisors that works for all of us and our future.

Patricia Damery writes:
With her educational background and experience, Amber will bring much-needed knowledge to the Board of Supervisors about the potential consequences of the continuing unfettered development of our wild lands.

Elaine de Man writes:
Social Justice Forum held this month at the Napa County Library that addressed issues such as campaign finance limits, sustainable ground water, community banks, healthcare delivery, land-use impacts on climate change, and more. The stand-out candidate was Amber Manfree

Mike Hackett writes:
I want to personally encourage you to come meet Dr. Amber Manfree who is challenging the incumbent, Alfredo Pedroza, for County Supervisor.

She is from a multi- generational Napa family, intelligent; likely THE land use expert in all of Napa County, and the change needed in local government. Do you feel like the balance of industry and citizens is outa' whack? Well I sure do. Amber will put citizens first, all the while respecting the long term interests of the wine industry as well. She will listen to you AND take real action!

She is up against the big money here and needs your support. She is THE change needed right here, right now. I fully support Amber for election to the Napa County Board of Supervisors.


Videos




Vote for Amber



Amber Manfree for Supervisor: Putting Locals First



Kathryn Winter Endorses Amber Manfree



Environmental Forum For Napa County



Amber Manfree springs into action



Amber at the Arty Party Hour
Great interview!



Amber Manfree reflects on the 2017 Atlas Fires



Vote for Amber!



Vote for Amber!



Still time to vote!



Comments


Bill Hocker - Mar 11, 2020 2:58AM

Amber's Campaign Manager, Jim King, has written a thank you note to those involved in the campaign:

Perspective

I have started to reorganize after the campaign. Organizing the signs is especially poignant in that I read each as I put it together with its mates. There is sadness in not reaching our ultimate goal. There is even a bit of emptiness in not interacting with you and Amber on what became a daily basis. I wanted to share a bit but I promise, near the end, will be campaign information that may encourage you.

I honestly do not believe that I was ever a part of a campaign this touching…and this important.
In spite of not winning, people are saying we changed the conversation, that we moved the needle, that there is a new awareness to the issues we brought forward,
and the way we ran the campaign…and its costs.

Here is where perspective comes in. Did we do these things? If the response to our actions was any indication, then a resounding “yes” is the answer. We launched a campaign with 160 days until election. The incumbent had over $300,000 in his campaign fund. We ended with around $50,000. He mailed at least 10 pieces. In our short time frame we dashed-and-dropped 2 pieces, walked and knocked with 1 piece, and did a small mailing of about 4,000. Our first “walking piece” was designed and printed by Amber. Most everything was of Amber design and layout.
Pretty grassrootsy. ...and we came within 770 votes

Back to perspective. What else did we do without the funds and time? We waved. Sometimes it was 1 or 2 folks at a street corner, others it was over 30. First they waved the heck out of Bel Aire with 35 spread on all 4 corners, then it was 38 at Soscol and Lincoln. Soon we witnessed him having wavers of his own. Dan Mufson guided this effort.

What else? Our volunteers sent out over 4,500 post cards. All were handwritten! Lisa Bowers, and husband Paul, (who set up address spreadsheets), kept the folks writing with cards and addresses. Oh, and Amber designed the cards!

Before going too much further, Amber’s designs, especially the “Soda Canyon Blue Quail” (my name, not hers) has found a place in the hearts of many and caught the attention of all.
For a candidate to do all a candidate needs to do and create winning graphic designs and brochures is pretty impressive,
even for a Doctor…

Back to perspective….again. Laura Tinthoff took on Endorsements shortly after joining our crew. As the list grew and the quotes of support started coming in, you could see Laura’s excitement grow, as did ours. She confirmed, organized, and sought and obtained quotes.
In the end the list, the quotes, and the work was impressive.

Our signs were everywhere! Between the large signs and yard signs we had over 500 signs posted. Thanks to Charlotte Williams, with her sometimes sidekick, Don, along with Dan Mufson, Gary Margadant, Mike Hackett, Jim Wilson, Amy Martenson, and Chris Malan
…and others, for their diligence and efforts.

Our video efforts garnered way over 30,000 views (Yay E. Beth Nelson!). Israel Valencia kept catching the right light, right moments, and the real Amber throughout with his camera. Our Facebook page was cracking with Elaine de Man leading the way. Near the end we added texting, with Beth once again the lead. Technology became an important part of the campaign.

We had folks helping with forum preps and platform development. Dan Mufson, Roland Dumas, Greg Matsumoto, and Ron Rhyno all provided their learned guidance and support.

Another waver, walker, and more is Lauren Griffiths. She, not knowing what she might be stepping into, volunteered to be campaign treasurer. For those who have done this I can stop and they will know how hard it is to provide accolades for this role. For the rest of us, well, Lauren’s diligence and care took care of us. She was laser focused and detail oriented. Our sheets balance and reports made on time. She continued to smile throughout!

Shelle Wolfe worked magic, and provided same for all our events. Our kick-off was full of exuberant and excited people. The Art Soiree brought a special crowd for a unique and special evening, and under the guidance of Shelle each was successful and more.
Of course Shelle waved and walked and more.

Jill Thomas Doyle provided our first campaign “home” with cookies and espresso! She continued to do whatever the campaign needed from writing and editing news releases, to waving signs. We have pretty cool photos as Jill walks in front of Mr. Pedroza!

Mike Hacket provided much of the original impetus for there to be a campaign.
His encouragement and faith helped make this a reality. His fellow conspirator,
Jim Wilson, provided the same but he also walked off some real shoe leather
as he spread the word.
His amazing wife, Lenore, wrote around 1,000 post cards on her own!

Guillermo Rosas provided translation assistance, walked with us, and opened doors for Amber to allow us to gain understanding of the needs and visions the Latino community holds. He helped make certain that this important voice was a part of all we did.

Sahoko Yui provided something not all of us could, the depth of caring and understanding one can only get from a long-time friend. In addition she provided input on design, walked with Amber, waved signs, and more…and there were brownies!

Holly Morris, another long-time friend, provided editing, helped our messaging, and provided important guidance as we wrestled with decisions .

Kristina Young created and maintained our website. What an endeavor! Everything we did had to be done NOW…and she accomplished that. Our website grew to be beautiful informative, and engaging.

David Heitzman provided our sound, wherever and whenever we needed it. He helped us connect with Circle Oaks, and provided important input as the campaign grew.


I know I did not name all. I tried to let you know who was here day in and day out. Many more kept going , almost every day, Steve and Sandra Booth, Julia Winiarski, Diane Beere, Nancy McCoy Blotzke, and Charlotte Williams appears again! So many more....

So, I promised encouraging news. We did not win. That is clear now. But what did we accomplish?

We proved that you can run a local campaign, effectively, with $50,000 or less. In 160 days we are only 770 votes short. Time was more important than money.

We introduced the entire county to Amber
and the issues which drove her to challenge the incumbent.

We brought climate change, over development, cumulative impact, watersheds and water supply, all back to the conversation

We were joined in coalition by so many organizations and individuals that I will not take the space to list them here. Two things are important about this, first we have begun to collaborate, and it does not end here, secondly, the strength in numbers thing? It is real and you brought that when not only you but the organizations you are a part of joined this effort. Amber will be the first to say that this effort is and was about something much bigger than
Amber.

Add your thoughts and observations to what was accomplished here.
I know I have not caught it all.

In closing, I simply want to say thank you. What we, you and I, did in 160 days was a miracle of its own. The connections made, the friendships born, will all add strength to our next steps. Yes, there is a touch of sadness but how could that last with the experience of getting to know each of you, watching as the light grew and each of you took part, and having the honor of getting to know and work with Amber.

We have work to do, the tools to do it, and the leaders are emerging to guide us, beginning with Amber.

Thank you

20 years of "growth" is killing Napa on: 2020 Campaign


Bill Hocker - Feb 24,20  expand...  Share

Napa history has always played out in the flux of "growth" and "preservation" interests embodied by the Board of Supervisors (BOS). Napa is Napa (and not Santa Clara) because the preservationists have more often carried the day in BOS decisions. But in the last 20 years the balance has been shifting distinctly in the direction of growth.

That transition began in ernest with Bill Dodd's election as District 4 supervisor in 2000. Defeating preservationist Kathryn Winter, his election was a signal, in campaign promises and the press, that priorities would be changing on the board. The results of his growth-friendly tenure are omnipresent - in the traffic, in industrial development, in hillside development, in the amount of tourism development and the consequent loss of affordable housing and local businesses and the disappearance of a small town, rural way of life. Under his tenure, Carneros Inn and Meritage were built. He was instrumental in pursuing Napa Pipe, the biggest urban development in the history of the county, as well as the Jameson Canyon freeway that has enabled the development of the airport and American Canyon industrial zones. He supported the 2008 General Plan Update and 2010 WDO revisions that codified tourism marketing as agricultural activity allowable on ag zoned lands, tilting the balance of tourism and production codified in the 1990 WDO toward the tourism industry.

In 2014 Mr. Dodd supported the Governor's appointment of Alfredo Pedroza as his successor. Since becoming Supervisor, in the face of rising concern by local residents about the growth trajectory that the county is on, Mr. Pedroza has continued to promote the interests of corporations, entrepreneurs and plutocrats in their development projects. Under his tenure woodlands continue to be converted into vineyard estates, farmlands to be converted into winery tourist attractions and wetlands to be converted into warehouses. All with predictable traffic increases and housing shortages. He worked to eviscerate the BOS response to Agricultural Protection Advisory Commission recommendations, a process begun by public demand to curb winery proliferation. He approved the 2,300 acre Walt Ranch vineyard estate project, the remote Mountain Peak Winery and supported, through his commissioner, the Palmaz personal heliport, each to benefit plutocrats in the face of overwhelming opposition from his own District 4 constituents. He opposed Measure C's woodland protections, instead helping to craft an ineffectual alternative. He supported the redefinition of agriculture in county code to lock in tourism as an agricultural activity. He supports bringing in ever more tourists by generously funding Visit Napa Valley and streamlining winery use permits for new venues to accommodate them. He supported the expansion of the Syar excavations up against Skyline Wilderness Park in the face of substantial resident opposition. He supported the development or expansion of Girard, Raymond, and other winery projects vigorously opposed by residents defending their neighborhoods against commercialization. He is promoting infrastructure improvments to allow faster buildout of the airport wetlands, already a major area of traffic congestion. He appointed a developer to the County Planning Commission to advance his land use agenda there.

Mr. Pedroza is a skilled politician. Were he to make a realistic commitment to curbing the development forces that now threaten the county's rural character, rather than embracing them, he would be an admirable champion. Unfortunately his political decisions and substantial campaign donations from major developers in the county (some $380,000 from 2018 to Feb 2020) point elsewhere. On the stump his issues are the need for more housing and more transportation options, both pressing issues created by the last 20 years pursuing a "growth" economy. His platform is more development as a solution to the impacts of growth. It is a developer's agenda guaranteed to make housing and traffic problems worse.

The majority of the Board of Supervisors will set the future direction of the county. The majority currently supports more development. We will already see a vast amount of future development as the dozens of wineries, millions of square feet of industrial space, Napa Pipe and numerous other major projects all approved under Mr. Pedroza's tenure in the last few years become a reality. Continuing that trajectory with even more approvals going forward will only make the traffic, housing infrastructure and resource impacts exponentially worse.

Yet there is the possibility that those problems can be lessened if the growth trajectory we are on is changed. To do so means that a preservationist majority must be returned to the Board. Two of the current Board members, those on it the longest, understand how difficult it has been to maintain an agricultural and rural county in the face of urban development pressure. A third preservationist back on the board might lead them to take a more forceful role in returning to the principles that created the ag preserve in the first place and that have protected this place since.

Local residents, opposed by their political leaders and development interests, have increasingly taken on the task of preserving Napa's unique rural heritage, by participation in planning and Board meetings, by public advocacy and costly litigation, and by the promotion of ballot initiatives and candidates for office. Residents need to have stronger representation on the Board. As in 2000, this election can have a significant impact on the future of Napa County, but instead in the direction of preservation rather than development.

Dr. Amber Manfree is running against Mr. Pedroza in the upcoming election. She is smart and capable, and is committed to supporting the interests of local residents, vintners and growers who understand the unique and fragile value of their rural, small-town enclave in the urbanized Bay Area. In addition to the refreshing, personable authenticity lauded by the Register's Editorial Board, Dr. Manfree brings a scientist's analytic ability to define problems and devise solutions and a longtime rural resident's desire for solutions that protect the unique character of this place. Most importantly, she knows that in the land use battles that have made Napa a "national treasure", it has been a commitment to preservation rather than growth that has allowed this rural environment and agricultural economy to survive the past fifty years and that the same commitment is needed now more than ever if they are to survive the next fifty.

NVR LTE version 2/24/20: Vote Amber: 20 years of "growth" is killing Napa
This is the shorter version of this article published in the Register.

Democracy drowning in a sea of money on: 2020 Campaign


Elaine de Man - Feb 22,20  expand...  Share

One of the county supervisors once told me that campaign contributions have no effect on their decisions. This brought to mind an expression I heard recently in the UK, "Don't pee up my back and tell me that it's raining."

Click to enlarge
I am looking at a graph that displays how much money certain individuals have “invested” in the three Napa County supervisors who are up for reelection on March 3. And the view is staggering.

In the 2020 election alone, Charles Wagner (Caymus & Wagner Family Wines) has contributed $42,500 to the three incumbents, including $20,000 to Belia Ramos.

Craig and Kathryn Hall (Hall Wines, Walt Ranch, and more) came in second, with $39,500. The lion’s share of that, $25,000, went to Alfredo Pedroza. In fact, the graph shows that Pedroza takes the lion’s share of money from all the big spenders except for Wagner.

Looking at these numbers, and seeing what’s happening in the county, I find it difficult to believe that it has no influence on the decisions being made by the Board of Supervisors. Otherwise, why would these people throw so much money their way?


Click to enlarge
The specific favors they might be looking for become even more apparent when you look at how much money has been given to Pedroza since the 2016 election. Here is another graph that shows how much influence ($37,300) Craig Hall, from Frisco, Texas, wields over Pedroza. That might help to understand why Pedroza supported Hall’s 2,300-acre Walt Ranch project, which will cut down 14,000 trees, threaten local water supplies, and amplify oak woodland destruction. And Pedroza supported it even though there was overwhelming opposition from local neighbors and residents throughout Napa County.

Other Pedroza benefactors also have big projects either already approved or in the works. Peter Read’s Circle R Ranch will soon be converted from wildland and cattle grazing to vineyards. The run-off from that could impact Milliken Reservoir and Napa’s municipal water supply. Read has given Pedroza $17,500.

David Phinney’s 278-acre Bloodlines Vineyard project above Rector Reservoir, currently before the county for approval, will also impact a municipal water supply. Phinney has given Pedroza $12,500.

Peter Nisson (Hess Collection) has a 20+ acre vineyard expansion project pending approval that will require the removal of some 368 coast live oak trees up on Atlas Peak. Nissen has given Pedroza $8,000.


Click to enlarge
But what is most disturbing is the impact this huge influx of money has on the democratic process, which becomes crystal clear if you look at the graph that compares the amount of money available to each of the contestants in District 4 to spend on their campaigns.

As of January 18, Pedroza had $357,352. Amber Manfree had $30,239.

Keep in mind that we are talking about a district where only 8,639 people voted in 2016.

What we have here is not a democracy. But a plutocracy. A society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth.

The amount of money Pedroza's sponsors give him is not needed to win this election. But it does create a virtual firewall to prevent anyone else from daring to run against him.


Fortunately, Amber Manfree did not get that memo...or she simply chose to ignore it. That's courage of the highest order. And that’s what is lacking on the current Board of Supervisors.

Since deciding to run just a few months ago, Amber has inspired more than 200 volunteers who are busy now pounding the pavement, talking to constituents, writing postcards, distributing signs, and making phone calls on her behalf. They don't have boatloads of cash to influence the outcome of this election. But they are giving her their most valuable asset, their time -- because they have the most to lose, their quality of life.

And Amber has respected their commitment by facing every challenge thrown her way, appearing at every candidate's forum and participating in every interview she's been invited to.

I can't say the same for her overly-funded opponent, Alfredo Pedroza, who seems to think giving away tacos on Tuesdays, hiring organizations to make robo calls, and mailing (ad nauseam) misleading fliers is all it takes to earn him the votes he needs.

It’s clear to me that Amber is the most qualified choice for Napa County supervisor. I hope you agree because this corrupt funding of our local elections has to stop. And we're the only ones who can do it.

Let's send the plutocrats an important message. If you live in District 4, please vote for Amber Manfree. If you don’t, please tell all your friends who do. This is how we'll reclaim democracy. Together.

NVR LTE version 2/22/20: Democracy drowning in a sea of money

Comments


Bill Hocker - Feb 22, 2020 8:39AM

NVR 2/24/20: Pedroza has raised Napa County's largest campaign war chest
Napa County campaign contribution website - the source for Elaine's numbers. (It does take some effort to extract the information).

Elaine had another interesting tidbit to be gleaned from the contribution summaries: Mr. Pedrosa's campaign committee, Friends of Alfredo Pedroza, spent over $43,000 at the Meratige Resort in 2019, and at least $131,000 there in 2018. That's a lot of friendship.

Fresh perspectives are needed in elective office on: 2020 Campaign


Donald Williams - Feb 13,20  expand...  Share

I appreciate your editorial board interviewing candidates for county supervisor. Thanks to you for that service, and to them for running. The editorial explained that your board’s default position is to favor incumbents because of their experience. (“The choices for Napa County supervisor,” Jan. 26).

But two principles powerfully antithetical to incumbency are just as important as experience. One is a new supervisor’s fresh perspective. Anyone in any job after a while can become stale. Supervisors, too, can stall out. New people bring new ideas and different approaches. Defaulting to incumbency, by contrast, discourages innovation.

There’s another reason to favor newcomers. A change of supervisors means even more and different people are in service to our community. I dream of a day when strolling the street I encounter everywhere people who’ve taken their turn at local government. But broader participation won’t happen if we reflexively favor incumbents.


Challengers offer an opportunity to connect with people whom the incumbents couldn’t reach (even the most earnest incumbent can’t reach everyone). When more people connect and feel involved, democracy thrives.

Elected officials in our county are a small group. Protracted tenure makes it too easy to become clubby with special interests, with one another, or with staff --- public excluded. Not good. The remedy is to open the elected-official club, rotate its membership.

Incumbents leave office, yet counties manage to survive. Every incumbent was once new to the job. If experience was the crucial criterion for success in legislation, we’d just hire people to sit there for lifetimes. But let’s not fantasize that holding office bestows any special skill or aptitude.

I wish it did. I sit on the city council in Calistoga. I’m conscientious and try to be responsive to Calistogans. But the experience I’ll offer after eight years (if I’m there that long) won’t be as valuable as the fresh perspectives and approaches of a new council member. Holding office can become a bad habit. Would you like our presidents to serve more than eight years?

Incumbent Supervisor Ramos did not impress your editorial board. If a challenger had presented herself the way Ramos did, the editorial board would probably dismiss her. Still, your panel couldn’t bring itself to endorse Aboudamous---a “bright” and impressive alternative---so prejudiced were they for “experience”!

Only that prepossession could explain the editorial board’s unfathomable reluctance to endorse the other challenger, Amber Manfree. As you noted, she is “intelligent, personable, and passionate,” with “refreshing authenticity.” (Already she deserves our vote.)

But there’s more: “She is a scientist . . . and understands the issues at stake in development of wild lands as well as anyone on the board.” And she’s not endorsed? You gotta be kidding. Manfree is a rare and precious opportunity that Napa cannot afford to let slip by.

Instead you offer faint praise for Pedroza’s “policy points” on transportation issues -- ironically, since this incumbent government has superintended massive traffic miseries on Napans. That’s not to mention the precipitation of an alarming identity crisis: Are we authentically ag or are we Disneyland?

Now, now, now is the time for change on the board of supervisors. What in the world are we waiting for?

NVR version 2/13/20: Fresh perspectives are needed in elective office

Buying elections in Napa Valley’s 4th district on: 2020 Campaign


George Caloyannidis - Feb 12,20  expand...  Share

I just sent a $2,000 check to Amber Manfree who is running against the establishment incumbent Alfredo Pedroza in Supervisor District 4. It's a drop in the bucket.

By now, every citizen in this country is aware that elections are being bought. Almost impossible to reverse this corrupt culture at the national level, perhaps it is at the local levels. How inspiring if that place were the Napa Valley.

Consider that citizens time and time again have stood no chance in opposing wineries in places where they impair the convenience, even safety of the locals, or the dozens which have their use permits adjusted to fit their violations just for the asking, increasing their visitors and events or becoming veritable restaurants with commercial kitchens causing ones in the cities to close.

All the while the impacts of these establishments have been certified as mitigated to “less than significant” without standards to measure them against, year after year, project after project piled on top of one another. The ordinary citizens in this county who go to work every day have been trusting our government to indeed have all impacts mitigated. Until one day, they wake up and what took them 20 minutes to go to work, takes now 40. Mitigated?

The jobs this kind of growth creates -- vineyard and hospitality workers - are the lowest paying ones. They invite commuters who, in turn, require affordable housing and let’s be honest, several thousand units of them to make an appreciable dent.

But more housing units put a strain in our resources such as water and to our infrastructure such as water, sewer, electrical and gas delivery networks and diminish its useful life.

Our supervisors are well-educated people who ought to know what’s going on. They live where we live, they know that their policies are inviting more and more low paying jobs, they know that wineries in remote areas with accessibility problems are the wrong places for them, they know that their economy model is destroying our common quality of life and yet, they continue the course. They even instituted a “streamlining” winery approval process which excludes public testimony, designed to sideline the considerable brain power of citizens in this county as a nuisance.

They have also distanced themselves from project approvals by leaving it up to their hand-picked, unelected Planning Commissioners. They hear about them only on appeal which is an expensive process for ordinary citizens. Non-responsive government invites expensive lawsuits as the county well knows.

Amber Manfree is a Ph.D scientist whose campaign has collected fewer than $30,000. Her opponent, Mr. Pedroza, has about $250,000, 95% of which come from the hospitality and winery businesses (amounts and percentages change daily). Five donors alone have contributed over $110,000. Law firms hoping for positive rulings for projects they represent, and like sold ambassadorships, his Planning Commissioner’s firm are among his contributors. It is hard to disassociate this culture with the growth model the county keeps promoting. And bit by bit, the Napa Valley is being destroyed. From within.

I read a few letters in support of Mr. Pedroza. They thank him for helping them through their home permitting process after the 2017 fire. Such help shouldn’t be needed. Clients whose home I designed only 18 years ago had to wait eight weeks to get their permit, even two weeks just to get a nailing inspection. Roadblocks, rather than streamlining where streamlining ought to have been for the fire victims. Approved plans are still not kept on record at the county when people lose them in a fire as was in this case. All under Mr. Pedroza’s watch.

And when it came to support his district’s constituency in their fight to disallow helicopter landings at a private home in their neighborhood, he never as much lifted his finger to support them claiming conflict of interest. But when it came to Measure D, which disallowed helicopter landings at residences in general, he continued to remain silent even though he voted for the county to adopt a single interest measure saving it the expense of going to the voters.

Ms. Manfree’ s primary platform states: “Putting locals first.”

It is about time someone running for supervisor committed to that. This does not mean she is taking aim at the hospitality and wine industries. What it means is balance - a highly complex undertaking at this point - in the way growth in general is being envisioned and managed considering that ordinary people also live here but striped of their balancing power. It means that cumulative impacts of projects will no longer be pushed under the rug, it means searching for sorely needed ways to diversify our economy and it means that no one will have bought her vote.

In this endeavor, her science-driven analytical expertise will add a valuable dimension hereto lacking on the board.

NVR version 2/11/20: Buying elections in Napa Valley’s 4th district

The battle for the hills on: Growth Issues


Bill Hocker - Feb 11,20  expand...  Share

NVR 2/11/20: A lineup of Napa wine country controversies is coming back for hearings

At a previous BOS meeting Planning Director made a brief list of appeal projects that would be coming up before the Supes, those outlined in Barry Eberling's article, and mentioned that there would probably be more.

It has been 6 years since the Walt Ranch Project and Mountain Peak projects became known to their neighbors. The two projects, along with the Yountville Hill Winery, ignited a broader realization among county residents that the development trajectory in the county was beginning to impact residents feeling of well being living in a rural oasis in the greater Bay Area. It has corresponded with an effort following the 2008 recession to encourage more tourism into the county to support a movement of the wine industry from distributer sales to direct to consumer sales through increased winery visitation. The increasing number of project appeals and the pursuit of litigation beyond the appeals are the result. Thus far, unfortunately, there is little evidence that community pushback has done much more than slow down the conversion of the landscape into building sites and the ultimate suburbanization of Napa County.

Hard Six Cellars Winery Appeal on: Remote Winery Ordinance


Bill Hocker - Feb 11,20  expand...  Share

Diamond Mtn Rd approaching the site
Update 2/11/20: project denied
NVR 2/11/20: Napa County supervisors nix remote winery near Calistoga

On Feb 11, 2020 The BOS upheld the appeal and denied the project despite the owner proposing a last-minute reduction in volume and visitation. It is a significant decision concerning the Board's responsibility to begin to look at the issues surrounding remote wineries as more suitable locations for wineries (and vineyards) become scarce and more and more winery entrepreneurs continue to pursue their dreams on the parcels remaining. Following on the Planning Commission denial of the Dry Creek Winery this decision continues a shift toward more scrutiny of wineries proposed in remote rural locations.

The vote makes Planning Commissioner Joelle Gallagher's uncharacteristic approval of the project look a bit more strategic, in allowing the Commission to claim that without more direction, i.e. a Remote Winery Ordinance, the Commission was powerless to consider this any differently than a project on Hwy 29. The Board now has good reason to take up the issue.

One ominous note (being the contrarian that I am): Winery expediter Donna Oldford also urged the Supes to come up with a remote winery ordinance to insure that developers know what the rules are in these locations. The fact that the industry now sees the ordinance as inevitable and is now supportive of it, makes me think that, as happened with the 2010 WDO, APAC, Watershed Ordinance and the definition of agriculture, the hope that a new ordinance will support the goals of preservation over development is a faint hope indeed. Based on the outcomes thus far, a new ordinance may just solidify the ability to develop in these areas rather than limit it.

Update 2/7/20
The appeal of the Hard Six Cellars use permit approval will be heard by the BOS on Wed Feb 11, 2020.

BOS agenda (item 9C)
Board Agenda Letter
The appeal packet is here.
Complete appeal documents are here
Video 10/16/19 PC meeting
10/16/19 Agenda and Documents
Transcript of Hard Six portion of meeting
Appellant request to augment record
Fire Safety Analysis on project

Thankfully the project has been appealed. Although a smaller project than Mountain Peak on Soda Canyon Road, the access constraints on this project are even more egregious. After all the issues that have been raised since the fires concerning the dangers of remote roads, in addition to the impacts of these tourism projects on their remote rural communities, it was really disappointing that the project was passed by the Planning Commission. Comm. Cottrell, as the only no vote, has been consistent since Mountain Peak in opposing remote winery-tourism projects, and two devastating fires in the interim have proved the wisdom of her decisions. The biggest disappointment was Chair Gallagher's yes vote. She has been a reliable voice in the consideration of access constraints and of community concerns. Noting that the Supervisors have as yet not produced a remote winery ordinance that would allow her to consider access constraints in her decision, despite noting that such constraints do exist on this project, seemed a weak argument indeed. The supervisors' appendix to the 2010 WDO changes makes clear that access constraints should be considered.

Update 11/1/19
Mike Hackett LTE 11/1/19: Remote winery approval is poor planning
Charles de Limus LTE 10/29/19: Negligent omission and Napa County's liability

10/19/19
NVR 10/19/19: Despite public concerns, Napa County approves a 'remote' winery on a mountain road
Caloyannidis opposition letter

In the Planning Commission hearing of Oct 16, 2019 four winery projects were approved, a new normal perhaps. After a summer hiatus, and a year of light, non-controversial, winery approvals as the planning department dealt with staff shortages, fire rebuilds, "recognize and allow" submittals, and the watershed, winery streamlining and cannibus ordinances, the government seems to be pressing ahead full force to expedite the 80 or so projects on the county's pending projects page.

Of the Oct 16th approvals, it was hard to tell which was the most egregious: the Bremer "recognize and allow" permit after truly outrageous flouting of the county's laws; or the Hard Six Cellars Winery approval as another inappropriate location for a tourist attraction intruding into the rural peace and tranquility of the county.

The winery was approved to allow 80 (or is it 112?) visitors/week for tours and tastings, and events up to 125 people (leaving at 10:00pm). Diamond Mountain Road doesn't meet the county's road and street standards. It is, in fact, a one lane road , far short of the 2-10' lanes plus 1' shoulder the county requires. The driveway on the site also does meet those standards, and exemptions were granted. This deficiency of legal access alone should be enough to should be enough to deny the project form simply a practicality standpoint.

In approving Hard Six, several commissioners felt that the lack of the "Remote Winery Ordinance" (one of many "to do" items on the Supervisor's bucket list) prevented them from evaluating this winery any differently from the standpoint of access constraints than a winery on the Trail.

But, of course, realizing the potential impacts of their 2010 changes to WDO to encourage more tourism at wineries, the Supervisors made exactly this distinction in their Interpretive guidance at the time:
"To insure that the intensity of winery activities is appropriately scaled, the County considers the remoteness of the location and the amount of wine to be produced at a facility when reviewing use permit proposals, and endeavors to ensure a direct relationship between access constraints and on-site marketing and visitation programs"

This approval also comes in the wake of the 2017 fires, and a renewed understating about the consequences of building in areas with "access constraints". Our own neighborhood-busting winery approval, Mountain Peak at the top of Soda Canyon Road, was approved by the Supervisors on the basis that "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."

In the Atlas fire of 2017, a tree fall blocked the road to exiting traffic and to incoming response vehicles. The tree was moved enough to allow cars to get by, but by that time the entirety of the canyon was engulfed in flames. The response vehicles retreated and the residents that remained on the upper parts of the road had to be evacuated by helicopter, a dangerous task in the ferocious winds. A judge has ruled that the Supervisors must reconsider their approval based on the evidence of the actual fire dangers on Soda Canyon road.

Diamond Mountain Road is both narrower and more heavily forested than Soda Canyon Road. It did not burn in the 2017 fires, and the fuel load and potential tree falls remain severe. A fire during a 125 person event at the winery could be catastrophic. The planning commissioners who voted to approve the project seem to be ignoring the recent evidence of the real dangers that concentrating tourism activities in the remote hillsides of the county will present. It may be a decision that comes back to haunt them.

Remote Winery Fire Safety Analysis on: Fire Issues


Bill Hocker - Feb 10,20  expand...  Share

Residents will make an effort to introduce issues of fire safety at the BOS appeal hearing of Hard Six Cellars on Tues, Feb 12, 2020. The fire safety report is here.

Following the fires of 2017, and the near calamity that befell residents trying to evacuate Soda Canyon Road, and the actual calamity of the blocked highway in Paradise a year later, two winery use permit applications in remote areas of the county have been challenged by neighbors with expert opinion on the fire dangers posed in these areas. The first was made before the presentation to the Planning Commission on the Anthem Winery and was essentially ignored in the discussion. The second was submitted after the Planning Commission approved the Hard Six Cellars project and appellants are trying to get it included in the appeal.

In fact, fire safety reports should be a part of every remote winery application, in the way that water availability and traffic impacts are. Following The Soda Canyon event, it is no longer acceptable for the county fire chief to rubber stamp projects based on project specific mitigations that don't address the dangers beyond the boundaries of the property.

The reports are here:
Anthem Fire Safety Report
Hard Six Cellars Fire Safety Report

Anthem Winery at Planning Commission on: Anthem Winery


Bill Hocker - Feb 5,20  expand...  Share

Update 2/5/20
The Anthem Winery was approved by the Planning Commission after reductions in the production made by the applicant, reductions in the visitation numbers made by staff at commissioners' request and a proposed lot line adjustment to eliminate the variance request. There were still concerns over the fate of the entry road.

NVR 2/6/20: Napa Planning Commission pares Anthem winery expansion

Update 1/24/20
The Anthem Winery, continued from its first hearing in Oct, 2018, will again be heard at the Planning Commission on Feb 5, 2020.
Neg Dec notice
County Anthem page with documents
10/3/18 hearing video
10/3/18 hearing agenda and docs
Dry Creek Road Alliance website

New neg dec indicates a reduction in visitation from 15,532 to 13,208 yearly visitors. Event closing time change from midnight(!) to 10pm. No changes apparently to the problematic access driveway or viewshed request.

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, 2019]. (The Davis Winery marketing, caves and production expansion was approved)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The grape glut on: The Winery Glut


Bill Hocker - Feb 2,20  expand...  Share

CNN 2/17/29: The price of wine is dropping fast
NVR 2/6/20: To solve grape glut, California growers told to reduce 5 percent of vineyard acres
NVR 2/11/20: California's grape crush report not reflective of market, experts say

It is perhaps not illogical that the efforts by the county and wine industry in Napa to streamline winery use permit approvals is happening at the same time that demand for wine is falling from of lack of interest by a new generation of consumers, avid foodies nonetheless turned off by the stuffy pretensions, high costs and phony hard-sell "experiences" of wine connoisseurship.

A similar dynamic happend when wine demand tanked in the great recession and the county and industry also pushed the County to encourage more winery tourism. Changes in the WDO to allow more food service at wineries and the creation of Visit Napa Valley were the result. More wineries have since been approved to attract more tourists needing more restaurants and hotels requiring more commuting workers, parking lots, affordable housing, infrastructure and road expansions.

And poof, here we are, a beautiful rural landscape and an authentic, productive agricultural economy are disappearing, being reduced to a mass-market tourist trap living on the fumes of a storied past.

County Streamlines Winery Use Permits on: The Winery Glut


Bill Hocker - Jan 30,20  expand...  Share

Update 2/8/20
Mike Hackett LTE 2/8/20: Small Winery ordinance only helps the big ones

Update 1/30/20
NVR 1/30/20: Napa County's winery streamlining plan faces legal threat
1/21/20: Water Audit Notice of Intended Litigation
1/28/20 BOS meeting video
1/28/20 BOS meeting agenda and docs
NVR 1/15/20: Napa County favors streamlining for some winery expansion requests

Update 12/23/19
NVR 12/23/19: Napa County Planning Commission favors winery streamlining
Video of the 12/19/19 Planning Commission meeting
Agenda and Documents

Update 10/18/19
NVR 10/18/19: Napa County works on permit streamlining for small wineries

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 David.Morrison@countyofnapa.org) 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.

Respectfully,
David


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

    Chris,

    Thank you for the inquiry.

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

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

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

    Respectfully,

    David

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7/29/17 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.

Comments


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.

George

Small Winery Ordinance Comment

And Divid Morrison's response:

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

George,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G. See F above.

H. See F above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for you comments.

Respectfully,

David

And George Caloyannidis' response

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

Thank you David.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George

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

Napa Groundwater Sustainability Agency on: Watershed Issues


Bill Hocker - Jan 27,20  expand...  Share

Click image to open Basin widget. Click on Napa basin in widget for basin data
Update 6/11/20
The County will have a Water Availablity Analysis workshop with the Planning Commission on 6/17/20 (subsequently cancelled). Several documents will form the background for the discussion:

Draft markup of the 2015 WAA Guidance Document
Executative Summary of the Napa County Groundwater Sustainability Annual Report fo 2019
Comprehensive Timeline of County WAA activities since 1963

Update 1/9/20
NVR 1/9/20: New Napa County groundwater agency hears from critics at its first meeting
NVR 12/29/19: Napa County supervisors to govern groundwater agency
NVR 11/22/19: State tells Napa County to form agency to monitor Napa Valley groundwater

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:https://water.ca.gov/Programs/Groundwater-Management/Basin-Prioritization


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11/2/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Malan


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

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

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

"Good morning David,

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

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

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

Mike Hackett"

Napa County's Current Projects Dashboard on: Growth Issues


Bill Hocker - Jan 24,20  expand...  Share

Update 1/24/20
Sorry for this rant, but, alas, it appears that the county's Current Projects Page is now going to be replaced by the Current Projects Dashboard. A note on the Anthem project page now indicates that "this page is no longer maintained. For the latest project-related information and documents, please visit our new Current Projects Explorer application here". I assume that all projects will eventually be migrated to the Dashboard.

On the dashboard a small link at the bottom takes one to the documents for the project. Unfortunately this collection of documents is stored on a different database than the documents linked on the previous current project pages. To my knowledge this is the second time since the county has been fumbling its way into the digital age that it has changed the location of its document server.

Links between separate bits of information on the web are the heart of the web's success. To break those links by changing the web addresses of the individual bits of information does an incredible disservice to all who gain knowledge by "connecting the dots" of a particular subject. You would think that governments, who have a legal obligation to archive, protect and make data available, would be especially attuned to the need to keep links intact. Losing the links in one county document (say a past meeting agenda) that reference other documents is no different than losing a statistic in a table, or a finding in a use permit.

There are, no doubt, ways of permanently insuring that old links are redirected to new ones but, alas, these two addresses of the same Anthem document in the two databases are very different, with the newer link actually downloading the document to the user's device. There is no obvious way to provide an external link to view a document on the county's website as there was in the old system:
old: https://www.countyofnapa.org/DocumentCenter/View/9685/Anthem-Winery-Initial-Study
new: https://pbes.cloud/index.php/s/4t24nnP4i4YTpxZ/download?path=%2F2%20-%20Project%20Documents&files=Anthem%20Winery%20Initial%20Study.pdf

I would hope that the IT professionals that manage that county's data and website would show a little more concern for the historic accessibility of documents than they have in the past and seem to be doing now.

12/26/19
The county has added a new page to their website to provide a more comprehensive look at the amount of development going in the county:

County Current Projects Dashboard

This coordination between development projects and a map of the county has already been available for several years on SCR here and here. I am counting on the county to do a better job than I have done. As they note, it is hard to keep all of the data accurate and up-to-date.

Hopefully they will add a link between the projects on the map and the current project page for each project with associated documents. It would also be nice to have links to the videos and agendas of meetings related to the project. Although I have feebly tried to make these connections on my pages, the county should be able to do a much better job.

Surprise note: The county separates current projects on the map into "current" (blue dots) and "major" (red dots). The red dots are few and include contentious projects like Walt Ranch, Napa Pipe, and Syar that are still, after years, making their way through the county meat grinder. I am very pleased to see that the Mountain Peak winery is considered a "major" project.

Tourism threatens the world on: Tourism Issues


Bill Hocker - Jan 23,20  expand...  Share

Update 9/14/19
CNN 1/23/20: Destinations have vowed to fight back against overtourism for 2020

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 ever 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'

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

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

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


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

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

Compare this to the other cities mentioned in the articles that have been experiencing tourism backlash:
    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.

Who will live in "farmworker" housing? on: Affordable Housing


Bill Hocker - Jan 23,20  expand...  Share

Chuck Dell'Ario LTE 1/23/20: On-site worker housing is the answer

Mr. Dell'Ario's letter is a very thoughtful proposal to include the provision of employee housing as an integral part of the development approval process. It comes (coincidentally?) on the same day that I happened to view a portion of the 1/23/20 meeting of the Napa County housing committee.

I have seldom looked at Napa County commission meetings beyond the Planning Commission and BOS meetings. When I started viewing, County Council Jason Dooley was making a presentation (agenda letter here) on the Employee Housing Act, a state program regulating the construction and maintenance of employee housing. The members of the commission were seeking the definition of farmworker housing. Specifically the question came up as to whether winery workers, including hospitality workers, are to be considered "farmworkers". It is a question that I, and others, posed some time ago along with other implications of the County's changing definition of agriculture in 2017.

Farmworkers are defined, apparently, under the Employee Housing Act as employees of an "agricultural employer". He indicated that under county code, which defines the marketing of wine as an agricultural operation, hospitality workers might be considered "farmworkers". The California labor code also defines an agricultural employee and Mr. Dooley gave that definition in its entirety in his agenda letter. An agricultural employee, among the more expected jobs in agriculture, is also one who is involved in the "preparation for market and delivery to storage or to market". As we are constantly told, the wine market has changed and direct-to-consumer sales at wineries are the new market. What does "delivery to market" mean in this context? The county is already flirting with hotels on Ag land. Will the county now allow condo units to be built on Ag lands to accomodate winery hospitality staff in a tight housing market?

Hotel explosion rocks Napa on: The Hotel Binge


Bill Hocker - Jan 21,20  expand...  Share

Update 7/12/20 Franklin Station Hotel
More Here


Update 1/21/20 Westin Expansion
NVR 1/21/20: Napa Planning Commission endorses Westin Verasa expansion plans


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

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 6/2/18 Gasser Hotel
More Here



Update 6/1/18 Marriot AC Hotel
More Here



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 1/6/18 Wine Train Hotel
More Here



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 Black Elk Hotel
More Here



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Q: How do you organize the population?
    A: NV2050 is a great example. You're anxious over the future, you're organizing through people who can organize, and have the time and 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

Comments


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!!

Vote Amber! 20 years of "growth" is killing Napa on: 2020 Campaign


Bill Hocker - Jan 15,20  expand...  Share

[NVR LTE version 2/24/20: Vote Amber: 20 years of "growth" is killing Napa]



I urge every resident of District 4 to vote for Amber Manfree for Supervisor.

While claiming concern for environmental stewardship, Supervisor Pedroza, in fact, continues to pursue the pro-development growth agenda championed by his predecessor and mentor, Bill Dodd, elected to the Napa County Board of Supervisors (BOS) 20 years ago.

Together, they have led the BOS in promoting more tourism and industrial growth than the county can handle, clogging county roads with traffic, creating an affordable housing crisis, and consuming small town life to serve a growing tourist population.

Mr. Pedroza continues to craft and support county policies that level woodlands for vineyard estates, fill farmlands with tourist attractions and pave wetlands for warehouses. His decisions benefit the entrepreneurs that contribute to his substantial campaign war chest while residents are left to suffer the impacts of their developments.

Mr. Pedroza worked to eviscerate the BOS response to Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee recommendations, a process begun by public concern over winery proliferation.

He approved the 2,300 acre Walt Ranch vineyard estate project, the remote Mountain Peak Winery and supported, through his commissioner, the Palmaz personal heliport, each to benefit plutocrats in the face of overwhelming opposition from his own District 4 constituents.

He opposed Measure C's robust woodland protections, instead backing a weak alternative unlikely to curb current deforestation. He supported the redefinition of agriculture in county code to lock in tourism as an agricultural activity. He supports bringing ever more tourists by generously funding Visit Napa Valley and streamlining winery use permits for new venues to accommodate them.

He approved the expansion of the Syar excavations abutting Skyline Wilderness Park in the face of substantial environmental and resident concern. He approved Girard, Raymond, and other winery projects all vigorously opposed by residents defending their neighborhoods against commercialization. And he appointed a Napa city developer to the County Planning Commission to advance his land use agenda there.

Existing housing and transport problems, and those that will be added by the many, many projects already approved but not yet built, do need creative solutions. But they must be responsibly conceived. Just building more housing and transport infrastructure will induce more growth and exacerbate, not reduce, existing problems. Left in the hands of the current board majority, new development projects, and the workers and visitors needed to make them profitable, will continue to come. More hillsides and wetlands will be cleared, more buildings will fill the landscape, housing and traffic problems will only worsen, and Napa's spectacular rural environment will continue to disappear.

It is imperative to challenge the pro-growth agenda that Mr. Dodd and Mr. Pedroza have been pursuing for the last 20 years. To do so we need a new majority on the BOS -- one with Supervisors who will protect our environment and quality of life.

To prepare for an uncertain future, we need leaders who understand climate change, and how to responsibly manage development pressure and the importance of sustainable land use not tied to the "fairy tales of eternal economic growth" in the words of a prominent environmentalist. We need leaders that will support those residents, vintners and growers who understand the unique and fragile value of a rural, small-town enclave in the urbanized Bay Area.

We need Amber Manfree to achieve that new majority. In addition to the refreshing, personable authenticity lauded by the Register's Editorial Board, Dr. Manfree brings a scientist's analytic ability to define problems and devise solutions and a longtime rural resident's desire for solutions that protect the unique character of this place. Most importantly, she knows that in the land use battles that have made Napa a "national treasure", it has been a commitment to preservation rather than growth that has allowed this rural environment and agricultural economy to survive the past 50 years and that the same commitment is needed now more than ever if they are to survive the next 50.

Please vote for Amber Manfree for District 4 Supervisor. The future of Napa County's rural heritage depends on it.

Bill Hocker
Soda Canyon Road, Napa

A longer, perhaps less bombastic, version of this article is here

The Caldwell deliberation on: Tourism Issues


Bill Hocker - Jan 15,20  expand...  Share

Update 1/23/20
NVR 1/23/20: Napa County Planning Commission grants Coombsville winery some of what it wanted

Update 1/15/20 Caldwell Winery back to the Planning Commission
On March 12, 2019 the BOS heard the Appeal presented by neighbors to the project. The video and documents from the hearing are here. The Supervisors remanded the project back to the Planning Commission to consider revised visitation proposals. The project will again be up before the Planning Commission on Jan 22, 2020.
1/22/20 PC agenda and docs
Staff Letter
County Caldwell page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Comments


Bill Hocker - Mar 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]

Supervisors,

Thank you for this opportunity to comment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Hocker

Napa Soda Springs on: Soda Canyon Road


Bill Hocker - Jan 14,20  expand...  Share

Soda Springs 2004 visit
Update 1/13/20
NVR 1/13/20: With Napa Soda Springs ruins for sale, could the 19th century resort be reborn?

As feared, the concept of turning Soda Canyon into a major Napa tourist attraction is being sanctioned by the county and promoted by local media. No doubt the realtors selling the property will cite the County's encouragement in their search for the right developer or plutocrat wishing to bring a couple hundred thousand more visitors each year, and a 100 more employees each day, into the county and up Soda Canyon Road.

11/14/19
I have not called too much attention on this site to the Napa Soda Springs ruins on Soda Canyon Road out of respect for the owner who's tried to keep a low profile to avoid incursions on to the property. But now the owner wants to sell and articles about the property are all over.

NVR 11/14/19: Historic Soda Springs resort property for sale northeast of Napa

SFChronicle 11/9/19: Wine Country rarity: Vast southern Napa properties go on sale
(more photos are available on the interactive Chronicle article here.)

NVR 12/1/19: 950-acre Napa ranch on market for $25.5 million

The Soda Springs property is significant to those of us on Soda Canyon Road because, given its legacy use, it can probably still be developed as a resort, dooming Soda Canyon Road residents to life as a tourist attraction, in addition to it's development as several vineyard estates and their potential wineries. It is disconcerting to see such an enchanted piece of land discussed in the sales babble of real estate agents: "A future owner will have an opportunity to customize the parcel sizes and locations to match their visions and creative stewardship." It is referred to as a "sanctuary opportunity" which seems to be realty-speak for a high-end gated estate property development (or maybe a Trump tax dodge investment). For certain, any development of the Soda Springs property will engender some resistance from those residents that have spent the last 6 years trying to defend their rural community against the commercial development of the road.

But there are greater issues about the sale of major pieces of Napa's landscape than just our local concerns. The two listings, Soda Springs and Green Valley Ranch, come in the wake of two similar sized properties being sold to the Napa and Sonoma County Land Trusts:

NVR 11/13/19: McCormick Ranch overlooking Napa Valley to be preserved as public open space

NVR 9/26/19: Land Trust of Napa County buys undeveloped 1,000-acre site near Chiles Valley

These two purchases, adding to the numerous lands in the county under conservation protections, promise that more of the natural beauty of Napa County will be enjoyed by future generations.

I suppose that there is always the danger of having too much of Napa's beautiful landscape being preserved for the enjoyment of future generations - but I doubt it. The Soda Springs and Green Valley properties are major opportunities to add to that heritage, and as the realtors emphasize, such large parcels don't come up very often. The Soda Springs property is significant because of its historical heritage ruins and because it touches the large Meade Ranch conservation area shown on the Land Trust map. The Green Valley Ranch property is very significant given its connection to the Tuteur Ranch conservation easement and the potential for a connection to Skyline Wilderness Park and the proposed Bay Area Ridge Trail.

Protecting these two properties from commercial development might provide some compensation for the sad loss of 2300 acres of pristine Napa county woodland to the Walt Ranch estate development project. Such major undeveloped properties still remaining in the county should not be allowed to pass into developers' hands without some significant consideration to their value as protected natural heritage for future generations. Hopefully, the Land Trust, and all public and private groups interested in the conservation of Napa's natural heritage, will have their eyes on these properties as well.


After the fire 2017

More about Napa Soda Springs:
Winemerchant.com on Napa Soda Springs
Explore Napa Soda Springs page
Napa Historical Society Soda Springs page
Julia Wertz' photo chronicle of the ruins pre and post 2017

The Supes narrow view of affordable housing mandates on: Affordable Housing


Bill Hocker - Jan 10,20  expand...  Share

NVR 1/3/20: Fearing a housing mandate, Napa County turns down airport industrial area designation

The supervisors are apparently worried that in accepting development money from ABAG, that ABAG will increase the amount of affordable housing required to be built by the County in their 2023-2030 allotment. But that allotment isn't just dependent on new jobs tied to ABAG supported development; it is tied to all jobs created in the county, and the Supes have not shown a similar interest in slowing down job development otherwise.

I'm pleased that they have finally acknowledged the connection between jobs created and the amount of affordable housing they are going to be required to provide. Providing the 180 units ABAG required in the 2017-2022 allotment proved to be a major headache. It was satisfied by approving Napa Pipe after 8 contentious years, which, given the vast amount of development on the site needed to subsidize 180 affordable units (800 non-affordable housing units, 200,000sf of commercial/industrial space, a hotel, nursing home and a Costco), created many more jobs than the new housing would accommodate - thus increasing the need for even more affordable housing in the near future and in the next ABAG allotment.

The county continues to approve, on a bi-weekly basis (and at present weekly basis) new industrial projects and new and expanded winery projects that will bring ever more jobs into the county. Where is the recognition that all of those new jobs (and the additional jobs needed to service the new projects' employees and visitors) will also add to their 2022-2030 ABAG affordable housing mandate?

Jobs are the building blocks of urban development. The Supervisors have made great efforts to resist urban development through their policies over the last 50 years. The decision to decline the ABAG development assistance shows that the spark is still there. But it is not enough: the onslaught of development projects continues. Until there is a recognition that the County must do whatever it can to put a brake on new development projects, it will be forever increasing the demand for more housing and urban growth - as well as its ABAG affordable-housing mandates.

Artists and Friends for Amber Manfree For Supervisor Soiree! on: 2020 Campaign


Bill Hocker - Jan 1,20  expand...  Share



Please Join Us!

RSVP: Shelle@WineDineEvents.com

Soiree Details

Please join us for an evening soiree, complete with Rotten Robbie DJ, Silent Auction, Nibbles, and "Bake Sale," hosted by local Artists and
Friends of Amber Manfree, Candidate for Supervisor, Napa County, Dist. 4.
Come party with us!


Amber is the daughter of local potter Debra Manfree, and understands the important role the arts play in a joyful life.

With close personal ties to many artists living in Napa County, Amber is aware that concerns of the local arts community are not being addressed by local leadership. This event is an opportunity to highlight Napa artists, support Amber's campaign, and to have a conversation about how to elevate the profile of Napa's art scene.

It is also an opportunity to mingle, sip, and nibble and get to know Amber.

Also consider bringing a piece of your art to display and promote yourself, and ideally to donate to the silent auction on behalf of Amber's campaign for Supervisor.

We hope you can join us, Wednesday, February 5th, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, at the Women's Center, 218 Franklin Street, Napa. If you have interested friends, the more the merrier!

And, if you have a sweet tooth, be sure to bring your dimes and quarters so you can participate in the first-ever bake sale in Napa County to support a candidate for the Board of Supervisors!

Let's celebrate Napa's vibrant arts community
and support a candidate who knows that ART MATTERS!

Paid for by Amber Manfree for Supervisor 2020 FPPC ID# 1422133

~~~~~~~~~~~

Of Course there are many ways you can help Amber's Campaign for District Four Supervisor!
(Click here to Volunteer)
For the Event we need:
Wine to share (red and white)
Baked Goods for the Bake Sale


Requesting Volunteers before, during or after the event...
Set Up
Cleaning during the event
Managing the donations for the bake sale
Assist to set up art and silent auction
Check guests in
Post event breakdown


Any help is much appreciated!
(Click here to Volunteer)


Here are other ways to help:

Tabling
sahokoyui@gmail.com

Walking
ifgiven2011@gmail.com

Events
shelle@winedineevents.com

Postcards
bowerslisa1@gmail.com

Host Meet and Greet
shelle@winedineevents.com

And....
Letters to the Editor
https://napavalleyregister.com/forms/contact/letter_to_the_editor

Post on Social Media
(Share, post, like)
https://www.facebook.com/ambermanfree2020/

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Buttigieg on the dark side on: 2020 Campaign


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

LAProgressive 12/25/19: Mayor Pete’s Favorite Wine-Maker Hasn’t Been A Good Napa Neighbor
HuffPost 12/20/19: Yes, It Is Plainly Wrong To Meet Donors In A Billionaire’s Crystal Wine Cave
NYT 12/20/19: Democrats Sparred Over a Wine Cave Fund-Raiser. Its Billionaire Owner Isn’t Pleased.
Vox 12/19/19: The Warren-Buttigieg wine cave controversy, explained
NVR 12/13/19: Pete Buttigieg to make fundraising stop in the Napa Valley

I've been quite partial to Mayor Pete. With a commanding and quick intellect he has seemed to be a political jujitsu master able to turn any attack back on his attacker with a cogent and convincing repost (as he did with Warren's attack). It is a necessary skill to take on a streetwise thug like Trump on the debate stage.

Unfortunately he has just dulled his allure, no matter how cogent his case for big money donors, by accepting the support of some of the more ostentatious plutocrats on the Napa development scene. The Hall's money and ambitions have pushed every wrong button here for those who have treasured the laid-back rural character of the county now spoiled by the greed, vanity and building projects of a generation of wealthy developers wanting to retire into a life of good-life entrepreneurship.

Without knowing our local politics, Ms. Warren has still managed, in challenging Buttigieg on his fundraising strategy, to voice exactly the resentment that many Napa residents have for a wealthy elite whose own interests, schemes and visions of a more profitable (and populous) future end up being imposed on us all.

The solar power glut on: Solar Farming


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

At the Planning Commission meeting on Dec 4th to discuss a proposed Renewable Energy Ordinance for the county, one of the commenters mentioned that currently California must pay other states to take our excess solar power. That's interesting. I Googled it:

LA Times 6/22/17: California invested heavily in solar power. Now there's so much that other states are sometimes paid to take it

The article is two and a half years old. A lot of solar installations have been built in the state, including the one in American Canyon, in the meantime. A more recent, and dire, article is here with graphs: California's Mid-Day Solar Power Glut Has Become Obvious

This apparent glut is a fact that needs to be included in the discussion. Renewable energy is the necessary future of our energy needs. But the glut indicates that the creation of renewable energy is far ahead of the ability to store and distribute it. The sense of righteous urgency over the approval of projects at this point would seem premature. It makes little sense to build projects that may actually not be reducing the amount of fossil fuel energy production and will in fact require some citizens of the Sate of California (perhaps Napans) to continue to subsidize the use of solar power in adjacent states.

Renewable Energy Ordinance on: Solar Farming


Bill Hocker - Nov 25,19  expand...  Share

Update 11/25/19
NVR 11/25/19: Napa County taking a close look at utility-scale solar farms

Update 11/13/19
The County has updated its draft Renewable Energy Systems Ordinance and will be presenting it to the Planning Commission on Nov 20, 2019. The meeting agenda and documents are here.

Note that the second solar farm project in the county is coming up before the Planning Commission on 12/18/19.

Following the American Canyon solar farm approval and the public concern over its potential precedent for the industrial development of ag lands, under the draft ordinance agricultural and residential zones will be excluded from future commercial renewable energy development. County Planner John McDowell has sent this email asking for comment.

Dear Napa County Stakeholder,

Attached for your review and comment is a draft ordinance updating Napa County’s development regulations for renewable energy systems. Notable components are:

- Codifies County’s current practices of allowing ‘accessory renewable energy systems’ such as small solar systems as a matter of right, but limits the system to meeting on-site power needs of private residences, business, and agricultural uses. Applies ministerial development standards consistent with other allowed accessory uses.

- Establishes regulations for ‘commercial renewable energy facilities’ for power generation facilities that provide feed-in tariff power to the public utility grid.
These uses are excluded from agricultural and residential zoning districts, and allowed with a Planning Commission Use Permit in industrial, commercial, and public facility districts.
Establishes comprehensive development standards for such uses

- Codifies County’s current practices of allowing emergency power generators for use during power outages. Generators limited in size to meet on-site power needs only.

- Repeals antiquated ‘small wind energy’ code requirements that expired in 2017.

Please direct comments or questions to John McDowell at john.mcdowell@countyofnapa.org or (707) 299-1354. A public hearing before the Planning Commission is tentatively set for November 20, 2019 [now scheduled for Dec 4, 2019] . Upon conclusion of the Planning Commission’s recommendation, the draft ordinance will be scheduled for a public hearing before the Board of Supervisors.

Sincerely,

John McDowell
Napa County Planning, Building and Environmental Services Department
(707) 299-1354

4/24/19
NVR 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

Napa County Land Trust on: Watershed Issues


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

Napa Land Trust Map
Update 11/14/19
NVR 12/14/19: Land conservation around Lake Berryessa grows by 680 acres

Update 11/13/19
NVR 11/13/19: McCormick Ranch overlooking Napa Valley to be preserved as public open space

Two other major properties are currently up for sale in the county, one on Soda Canyon Road. They are profiled (unfortunately as business opportunities) here:

SFChronicle 11/9/19: Wine Country rarity: Vast southern Napa properties go on sale
(more photos are available on the interactive Chronicle article here.)

The Green Valley property is already protected with a conservation easement shown on the Land Trust map. The map in the Chronicle shows 2 internal development zones. The property very sig isnificant given its connection to the Tuteur Ranch conservation easement and the potential for a connection to Skyline Wilderness Park and the proposed Bay Area Ridge Trail.

The Soda Springs property is significant because of its historical heritage ruins and because it touches the large Meade Ranch conservation area shown on the Land Trust map. It is also significant because, given its legacy use, it can still be developed as a resort, dooming our Soda Canyon Road community to life as a tourist attraction. Also at NVR 11/14/19: Historic Soda Springs resort property for sale northeast of Napa

Such major undeveloped properties still remaining in the County should not be allowed to pass into developers' hands without some significant consideration to their value as protected natural heritage for future generations. Hopefully, the Land Trust has their eyes on these properties as well.

Update 9/26/19
NVR 9/26/19: Land Trust of Napa County buys undeveloped 1,000-acre site near Chiles Valley

Update 1/31/19
Calistogan 1/29/19: Easement creates more than 100 acres of protected land in Calistoga

Update 8/27/18
SH Star 8/27/18: Land Trust of Napa County acquires 1,910-acre preserve near Lake Berryessa

Update 6/15/18
NVR 6/15/18: Napa Land Trust protects more Lake Berryessa land from development

Update 2/7/18
NVR 2/7/18: Conservation easement made on historic property outside Yountville

Update 12/16/17
NVR 12/15/17: Napa Land Trust announces large Lake Berryessa ranch preservation

Kudos to vintners willing to protect rather than exploit the remaining natural environment of Napa County! (Location guess for Montecello Ranch is circled on map)

Update 8/1/17
NVR 8/1/17: Napa's Circle R ranch to be permanent part of wildlife corridor

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


Update 1/20/17
NVR 1/20/17: Large swath of Napa County land near Calistoga protected

9/4/16
NVR 9/4/16: Effort underway to protect 856-acre forest in Angwin

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

Land Trust of Napa County Website
Greeninfo.org Napa County Land Trust Map
NVR 11/28/15: Land Trust receives 110-acre donation near Chiles Valley
NVR 6/18/14: Land Trust acquires 1,380 acres on Atlas Peak

Save the Family Farm on: The Winery Glut


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

Update 8/10/20
Several Letters to the Editor from "Save the family farms" folks in the last year:

8/12/20 Leslie Hoopes LTE: The major issues small family farms face in Napa County
NVR LTE 4/6/20: How the pandemic is affecting small family farms
12/11/19 Dylan Rahn LTE: Blood, earth, and legacy
8/6/19 George O'Meara LTE: Your Turn: Leadership, Legacy and Napa's all-star leadership team
7/5/19 Hayley Hossfield LTE: Small family farmers the true legacy of Napa Valley
6/12/20 Ken Nerlove LTE: Why I support “Save the Family Farms”
5/8/19 George O'Meara LTE: Your Turn: “Napaland” - How Napa may become the next Disneyland

Update 11/4/19
NVR 11/3/19: Small winemakers pitch 'Save the Family Farms' to Napa supervisors

Save the Family Farm seems like one more end run around protections of the Ag Preserve and the WDO meant to speed up the conversion of an agricultural economy into a more profitable tourism economy, just as is the Winery Streamlining Ordinance considered by the Supes in October (item 10A here).

12/19/18
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 Change.org
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.

Remote winery approval is poor planning on: Remote Winery Ordinance


Mike Hackett - Nov 1,19  expand...  Share

Last month, another winery was approved, through the Napa County Planning Commission process, on Diamond Mountain Road. Always, the planning commission explains that they "don't set policy," and therefore have no grounds to disapprove this type of development even though I think we'd all agree; with this new normal of continued threat of fires on our watersheds, safety is being sacrificed for yet another remote winery.

Now I see a "Aloft" project is slated for a planning commission hearing in December, out on the end of Cold Springs Road. This is extremely troubling. People who will be drinking alcohol will pass by an elementary school, a day care center and over 70 homes on a narrow one-directional rural road. The effect will devalue the home's on the road on Cold Springs Road and change those home owners quality of life, forever.

Additionally, when, not if, there's the next wildlands fire in remote Angwin, egress will be impossible. Do you want blood on your hands? Do you want to be responsible for this clearly unsafe condition? Well, I know you all fairly well, and the answer is no.

Please delay all actions until further notice regarding winery expansions on any new commercial developments in the AW until you have a new policy in place through which the planning commission can have a clear direction.

This is vitally important. It is timely and we must error on the side of safety.

NVR version 11/1/19: Remote winery approval is poor planning

Fire in Paradise on: Fire Issues


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

PBS Frontline 10/29/19: Fire in Paradise

As the Kincade Fire burns south through Sonoma County and Calistoga remains under an evacuation advisory, this Frontline documentary has concurrently given a minute by minute chronology of the Camp Fire that burned the town of Paradise one year ago. It is a vivid lesson for us all, but especially for the government officials charged with protecting public safety as they continue to encourage the commercial development of the constrained-access, rural areas of the county.

Documentaries on our own Atlas Fire are here

How sick is our Golden Goose? on: Tourism Issues


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

By now, most people in the Napa Valley are aware of the acres of unpicked grapes and thousands of gallons of unsold wine. The problem includes Sonoma County and stretches from Washington state to Oregon and Santa Barbara. Experts believe that in the face of changing consumer demographics and drinking habits (Millennials' being one of them) and an industry growth rate at a mere 1.2 percent, the problems will last for many years.

As valid these generic factors are, it is difficult to throw the Napa Valley into that mix. This is the queen of wine quality in the nation after all and ought to be immune to them.

Featured in a last February Press Democrat article, Paul Mabray of Napa-based Emetry Consultants believes that our wine industry does not understand its customer, neither do most of its members have the resources (like E&J Gallo and Treasury) to adjust to the new marketing digital age. According to Mr. Mabray, both Napa and Sonoma counties still view tasting rooms the best way to draw customers. But direct-to-consumer sales now make up 61 percent of an average family winery's revenue according to a January survey by Silicon Valley Bank (p.21 here). The problem is that this number has been steadily declining over the past five years in Napa and Sonoma counties compared with other regions.

A five-year decline is proof that the model has outlived its sustainable limits. Established basic economic policy would be to limit the supply. Instead our planning officials do exactly the opposite. One more would be to make access to tasting rooms easier and more pleasant rather than more exasperating as our planners’ policies have been doing while on myopic autopilot.

While Mr. Mabrey sees solutions in adjusting to a digital age of marketing - "if you don’t fly to Detroit to buy a Ford, why would you fly in to buy a few bottles of wine?" - he is not recognizing the proliferation of wineries and tasting rooms as undermining the second strongest statistical reason why visitors come here: the valley’s natural beauty, the one which inspired wine critic Robert Parker to pronounce the Napa Valley the most beautiful wine region to visit in the world. But this was a few decades ago.

Since then, while overall visitor numbers have not declined, the steady undermining of the overall Napa Valley experience, tasting room visits and direct-to-consumer sales have.

The long-term damage to the Napa Valley has been the long-term refusal of the local government to acknowledge the negative impacts and put the brake to the increasing number of new wineries, their production and visitations just for the asking even when they have flaunted existing laws. Planning officials dress up this practice as a policy “to bring their violations into compliance” all the while assuring the public that in doing so, the impacts are less than significant.

But the piling up of less than significant impacts is finally hitting home, not the least being the spending one full hour driving from Napa to Calistoga at most times of the day and more than two to two-and-one-half from the San Francisco airport. In this fast-moving world - especially for analytically minded Millennials - why would they subject themselves to this ordeal for a few bottles of wine when they can buy them on the internet at a substantial discount and have shipped free to their home?

Many of us have been sounding the Golden Goose alarm but our government officials have been ignoring it as a too-often-invoked slogan and continue to pursue their policy of unfettered growth and unsustainable competition while degrading the environment and the overall Napa Valley experience.

Our farmers, our wine industry and government officials must finally recognize the existential threat unfolding right before our eyes and adjust to a model which safeguards the overall resource. The health and quality of this resource - not wineries at all cost - are the Golden Goose. New ideas sacrifices and restraint while still an option are preferable to digging deeper into the permanent hole of an irreversible negative image and economy.

NVR LTE version 10/25/19: How sick is our Golden Goose?

Gallo Stagecoach North ECP/EIR on: The Rector Watershed


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

click to enlarge
Update 10/14/19
The County has just sent a Notice of Preparation for the Stagecoach North vineyards EIR. The Erosion Control Plan has been available for some time.

Notice of Preparation of the Draft EIR for Stagecoach North Vineyard Conversion
The County's Stagecoach North page

Note below the concern that this expansion will become the precedent for the vineyard development of all the ridges surrounding the watershed, in a watershed already burdened by the greatest level of watershed development in the county.


4/23/19
Winebusiness.com 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.

The Scarlett Winery on: Tourism Issues


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

Ponti Rd
The Scarlett Winery, a new 30,000 gal/y facility, came up for review at the Planning Commission on Oct 2, 2109. While the Ellman Winery approval at the same hearing was a loveliest, there was considerable community pushback against Scarlett including 175+ pages of documentation, letters and public comments from most of the roads residents, and a complete CEQA challenge from the Shute, Mihaly, Weinberger law firm representing one resident. Public comment was taken and the project was continued to give staff and commissioners time to digest the document submittal.

It is on the narrow Ponti Road, a road not meeting the county's road and street standards for winery access, which should be enough to deny the project. The property backs up onto the Trail, and residents of Ponti Road argued that access off the Trail was much more logical. There is a modest grade differential from the trail, but less than many of the other wineries along this section of the highway. That change should be a no-brainer.

The neighbors complaints about water drawdown, increased traffic and noise from a event center were backed up with expert witness reports contradicting the usual less-than-significant-impact claims of the applicant's consultants. Unfortunately, as we know from every contested project, the County gives short shrift to the opinions of outside consultants.

I was pleased to see that that Ellison Folk in the Shute Mihaly argument brought up the much broader issue of the cumulative impacts that are changing the character of life in Napa Valley as more and more tourism generating projects are approved.

From the SMW letter:
1. There Is a Fair Argument that the Project-Specific and Cumulative Traffic Impacts Would Be Significant.
The County repeatedly evades its legal obligation under CEQA to look at the cumulative impacts of its multiple project approvals in favor of relying on the EIR supporting the 2008 General Plan. However, the 2008 General Plan EIR’s cumulative traffic impact analysis did not adequately address the impacts of winery-related traffic. ...
In addition, the County has experienced an explosion in expanded winery marketing and increased events in recent years. From just 2013 to the present, the County approved more than 90 permit applications with 40 permit modifications for existing wineries, many of which involve significant increases in marketing and hospitality activities. See, attached spreadsheet of recent County winery approvals, included as Attachment E. The General Plan EIR did not analyze winery expansions, and the County has failed to consider the additional Project-specific and cumulative traffic and other impacts of these approvals.


Environmental Impact Reports were done for the two major documents that underlie landuse policies in Napa County: the Winery Definition Ordinance EIR done in 1989 and the Update of the General Plan EIR done in 2007. The continued reliance on negative declarations in approving wineries is conditioned on the projections of vineyard and winery development made in those 2 EIR's.

The 1989 WDO EIR did, in fact, consider the impacts of increased tourism at wineries. In doing so it presented an extensive list of mitigations that would be required to create less-than-significant impacts from the creation of the ordinance. The list is long, and it should be noted that the vast majority of the mitigations were not mentioned in the WDO and have never been realized.

While the 2007 General Plan EIR posits a rate of new winery creation, it is silent on the impacts of winery expansions and even more silent on the expanded use of wineries as tourism venues. There is no analysis of the direct-to-consumer trend in wine marketing that has exploded since its writing, a trend that is at the heart of most requests for new and expanded wineries taking place. 2010 changes to the WDO codified this expansion of tourism uses to help the industry move from 3-tier to d-t-c marketing, but no EIR was done to analyze what environmental impacts those changes would create.

The impacts of the direct-to-consumer event-center business model are far different than the impacts of wineries as production facilities. The increase in visitors and the employees needed to cater to them create a demand for road and utility expansions, restaurants, shops, hotels, employee housing and services, i.e. a level of urbanization that is at odds with the General Plans stated desire to maintain an agricultural economy and a rural way of life.

In the last 12 years the number of producing vineyard acres in Napa County has not increased. Yet in that time the county has approved over 150 new and expanded wineries, not to process a nonexistent new supply of grapes, but to process an ever increasing supply of visitors. Unfortunately the environmental impacts of that expanding visitor population were not subjected to an analysis on a county-wide basis. The increased traffic, the demand for affordable housing for the growing workforce, the loss of existing housing and resident-serving shops to more profitable tourism uses are all impacts of prioritizing tourism over an interest in maintaining a rural, small-town quality of life.

The battle by residents to defend the rural character in Napa County, as the residents of Ponti Road are doing, has been repeated over and over as wineries have come up for approval in the last 5 years. In the face of an exploding tourism industry and the flood of goodlife entrepreneurs, and of a County government that has embraced the "fairy tale of eternal economic growth" residents are losing the battle.

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 4/20/20
NVR 4/6/20: Napa creates $500 million long-range transportation list

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
service."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine Country Fires 2015-19 on: Fire Issues


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

In the Wake of the 2019 Kincade fire, the Sonoma Press Democrat published this map of all of the wine country fires that have occurred since 2015. It is worth saving.

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.


1/11/19
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: The Hotel Binge


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

Update 2/26/20
NVR 2/26/20: Second phase of Stanly Ranch Resort approved by Napa's Planning Commission
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.

Original Post 5/7/17
Update 5/7/17: Only recently, after stumbling upon these documents, have I become attuned to the third mega-project that will be urbanizing the agricultural entry to the county just south of the Hwy 29 and 121 junction in Carneros. It is a housing project and resort known as Stanly Ranch. The resort 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.

The site in 2009 -- and probably today
The property was annexed to the City of Napa in 1964 for future use, in an age when suburban expansion was the anticipated fate of all Bay Area counties. As a far-removed extension of the subsequently-created urban-rural lines in the county, it can now be seen as a historical artifact, like the property proposed for the Oak Knoll Hotel, that violates 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. It could be rezoned back to agricultural use if there was a will, but it is another example that zoning changes only go in one direction - toward urban development.

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

Documents
2009 City of Napa Stanly Ranch EIR project description

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.

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

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

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

The ECP is here (EIR coming soon hopefully)


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

November 14th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

10/27/17
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.

Comments


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,
Anthony

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



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