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

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

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

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

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

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

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Upcoming Events (full calendar here)

Wed, Dec 7, 2016

County Planning Commission

Sleeping Lady new winery use permit
Agenda and Documents
County documents page
30000 g/y, 5650 visitor slots/yr, 25 trips/day

Review of Standard Conditions of approval for wineries
Review of Varience Guidelines
Tue, Dec 13, 2016

BOS Special Meeting

Sustainable Groundwater Management basin analysis report presentation
The county's groundwater page
Nov 3rd WICC presentation of the draft report
Wed, Dec 21, 2016

County Planning Commission

Etude Winery Use Permit Major Mod
County document page
150,000 additional gal/yr, 50,000 more visitor slots/yr, no trip data available (application is blank).
Mitigated Neg Dec

Standard Conditions of Approval
Staff will again present a new set of Standard Conditions of approval that must be met by applicants for development use permits.
More info is here is here.

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.

Walt Ranch Appeals Deniedon: Walt Ranch

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

Day 3
NVR 12/6/16: Napa County supervisors endorse controversial Walt Ranch
NVR 12/5/16: Napa supervisors poised to make Walt Ranch decision

They made their decision: ALL APPEALS DENIED 5-0

Kudos to Sup. Wagenknecht for bringing up the future "theoretical" possibility of home development on the 35 parcels of Walt Ranch. It is the first time that any public official or staff member has brought up the issue beyond the terse dismissal in the EIR that the developer didn't propose housing so we don't have to discuss it. In fact, once he raised the question about the probability of the vineyard development making the parcels more salable for home development, there seemed to be a stuned silence in the chamber as staff and supervisors mentally wrestled with a need to respond to a subject that has been completely taboo during the entire EIR process. Dir. Morrison finally indicated that once the EIR was approved there would be no more public review of future home developments on Walt Ranch which could proceed by right requiring only ministerial decisions. [more to come once I review the video].

Day 2
NVR 11/23/16: Proponents of Napa's Walt Ranch make their case (day 2)
Video of day 2 hearing (11/22/16)

Day 1
NVR 11/18/16: Napa's Walt Ranch vineyard hearings open with protest (day 1)
Video of day 1 hearing (11/18/16)
NapaVision2050: Day 1 post-hearing statement with news links
Mark Wolfe summation for Sierra Club at hearing

As stated in my letter to the BOS prior to the hearing, my interest among the many negative impacts that this project promises are the "growth inducing impacts" that the construction of an all-weather road system and a water storage and distribution system to each of the 35 properties in the project which will encourage further development of the properties as estates after the vineyards are in. I was pleased to see several speakers take up that theme in the appelants' presentations and by speakers afterward.

John Rose from the Center of Biological Diversity, in his arguments against the EIR, made the clearest case yet concerning both CEQA's admonition against "piecemealing" of projects and the need to discuss "growth inducing impacts". Their enitire PowerPoint is here. The specific slides of concern to me are here:

In public comments after the appellants' presentations other speakers brought up the issue of reasonably foreseeable future development on the property:

Gordon Evans' statement:

    While outside the current scope of this particular vineyard project, I ask the Board to consider the intended future use of the property.

    On Nov. 6, 2014 at a public meeting hosted by the Halls at the Meritage Resort, Craig Hall, after acknowledging that the ranch consisted of 35 separate parcels, expressed surprise that “there hasn’t been much focus or contention on this” and “we wouldn’t have bought the property had it not already been divided into 35 development parcels.”

    Indeed, when you overlay the proposed vineyard locations on the existing parcels, you will note that they are placed in such a fashion as to provide most parcels with their own dedicated vineyard. I initially pointed this out at the Public Forum conducted by Mr. Morrison on Nov. 12, 2014, and again personally to Chairman Pedroza at a private meeting on Feb. 22 of this year.

    So, in this context, Mr. Lippe’s comments this morning about “economic feasibility” take on a special meaning, because we’re not talking about just a vineyard project here. You only have to look at the Hall Ranches development in the Anderson Valley to see what the ultimate prize here looks like. $269,000 per acre of developed vineyard is a paltry sum compared to the potential value of 35 developed mini-ranches with established vineyards.

    As good as Hall wine is, the economics of this Vineyard Conversion Project defy logic if it’s only intended for wine production. Rather, I submit it is a costly stepping-stone to a vastly more valuable investment.

    I assure you, we haven’t seen the last of this battle.

Former Supervisor Ginny Simms' statement:

    I'm Ginny Simms and I'm rushing toward 90 at breakneck speed. I'm here to talk about the Walt Ranch EIR but I'm here really to talk to you. Because I'm bringing up some things that you all know, that you have all experienced just as a reminder. These 35 parcels I researched and most of them were created from about 1980 and a whole bunch of them in and around 1990. And they remained parcels that were not really sold or developed or anybody showing much interest. There was at that time no proof of water, no access roads to them and as a result they were not really in any sense marketable.

    But something has changed. If [the county has] not looked at the potential for this being a subdivision, that is exactly where it's headed. The EIR did not examine the development - I think this is rich - because it was not proposed by the project applicant. In other words we don't have to look at that because he didn't mention it. I find that kind of odd.

    The EIR regulations clearly state that you must look to the expected results of the decisions you make following the hearing and basically that the EIR needs to cover the obvious and predictible results of the action. And I submit to you that our zoning of AW is a predictible and obvious result. Today if this is approved, a zoning administrator looking at an application for a house on one of these parcels will grant it. He could also grant a small residential care facility, a hunting club, and RV park or camp ground. In short, the process this has gone through by asking only for the nature of this action, what's really happened is that the planning department become judge jury and, in the form of the zoning administrator, the executioner.

    What we see now is that we have water to every parcel, we also have a road to every parcel, an all weather road to every parcel, and the market is obviously going to respond. In addition they don't have yet any right to use this water for irrigation and the 21 miles of exiting roads are available to anyone who wishes to buy a parcel. I want to warn you that you are heading us for the same kind of trouble you have all experiened with the Berryessa badly planned subdivisions.
Former Supervisor Kathryn Winter's statement:

    illustration: Bob Johnson
    I'm Kathryn Winter. I'm giving you a cartoon that was drawn by a friend thirty-five years ago that we laughed at then, and you'll see why it's kind of amusing.

    I'd like to address the limitations of the cumulative impact analysis for the Walt Ranch with its vineyards and 35 pre-existing parcels, each with the capacity to be developed at a future day and induce growth in rural areas. The County's responses to various appeals claim that preperation of the cumulative analysis is consistant with CEQA guidelines, and they did find cumulative impacts, and they suggested mitigations. The county asserts that all of the many CEQA issues have been mitigated to less-than-significant levels. We've all heard the comments about the impacts on wildlife, from construction of roads, impacts to surface and ground water, increased traffic, impacts on endangered and threatened species, fragmentation of habitat, noise and fencing, pesticide drift, water pollution, loss of old growth oak tress and land slippage on unstable slopes. We've heard that all. With a project this size it's unfathomable that all impacts can be mitigated to less-than-significant levels even though additional mitigations added by staff allow them to recommend such a finding. This is what concerns me.

    In 12 years making land use decisions as a town council member, county planning commissioner, and county supervisor, I approved projects whose impacts were theoretically mitigated, yet the county is saddled with ever increasing impacts and their costs. We see the failure of mitigations like huge swaths of clearcut hillsides marching up the valley. We gave up and determined the traffic can not be mitigated. So it takes 60 minutes some days to drive 18 miles from Napa to St. Helena. We have 400 to 600 wineries yet more seek approval. Bit by bit we are eliminating habitat for wildlife, decimating forests and slowly destroying our environment because our elected leaders do not have courage to say "no" to the wine industry when it seeks to impose it's will on the community. Where is the vision to look at the true costs of environmental degredation on our health, roads, loss of species, decreased air quality and compromised quality of rural life. If not you, who else can help citizens when we express fears about over-development. Scientists say we are witnessing the sixth major extinction of species. We don't need to contribute to that in Napa County. We can dot every "i" and cross every "t" of an environmental document and still come away with an unsatisfactory result because we have not addressed the real issue, which is the carrying capacity of Napa County to support unlimited winery and vineyard growth.

Photos from day 1 protest

Standard conditions of approval (updated)on: Growth Issues

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

UPDATE 12/6/16

PBES has just released updated Standard Conditions of Approval for non-residential development in the county with markups of changes made since the Aug 3, 2016 presentation to the Planning Commission:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Best Regards,

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

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


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

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

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

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


Gary Margadant - Aug 31, 2016

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Best Regards,
Charlene Gallina
Supervising Planner

Protect our watersheds alreadyon: Vision 2050

Daniel Mufson - Dec 5,16    Share expand...

Over 6,300 Napa County registered voters petitioned the Board of Supervisors this year to put a watershed protection initiative on November’s ballot. Following that, a majority of Napa County voters (24,000, or 64 percent) voted for an increase in our sales tax to provide protection for our water and hillsides through enactment of Measure Z.

While it appears that not enough voted in favor of this measure (66 percent required), the message is that citizens want our watersheds protected. Many of our government representatives including all of the county supervisors, most mayors, and city council members along with Congressman Thompson and Assemblyman Dodd publicly supported Measure Z.

Thus one would think that the supervisors would act to protect our watersheds and open space from development. The proposed Walt Ranch project would be the antithesis of these watershed protection goals as development threatens Napa’s drinking water source; threatens water quality and quantity; threatens wildlife habitats and the biodiversity of the Atlas Peak area. It would force agriculture into the MST watershed and open space of Atlas Peak.

There are two major issues here: first to determine whether a given land-use project can be predicted to be compatible with the environment (does the environmental impact report demonstrate less than significant damage to the environment), and second, is it compatible with the needs of the community.

Four groups have appealed the Walt Ranch Vineyard Conversion project. They are the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Living Rivers Council and the joint appeal of the Circle Oaks Home Owners Association and Circle Oaks County Water District. They oppose the current project by urging the Board of Supervisors to overturn approval of the Walt Ranch erosion control plan because of serious flaws in the environmental impact report that they believe will harm the watershed and the biota.

There are many Napa County voters who believe that the county needs to act now to protect and defend community rights to clean air and water. Let’s be clear here, the Walt Ranch sits just above land that the city of Napa carefully guards to maintain the quality of the drinking water coming down the hills into Milliken Reservoir for city water users. They don’t let you get anywhere close to that water supply—it’s been said that birds are not allowed to fly over it. With a city of Napa water supply at risk, we must ask why county staff would believe it to be all right to cut down over 300 acres of trees, and disturb this watershed by deep ripping, blasting, and grading the Walt property located just above the reservoir.

NVR version 12/05/16: Protect our watersheds already

Walt Ranch's unresolved issueson: Vision 2050

Nancy Tamarisk - Dec 4,16    Share expand...

There are good reasons for Napa residents’ unprecedented level of opposition to the Walt Ranch project. Five organizations are appealing the project to the Board of Supervisors. These include the statewide Center for Biological Diversity, and local organizations including Napa Sierra Club, Living Rivers Council, Circle Oaks Homes Association and Circle Oaks Water District. While it is impossible to summarize all of the issues in contention, these are some of the major ones.

Water: Circle Oaks is a small rural community of about 500 residents, almost surrounded by the Walt project. Its water district relies on wells adjacent to the Walt property. Circle Oaks is concerned that irrigating the Walt vineyards will deprive Circle Oaks of water, a worry supported by the findings of expert hydrologists. If Circle Oaks wells run dry, residents will not only be unable to supply their needs, but will also be unable to get homeowners’ insurance, because they will lack water for fire protection. Circle Oaks property owners would lose their investments in their homes.

The Walt project does not require any action if Circle Oaks wells run dry. The water district would have to prove that the Walt project caused the water shortage, a requirement virtually impossible to fulfill.

Napa City water is also at risk. For example, Patrick Higgins, a fisheries biologist, asserts that the Milliken reservoir, a Napa City water resource, is in danger of being overwhelmed by algae blooms with any increase in pollution from vineyards. While the City of Napa has reached an agreement with Walt, it requires only monitoring. It does not require Walt to take any remedial action if pollution exceeds predictions.

Regarding sediment, the Walt proponents maintain that vineyard installation will actually decrease sediment runoff. Our experts maintain that this is impossible: their calculations are incorrect.

Opponents also contend that the Walt could decrease flows to Milliken Creek, threatening downstream salmon and steelhead.

Greenhouse gases: Under its current incarnation, the Walt project would clear-cut over 14,000 trees, destroying the ability of those trees to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and producing “super-pollutants” such as methane when they are disposed of, either by burning or chipping.

The project proposes to “mitigate” this woodland destruction by establishing a conservation easement on other trees on the property. However, this is not mitigation! The protected trees will not magically absorb twice as much carbon dioxide to make up for the lost carbon storage of the destroyed trees. In the real world, greenhouse gases will increase.

Climate change is a crisis, both globally and for Napa. Already we have more wildfires, infrastructure (Highway 37) threatened by rising sea levels, less reliable water supplies, and even speculation about whether Napa can remain a premier grape-growing region. The contention that there will be no impact on greenhouse gases by the removal of 14,000 trees is a farce, and Napa County cannot be a party to it.

Special Status Species: Numerous species of concern are affected by the Walt project. Much of the opposition has focused on red and yellow-legged frogs and pond turtles. These species are the canaries in the coalmine, the first to go down as expansion of human development and climate change disrupt the natural world.

Experts’ testimony has noted that the environmental impact report provides such minimal information on the species studies that they are unable to even determine their adequacy. Two egregious examples include a watershed survey that was supposedly completed in only one day, when an adequate survey would actually require a minimum of one to two weeks to accomplish. Then, there are the surveyors of red-legged frogs, unable to tell the difference between a young frog and a tadpole, or to identify the frog species they encountered.

In addition, the limited buffers around the streams will be inadequate to protect anything approaching the actual habitat of special-status frogs and turtles. These creatures often over-winter hundreds of feet from streams and travel more than a mile to a new habitat or population.

NVR version 12/4/16: Walt Ranch's unresolved issues

Walt Ranch needs better environmental evaluationon: Vision 2050

Patricia Damery - Dec 3,16    Share expand...

I’m writing to supplement several important facts from the hours of testimony from the Walt Ranch hearings, in the articles “Napa’s Walt Ranch vineyard hearings open with protest” and “Proponents of Walt Ranch make their case”.

The Halls, the applicants for Walt Ranch, have applied to convert 316 acres of a large, 2,300-acre tract of land in the Ag-Watershed into vineyards. Although the project has been modified following the protest of various environmental and local groups, it still involves cutting over 14,000 mature trees, the equivalent of cutting 62 percent of the trees on the city streets of Napa.

As this project started moving through the EIR process, the Halls began contributing large sums of money to various local lawmakers’ campaigns. As these hearings began, Chair Alfredo Pedroza asked the Supervisors for “disclosures.” They responded by stating any meetings or correspondence they (recently?) had. Not one disclosed any campaign contributions from the Halls. Can our supervisors make an independent decision that is for the benefit of the community and our environment when the project’s applicant has contributed thousands of dollars to his or her campaign?

One of the biggest dangers of this project is the fact that it is a large part of one of the five remaining biologically diverse areas in Napa County in which the original native plants, animals, and soil structure supporting them still thrive. As we face the uncertainties of climate change and a warming earth, it is critically important that we protect areas still intact and not further exploit them. This project includes cutting the oak woodlands, which will impact the entire ecosystem these remaining animals and plants populate.

Four different groups, appellants, found fault with the EIR and want the Board of Supervisors to protect our environment by sending the project’s contested EIR report back for future study. I was disappointed to see a lack of reporting on the appellants’ many reports from biologists, hydrologists, earth scientists, geologists, which took serious issue with some of the findings of the Walt EIR.

Attorney Tom Lippe also questioned the process of the EIR in terms of CEQA compliance. Former supervisor Ginnie Simms also pointed out that the project’s 35 blocks of vineyards, each with roads and water supplied to them, are a thinly veiled real estate development, ready to be sold separately for lifestyle vineyard estates— and wineries. The EIR’s responsibility is to anticipate the consequences of such possible future trajectories. This EIR did not consider such future development, which would have significant impact on water, traffic, and on ecology of the region.

We heard that four novice biologists spent only one day evaluating Walt Ranch for reptiles and amphibians when only one of them is a herpetologist and others could not identify a tadpole from a frog. And hydrologist Greg Kamman reported the proposed deep-ripping of the thin top soils in order to plant vines, a process recommended by Walt Ranch consultants, does not improve soil infiltration rates, thereby limiting runoff, but in fact destroys soil structure which naturally handles water infiltration. Even the Regional Water Quality Control Board says there is no evidence deep-ripping increases infiltration rates. These are only a few of the many counter claims.

There are too many discrepancies and the stakes are too high. Insist that the EIR be redone. Contact your supervisor to come down on the right side on this: send the EIR back for expert evaluation.

NVR 12/1/16 version: Walt Ranch needs better environmental evaluation

The traffic will only get worseon: Traffic Issues

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

NVR 12/1/16: Napa traffic: The commute will only get worse

You've got to get way down to the end of the the mitigated negative declaration to go through the traffic numbers. The NVTA project page is here.

The congestion at intersections around the airport (and through American Canyon) are already at level F (the worst on the traffic scale). Since this project will add 345 vehicle trips/day (less than a 1% increase to the backup), and won't change the F designation, the project traffic impacts are "less than significant". It is the kind of head-in-the-sand rationalization that is made for each and every development project taking place in the county: one less-than-significant impact after another adding up to one hugely significant traffic jam.

Barry Eberling indicates some of the future projects in the immediate vicinity that will be contributing to the congestion. But he neglected to mention the Napa Pipe project (with its 950 housing units and a Costco) and the huge expansion of the Meritage Resort both at the Soscol junction. And he also didn't mention the dozens of building projects now in the works further up the valley that will require hundreds of employees and thousands of tourists. All are approved without a thought to the interchanges around the airport.

This project is different from all others, of course. The purpose of the buses is to reduce traffic congestion. And this is where the real failure of imagination in this project lies, because it is not seen as an opportunity to highlight the need to reduce congestion in a meaningful way.

For what it's worth (not much I suppose) I would like to propose an expanded vision of the project: Empty busses going to and from the bus facility are just a (rather lengthly) addition to the traffic jam and the county's GHG's. If those busses were full of workers or tourists when they leave the facility, they would be actually taking vehicles off the road in the rest of the valley. I would propose that instead of the 75 at grade employee parking spaces, what is needed is a 750 car parking sturcture. Purchasing an all-day parking slot would come with a free all-day pass on the vine buses. (And Sheehy Court residents should have free passes on the buses to compensate for having the peaceful enjoyment of their properties destroyed.)

The parking structure and pickup station could be located on some other nearby property, preferably next to the potential light rail corridor a few hundred yards to the west, and this project would remain as it is. But the time to be thinking about a longer term solution to the Napa Valley traffic problem and a decent public transport system is long past due. Noisy, cumbersome, diesel buses are frankly a pathetic solution to our transport problems, and must be considered only as a stop gap measure. Perhaps, the sleek trams that bring visitors into the pedestrian-oriented city center of Strasborg can inspire greater imagination.


Ignoring key part of the environmenton: Walt Ranch

Donald Williams - Dec 1,16    Share expand...

Walt Ranch promises “environmental responsibility,” “sustainable stewardship,” and “commitment to the greater Napa Valley ecosystem” if it replaces 209 acres of woodlands and chaparral with more grape vines.

But besides threatened trees and water, the ecosystem includes neighbors unimpressed with its plan.

Why stubbornly develop a vineyard when so many people in the neighborhood object? In any ecosystem, any neighborhood, the measure of success is cooperation (not wealth).

Perhaps the Walt owner has a dream. Or the competitive urge to make the best cabernet.

But those reasons neither build neighborliness nor foster community. It’s difficult to conceive that a project as supposedly solicitous of the environment as Walt Ranch would exclude from its concern a crucial part of the ecosystem: neighbors.

Insouciant remarks like “What else should be done with that land?” or “Well, that’s business,” disrespectfully dismiss the fertile idealism that may be the bane of business but the salvation of Napa County. If economic interests continue to trump aesthetic values, and the countryside vanishes, little time will pass before the great Bay Area awakening that wonders, belatedly: “How could they have let this happen to Napa County?”

NVR version 12/1/16: Ignoring key part of the environment

Why You Should Care About the Definition of Agricultureon: The WDO

Eve Kahn - Dec 1,16    Share expand...

[letter first published in this NapaVision2050 newsletter]

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane Dillon
Alfredo Pedrosa
Mark Luce
Brad Wagenknecht
Keith Caldwell

A Read Worth Sharingon: Vision 2050

Carl Bunch - Nov 28,16    Share expand...

A Read Worth Sharing

Environmental activist Mike Hackett,
writes on the recent Napa land use fights reprised.

In this great read, Mike shares the perspective of
 Land Trust of Napa County pioneer and life long environmental activist, Duane Cronk.

Duane is vehement about the similarities
between national politics and the political climate
here in Napa County, California


We encourage you to share this with your friends
and help spread the message of responsible growth and development here in Napa Country out to our community and beyond. 

Other California wine country wars (updated)on: Other Groups

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

SB Independant 11/22/16: Santa Barbara Wine Country Ordinance Shot Down

Wine regions all over the state are running into the same concerns that the residents of Napa have long had - a wine industry drunk on tourism and rural communities being turned into tourist skid rows.

NVR 6/30/15: Napa not alone facing winery growth issues
New Times (San Luis Obispo) 10/16/15: Trouble on the wine trail
LA Times 12/02/15: San Diego Co law could change the meaning of 'local' wine
NVR 6/30/15: Napa not alone facing winery growth issues
SB Independent 6/26/15: Vintners Dominate Subdued Winery Ordinance Hearing
SB Independent 6/17/15: Debate Continues on Santa Barbara County’s Proposed Winery Rules
SB independent 1/17/13:First Look at New Winery Rules
SB Independent 8/30/13: A tale of two valleys

Not to mention Sonoma

The feeling is universal: the wine industry is supported when it is seen as contributing to and enhancing a livable community. It is opposed when it is seen as a destroyer. The conversion of the wine industry into an entertainment industry diminishes the value and quality of life that is the treasure of living in a rural community in an urban world.

Note in the long, Jan 2013, article, "A tale of two valleys", that Rex Stults of the Napa Valley Vintners holds up our 2010 WDO as an example of the success of winery rules. A year later Napa Valley residents began to explode over the same tourism impacts that Santa Barbara was reacting to.

There is a cautionary tale in the drop off of community involvement in the last Santa Barbara meeting. After 4 years of meetings it is those who stand to make money rather than those trying to protect their neighborhoods that still have the energy to show up. Protecting a rural community against the constant pressure of development money is an eternal task.

Save Rural Angwin Aug-Oct 2016 Quarterly Updateon: Other Groups

Kellie Anderson - Nov 22,16    Share

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

The update index is here

Deforestation in the time of droughton: Walt Ranch

George Caloyannidis - Nov 21,16    Share expand...

[Letter sent to Napa County Board of Supervisors 11/21/16]

Dear Napa County Supervisors:

I am sure you are aware of the November 18, 2016 U.S. Forest Service Report (attached here) regarding the alarming disappearance of trees in the state of California due to the drought. Not only is the number of 102 million trees lost staggering but even more alarming is the accelerated rate by which this is occurring: "62 million in 2016, a more that 100% increase over 2015 with; millions of additional trees weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years".

The Report goes on to state that "With public safety as its most pressing concern, the U.S. Forest Service has committed significant resources to help impacted forests, including reprioritizing $43 million in California in fiscal year 2016 to conduct safety-focused restoration along roads, trails and recreation sites".

This reality brings up once again the issue on which I have alerted you before: The tools by which projects are analyzed and evaluated in Napa county (CEQA / EIR) are inadequate in assessing the true impacts of projects as they are casting a very limited radius of impacts.

The Napa Land Trust, an organization whose mission and work is appreciated by us all, has saved 57,000 trees through land acquisitions and is supported by the voluntary financial contributions of many of our citizens, and the U.S. Forest Service is supported by the taxpaying public. Yet Napa Cities' and County policies are working in the exact opposite direction, having consistently approved or set to approve the clear cutting of some 30,000 trees in the past two years.

As the most egregious examples, the City of Calistoga approved the cutting over 10,000 mature trees (over and above the approx. 2,500 trees cut through a prior THP for roads) and the Walt Ranch project now before you is seeking to cut another 14,000 trees.

It is obvious that the County's policies are working against rather than in accord with state public policy and ignoring a statewide alarm.

It is imperative that Napa County adopt a more responsible and wider reaching radius and network of impacts when considering projects. That the current myopic tools are inadequate can be experienced daily by all of us - including you - in regards to the disastrous cumulative impacts on traffic as a result of the series of what you have been willing to accept as "less than significant impacts" as certified by the limited CECA and EIR findings and alleged mitigations. Impacts such as the rise of cheap commuting labor demand and the rise of CO2 levels due to stop and go traffic have never been addressed by the findings you deemed credible and have resulted to where we are today.

When the alarming loss of trees in California causes the U.S. Forest Service to raise the alarm in terms of public safety, it is irresponsible for the County to keep approving massive deforestation projects such as Walt Ranch with the sole purpose of accommodating the financial interest of a corporate entity. There are no effective mitigation measures for deforestation.


George Caloyannidis

Well, THAT was awesome! Let's do it again!!on: Vision 2050

Daniel Mufson - Nov 20,16    Share expand...

An update from Napa Vision 2050:

People waged the Walt Ranch battle in the
Napa County Board of Supervisors chamber
and on the street Friday.

Upwards of 100 people joined together to rally against the cutting down of 15,000 trees in WALT Ranch for wine grapes! #HALLNo #HaltWalt

Photo credit:J.L. Sousa

Photo credit:J.L. Sousa

Local New Coverage

KTVU Channel 2 News reports:  Vineyard Battle 11/18/16
KTVU Channel 2 News : Nov. 18th, 2016

KTVU Channel 2 News: Nov. 17th, 2016

National news wires are listening!

As reported today in the New York NetWire. "The City of Napa estimates
it could cost its water ratepayers $20 million dollars
to deal with agricultural pollution from this single project." 

Get out! Stand up! Join Us!

Napa County Administration Building
1195 3rd St,
Napa, CA 94559

Tues. Nov. 21, 2016

These meetings are an opportunity to connect
with your Napa County Supervisor.

There is no rally Tuesday.

We ask you to spend some time with your supervisors. 

Use the contact information below
to schedule an appointment with your representative.
We encourage you to sit down with them
and clearly define your views on this issue.

Together we are stronger.

See you Tuesday!

Brad Wagenknecht   

District 1
Tel:  (707) 253-4828
Tel:  (707) 253-4386
Fax: (707) 253-4176

Mark Luce        

District 2
Tel:  (707) 738-7319
Tel:  (707) 253-4386
Fax: (707) 253-4176

Diane Dillon                      

District 3
Tel:  (707) 944-8280
Fax: (707) 253-4176

Alfredo Pedroza, Chair

District 4
Tel:  (707) 259-8278
Tel:  (707) 253-4386
Fax: (707) 299-4141

Keith Caldwell, Vice Chair

District 5
Tel: (707) 259-8277
Tel: (707) 253-4386
Fax: (707) 253-4176

Jobs increasing faster than employees (updated)on: Growth Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Glenn J. Schreuder - Sep 30, 2016

Hello, like this wasn’t a completely predictable course of events!

Our “industry-leaning” local governmental bodies are gradually turning the Napa Valley into a parking lot:

The North Bay Business Journal is a great source of information regarding the economic issues the county faces which I think could be referred to as the “Napa Valley yield management equation”.

All these issues are related, you can bet they see they need more concrete…

Mike Hackett - Sep 30, 2016

All minimum wage jobs for people that have to commute. The corporations have stolen our valley. This ongoing master no-plan sucks.

Walt Ranch deserves a better fateon: Walt Ranch

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

[My third Walt Ranch letter - not so different from the second.]

Members of the Board of Supervisors,

Walt Ranch from other side of Monticello Rd
I would like to repeat here my letter of opposition to the approval of the Walt Ranch FEIR. While I too feel there are significant impacts on water resources, on wildlife habitat and on our county's carbon footprint, my concern is also about the suburbanizing trend that this project represents for the remote and natural woodland areas of the county. Supervisor Pedroza has repeatedly said that "once our open space is gone, it's gone". He is right, and I would seriously encourage you to heed his words.

This project is not a vineyard erosion control plan. No real estate developer (as the owners are) would spend 10 years and milions of dollars seeking approval for 21 miles of roadway and a substantial water storage and distribution system on 2300 acres of land only to serve a 209 acre vineyard. The project is, in fact, the preliminary infrastructure development for a 36 unit residential subdivision. The FEIR failed entirely to discuss the reasonably foreseeable future development and growth inducing impacts that the project represents. From the FEIR:

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

This FEIR has completely ignored the discussion required under CEQA guidelines of the reasonably foreseen "growth inducing impacts" that the project represents. The FEIR mistakenly concludes that because a particular use has not been proposed as part of the project that such use is not forseeable. Until such use has been legally prohibited on these properties, that use is eminently forseeable. From the CEQA guidelines:

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

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

From the Hall Ranch website:

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

If the developer is serious about denying the growth inducing impacts of their project they should place non-development conservation easements on the properties or a no-future-development clause into the property deeds. If they are serious about only using the vineyards to supply grapes for Hall wines then let them recombine the properties into one parcel as a show of commitment. These steps need be taken as a condition for the granting of the ECP.

The parcel and vineyard map of Walt Ranch is here. Just look at the vineyard block plan. Would any vintner sensibly create such a convoluted, inaccessible and expensive vineyard just to supply grapes to their winery? Would anyone buy 2300 acres of land for 288 (now 209) acres of grapes? The convoluted vineyard configuration does insure that 34 of the 35 parcels each have some vineyard acreage necessitating road access and water availability required for the sale of vineyard-ready residential property.

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

It is, as well, a discussion that is at the heart of all the projects that that have generated so much opposition in the last three years as the obvious impacts of growth are beginning to destroy everything special about Napa County. Beyond this review, and the infrasturcture that his project will create, there are no land use restraints on the further development of these properties for housing. Walt Ranch, at 2300 acres, is a significant piece of open space and undeveloped natural woodland in the county. It deserves a better fate than just 35 more luxury homes (actually 105 residences when including allowed secondary units and guest cottages). If approved, the urbanization of Napa County, with each project's urbanizing impacts mitigated to a level of insignificance on paper, will go on unabated and, eventually, the open space will be gone.

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

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Rd

Deep Root Speakson: Walt Ranch

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

Author James Conaway has tapped into an experienced source willing to talk about the backstory on Napa land development on the eve of the Walt Ranch appeal hearing.

Nose Blog 11/15/16: An insider condemns cutting thousands of oaks

[As of 11/20/16 the article has disappeared, perhaps understandably. The identity of Deep Root would be hard to conceal for any length of time in such a small place. I'll keep a link to the page in case the article returns. The essence of the article was that the Napa vineyard development is no longer about wine - it's about real estate. (The ag preserve succeeded in saving a lot of open space, now available for construction in this new age governed by real estate developers)]

On another blog post, related to the Walt Ranch project, Conaway gives his no-doubt-comming-book excerpt on Planning Director David Morrison:
Nose Blog 11/20/16: Napa's man between the developers and the enviros

Walt Ranch BOS appeal and protest Nov 18thon: Walt Ranch

Jim Wilson - Nov 9,16    Share expand...

NVR 11/15/16: Napa's Walt Ranch vineyard controversy goes to supervisors

Napa County citizens will rally in front of the County Administration Building at noon on Friday, November 18th. The appeal of the approval of the Walt Ranch Erosion Control Plan to the Board of Supervisor will begin at 9:00am

This occasion is the first day of hearings on the appeal against the Walt Ranch project. This project has aroused more ardent public protest than any in our county’s recent history.

The county wants to ignore us-- let's make it harder for them to do so. We'll have signs on hand, or bring your own.

Nov 9th, 2016. No words can possibly express...on: Campaign 2016

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

On the day after the 2016 election I want to rant about the further shift of the Board of Supervisors into the developers' pocket and to rave about the consistent sanity of the voters of St Helena in confronting tourism development, but the election of an egotistical bully, liar, misogynist, xenophobe, racist, autocrat, con-man (and building developer) as President of the United States leaves all other concerns quite incidental and subordinate. Even barring apocalypse (a nuclear bomb in response to some international slight, say), the potential future of every institution that separates first world democracies from third world autocracies is now up for grabs. The realization that half of the American population has placed their anger, hopes and fears in the hands of a sociopathic snake oil salesman - in the 21st century - leaves one at a loss for words.

Geoff Ellsworth for St Helena City Council (updated)on: Campaign 2016

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

St Helena Star 10/1/16: Candidate profile: Geoff Ellsworth

At each public governmental meeting Geoff Ellsworth gets up to defend the interests of the county's residents and restate the reality that city and county officials don't acknowledge with each new project they approve: the rural, small-town character that makes Napa County a special place for residents and visitors alike is being urbanized into extinction through their actions, one "less-than-significant" project at a time.

Over the last three years he has shown the courage and the stamina needed to represent residents' interests against the tourism, real estate, and construction industries and their government promoters pushing a development agenda in St. Helena and the county. That agenda has already led to traffic congestion, the loss of affordible housing and local businesses, the commercialization of residential neighborhoods, increased bond and tax requests for infrastructure upgrades, the deforestation of hillsides and increased pressure on water resources. Many projects have already been approved but their impacts not yet been realized. Many more projects will be proposed in the coming years. Residents need an elected voice to counter the onslaught of urban development threatening the character of their communities. Geoff Ellsworth will be that voice.

The Geoff Ellsworth SCR posts are here.


Hello all,
Thank you for the continued support and/or dialogue in this City Council race.

With the election less than a week away it's important to keep pushing forward. Many people still vote at the polling place on Nov. 8th and so it's critical to continue getting the word out until then. I believe a vote for myself and Mary Koberstein will help St. Helena get back on track.

I continue with my messages of strong fiscal oversight, quality of life and water security for our residents, supporting local business and our agricultural heritage, as well as a clean, safe environment.

Below are a few ways you can continue to help. Even if you don't vote in St. Helena your efforts will be important to the outcome.

1. Make sure to vote and continue encouraging others to vote, either by mail
or on Nov. 8 at the polling place at the upvalley campus of Napa Valley College
(off of Pope Street).

2. Call or email friends who vote in St. Helena and remind them of this important election.

3. Walking neighborhoods - I have extra pamphlets for anyone interested in helping canvass neighborhoods and speaking with residents about the issues. Please email me for more info if this is of interest.

4. Yard signs - I still have some available and can drop off for anyone wanting to display one.

5. Meet on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Lyman Park at 11 am. We can gather here and then split up to walk neighborhoods for a few hours.

6. A modest campaign donation can be made to help offset costs. Most people are donating between $25 and $100, I've set the maximum at $250. Donations can be sent to Geoff Ellsworth for City Council at PO Box 854 St. Helena, Ca. 94574

Please feel free to email a link to this post by clicking the "Share" link at the top of the post

Best, Geoff Ellsworth

Hello all,

As you may be aware, I've decided to run for City Council in St. Helena.

This is a challenging time for St. Helena and Napa County. We are facing serious issues regarding growth, water, quality of life and fiscal management.

For the past three years, I have attended as many St. Helena City Council and Planning Commission and Napa County meetings as possible. I wanted to fully grasp what is going on and as a result I believe I understand what is needed to move St. Helena forward to a strong and balanced future.

I am hoping to have your support in the upcoming election.

If elected my main focuses will be:

- Fiscal oversight - making sure measures are in place so we don't have a repeat of the financial missteps of recent years.

- Quality of life for residents and support for local businesses.

- Water security for our community - both availability and quality.

- Protection of the environment we all share.

- Interaction with the other municipalities in Napa Valley and with Napa County offices to work towards better communication and working relationships to meet all of our common goals.

- Truly listening to our community to further understand concerns.

The election is Tuesday Nov.8 and mail-in election ballots go out this coming Monday October 10th.

Often people don't return these until the last week or day and so it's very important to continue connecting with voters and bringing awareness over the next month.

These are some ways you can help:

- Walking neighborhoods door to door with campaign flyers
- Calling friends and contacts to discuss the upcoming local election
- Hosting a gathering at a home or public space
- A modest donation to defray campaign costs
- Putting up a yard sign
- Forwarding on this email

I am also available to meet with people separately to discuss concerns and can bring signs and brochures.

I will send a further email announcing upcoming speaking engagements and hope to hear from you as things go.

Please keep in touch about concerns you would like me to address. Let me know if you would like flyers and/or a yard sign.

Together we can make a change

Best, Geoff Ellsworth

Vote for Supervisor Luce!on: Campaign 2016

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

NVR Editorial Board: The choice for 2nd District

Sup. Luce doesn't need (and probably doesn't want) my endorsement, but I'll offer it anyway. Vote for Mark Luce for District 2 Supervisor.

As a supporter of development projects in the south county and of the expansion of the tourism industry, Sup. Luce may not seem like the perfect candidate for those interested in the preservation of Napa's open space and natural resources. All of this development has led to traffic congestion, lack of affordable housing, loss of local businesses, increased taxes for infrastructure, building projects in the vineyards and threats to the water supply and natural beauty of the county.

But he is being challenged in this election precisely because he had the courage to recognize that unlimited development may no longer be sustainable if the goal is to maintain a county devoted to agriculture and a rural environment (more here). Developers see him as going soft on development, and have drafted their own candidate In opposition, one that brazenly proposes hilltop houses on his campaign poster.

Being soft on development is exactly what we need if the rural Napa that we know and treasure is to survive, because developers have very different plans for our future. Sup. Luce has shown at least a spark of independence from the developer lobby, a rare and valuable asset in the road ahead. For district 2 voters (and all us other Napans) who like where they live, the choice is clear.

Bali, Napa and sustainable groundwater managementon: Watershed Issues

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

We have just returned from a fact finding mission to the island of Bali. (It has become impossible to be simple tourists on our travels any more.)

We were struck by some comparisons to the situation in Napa: The two economies are principally a combination of agriculture and tourism. Napa is about a third the size of Bali. (Napa and Sonoma together are about the same size). While Bali has always been renowned for it's rice production, a committment to tourism in the last few decades has made it 70-80% of the island's economy. Tourism is about 30% of the Napa economy (and growing). There are some 8-10 million foreign and domestic tourists coming to Bali each year, somewhere around 2 tourists for each of Bali's 4.2 million residents. Napa has about 3 million tourists, equating to 21.4 tourists for each of its 140 thousand residents. Maybe that's why some Napans get more worked up over the impacts of tourism than the Balinese seem to.

One of the interesting comparisons was the concern that both places have for water availability. Bali is a very wet place with rainfall about 15 times that of Napa. It was hard to imagine a water shortage. But apparently the conversion from an agricultural to a tourism economy over the last 3 decades has had a significant impact on the available water and the island has reached a water crisis. This article explains the problem:

Jakarta Post: Tourism industry responsible for water crisis in Bali: Expert
As well as this informative site: Sawah Bali
And this YouTube video: Bali Water Crisis - The Time to Act Is NOW!

Solutions to Bali's problems are being proposed that depend on retaining more of the substantial rainfall in the groundwater aquifer. That is not an option here. Given our modest and dwindling rainfall such technical solutions are less likely. The impact of increasing tourism and urbanization, along with the expansion of vineyards, have the potential to present a similar significant crisis as the development boom continues.

The comparison of the two tourist economies and the impact on water is well worth a look, particularly in light of the scant concern given to future tourism development in the WICC report the county has penned to submit under the State's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, to be presented to the BOS on Dec 13th.

The county's groundwater page is here
The Nov 3rd WICC workshop and draft report are here
Napa Grand Jury 2014-15 Report on groundwater

Napa's Sustainable Groundwater shortcuton: Watershed Issues

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

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. [Sorry, but I only received this email after the workshop.]


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"

Save Rural Angwin (updated)on: Growth Issues

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

NVR 11/1/16: County moves to resolve Angwin growth issues

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

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

NVR 5/9/16: Angwin in the bull's-eye
NVR 10/13/12: Land war erupts in Angwin
NVR 7/3/07: Angwin group opposes PUC development plan

Sonoma tourism sprawl a campaign issueon: Sonoma County

Bill Hocker - Oct 31,16    Share

Shepp MPV statementon: Mountain Peak Winery

Diane Shepp - Oct 11,16    Share expand...

11 October 2016

John McDowell, Deputy Planning Director
Napa County Planning, Building & Environmental Services Dept.
1195 Third Street, Suite 210
Napa, CA 94559

Re: Mountain Peak Vineyard [Winery] application Use Permit #P13-00320-UP Dear

Deputy Planning Director McDowell,

Since the last Planning Commission hearing regarding Mountain Peak Vineyard [Winery] (MPV) of July 20, 2016, several more incidents of note have occurred on Soda Canyon Road that pertain to my request to deny or substantially reduce the scope of the MPV proposal.

A refresher: Soda Canyon Road is a poorly maintained, two lane, dangerous, dead-end road that winds its way up Soda Creek, over a steep grade and ends on a high plateau at the edge of Rector Creek Canyon. The plateau is the watershed of Rector Reservoir on the eastern side of the Napa Valley. There are three ends to Soda Canyon Road [one is paved, the other two are dirt and lead to residences and vineyards].

This area, described in the Napa County General Plan as a dark- sky environment, is remote from the light and noise of the Napa Valley. Until recently, the area has been entirely residential, agricultural or undeveloped watershed. Only two commercial wineries have been on the road in the last half century: the small White Rock Winery on Loma Vista and the large Antica Napa Valley set in its own 1000 acres on the Rector Plateau.

As of today’s date, Soda Canyon Road has eight (8) wineries approved or in the application process. The MPV proposal
brings the total to nine (9).

UPDATE WILDFIRE: July 26, 2016 Soda Canyon Road blocked by emergency vehicles all morning. Thankfully the wildfire was contained quickly, however there was no ingress/egress for the entire morning for anyone [residents, winery personnel, tour buses, visitors or the mailman].

The Soda Canyon Road area has the second highest number of emergency incidents in Napa County. Wildfires are an unfortunate occurrence throughout the year and pose significant safety issues for anyone visiting the area [including proposed MPV visitors].

Stranded tourists waiting to be rescued on their way to the Beau Vigne vineyards at the top of Soda Canyon.
UPDATE TRAFFIC INCIDENTS: Tour bus breaks down on Soda Canyon Road, while visiting the Beau Vigne vineyards not winery.

Date: September 24, 2016 Three tour buses visiting the vineyards of Beau Vigne Winery (winery approved on September 7, 2016, by the Napa County Planning Commission*) transport their winery visitors to their vineyards located on the dirt portion of Soda Canyon Road in Foss Valley (~7 mile marker). One of the buses broke down on the steepest part of the paved grade (~5 mile marker). The other two buses continued to the vineyard...kicking up a lot of dust. One of the tour buses later returned to the broken-down bus and transported the remainder of visitors to the vineyard.

Breakdowns of this nature are frequent and not limited to tour buses. Many vineyard and delivery trucks likewise breakdown at the steepest part of the paved road, sometimes blocking traffic in both directions.

While Beau Vigne visitation and production may be modest, it is just one of several projects approved or in the pipeline right at the base of Soda Canyon Road that will change the character of the Trail in this location and increase the amount of traffic we have to deal with at the Soda Canyon junction and on the mountain.

This brings up another topic: Was the visitation of Beau Vigne tourists to their vineyards at the top of Soda Canyon also included in the permit? Do winery use permits include vineyard visitation as well? This is very relevant to the MPV application in that they also have vineyards located down the dirt portion of Soda Canyon Road which is not a county maintained and one lane. Not a safe place to be in an emergency.

*Beau Vigne Winery is located at 4057 Silverado Trail, Napa; 625 feet north of its intersection with Soda Canyon Road. Their vineyard is located on Soda Canyon Road (dirt road section).

At the left is one of the other tour buses that did not break down entering the Beau Vigne vineyard. Please note all the DUST.

There is great concern regarding travel on Napa County dirt roads and its negative impact on our water resources, siltation and degradation of our environment.
This practice certainly does not protect our agricultural lands from an invasion of tourists among the vines. Or is this merely marketing and therefore defined as agriculture?

Is this the next phase we are to expect of tourism posing (and imposing) on agriculture in the Napa Valley?

REVELANCE to the MPV proposal:

Safety/Danger: The historic danger of wildland fire on the Soda Canyon Road is a given. Soda Canyon is a dangerous, dead-end place for a huge, industrial strength, visitor center/winery with many employees and thousands of visitors. The recent increase in the number of wineries and related winery traffic on Soda Canyon, increases the potential of putting visitors, residents and wineries at increased risk and having to shelter-in-place during an emergency.

Current road conditions are not going to change: The road has not been improved and has in fact deteriorated at an alarming rate. The County has indicated it is not going to improve the paved road anytime soon, and they are not going to pave the dirt portions of the road probably ever.

Proximity to significant water resources and dirt roads: MPV’s proposed site is located at the junction of the paved and gravel road at the 6.1 mile marker; and sits in proximity to Rector Canyon and Reservoir. MPV’s second vineyard is located down the dirt road another 2-3 miles. If a precedent is set with the Beau Vigne example, then MPV could begin conducting tours down the one-lane, dirt road (not county maintained or owned) which then poses potential significant negative impacts and degradation of the Rector watershed and siltation from dirt-country roads.

The scale of the MPV proposal and its ambitious tourism marketing plan mark the true negative impact of wine tourism in a remote corner of the county. The MPV project promises to change the character of life on Soda Canyon Road and not for the better. If successful, it will not be the last such project to cash in on the bucolic remoteness of the rest of Soda Canyon...and that remoteness will be irreparably destroyed.
The MPV as proposed only adds to an already existing difficult and dangerous situation and adds more risk to anyone ‘visiting’ Soda Canyon Road; risk to our County’s valuable water resources; and the safety of tourists and residents alike. It adds nothing of real value.

The final indignity, the broken down tour bus being hauled away later that night in front of MPV.

The proposed MPV is not a small family winery designed to be consistent with the immediate local environment. In fact, it is quite the opposite. A winery of the proposed size and scope does not belong in a remote area on a dead-end road.
Please protect our fragile environment and homes from unwarranted, industrial strength, mega- wineries in remote locations in Napa County. I’m counting on you to represent and ensure the health and safety of local residents. If you truly wish to create a Napa County where our children and future generations of Napa citizens will live, and raise their families, then the choice is clear.

I respectfully request that you deny the MPV application. Short of that, please significantly reduce the number of allowed public tours, events, winery size and production levels.

Thank you,

Diane Shepp

Mountain Peak at the Planning Commissionon: Mountain Peak Winery

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

Update 11/1/16: The second hearing on the project is being continued until Jan 4th 20

County website's Mountain Peak page (Mar 2016) (documents)
July 20th Meeting Agenda and Docs (w/ meeting pdfs and correspondence)
Applicant's proposed changes to the marketing plan
Staff Agenda Letter
Anthony Arger letter and dossier (35mb file)
Neighborhood powerpoint presentation at Jul 20th hearing
Video of the Jul 20th hearing
Transcript of the Jul 20th hearing
County Initial Study EIR Checklist

The Planning Commission is to decide on the use permit application for the Mountain Peak Winery on Soda Canyon Road on Wednesday, Jan 4th 2017. IT IS NOT TOO LATE TO ACT TO SAVE the Soda Canyon/Loma Vista Community!


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

County Administration Building, 1195 Third Street, Suite 305, Napa, CA
WHEN: Wednesday, Jan 4th, 2017 starting at 9:00AM

WHY: The use permit sought by Mountain Peak would allow a massive (100,000 gallon) winery event center to be built 6.1 miles up Soda Canyon Road. Developed for the owner by The Reserve Group, this project will attract 18,486 (now 14575) visitors on an annual basis, allow for 78 (now 3!) marketing events per year, add 19-27 employees per day on the road, and construct caves the size of a large Safeway grocery store (more than 33,000 square feet!), making Mountain Peak one of the larger winery projects currently being proposed in the Napa Valley. A project of this size gives unprecedented visitor and event allowances over most other Napa wineries, and especially over all existing Soda Canyon wineries. The community must unite to stop this oversized, aggressive, and unprecedented project that could truly destroy this remote and peaceful neighborhood.

What You Can Do:

1. Attend the continued Hearing. Strength in numbers!
You don't have to speak - just being there sends a message about your commitment to live in a commercial-free neighborhood.

2. Write and submit a letter to John McDowell preferably 7 days before the hearing to be included in the document package for the meeting. (Letters may be submitted up till the end of the hearing and will be included as documents added after the meeting.)

3. Sign and return the Petition of Opposition!

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

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

The future of Soda Canyon Road is up to you!

A complete collection of correspondence to date is among the documents on the County Planning Commission 7/18/16 Agenda item devoted to Mountain peak

Is a restaurant agriculture?on: The WDO

George Caloyannidis - Oct 6,16    Share expand...

Is a restaurant agriculture?

At least this is what Napa County wants them to become.

In the current Napa County Code, "Agriculture and Right to Farm," defines Agricultural Operation to "Include but not limited to...the production, cultivation, growing, breeding, harvesting or processing of any living organism having value as an agricultural commodity or product and any commercial practices performed incident to or in conjunction with such operations on the site where the agricultural product is being produced (emphasis mine), including preparation for market, delivery to storage or to market, or to carriers for transportation to market.”

Hinging on the words "but not limited to,” the County amended this definition in 2010 to include winery on-site sales and events in response to winery claims that marketing conditions had changed. The definition of Agriculture as it was and as it has evolved, makes all subsequent changes in what agricultural operations are, also a right. Quite of note is that any changes in that definition, also become part of the "Disclosure Prior to Transfer of Real Property" which states that: "No person shall transfer real property of or adjacent to agricultural lands without following disclosure as defined (in the Code)…"

Under the guise of "Agriculture,” the alcohol-tourism model has evolved -- whether we like it or not -- with all its associated problems from the lowest wages paid by it and by the booming hospitality industry, to commuters and traffic congestion, water rationing and exorbitant rates, insufficient sewer capacities, all increased infrastructure costs ultimately borne by the public.

Now we are faced with a new wave of changes in the code initiated by pressure from the alcohol-tourism industrial complex.

The most serious changes included in the proposed language as a right are: "The production and processing of agricultural products and related marketing, sales and accessory uses.” Note that the "on-site" agricultural product requirement is removed. Included in the new definition is also "farm worker housing.”

Two issues arise:

1) Housing developments are only permitted in the cities. If we allow farm worker housing in the Ag Preserve, the demand is in the thousands. Apartment buildings in the hills? Sorry, you were warned in the Transfer Disclosure Statement. And who exactly is a farmworker? One who works during harvest with a family of four and stays here employed elsewhere the rest for the year? Make no mistake, this is a backdoor to affordable housing in the Ag Preserve because the cities have consistently stonewalled it.

2) Now that the on-site production of agricultural products will no longer be required, beef, tomatoes or any agricultural product may be imported from anywhere, processed and sold here. Why not the manufacturing and sale of qualifying beauty products, leather goods or even biofuels? Staff argues that the price of land guarantees this will not happen. But relying on "the likelihood of something happening" is not a credible criterion by which narrowly defined activities would be inserted in the Code, which is what an ordinance does.

Which brings us to the certainty of restaurants in the Ag Preserve. What are they if not facilities that "process agricultural products" even though they may be imported from every corner of the earth? And that will be by right.

While the county's use permit process may modify or condition a right, I doubt it has the ability to deny it altogether. Undoubtedly, the courts will have a field day.

The supervisors and everyone living in the Napa valley ought to be apprehensive of opening Pandora's Ag Box of widening the permitted uses with their incremental degradation. It will be the second death nail in six years to the coffin of our Valley as we know it.

NVR 10/6/16: Is a restaurant agriculture?

Highway improvements will increase trafficon: Traffic Issues

George Caloyannidis - Oct 4,16    Share expand...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sip the bubbly with caution!

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

Water quality email to Yountvilleon: The Rector Watershed

Bill Hocker - Sep 30,16    Share expand...

From: Amber M
Date: Wed, Jul 27, 2016 at 3:55 PM
Subject: Rector Creek water quality

Hi Nick,

Thank you for taking my call on Monday regarding Rector Creek water quality. As I mentioned, I hiked a portion of the creek last Saturday and was dismayed to see more sediment than usual in both the mainstem and largest tributary to Rector Canyon.

Having been raised in the Foss Valley area, I have hiked the creek nearly every year for the past 20 years and am intimately familiar with conditions there. My first hike was in 1989, and my family has been making treks there since the 1950s.

I am attaching photos labeled with dates for comparison. The 2016 and 1998 photos show poor conditions while the other dates show what it looks like under better summer/fall conditions. Since vineyard conversion, there is always some fine sediment present. Before that, and in side channels with more intact watersheds, the water is crystal clear. My memories of the deeper pools from the early 1990s are of water like glass, where the bottom was clear, bright, and sediment-free at 12+ feet.

Compared to many systems, the sediment shown may not seem out of hand but it's the thickest coat of fine sediment I have ever seen in Rector, even exceeding the 1998 sediment load, which previously held the record in my observations (photos attached). Unlike 1998, sediment is heavy in two, not one, branches of the creek.

The Rector drainage now has about 1,500 acres of vineyard, essentially all converted from wildland over the past 25 years. As a resident, my observation is that the County does a poor job of ensuring compliance in this remote "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" valley, and the county planning department doesn't have a sense of the big picture, cumulative impacts that are happening.

I am writing primarily to alert you of this possible water quality concern related to sediment loads, of immediate interest to the City of Yountville. The status of much of Rector Canyon as a designated wildlife area is also a concern.

Based on my long-term observations, my sense is that the riparian system is at a tipping point - particularly because of the new and persistent presence of invasives, which indicate warmer and steadily lower-quality conditions. Invasive aquatic species including bullfrog, green sunfish, and largemouth bass have all made their first appearance in the Canyon proper in the past 6 years.

If the County keeps approving every proposal, the high quality habitat that still exists in Rector Creek will slip away. Rector Creek presently supports robust populations of rainbow trout and foothill yellow legged frog.

The most alarming proposal at this time is for a 100,000 gallon winery with 15,600+ tourists/year at "the mailboxes" on upper Soda Canyon. Most residents are concerned about noise and traffic that would be caused by the Mountain Peak project, but there will also be substantial impacts to Rector Creek if this project is approved. The winery would operate within 33,000 square feet of caves, and all of the material excavated will be placed just outside the required stream setback along two blueline creeks. The project managers literally bulldozed a road through one of the creekbeds already, so I am not eager to find out how they manage cave spoils.

Moreover, if this project goes through, it will set a precedent for the Rector watershed in terms of scale, scope, and marketing plan, and more of the same will likely follow.

The City of Napa recently weighed in on the Walt Ranch proposal in the Milliken drainage (attached PDF), and I hope the City of Yountville might consider doing the same for the Mountain Peak proposal.

Napa County's Mountain Peak project page is here:

I know this is a long email, so thank you for taking the time to consider this information.

As water managers, I strongly encourage you to see the entire length of the creek firsthand. If you ever would like to hike Rector Creek from the top down, please let me know; I am always happy to guide intrepid adventurers.


Napa Winery Development Industry seminaron: The WDO

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

Napa County’s Winery Definition Ordinance
and Implications for Other Winery Markets
Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - Napa, CA

The Seminar Group, a for-profit legal and professional education provider of sponsored seminars, is hosting a seminar on Napa's Winery Definition Ordinance. It's expensive, geared to those attorneys, winery owners & operators who will be making money from their better understanding of the County's unique definition of a winery (and of agriculture!). The organizers and several speakers are lawyers and consultants that have been promoting and defending the current winery development boom, a lead part of the building boom going on in the county.

Lester Hardy, program co-chair, lays out the gist of the seminar: the winery development industry is concerned that approval of applications for new and modified winery use permits has become significantly more difficult. What can be done? (This, despite the fact that 100 such approvals have been made in the last 6 years with more approved at each planning commission hearing.)

For those feeling the unwanted impacts of that development boom, in traffic, affordable housing loss, infrastructure taxes, and the loss of a rural quality of life, it is an another (albeit expensive) opportunity to see how developers use, interpret and modify ordinances and the general plan to promote the continued urbanization of the county.

Information about the seminar and registration forms are here.

The future of Soda Canyon Road.on: Soda Canyon Road

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

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

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

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

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

The Definition of Agriculture Returns! (updated)on: The WDO

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

Update 9/23/16: The vote was 4 to 1 (Comm. Phillips voting no) to send the revised definition on the BOS with recommendations for some staff clarifications on the verbiage.

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

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

Update 9/21/16: Today, Sept 21st 2016 public comments will be heard on the proposal for changes as shown in Dir. Morrison's email below to the definition of agriculture as set out in Napa County ordinance 18.08.040

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

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

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

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

    In addition, the uses will be protected by:
      §2.94.010 - Definitions.
        "Agriculture" shall have the same meaning as "agriculture" as defined in Section 18.08.040 of this code.
Her complete (and compelling) argument is here

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

Director Morrison sent along the email below which shows proposed changes (in red) to the principal county ordinance defining agriculture. He also sent along a second email modifying the changes (shown in blue), cobbled on at the recommendation of staff and the county council.

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


The Napa County General Plan includes the following:

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

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

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

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

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




Section 18.08.040 - Agriculture

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

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

B. Grazing of livestock and feeding incidental thereto;

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

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

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

F. Farmworker housing as defined in Section 18.08.294;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Napa red-tags Bremer soil-hauling vineyard creation project.on: Vision 2050

- Sep 18,16    Share expand...

Dear fans and supporters of Napa Vision 2050,

We are updating you on the latest from the Bremer Vineyard project in Angwin. Save Rural Angwin representative, Kellie Anderson, shared some details.

"The Vineyard development at the Bremer Family Winery has been red tagged by Napa County for multiple environmental violations.

The violations being investigated involve grading with out permit, planting vineyard inside creek setback, constructing water tanks in creek Chanel. The project involves the placement of imported river spoils dredged from the Napa River and trucking to the Deer Park site. Questions remain as to the quantity of spoils possibly exceeding approved permit, and construction outside of approved areas.

Neighbors have been complaining for two years about trucking, dust, noise and creek destruction. Downstream residents fear increased flooding and silt from project damaging Canon Creek habitat."

Napa County red-tagged the project on Sept. 8 to halt construction. Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said "what’s been built on the ground so far doesn’t match the county-approved plans."
This is not news to the people on the ground, says Kelli. Images below show the current view of the project. We will keep you up to date on this issue.

You are also invited to visit us on Facebook for the latest updates.

A day at Hall Wineson: Walt Ranch

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

On Sept 10th 2016, many citizens concerned about the proposed removal of 24,000 trees on the 2300 acre Walt Ranch development, and of the many other environmental impacts that the development will create, made their concerns known at the developer's winery, Hall Wines, in St. Helena.

Walt demonstration at Hall Wines Sept 10thon: Walt Ranch

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

An invitation to show your support for the preservation a significant piece of Napa County native oak woodlands for future generations.

Sept 10th, 2016, from 10:30am to 2:00pm in front of the Hall Winery at 401 St. Helena Hwy

The DENW website issues page discussing the impacts of the project is here

Walt Ranch Erosion Control Plan Appeal
The appeal of the approval of the ECP on Walt Ranch has been filed with the county to be heard by the Board of Supervisors. It is an interesting read, and sets out the many issues not addressed in the final EIR.

There will be three public hearings later this fall-- three opportunities for public commentary. The appeal and all supporting documents may be found on the DENW website, at

Walt Ranch Winery?
David Heitzman just sent this Dallas Morning News puff-piece on the Hall's love affair with wine:
Craig and Kathryn Hall pen business love story about winemaking

The journalist has described the Halls previously as a power couple who brought to Napa a Texan sense of excess-in-all-things with the Hall Winery project. In this current article they sound more like Ozzie and Harriet at the kitchen table.

It's the end of the article that piques the interest of the Napa community bearing the brunt of the Hall's love affair:

    'Included in the 4,000 is 2,300 acres zoned for agriculture that the Halls bought in 2005. Some locals are up in arms now that the Halls have shown intentions to build a winery on part of it. The controversy has the couple dumbfounded.

    "Kathy and I think of ourselves as environmentalists. Our Texas friends think of us as crazy, tree-hugging, liberal Democrats," he says.

    "I'm totally OK with that moniker, by the way," she says.

    Craig launches into why the protesters are completely off base.

    Kathryn rolls her eyes. "This is a part that I cut in the book. Who wants to sit through this long story?" '
The building of a winery wasn't mentioned in the EIR for Walt Ranch. Is this a slip of the journalist's pen (conflating vineyards and wineries) - or are the Halls more open with the locals in far off Dallas, Texas than they are with the locals here? Given the concern about the future development of the property, that Napa County has chosen to ignore, it was an interesting, and alarming, note in the story.

As interesting to me, perhaps, was the Texan conception of a tree-hugger, which seemed to point to the relative difference that Texans and Californians might place on the environment. The Hall's are, of course, planning to hug 24,000 trees to death on the Walt property. (It brings to mind those other Texas plutocrats blindly wishing to inflict the din of private helicoptering into our environment.)

The Hall's seem to have been accepted by the Napa power establishment as "one of us", so its a little peevish for regular concerned citizens to call attention to cultural differences. Most all of us are immigrants here. But when an article like this surfaces that looks at a local situation from a foreign perspective one can't help but comment.

Napa Vision2050 September Newsletter: Acorns to Oakson: Vision 2050

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

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

Eyes on Napa September 2016 Newsletter: Acorns to Oaks
The newsletter index is here
To receive the newsletter join here

The end of the Trail? (updated)on: Soda Canyon Road

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

black: existing wineries & left turn lanes
red: proposed or approved
The Silverado Trail, along the east side of the Napa Valley, is still a great ride (for cars and bicycles) at times other than the afternoon rush hour. Well banked curves and maintained surface allow a meditative, almost zen-like, cruise through the rolling landscape of vine rows and valley vistas. It is the ride that defines the Napa Valley as an Eden, a paradise on earth, for visitors and residents alike. It is a last local vestige of America's great passion for the open road. And it is about to disappear.

Another winery expansion on the Trail is up before the Planning Commission on Sep 7th 2016. It is the Beau Vigne Winery on the Trail just north of the intersection with Soda Canyon Road; the requested increases in production and visitation are modest, but the application does call attention once again to the issue of continued development on this most iconic of Napa's highways.

This particular section of the Trail is becoming quite impacted by proposed wineries. It is a harbinger of the development sprawl happening along the Trail and throughout the county. (As we use every opportunity to point out, there are currently some 100 new or expanding wineries approved, most not yet built. There are some 50 more in the planning department awaiting review. As we have seen lately, the department and commissioners seem invigorated since the election to begin moving as many projects as possible through the pipeline.)

Above is a map of the Soda Canyon intersection. There are now at least 8 existing or proposed left turn lumps on the Trail in the 2 minute drive between Hardman Drive and Black Stallion Winery. Little will remain of the 2-lane Trail. It will now be a section fraught with the driving angst of merging traffic. Will all of these turnouts make it safer? Maybe for those forced to become familiar with the concept of middle lane refuges. For most drivers there will still be the heart attack (and involuntary swerve), as a car dashes out from the left straight at their car and at the last second turns into the refuge lane.

The number of vehicle trips generated by the proposed wineries is adding up. Counting the Mountain Peak project, up Soda Canyon Road next to me, there are now almost 360 more trips/day planned of this bit of the Trail. That's only 3% of the 11,000 daily vehicles that use the Trail at this point. Is the increase significant? Soda Canyon Road is already rated at Level of Service (LOS) F on weekday and Saturday afternoons and traffic signals are already warranted on weekday afternoons. They will shortly be needed on Saturdays as well. It is harrowing to make the left turn into the continuous stream of 55 mph traffic at rush hour. The traffic backs up behind the Soda Canyon stop sign waiting for one's rendezvous with fate. Perhaps all the left turn bumps and merging traffic will slow things enough to make the turn less dangerous? I doubt it.

The Soda Canyon intersection, like many intersections along the Trail and Hwy 29 already requires signalization for safe operation. The cost of those signals are contributed to by mitigations fees added to the use permits. The signals don't get put in, I think, not just because that mitigation fees aren't enough to cover the costs (and the money is needed elsewhere), but because everyone knows what signalization means - a rural place is becoming a suburb. It is the death of the open road.

This map begins to give a sense of the winery strip mall that the rest of the Trail will become in the future. There are still 3 or 4 parcels in this stretch available for wineries . Given the present trajectory, projects will be proposed soon. (The property just north of the Reynolds Winery has recently sold.) It is logical that the lower part of the Trail will reach winery buildout the earliest. Looking up into the valley from Skyline Park, one can sense the urban landscape oozing north. The widening of the Trail, now being done one left turn bulge at a time, reflects that flow.

Is it too late to save the Silverado Trail? The openness of the landscape along its route defines Napa County to the rest of the world. As the area around Soda Canyon Road shows, that iconic image will become screened and diminished by development if more protections are not put in place. It is past time to realize that the Trail is more important to Napa than just an access route to ever more wineries or just traffic relief from Hwy 29. The expansive views from the road are the mental images that everyone retains of this place.

If the present development trend continues, the enjoyment of the Trail as the meditative cruise needed to be at one with the rolling majesty of the valley and its bounty, a single experience more important than all the winery "experiences" combined in maintaining Napa's image as a premier wine making region, will soon be gone.


My other take on a similar theme, the visual damage to the Trail's Edenistic landscape caused by winery construction, is here.
Also related: The Trail at Soda Canyon is drying up.

[Email sent to Dep Planding Director John McDowell regarding this]

Mr. McDowell,

Sorry for this rambling note - I know you are busy.

I wanted to thank you for going out on a limb to voice your concerns yesterday about the potential for art advertising to become a big issue in the future and the need to get on top of it now. You know better than everyone else, the policy seems to come only after irreparable damage has been done. Director Morrison's disinterest in confronting the issue was disappointing. It is obvious that with the branding success of the rabbit, every vanity vintner in the county will want to put their personal artistic stink on the Napa landscape to drag in tourists.

This relates to a concern that has been brought up by the Reynolds Winery. I will probably be sending in this screed in some modified form to commissioners when the time comes. As usual not too much about the specific project, more about the trend that the project is contributing to. The area around the Soda Canyon junction is beginning to reach buildout levels

My question - is it too late to save the Silverado Trail? - is one that needs to be asked of the planning department. I would argue that the openness of the landscape along the Trail defines Napa County to the rest of the world. As the area around Soda Canyon Road shows, (and the Titus winery showed) that iconic image is becoming screened and diminished by development. And now we have billboards masquerading as art to worry about. The Trail is not on the state's list of eligible scenic highways. (Incredibly, only the most urbanized roads in the county are eligible). Has anyone at the county proposed the Trail as a scenic highway? What is necessary to get that process started? I hope that the visual importance of the Trail to the identity of the Napa Valley is discussed in the revision of the circulation element.

The art as signage issue also brought up another concern that has always bothered me. I assume that the 600' setbacks were initially put in place to protect the agricultural character of the county - buildings set in an agricultural landscape. (Any documents that you know of that explain the thinking behind the setback ordinance?) Yet houses, outbuildings, parking lots or signs (particularly billboard sized pieces of sculpture) have just as great an impact in obstructing the agricultural landscape as a winery building. Why can't the ordinance be expanded, particularly along the Trail, to exclude all urbanization within the setback? (Just as housing is now being proposed to be included in allowable building development area?)

I took up David Heitzman's request to google "Napafication'. It seems to be synonymous, whether in positive or negative articles on wine around the world, with wine regions becoming tourist traps. I think I have been very naive in thinking we can protect a place from a fate that has already occurred.

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

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

Update 9/4/16: Anderson Ranch Development

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

Napa Oaks Development

Stop Napa Oaks petition

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

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

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

Non-compliance rocks the boaton: Compliance Issues

Geoff Ellsworth - Sep 2,16    Share expand...

[statement made during the 8/17/16 PC hearing on Frog's Leap U-P mod.]

This is very tough because obviously Frog’s Leap does many good things with organic farming, dry farming, charitable events. It’s the kind of winery that is a true part of the community, It’s a winery that I can say I would be proud of being part of Napa Valley.

But we haven’t really addressed the impacts on rural areas of someone doing all these types of events. The problem is cumulative impacts: not that one winery is pushing more visitation and events, but that hundreds are, with more continued approvals and proposals in the works. You know, we have two two-lane roads that feed the up valley. At what point do tourism impacts fatally disrupt our ag preserve and the quality of life of the residents who really are the true treasure of the Napa Valley - because the residents keep the ag preserve in place. So I think we have to make sure that the people that live here are happy with the balance.

My concerns are that we need to have an established compliance program in place before we continue approving any new projects or modifications. If, instead of a true compliance program, we continue after-the-fact approvals, we bypass addressing the impacts of the overages, and I’m talking about many, many wineries. And we bypass the CEQA mitigations of the original approvals, creating cumulative impacts that lose any true baseline for where we are. And much of this has to do with visitation. The rules are in place not to be a hinderence to someone’s sucess but, rather, as protection for the more vulnerable within our environment and community. The reason we want to follow the rules is not because of some abstraction or disconnected reason, but because by staying within them we stay in balance with our community and environment.

So the idea of a proper enforcement/compliance program is not about punishment. It’s about balance. If we don’t stay in balance our little boat will tip over. And it is a little boat here.

I believe such a compliance/enforcement mechanism must include production and visitation levels on projects such as this, including water use and adherence to WDO food and hospitality stipulations.

I believe it also must address and include transportion issues, such as bicycle use, tourbus use and levels of alcohol consumption for people leaving a property. The entire system must be included if we are to understand the impacts. Until such a compliance/enforcement program is in place, I urge the planning commission not to approve any new projects or modifications because it’s a question of how we balance the whole system.

The Prisoner among uson: The Rector Watershed

Bill Hocker - Aug 31,16    Share expand...

Several residents of Soda Canyon Road accepted an invitation for an August 26th BBQ meet-and-greet over the pending Erosion Control Plan for 108 new acres of vines on the Rector plateau. The ECP, processed 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 Bloodlines Wines.

Although someone had mentioned something to me long a go 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 is all about the value of branding.

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 logn 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.

Napa's tourism revenue - the other sideon: Tourism Issues

George Caloyannidis - Aug 28,16    Share expand...

Earlier this year, I visited Florence - generally regarded as one for the most beautiful cities in the world - for the third time since 1965. Its hotels, restaurants and stores are packed with tourists - 14 million of them. Its metropolitan area has a population of 1.4 million but all tourists descend only on its historic core where 380,000 make it their home.

One would think that with all its revenue, the city would be thriving, but the lawns and landscaping of the Boboli Gardens of the Pitti Palace ($16 entry fee) are brown, the giant 150-year old cypresses in the Santa Maria Novella court yard are dying because, though the Arno river runs through it, Florence is running out of water. Many of its narrow streets smell of raw sewage, indicating that its sewer treatment capacity has exceeded its limits. And the ability of its roads to carry its traffic was compromised decades ago.

Obviously, the massive revenue created by tourism is not enough to maintain its magnificent buildings and monuments, its slowly decaying sandstone columns, widow surrounds and railings of its historic bridges. Yet these are the assets that make Florence the attractive city that it is. The fiscal equation, while sufficient for providing immediately needed services to 10 times the people who live there, falls short in the long term capital costs they create.

Florence is not alone. The same fate is evident in all of the most attractive places in Europe including Ibiza - part of the Balearic islands - which professor Mendlinger had touted as one of the few successful models of a tourist economy at last April's Napa Valley forum on the tourist economy. But as Spain's minister of tourism recently reported, Ibiza has reached the limit of a variety of resources, including water.

If you ask the people who live in Florence, Ibiza, Santorini or Bruge whether they like it, they answer: "No, but this is where we make our living"!

Switching to the Napa Valley; if we are not there yet, we are awfully close. The percentage of tourist revenue the cities and county receive is somewhat in the order of a paltry 10 percent. All additional costs to maintain and expand the infrastructure its 3.5 million visitors require (25 per resident), in roads, sewer capacity, water treatment, administration, police, emergency services, cleanup, trash disposal etc. fall on the general population in the form of taxes, bonds and never ending funding measures. Despite the $50 million in Transit Occupancy Taxes, and more in sales taxes, we keep falling behind.

Calistoga and St. Helena are under orders to update their sewer plants, water is diverted from streams having to be defended in lawsuits, water and sewer rates are getting higher and everyone is aware of the sad condition of our roads, sidewalks and some 80 intersections at service level C or worse.

The reality is that the major winners of the tourist economy are the very few international corporations who have discovered the Napa Valley golden goose with their multi-million-dollar hotels and resorts but take their profits elsewhere, leaving behind the associated costs of services, the staggering long-term costs of infrastructure maintenance and expansion, the lowest paying jobs ($22,000 median for a single person) which create commuters and subsidized services - including grants for affordable housing - all spread among the wider population.

This is an unfair equation that satisfies mostly self-created immediate needs and ignores long-term costs. It is an ingenious cost-shifting vortex impossible to escape from.

There is no question that tourism is highly beneficial on many levels up to a certain point, but over-reliance on it has devastating fiscal, environmental and social impacts.

Because reliance on a tourism-based economy can never be scaled back until it reaches the point of collapse, I once again urge the county and the cities to commission a joint study before we get there.

NVR 8/28/16: Napa's tourism revenue - the other side

James Conaway on the Woodland Initiativeon: Woodland Initiative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NBBJ Golden Goose conferenceon: Tourism Issues

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

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

NBBJ 8/22/16: Wine tourism: ‘How do we safeguard Napa without loving it to death?’
NBBJ 8/5/16: Tourism drives Napa Valley economy amid growing pains
NVR 8/8/16: Conference asks: How does Napa Valley cope with success?

Dan Mufson's recap of the conference is in the August Napa Vision2050 Newsletter
And Dan Mufson's powerpoint presentation at the conference is here

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

Aug 17th Planning Commission Reviewon: Tourism Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Napa Vision2050 August Newsletter: Citizens' Voiceson: Vision 2050

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

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

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

The Agricultural Preserve Archiveon: The WDO

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

There has always been a question in my mind, as the various stakeholders get up at meetings to proclaim the primacy of wine industry tourism over the interests of the residents of the county, what the real intent of the Ag preserve ordinance was back in 1968. I will start to amass the documents here as I come across them. Is it an academic exercise? Does it matter any longer what the original intent was? Any more than it matters what the intent of the drafters of the Constitution was? That was then - this is now.

1968: L. Pierce Carson NVR article on the approval hearing
2008 L. Peirce Carson NVR article on the Ag Preserve 40 years later
2012 Oral Histories of Napa County's Agricultural Preserve

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

Kellie Anderson - Aug 9,16    Share

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

The update index is here

The return of Yountville Hillon: Yountville Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our disappearing pondon: The Rector Watershed

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

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

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

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

Our property is surrounded on 3 sides by a gorge. The fourth is our property line with the Mountain Peak project. Any water that makes its way to our spring and to the 100' deep well just adjacent to it has to pass under the Mountain Peak site. They are planning to add a second well on the property. How much more will they be pumping to accomodate a 100,000 gal winery, 80-100 visitors and 19-27 employees per day? The water availability analysis for the project indicates they will be using less than is currently used. No amount of number crunching will convince me of that.

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

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

Annual in-law pond cleaning, Aug 2008
The pond on July 16th, 2016


Yountville Hill and the No Project Alternativeon: Yountville Hill

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

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

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

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

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

and the summary concludes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Latest email:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save Yountville Hill

Walt Ranch LTE'son: Walt Ranch

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

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

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

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

Bremer Family Winery ECPon: Watershed Issues

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

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

Good afternoon Brian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kellie Anderson

Woodland Initiative bulldozedon: Woodland Initiative

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

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

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

The decision is here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mountain Peak at the Planning Commission Jul 20th on: Mountain Peak Winery

Bill Hocker - Jul 21,16    Share expand...

NVR 7/21/16: Napa County grapples with remote winery proposal

On July 20th the Mountain Peak project was presented to the Planning Commission by the planning department and the applicant. In a surprise move (at least to me), the applicant's representative, Donna Oldford, proffered a reduction in the tourism component of the project. Gone were the 6-per-month evening events. In this subsequent email the exact proposed reductions were itemized to exclude 3911 visitors/year from the previous 18486 bringing visitation down to 14575/yr. The elimination of the frequent evening events were a significant and beneficial change to the marketing plan.

As Chair Basayne opened the meeting to public comments, vintner Stu Smith barged to the front of the line to voice his law-and-order support given to every tourist attraction to come before the county, and then the residents of Soda Canyon Road spent most of the day voicing their concern about the changes to their rural lives that a tourism facility in their midst will bring. The commissioners expressed some displeasure at the amount of material added to the administrative record at the last minute (see the Arger dossier linked below) but agreed that a continuance was needed to insure due process, and their day of decision was continued until Oct 19th.

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

County website's Mountain Peak page (Mar 2016) (documents)
July 20th Meeting Agenda and Docs (w/ meeting pdfs and correspondence)
Staff Agenda Letter
Anthony Arger letter and dossier (35mb file)
Neighborhood powerpoint presentation at hearing
Video of the hearing
Transcript of the hearing
County Initial Study EIR Checklist

Walt Ranch Protest at Hall July 31ston: Walt Ranch

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

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

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

Ho MPV Statement 7/20/16on: Mountain Peak Winery

Mui Ho - Jul 20,16    Share expand...

Dear Planning Director,

We are property owners adjacent to Mountain Peak Winery and we are appalled that a new entertainment/event winery of such size is proposed next to our house. This 25 employees establishment is not the family owned winery which was characteristic of Napa Valley that we all love, it is big business - the kind of big corporate winery that is crowding out the traditional family owned wineries.

Our major worries are :

1 Noise pollution - the continuing industrial noise from the condensers and exhaust fans etc is not the usual farming noises like harvesting trucks happen during harvest time. It is continuous, 24 hours a day. This humming noise will pollute the whole area all the time and will destroy the serenity of our homes. That is the reason why cities have zoning laws, industries are zoned away from residential areas. Or in the event of highway noise, Cal Trans has 20 feet walls to protect the residents from the continuous traffic noise.

2 Well water - water from our wells have been drying up. With the new anticipated flushing from visitors in the new winery, the usage will be way above normal vineyard need. Our spring already disappeared. The massive earth moving to make the new caves and relocating the dirt will definitely change the natural water flow. The County should bear responsibility to protect the existing neighbors.

3 Car traffic and safety issues - on this windy road, it is dangerous for all residents and their children to have so much more car traffic. Many of us residents have already had a few near missed accidents from workers coming down the hill at end of the day driving at fast speed. This mountain curving road is not designed for so much traffic and for large tourist buses.

Napa will lose its charm and livability if the County continues approving of the construction of these large corporate event wineries. Thank you for your attention.

Mui Ho
3460 Soda Canyon Rd

Chilton MPC 7/20/16 Statementon: Mountain Peak Winery

Steve Chilton - Jul 20,16    Share expand...

[letter sent to Deputy Planning Director McDowell]

July 19, 2016


Dear Deputy Planning Director McDowell,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Chilton

Mc Fadden MPV 7/20/16 Statementon: Mountain Peak Winery

Dan McFadden - Jul 20,16    Share expand...

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

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

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

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

Daniel McFadden, July 20, 2016

Hocker MPV 7/20/16 statementon: Mountain Peak Winery

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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