Commissioner Gill revisits the 2010 WDO changes
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Bill Hocker | May 3, 2016

[My letter to the planning department regarding Planning Commissioner Jeri Gill's desire, at the Apr 20th PC meeting, to clarify the PC's use of the word "change" in referring to the 2010 WDO activity that has often been described as a "clarification". Ms. Gallina indicated to Comm. Gill that the WDO ordinance language was indeed changed.]


Ms. Gallina and Mr. Morrison,

While perusing this Wednesday's PC video, during the GP implementation report, I was pleased to see that Commissioner Gill brought up the department's use of the word "change" in reference to the activity around the WDO in 2010. Her impression seemed to be that the activity undertaken then was merely a "clarification" and she seemed rather insistent that any mention of that activity should not include the word "change". I heard a similar protest from Bill Dodd at the May 20th 2014 joint PC/BOS meeting which began the county's effort to address the impacts of wine tourism development on the county's residents (unaddressed still, even after the valiant efforts of many at APAC, I'm afraid). I have heard that same insistence on "clarification" rather than "change" (granted, hard to document exactly when) from supervisors Luce and Dillon and from industry spokeswomen Dommen and Benvenuto. And now from Commissioner Gill.

As you no doubt know, the literal changes to the WDO would seem to be spelled out in this county document, one of the documents of item 9A on this 2010 Planning Commission agenda .

Perhaps as a complete outsider I lack an understanding of the subtleties, but I find it difficult to see these changes as merely a clarification. The inclusion of "business events" (which get a substantial new definition of their own) and the removal of the prohibition against "cultural and social events unrelated to such [wine-buyer] education and development" from the wording of marketing of wine is a clear intensification of the amount of activity that is permitted, a change not a clarification.

But more importantly, in the 1990 WDO, the marketing of wine appears to be principally distinguished from tours and tastings by the allowance of "food service" at marketing events. In 2010 the food service provision related to marketing was also added to the tours and tastings definition. Since yearly tasting visitation is typically many times the amount marketing visitation (often over 10 times), the addition of food service to tastings would represent be a substantial shift in the commercial activity at wineries in the direction of becoming restaurants, nominally forbidden by the 2010 WDO wording.

I have droned on extensively (with some naiveté no doubt) about the food issue at wineries on my WDO page here and here. I won't repeat myself here beyond saying that perhaps it is time for the county to define some enforceable distinction between a $135 "cost-only" wine and food pairing (food service) at a winery and $135 fixed-menu lunch (meal service) at a restaurant, and to begin enforcing the difference.

The quote that I use at the top of my WDO page from Jim Hickey is the essence of the issue:

Changes did take place in the 2010 update of the WDO. As the cursury negative declaration indicated at the time: "While the proposed changes may motivate existing, or future, wineries to request new or additional events or visitation volumes, the County expects those requests to be limited both in number and scope." Have they been limited?

Perhaps now, given Commissioner Gill's raising of the subject, it would be a good time for the county to do the environmental impact review that should have been done in 2010 to determine whether the changes made were growth inducing and might encourage an intensification of commercial use beyond the incidental and subordinate uses allowed in the AP and AW zones. As Geoff Ellsworth courageously points out at every opportunity, there is a case to be made that a de facto change from agricultural to commercial use has occurred in AP and AW zones without benefit of a Measure P vote. If these changes go unquestioned or written off in the record as merely clarifications, more such "clarifications" will surely continue until the Ag Preserve has indeed been eliminated.

Again there is no need to respond to this rant. It is enough to have it off my chest. And again, many thanks to you and your staff for the enormous effort you continually make to find a reasonable path forward - against all odds.

Bill Hocker

PS: It is probable that these changes in wording were, in fact, a recognition and allowance of activities already happening at wineries that went beyond the intent of the original WDO. The hope, no doubt, in calling them "clarifications" was to exempt the need to submit those expanded activities to CEQA scrutiny - meaning a state-mandated analysis of the urban development impacts of the changes and how they be mitigated. The very insistence on denying the word "change" by wine industry supporters to this day, indicates to many how important it is for the tourism industry, the wine industry and the government to avoid publicly being held accountable for the urban impacts, (traffic, housing, increased infrastructure) resulting from a legal shift from an agricultural to a tourism economy - impacts that we are all beginning to feel, but that those profiting from the shift would rather not discuss.

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