Round two to Mountain Peak
on the web at: http://sodacanyonroad.org/forum.php?p=1504
Bill Hocker | May 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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