Update 8/23/17: On August 22, 2017, with modifications to the Conditions of Approval in place, the Board of Supervisors denied the appeal of each of the four appellants in turn, and the Mountain Peak Winery was officially added to the other 123 wineries created or expanded in the County since 2010.
Two days after the Mountain Peak BOS appeal hearing on May 23rd, the Register reported that Acumen Wines, Mountain Peak's brand, has just opened their tasting room downtown across from the Archer Hotel. How did we miss this? (We might have looked at their website, of course.) Not only is Mountain Peak successfully producing wine without a winery, but they have an extremely prominent location to sell their wines. (And we learned more about the owner of Mountain Peak in the article than we have in 3 years dealing with his developer. Our attempts to set up a meeting with the owner were ignored.) Napa County must have known about the tasting room. Did the Planning Commission, the BOS and the "wine industry" know that Mountain Peak already had a tourism venue to market their wines, rendering their request for out-of-scale visitation at their winery a debatable necessity? It is a better solution to the contentious issue of at-winery marketing, one that the county has lauded in other presentations. Why were they silent on it here? It was certainly an alternative that would have been considered under CEQA in a real EIR, and the exclusion of its existence prior to the county's review is, from our standpoint, equivalent to hiding exculpatory evidence from defendants in a trial. It is a question that perhaps a judge should answer.
A downtown tasting room at the entry to Napa's largest hotel is, of course, a significant bit of knowledge to counter an argument that Mountain Peak needs 14,575 yearly visitors and 19 daily employees coming 6 miles up a dead end road to insure their success in selling their product. Not to mention the benefit to the environment: The tasting room is 11 miles from the winery. At 2.7 visitors per car and say 10 hospitality employees, 199,059 vehicle miles would be saved each year by not using the winery as a tasting room. That's 8 trips around the earth, and 82 metric tons of CO2 (411 gram/mi).
This was the second Mountain Peak surprise in 2 days. At the hearing we learned that Supervisor Dillon, whose commissioner was the dissenting vote at the planning commission hearing, would not be attending the appeal hearing. Chair Ramos reminded us that it is incumbent on citizens to be knowledgable about all publicly published information, and that the documentation indicating that she would be out of the county was to be found in a BOS agenda line item from the previous week. It didn't occur to the county to add that information at the time that the Mountain Peak agenda was published 5 days before the hearing.
We were also surprised a few weeks earlier when, a few days after the planning commission approved an increase in the capacity of The Caves at Soda Canyon and approved their bootlegged portal and patio, the property, increased immeasurably in value due to the approvals, was put up for sale. Did the commissioners know? Residents, who spent enormous amounts of time and money is making a counter argument against the sleazy nature of the project from its inception, were left agog. Did the commissioners and the county and the "wine industry" know of the impending sale?
There is a sense that much of what happens between the county government and members of the wine industry operates sub rosa. The county exercises due diligence to provide open access to documents and public involvement in the planning process, and yet this is a one-industry county and the daily interactions of the dominant industry and its regulators is a bond that mere citizens can never hope to break into. (A couple of Mountain Peak's consultants started their presentations with a bit of jovial banter with the Supes. Toward the appellants the Supes seemed to have only stern looks and words.) In a world in which the dominant industry provides benefits and a sense of well being for the county's citizens, that sort of cronyism is acceptable. But now we find that the development that the industry continues to pursue and that the county continues to approve is having impacts that are definitely not a benefit to the quality of life of the rest of us. And the anger at a government unwilling to protect the interests of its citizens against the monied interests of its major industry is continuing to build.
Over 800 people in the county signed a petition opposing the Mountain Peak project including most of the residents of Soda Canyon Road. Sup. Pedroza's lament during the hearing about decisions being perceived as "either business or residents" is unfortunately not just perception, it has become the reality, with residents on the short end every single time.
There seems to be a sense among some that last November's election was the definitive rejection of the importance of citizen resistance to development projects throughout the county such as Woolls Ranch, Yountville Hill, Walt Ranch, Girard, Syar, the Woodland Initiative, Mountain Peak, and that we are now in the season of elections having consequences (as we are nationally!) And they may be right. Only time will tell. But thus far the injuries to a way of life have not been written off by those immediately impacted and the resistance and anger, at least in this quarter, are more keenly felt than ever.