Bill Hocker | Sep 5, 2017Update 9/5/17
NVR 9/5/17: Napa County defends its winery review records, asks mystery group to identify itself
NVR 9/3/17: Mystery group challenges Napa's winery environmental reviews
Alliance for Responsible Governance Letter
County Response to the Letter
In Director Morrison's response to the Shute Mihaly letter he basically highlights the problem with the 2008 General Plan and with the county's governance in its approval of new and expanded wineries. First, because the EIR recognized that there would be significant unmitigated impacts to future winery proposals under the General Plan, if new projects are creating environmental impacts, those impacts are justified. The writers of the General Plan provisions, representatives of stakeholders in the wine industry, accepted the impacts because there was development money to be made in the Plan's projections. Now that the impacts are upon us, residents and perhaps even some stakeholders, have become very concerned about the resultant reality of the devil's bargain.
Second, he tries to portray the winery approval process as only being about the number of winery permits being given and the production capacity of those wineries, both within the limits quantified in the 2008 EIR. But it is the amount of visitation being approved as the wine industry morphs from agricultural production to more profitable winery tourism that was not quantified in the EIR and hence not vetted under CEQA. And it is the embrace of tourism by the wine industry that is driving the resistance to winery approvals and to the pushback on winery compliance. Yet "tourism" is a word barely mentioned in county discussions. Complaining about the "wine industry" is caged as an attack on "agriculture".
There is no question that tourism is beginning to have significant impacts on the "agricultural lands and rural character" that the General Plan claims to protect. Yet the county continues to pretend that 40% of winery square footage devoted to tourism, or a consultant's manipulation of atomized traffic, noise or water statistics will result in less-than-significant impacts. Despite the 4300 acres of vineyard approvals, the total producing acreage of vines, and hence the total amount of Napa wine that can be produced, has hardly risen in the last decade. The reality is that most of the new and expanded wineries are not necessary or economical as processing facilities and would not even be proposed without their tourism component. Tourism is not incidental and subordinate to the decision to propose a project, but the reason for the proposal. And the impacts of that tourism are not less-than-significant.
The promotion of tourism is a much greater problem than just the proposal of event center wineries, and the municipalities need to recognize that their lust for the tourist dollar is also a threat to the character that makes this a desirable place for tourists and residents alike. But the county needs to confront the problem where it can. The county and the wine industry need to acknowledge that tourism is not agriculture, and that the urbanization that tourism brings is a threat to lose in the next generation the agricultural economy and rural environment that previous county governments fought so hard to maintain.
Residents, who have had to lead the resistance to the rise of a tourism based economy in Napa county, can only hope that the creation of the "Alliance for Responsible Governance" is a sign that some in the wine industry are willing to recognize the threat that Napa's ongoing urban development is beginning to pose to the survival of their own agriculture-based industry and are finally willing, whether anonymously or not, to say so.
NVR 8/14/17: Winery appeals stacking up before Napa County Board of Supervisors
The impact of tourism on the residents of Napa County, and the traffic increase and loss of affordable housing that is its most obvious result, has begun to receive pushback in a number of ways in the last three years. The resistance that initially began as opposition to projects coming before the Planning Commission has now progressed into the Supvisiorial realm with appeals to planning commission decisions now becoming routine where they were once exceptional. The number of articles and letters to the editor now related to outrage over the number of wineries being approved and the impacts they contribute to, like the appeals, are beginning to stack up. As are questions about how carefully the EIR to the 2008 update of the Napa County General Plan analyzed the impacts of increasing tourism brought about by its changed policies.
A letter to the Napa Board of Supervisors by attorneys Ellison Folk and Perl Permutter of the law firm of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, has stated the case that County Government has neglected to adhere to CEQA requirements by inadequately assessing cumulative impacts in its ongoing approval of winery projects each month:
Pattern and Practice of failing to Comply with CEQA regarding Winery Approvals
The EIR Archive for the 2008 General Plan is here
NV2050 on the Perlmuter letter: When Governing Powers go Rogue.
And now, a significant court decision to a case brought by attorney Jerry Bernhaut in Sonoma has stressed that GHG's generated by the full extent of winery and tourism activity into and out of Sonoma County has not been properly considered under CEQA in the development of their Climate Action Plan and that alternatives to this form of activity have not been evaluated.
Wine and Water Watch 7/28/17: Judge Rules Climate Action 2020 Plan Violates CEQA
The case is here: California Riverwatch vs. Sonoma County, et al.
In each case county general plans and ordinances sanction development projects that the governments contend have less-than-significance impacts on the environment. The environmental impacts felt by residents in the realization of these projects has not, however, been less than significant. And residents are questioning, more and more how those less-than-significant determinations are made, through comments at hearings and in the press, and in appeals to decisions made by governmental bodies, and finally in court challenges to the governmental processes that allow such significant impacts to occur. It is no longer enough for counties to pretend that impacts are less-than-significant because they say they are. The impacts are just too obvious.