Bill Hocker | Mar 13, 2018
NVR 3/11/18: Neighbors challenge increased visitors at Caldwell Vineyard in east Napa
The continuance to a date uncertain of the hearing to modify the use permit of the Caldwell Winery from 25 to 35,000 gal/yr and from 2000 to 21000 visitors/yr proved a very bittersweet one for those of us who have lived through the heartbreak of a neighborhood, completely opposed to a project that will bring a daily intrusion of tourists to a rural, dead end road, being denied any say in the decision.
A few of the comments from commissioners in their discussion at the end of the presentation were remarkable.
First from Comm. Jeri Hansen, in the developer wing of the commission:
"I am fond of saying that this is an ag use in an ag zone. And that we have a right to farm - and that is true. But I also do not want to discount the legitimate concerns of legitimate neighbors who live in proximity to a site... The fact that it [the road to the winery] is a small lane in an area where there are not that many neighbors, but the fact that all of them are here with same concerns tells me something."
I heard this with some vexation. At the Mountain Peak hearing, the concerns of the many residents that packed the chamber for the hearing and the 150 residents on our dead-end road that signed a petition opposing the project, she seemed quite willing to discount at the time. Perhaps she sees some residents as being more legitimate than others.
But the real comments of interest were voiced by Comms. Gallagher and Cottrel, the preservationist wing of the commission.
From Comm Gallagher: While she commented on and was opposed to the excessive visitation in such a remote location, a sentiment that she may have voiced on Mountain Peak had she been empaneled at the time, she also had this to say:
"The question was asked by one of the speakers why are wineries limited to the number of visitors and I think its really important that we address that. Wineries are limited on the number of visitors because marketing and visitation are incidental uses to the ag uses on the property. And the ag uses are growing the grapes and processing them."
And then this:
"I just want to make a comment on something that we have heard today and that we have heard in the past: Issues of making businesses viable or making them successful. I'm a little bit concerned that we would be implementing land use policy that is driven by any particular business model. And while we of course want businesses in our county to be viable and to be successful we can't be adjusting our land use regulations to insure the success of any particular operation. We really need to be focused on Land use."
Comm Cottrell in her comments reinforced the sentiment:
"I'm very concerned about any kind of an argument in favor of a marketing or visitation plan where the county is being asked to support a particular business model or where a number is needed to obtain economic viability . Our job is to approve use permit terms that are consistent with the general plan and the goal to preserve agriculture. Not to insure profitability."
Both made very clear statements to the effect that wine production and wine marketing are two very different activities and that the role of the county may be to foster the viability of the former but not to insure the viability of the latter.
Unfortunately, the trajectory of both the "wine industry" and the government that serves it, as we have witnessed these last 4 years, has been moving decidedly in the opposite direction, promoting wine tourism to be the principal product of Napa County, not wine. And I'm sure that the industry and some government officials would be quite willing to cite chapter and verse of the code they have crafted in the last 10 years (in the General plan in 2008 and the WDO in 2010 and the official definition of agriculture in 2017) to encourage that transition of the county's principal economic activity.
I can only applaud the stance that Comms. Gallagher and Cottrell have taken in this project to separate true agriculture from tourism. As I have every time county government gives a modest nod to the concerns of residents about the loss of rural Napa, I hope this represents some kind of backbone beginning to grow to confront the direct-to-consumer dogma and the tourism urbanization it induces with such adverse impact on the character of this place. There seems always just a glimmer of hope.