Bill Hocker | Mar 12, 2019
NVR 3/12/19: Napa County supervisors send Caldwell winery back to Planning Commission
The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 (Ramos, Pedroza, Gregory Wagenknecht yes, Dillon no ) to remand the project to the Planning Commission with direction to consider lowered visitation and event numbers proposed by the applicant, seasonal variation in visitation, traffic and visitor log monitoring, 3 yr phased increases in visitation with review at each phase, greater notification range for events.
The Board has punted again in trying to resolve the inherent incompatibility of winery tourism in remote residential-farming neighborhoods. The Planning Commission expressed their willingness to take on a continuance at their last meeting which the winery owner rejected. Now they may be a bit chagrined that the Supes have taken them up on it. The Supes have essentially said “We don’t want to deal with the issues raised here. Approve the project, Planning Commission.” Another failure of leadership.
Sup. Ramos felt the solution to the problem was in reducing trips and proposed that the Planning Commission look at a very elaborate 3-year formula and monitoring program to do so. Will the county really provide such detailed oversight of the numerous projects proposed in residential areas? I suspect that her concern over trips, rather than the noise and light impacts of tourism on a quiet rural community, has something to do with the traffic jam that she frequently navigates at the Soscol Junction.
The most interesting presentation in the meeting was that of the Caldwell's lawyer in rebutting public testimony. She called attention to the case law argument made in the Staff letter to the Board that justified the Planning Commission's denial:
“Additionally, concern of neighbors is sufficient to constitute substantial evidence that a contemplated use is detrimental to the welfare of the community. Expert testimony on these issues is not necessary. It is appropriate and even necessary for the [planning commission] to consider the interest of neighboring property owners in reaching a decision whether to grant or deny a land use entitlement and the opinions of neighbors may constitute substantial evidence of this issue.” (SP Star Enterprises, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 459, 460.)
(The referenced case in the Staff letter regards an adult entertainment venue, legal under zoning laws, denied a permit because of community concern. )
She placed that justification next to the county’s "Right to Farm" ordinance:
"Napa County has determined that the highest and best use for agricultural land as defined below is to develop or preserve said lands for the purposes of agricultural operations and it will not consider the inconveniences or discomforts arising from agricultural operations to be a nuisance if such operations are legal, consistent with accepted customs and standards and operated in a non-negligent manner."
The General Plan reference to the "Right to Farm" also (I think brutally) specifically dismisses citizen concern over impacts of agricultural practices:
The “Right to Farm” is recognized throughout this Plan and is specifically called out in both this Element and in the County Code. “Right to Farm” provisions ensure that agriculture remains the primary land use in Napa County and is not threatened by potentially competing uses or neighbor complaints
The Napa County "Right to Farm" ordinance no doubt was initially based on the state definition of agriculture both of which define agricultural operations that include "preparation for market, delivery to storage or to market, or to carriers for transportation to market." The ordinance does include reference to the county's "definition of agriculture" ordinance section 18.08.040 which at the time of the adoption of the "Right to Farm" ordinance said nothing about the marketing of wine beyond the sale of wine produced at wineries. In 2017 marketing, as redefined in the 2010 WDO, was added at that definition, and made marketing, i.e. parties, lunches and dinners at wineries, activities that were protected by the "Right to Farm" against neighbor complaints.
When some Supervisors assumed that the visitation neighbors were concerned about was not a "Right to Farm" issue (as might any normal-thinking person), they were unfortunately philosophically right but legally wrong. This connection of the "Right to Farm" and tourism uses was previously discussed here and here and elsewhere on this site. It is the heart of any discussion on the County's unique definition of "agriculture".
Were the Supervisors willing to state here that the "Right to Farm" now protects luncheon service and business parties? No. They kicked it back to the Commission so that they wouldn't have to. The question now is how far the County is willing to go to argue that the "concern of neighbors is sufficient to constitute substantial evidence that a contemplated use is detrimental to the welfare of the community". We shall see if they hold to that argument when the deliberation is returned to the Planning Commission, or if that argument will also arise in the Darms Lane, O'brien, Anthem, Aloft or O'Connell wineries coming up.
The Caldwell appeal will be heard by the Board of Supervisors on Mar 12, 2019. Agenda and documents
The staff letter to the Board is here. The justification given for the Planning Commission's denial of the project is summarized in this paragraph in the letter:
“Appellant is incorrect that the Planning Commission’s denial is not supported by substantial evidence. Based on its review of the Project, the Planning Commission unanimously found the proposed visitation levels were too high, especially given the Winery’s remote location at the end of a narrow, dead end road with shared access, in a fire hazard zone. The Commission’s basis for denial was clearly articulated and based on substantial evidence in the record.”
The proposed use permit modification was denied by the Planning Commission on Oct 12 2018 on the basis of the detrimental impact its tourism activities would have on its rural neighborhood. It is one of only 3 or 4 denials in the last 10 years and is significant in that the impact of visitation on community character is the cause of the denial.
The County's Caldwell appeal page is here
Residents' response letter to the Appeal application
This is the crux of the battle over the last 5 years: as is to be expected in one of the world's great wine capitals, the growing of grapes and the making of wine are accepted activities that create the rural character of Napa communities appreciated by most all who live here; but winery tourism is not a neighborly activity. The daily traffic, the noise of crowds of people being entertained outdoors, and the lighting needed for evening entertainment is the death of that rural character. Wine making generates traffic, noise and lights only during brief periods of the year, an acceptable impact of the right to farm. Wine tourism happens every day.
Zoning protections limiting almost all rural Napa land to "agriculture" since the 1960's have been somewhat successful in preventing the spread of building development into those areas. But in 2010 the County expanded its definition of "agriculture" to allow greater profits with the increased commercial uses of event hosting and meal service to visitors. It was the "Citizens United" decision of Napa County, giving a green light to entrepreneurs to develop potentially very profitable entertainment businesses on the back of marginally profitable (or unprofitable) wine-making operations.
The question in the appeal is whether or not the Supervisors will continue to ignore residents concerned about the character of their rural communities by granting building projects that commercialize and diminish that character (and urbanize the county as a whole in the process); or will the Supervisors finally recognize that the embrace of tourism as "agriculture" (and the corporate and plutocratic exploitation of that linkage) has destroyed the comity between rural residents and the industry and fueled much of the citizen pushback for the last 5 years. The conversion of Napa County from an agricultural economy to a tourism-entertainment economy will eventually destroy the county's rural beauty and unique character. Will the Supervisors put the brakes on that process? They have a chance to begin here.
Napa Vision 2050 comments and visuals on the project.
NVR 10/18/18: Caldwell winery dispute appears headed to Napa Board of Supervisors
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 raved 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.