PC Letter Opposition to Yountville Hill
Bill Hocker | Jun 27, 2014
[letter sent to the Planning Commission in opposition to the Yountville Hill project on June 27th]
Mr. McDowell and Commissioners,
My name is Bill Hocker and I am a resident of 3460 Soda Canyon Road. I am writing to request that you deny the use permit for the Yountville Hill Winery.
As the owner of a property adjacent to another proposed tourism-winery I have become aware of the concerns of other communities facing similar projects and of the cumulative impacts that these projects may pose to the rural environment that is the reason we, grower, vintner and resident alike are here.
Commissioner Pope at the joint BOS/ Planning Commission meeting on May 20th well summarized the situation that the county now faces in the winery approvals granted in the last couple of years and in the many dozens more of these projects currently making their way toward the planning department. He asked: “Do we want to maintain an agricultural economy that benefits from tourism, or do we want to transfer into a tourism economy that capitalizes on agriculture?”
That question is especially germane to the Yountville Hill project.
As a winery, this project, like most of those recently approved or proposed, is unnecessary. Currently there is almost 4 times more permitted capacity in Napa County now than is necessary to process Napa grapes. Permitted capacity between 2007 and 2013 alone - as noted in a planning department staff report in 2013 - increased by 7 million gallons, while crop reports for the same period show that only about 1200 more acres had been added to production, enough for 1 million gallons of 75% napa wine. Each new winery, including this one, must take grapes from an existing winery in the county, the increased competition and cost for grapes reducing profitability and forcing vintners to seek profits in tourism rather than winemaking.
As a tourist venue, located in a highly prominent location, unavoidable on Hwy. 29, the tunnels this project will drill into the hillside should become a goldmine. It will be a significant landmark of the emerging tourism landscape. That is the real reason why it and its 65,000 tourist slots/yr are before you.
At a cost, of course. The hillside that its parking lots will gash and that its box will dominate is the face of an unspoiled island in a sea of vines at the heart of the valley, which would be better used for the public enjoyment of future generations than sacrificed to private profiteering in the here and now. No doubt, more developers will want to take advantage of the prominent locations on adjacent lots. Add that loss to all the requested variances, the size of the project on such a small parcel, the steepness of the site, the visual impacts, the vast amounts of earth moved and spoils created, the shortage of parking and traffic congestion created and it is clear that this project should not be in this place.
It is, in fact, time to put the brakes on the many such tourist attractions in the development pipeline until the County can come to grips with the decisions already committed to, and until a long-term strategy is put in place to deal with future tourism that doesn’t involve the consumption of agricultural land, the defacing of the landscape, the increased clogging of roads, the ever increasing pressure for more development. That pressure to transfer to a tourism economy coming from investors, developers, financiers, real estate agents, contractors, consultants, tourism operators, gains strength with each new approval. Almost every recent project has spurred that transfer - over 500,000 new tourist slots approved in the last 2 years alone.
It should be clear that the cumulative impact of these as yet un-built tourist facilities are at odds with the intent of maintaining the agricultural character and substance of the ag preserve. Contrary to the WDO, tourism is not agriculture. If profitability is the measure, small-scale agriculture cannot compete, and it was to counter the pernicious effects of maximized profits that the ag preserve was created. Yet with each economic downturn, agriculture is redefined to the developers’ advantage. The developers now turn vineyards into wine-themed tourist attractions. A tourism economy will increasingly turn the vineyards into resorts and hotels and restaurants, and then into housing and malls for the tourism work force. And then it will turn the vineyards into anything other than agriculture because there is too little rural land left to care about. There will, of course, still be vines adorning the driveways and parking lots.
From the 1990 WDO:
The interspersing of non-agricultural structures and activities throughout agricultural areas in excess of what already exists will result in a significant increase in the problems and costs of maintaining vineyards and discourage the continued use of the land for agricultural purposes.
Tourism is not the savior of agriculture, it is an existential threat.
You are the current stewards of a rural environment that exists now only because of a previous generation’s commitment to resist development pressure. Your decisions will determine whether the Napa Valley a generation hence will look more like it does now or more like Silicone Valley. I would urge you to consider Commissioner Pope’s question - and to weigh this project carefully - before you tell us what you see as the future of Napa County.
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