The "CEQA" small winery
on the web at:
Bill Hocker | Sep 25, 2015

The County's list of 30,000g/y wineries.
The County's complete winery database

There are about 290 wineries in the County's winery database that are permitted for 30,000 g/y or less. More than a majority are under 5000sf in size. Will they all be able to develop marketing plans with thousands of visitors per year under this streamlined process.

I asked Asst. Planning Director McDowell about this and got, as usual, a very informative answer:


At the final meeting of the APAC, Yountville Mayor John Dunbar made a major proposal which included a "small winery" definition, (item #7 here). I criticized several elements of the proposal (here), including the fact that the small winery definition didn't include any limits on tours and tastings or marketing events. I missed the most important aspect of his small winery definition: that it applies to all parcels less than 20 acres! (Am I reading it right?) There are approximately 4500 parcels over 20 acres in the county. There are about 45,000 under 20 acres. The impacts on neighbors, if this definition of a small winery became a viable tourism marketing tool, would be huge.

The Dunbar small winery proposal was defeated when it was pointed out by APAC committee member Jeri Gill that the county already has a "CEQA" small winery definition and she saw no reason to create another. The CEQA small winery definition had been presented as part of a modified Framework X by Harvest Duhig, a member of the 10-acre "dreamer" contingent, at the meeting.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a set of guidelines to be used in determining and mitigating the impacts that all development projects undertaken in the state will have on the environment and on the communities in which they are located. The guidelines are thorough and a project that must be fully evaluated under them with an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) may take years of studies and public hearings and reports before they are approved to proceed. But for most development projects, like the wineries now proliferating in the county, the CEQA evaluation is done by planning staff who work with the developer to arrive at a project which the staff feels would have insignificant impacts either as originally proposed or through mitigations and would comply with the CEQA guidelines if a full evaluation were undertaken. They then issue a negative declaration or a mitigated negative declaration to the planning commission indicating that a full EIR under CEQA is not necessary.

CEQA has within its guidelines certain "categorical exemptions" from their review process, consisting of 33 "classes" of development, maintenance and repair projects that do not need to be evaluated under the guidelines. Under class 3 (NEW CONSTRUCTION OR CONVERSION OF SMALL STRUCTURES), for example, a new construction project of up to 3 residential units would be exempt.

Cities and counties may also add to the list of exemptions under each class, by issuing "local procedures" meaning conditions or projects that may or may not be evaluated under CEQA guidelines. NAPA County's Local Procedures for Implementing CEQA are here. They include, under class 3, a "small winery exemption" (Appendix B, pg 2) not existant in the state document.

The agenda letter for the 2015 revision indicates the Local Procedures were first adopted in 2004 with amendments in 2006 and 2010. The small winery provision was in the 2006 document (see item 9D here) with the "caves" condition added in 2010. Online BOS meetings don't go back before 2008 so it is not clear what the intention of the original provision was. The Local Procedures were last ammended in Feb 2015 (agenda item 9C here) to increase noticing distances and require project consultants to be contracted by the county rather than developers, both a result of community involvement. The small winery exemption in the document's appendix first came to my attention in the Melka project in Feb of 2015.

The County's "CEQA" small winery definition exempts from CEQA review wineries that:
The main differences between this definition and the Dunbar definition are significant: parcel size is not stated so I assume that the WDO limits, which allow wineries only on the 4500 parcels larger than 10 acres, would apply. Visitation is enumerated and thus would be capped.

But the drawbacks of the "CEQA" definition just as with the Dunbar definition are also significant. A very impactful winery might be built under these guidelines with no need for CEQA analysis, the approval to build coming from the zoning administrator (i.e. planning dept.) rather than the planning commission.

Comparing these exempt winery provisions with existing use permits in the county (from the county's winery database):

Winery size: Perhaps a quarter of the 500 commercial wineries in the county database are less than 5000sf. Perhaps double the number are are less than 10,000sf.

Production Capacity: Perhaps half of the 500 commercial wineries in the county database have a permitted capacity of 30,000 g/y or less.

Visitation: Perhaps 90% of the 500 commercial wineries are allowed less than 50 visitors/day, the amount that the "CEQA" small winery exemption would allow. The 40 vehicle "trips"/day translates to about 50 people a day. 50 people per day plus the marketing events would be about 19,000 visitors/yr allowed at each of the 4500 parcels in the county over 10 acres. (Update 10/1/15: My initial calculation here is incorrect. I had assumed that the "40 vehicles" in the definition referred to visitors vehicles. It includes all vehicles, employees, deliveries, exports and visitors. Dir. Morrison estimated that such a definition would result in an allowance of 10-15 visitors/day. The planning commission in their Sept. 30th recommendation to the BOS specifically included the 15 visitor/day language as part of the definition.)

It is possible that a very large number of the commercial winery-use permits in the county might have fallen under this provision without planning department or community review in the past.

But more important now is that, as the permitting process becomes more burdensome and costly, tailoring many small projects to fall under the "CEQA" definition may become a more viable approach to promote the growth of winery tourism than fewer larger projects, in a shift toward an "authentic experience", "family winery" marketing. The "dreamers" in the APAC hearings that effectively promoted the retention of the 10 acre winery, and now champion the "CEQA" small winery definition, may have just such a development model in mind. The impacts for rural residential communities, just as was beginning to happen in the neighborhoods of St. Helena under their (repealed) Small Winery Ordinance, could be substantial.

For those concerned about the commercial development of their communities, the potential consequences and impacts of the "CEQA" small winery definition need to be considered now, so that we do not have to confront the same development fallout now occuring due to changes in winery marketing provisions in 2008 and 2010.

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