SodaCanyonRoad | Sonoma study session on winery events July 12th


Sonoma study session on winery events July 12th
Bill Hocker | Jul 10, 2016 on: Sonoma County

On July 12th, 2016 there will be a study session to discuss the work of Sonoma Permit and Resource Management Dept's Working Group that has been studying the impacts of winery tourism activities on the rural character of the county this past year. The results of the Working Group, and a subsequent community meeting, are summarized by staff in this County Supervisor Agenda Report.

As with Napa's APAC committee, the Sonoma Working Group was convened because of the concerns of residents about the changing nature of their rural communities as the wine industry aggressively turns to tourism as a principal marketing tool. It is the same issue occurring all over the state and no doubt in every wine growing region in the world. The Sonoma Agenda Report is an important document in that it defines as the central issue wine tourism's impact on the rural character of the county and takes as its mandate a solution to that conflict. Unlike the final APAC recommendations and Napa Supervisor's reinterpretation of them, which were heavily influenced by the wine industry, the Sonoma report seems to indicate a serious desire to come to grips with the impacts that tourism is beginning to have on the lives of Sonoma's rural residents.

It may play out much as Napa's APAC did with little meaningful change in zoning ordinances to curb the continued development of agricultural lands for commercial use and the diminution of the quality of life for rural residents, but thus far at least the right question is being asked.

Press Release

2550 Ventura Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA 95403-2829
(707) 565-1900 FAX (707) 565-1103

Sonoma County Holds Study Session on Winery Events

Date: June 28, 2016
CONTACT: Maggie Fleming, Communications Manager, 707.565.6196

SANTA ROSA, CA - The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will conduct a Winery Events Study Session at approximately 3:10 p.m. on Tuesday, July 12, 2016 during their public board meeting. This session will explore the County’s General Plan policies that guide winery promotional and event activities. It will take place in the Board of Supervisors’ Chambers located at 575 Administration Drive, Room 102A, Santa Rosa.

During this study session, Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) staff will provide a short overview of General Plan policies related to winery events and key issues that have emerged during the permitting process. According to Board Chair Efren Carrillo, “This study session will provide an overview of policy options to balance wine industry event impacts with the need to protect neighborhood character and address land use compatibility issues.”

In preparation for this study session, the Winery Working Group of stakeholders met for six months to review existing policies and zoning provisions and inform PRMD staff on key issues. Additionally, PRMD staff collected input and comments at winery event public workshops attended by an estimated 500 people. The study session will include a report on outcomes from these events and initial ideas around events, concentration, standards for future wineries, and enforcement.

The Board will not make any decisions regarding winery policies during this study session. Instead, the Board will consider adopting a Resolution of Intention directing PRMD staff to prepare a draft ordinance to amend the Zoning Code to include development criteria and standards for winery events. This ordinance will be considered at a public hearing held on a later date.

Additional information on the County’s work with winery events is available at

Charlotte Williams - Jul 13, 2016 2:30PM

Shepherd Blis adds:

Following are some comments by people who were at the July 12 Board of Supervisors meeting on wineries. I am also including copies of the presentations by Marc Bommersbach for the Westside Community Association (though the excellent graphics did not copy), by Padi Selwyn for Preserve Rural Sonoma County, and a letter by Anna Ransome. These last three documents could be used as talking points for future conversations.

Thank you to everyone who sent emails, showed up, spoke before the board, and shared our plea for emails and attendance.It was very heartening to see so many of our supporters present in this overflow crowd! The wine industry was on their knees yesterday. Their presentations were so weak and Karissa left even before her name was called to speak. Wine folk behaved very differently than they did at the November 16 meeting where they were cocky, confident and arrogant!

There is still much work to do and we need to make sure to keep the pressure on as we can be assured wine interests will be working hard behind-the-scenes. Thanks again for all the time, effort, and energy. Together we are making great progress and together we will continue to work hard to preserve rural Sonoma County!

Paid Selwyn, Preserve Rural Sonoma County

It was wonderful to see and hear so many people who support rural preservation. Our statements were very strong and the supervisors heard us. I was really proud to be there.

And there is a lot of work to do. The last 10 minutes at the bitter end were revealing. Susan Gorin was the only one who seemed to want county wide regulations. The rest emphasized to Tennis, as they were trying to direct him, that they wanted flexibility on regs and wanted to look at events on a case by case basis. Gore lifted both arms up and said he didn't want to worry about every little event. Carrillo and Rabbitt were concerned about protecting the wine industry. So we will see what happens!! And send more emails concerning our positions and words of support to Susan.

Does anyone know Shirlee Zane's position?

Eszter Freeman

I heard it a little different in that Board wants Countywide rules. The "Specific Plan" thing came up as an alternative to solving existing problem in troubled areas. So, I suspect we'll see both 1) amendments to Ord and 2) additions to GP a la specific plan for Sonoma and W. Dry Creek in a year or so.

Ernie Carpenter

I feel that Susan Gorin was the star. I was impressed, but just briefly about some of James Gore remarks. They were anti-food and wine pairings unless local food was highlighted. He back pedaled a little afterwards but felt the new thing in wineries should be multiple crops. CAFF was late and did not get a speaker card in, lost opportunity to speak more on that.

I understand that each area of concentration is different but using the same old case by case approval is only setting up more conflict and special interests. We made some progress but time will tell as we will not hear a thing until September due to the case load by PRMD whose staff was just reduced by 25%. This is crucial as the Supes asked for several studies including traffic and NO ONE SPOKE out about conducting these studies in peak traffic times. PRMD let Bella Winery redo their traffic plan in low traffic periods to get an event permit.

Also I was incredibly disturbed at the insistence that most of the wineries are small! PRMD and the wine folks really hammered on that! PRMD and the supervisors kept saying 92% could be in compliance for events. More back dating of permits like Ratna Ling? Char Vale remember had 3 wineries closest to them openly advertising non-permitted events. We need to get on the make up of the corporate people who own all these small wineries now. This is the new corporate thing to buy up small wineries with limited production so they can charge more. Less than 2 weeks ago one big group bought up 4 or 5 small wineries according to the PD. I am slammed for the rest of the day. Thanks for doing this!

Janus Matthes, Wine and Water Watch

Fred Allebach's comment on PD article
What we are seeing in the county is an internal wine industry war between estate-based, bonded wineries and urban/Plaza-based virtual wineries.

These virtual wineries and associated tasting rooms, bottling facilities and shipping facilities, in urban areas, are what is driving actual estate-based,
bonded wineries into a frenzy of event center panic, to not lose market share to the new central Plaza model.

Then we get mixed up in industry marketing obfuscation about who is a "family-owned winery", when most of them are actually big corporate. In the county
70% of production is from 12 wineries.

The reason the bonded wineries are pushing for so many more events, weddings, food pairings, concerts etc., is because the virtuals are stealing market share. The bonded wineries cry they can’t make a profit, but this is not because of excessive regulation by the government but because of good old-fashioned free market competition and an evolving economic playing field.

And then it comes on the backs of the urban and rural public to endure a bonanza of intensified competition between two conflicting models of making and
selling wine. The old model offers aristocratic countryside mystique; the new model offers a one-stop wine/ food pairing shop in cutesy pie boutique
Plazas which the virtuals have taken completely over.

This internecine wine industry competition threatens to gobble up all county public space with wine, wine, wine and more wine. Maybe the job of government is to protect citizens from this marketing cancer, rather than it feed it more.

Dear Supervisors:

Please act to preserve the rural character of Sonoma County, a characteristic that drew many people to settle here and that still attracts visitors from all over the world. The trend towards placing wineries and event centers on agricultural land, instead of along the major transportation arteries, will pave over our ag land and cause the commercialization of our rural areas, destroying the unique qualities of our county and clogging our country roads with traffic from events and processing.

A June 26 article in the Press Democrat pointed out the growing trend of eco-tourism in Sonoma County. Many of these tourists are bike riders and there is a conflict between this trend and the increase of wineries, winery events, tasting traffic and tanker trucks on roads that are too narrow and winding to accommodate them.

Our General Plan 2020 supports agriculture but does not encourage the commercialization of ag land, including processing, restaurant-type food service and lodging accommodations. PRMD should establish a percentage criteria for processing grapes at wineries, something which has never been done in our county but which is standard in many other locations. Allowing the processing of grapes from other counties and states does nothing to encourage our local agriculture but contributes to more and more truck traffic and road damage.

A strict and standardized policy for winery events needs to be established. Right now, many wineries are holding multiple events, which are freely advertised in local papers, but which are not allowed in their use permits. This creates an unfair advantage for those who have applied and paid for permits that allow events. The PRMD devoted a large amount of resources to getting a handle on the unpermitted vacation rentals, and yet the lack of oversight on winery events, a much greater problem, continues. PRMD should have a weekend phone number for event complaints and a way to enforce use permit violations, no matter when or where.

Action now will avoid a very big problem down the road. There are already huge impacts from the lack of policy and action on the part of our local government to control the profusion of wineries and events on ag land in Sonoma County.

Anna Ransome, Graton CA 95444

July 12, 2016
We thank the BOS for directing the PRMD to develop county-wide standards and regulations that balance the needs of the industry yet protect neighborhoods and the quality of life for residents.

We all want a healthy economy and a beautiful place to live. It is in everyone’s interest -- to preserve rural character --we can have a healthy, vibrant wine and hospitality industry without degrading our primary tourist draw. If we want to have it all – we need to develop a plan for the long term, based on solid land use and economic principles.

We are very concerned about the case by case permitting that’s led to an over concentration of event centers and tasting rooms in Sonoma Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Westside Road. We trust that through balanced planning and your leadership, we will avoid creating new areas of over concentration in the rest of the county.

• PRMD staff has developed a list of options for the Board to consider. We have studied these carefully and advocate for the following:

Event Definition and Coordination must be County-led, not voluntary, through a data based-calendaring system already developed and paid for by the county but never implemented. This would analyze and allocate events to avoid concentration on any one weekend and in any one area to avoid road safety issues and other negative impacts.

• We support the county definition that sales and promotional events are any activity other than drop-in or by appointment tasting, and criteria that can be observed and monitored – ie: are non-employees on site after 5 pm? Is there amplified sound?

Monitoring and Enforcement: Clear criteria are absolutely essential given the County policy that enforcement is complaint –driven. Neighbors and the proposed Compliance Manager need criteria to determine non-compliance. The public cannot be expected to check attendees’ business cards or determine who sponsored the disputed promotional activity. More enforcement staff is needed and should be in the next fiscal budget. Enforcement must have meaningful fines and penalties.

Minimum Site Area and Setbacks: Siting criteria are important to guide development to appropriate locations to avoid cumulative impacts. We oppose reducing the minimum standards and we support siting criteria that includes separation criteria and min. parcel size for wineries holding events, with larger min. for areas of over concentration or projects with outdoor events.

Access Roads: Public safety is of utmost importance – Event activities must have access roads with minimum pavement width to allow safe passing and emergency vehicle access. Owners must have legal easements for access to property and must have safe site distances for turning onto public roads.

Noise Setbacks: We support min. setback standards for daytime outdoor event areas and parking. (sidenote: There is an inherent conflict of interest when an applicant hires and pays a consultant to do noise and traffic studies with specific results required for their permit approval.)

Number of Facilities on any one parcel: Again we are working to address cumulative impacts and degradation of rural character. Limit one tasting room per parcel on ag land and only allow tasting rooms on parcels with at least 6 acres in vineyards and that are accessory to a winery – to ensure Agriculture is primary on the parcel.

Food service runs the risk of event centers morphing into restaurants. Like Napa, if the County permits limited pre-packaged food-wine pairing by appointment only, during tasting room hours – we recommend it be in EXCHANGE for new permits having only a few Ag promotional events with food/ meal service after 5 pm.

In other words, the vast majority of newly permitted events must end at 5 pm. Evening events have the greatest impacts, the wineries become defacto supper clubs on Ag lands - and greatly jeopardize road safety.

• We support requiring a limited number of annual event permits for Private and Cultural events –via a zoning permit.

• Outdoor amplified sound should be limited to venues on large parcels that don’t create neighborhood conflicts. Kendall Jackson is the perfect example of a great venue whose amplified music bothers no-one.

Sonoma County is at a tipping point: Now is the time to address the dis-economies of destructive competition before the impacts from over-development erode the rural charm that tourists crave - causing them to take their business to more charming and less commercial places.

Please heed the advice from wine industry expert and Silicon Valley Banker, Ron McMillan, who challenges us to come together to address the very real problems: “ I believe tourists come to wine country because it is beautiful. Once they come to the wine country, the winery itself benefits from direct sales. If the wine country gets crowded and loses its charm — whether from locals or tourists — we will be killing the goose that lays the golden egg, so the focus for these issues should be on studies to get at the root of the problem.”

Thank you to our Board and PRMD for all the effort to get this right!

Paid Selwyn

Study Session On Winery Events
Presentation by Marc Bommersbach for
Westside Community Association July 12, 2016
Westside Community Associations 1
Everyone Knows Rural Character When They See It
Rural Character Rural Character – NOT!
Viewscapes encompassing open space and agrarian landscapes, low density, low intensity development, with low traffic volumes

Clear and measurable standards in the zoning code that the public and industry can rely on for visitor serving and promotional uses that:
 Manage the growth of visitor serving and promotional uses and facilities  Protect the rural character of Sonoma County especially in areas of concentration
like Westside Road.
 Minimize the impacts to adjacent property owners
 Reduce loss of ag lands to commercial type development (parking lots, hospitality entertainment and dining facilities, lodgings)
 Support General Plan policies and objectives for city-centered growth.

Explosive Growth in Promotional Facilities and Uses
 Over 300 % increase since 2000 - continued growth at this rate could result in 1200 wineries in 15 years.
 Exceeds the assumptions in the General Plan by double --assumed 239 wineries by 2020
 Over 60 applications in pipeline for tasting rooms, wineries and promotional uses and facilities
 Another 88 are existing facilities unspecified for events that will apply in order to hold events
Current Growth Rate of Use Permits for Promotional Uses and Facilities is NOT Sustainable

Westside Road – Becoming a Commercial Byway
 29 permitted facilities accessing Westside Road – one of the highest in the County, and
 10 percent of all of the new proposed projects
Proposed problem projects:
 Multiple wineries on single parcel
 Conversion of existing homes on small parcels to tasting rooms
 Events on parcels with no tasting room or winery  High intensity projects:
  
multiple tasting areas and kitchens Large scale parking lots lounges and overnight accommodations.
Westside Road has become a magnet for promotional/ hospitality centers because of existing concentration of events and visitors.

Planners Must Consider All Visitor Serving and Promotional Uses in Permit Review
 County considers an event any sales and promotional activity other than drop-in tasting or more restrictive by appointment tasting
 Current County and industry practice spell out and analyze the full scope of promotional uses -- type, number, size, time of day, and intensity.
 Eliminating broad categories of promotional uses from the definition of an event would:
   
thwart County’s obligation to assess impacts restrict public’s right to review such uses undermine County’s ability to monitor and enforce use permit conditions unleash explosion of unstudied high impact uses
Sales and Promotional uses have the same impacts regardless of what they are called or who is in attendance

Where Does It End – Is Yoga Agriculture?
 Is any commercial activity now agriculture if it involves serving a glass of wine?
 Spa treatment? Oil changes?
 Competitionfor“experiences”creates pressure for more commercial-type activities.
 Tasting rooms morphing into restaurants and music venues
 Long duration drinking through the cocktail hour and into evening

 Strike a balance for sustainable growth in promotional facilities and uses, while preserving: rural character, and peace, safety, and well-being of our neighborhoods.
 Enact “best in class” zoning standards –Sonoma County has: more wineries than virtually all of the other counties combined (apart from Napa), far more at stake -- visitation is attributed its scenic beauty and rural character.
Sonoma County residents value rural character, and expect County officials to enact zoning code standards to protect it.

1. Pass the resolution proposed by the PRMD to amend the zoning code
2. Direct PRMD to develop measurable standards in the zoning code for:
   parcel size, noise and scenic setbacks, minimum road width, and densities or separation criteria
3. Retain County’s definition of events and specify all visitor serving and promotional uses in permit review
4. Include standards in the zoning code, or planning area policies in the General Plan, for areas of concentration