SodaCanyonRoad | Mountain Peak at the BOS: the epilogue

Mountain Peak at the BOS: the epilogue
Bill Hocker | Aug 23, 2017 on: Mountain Peak Winery

Update 8/23/17:
On August 22, 2017, with modifications to the Conditions of Approval in place, the Board of Supervisors denied the appeal of each of the four appellants in turn, and the Mountain Peak Winery was officially added to the other 123 wineries created or expanded in the County since 2010.

At the hearing Yeoryios Apallas requested that 2 documents be entered into the administrative record, each of which were material to the Mountain Peak decision and each of which came into being only after the tentative hearing decision in May. They illuminate how Sonoma and Napa county governments are avoiding the legally required review of the environmental impacts of their development approvals, like that of the Mountain Peak. The request was, of course, refused. They are:
Pattern and Practice of failing to Comply with CEQA regarding Winery Approvals
California Riverwatch vs. Sonoma County, et al.


Mountain Peak's downtown tasting room
Two days after the Mountain Peak BOS appeal hearing on May 23rd, the Register reported that Acumen Wines, Mountain Peak's brand, has just opened their tasting room downtown across from the Archer Hotel. How did we miss this? (We might have looked at their website, of course.) Not only is Mountain Peak successfully producing wine without a winery, but they have an extremely prominent location to sell their wines. (And we learned more about the owner of Mountain Peak in the article than we have in 3 years dealing with his developer. Our attempts to set up a meeting with the owner were ignored.) Napa County obviously had known about the tasting room. Did the Planning Commission, the BOS and the "wine industry" know that Mountain Peak already had a tourism venue to market their wines, rendering their request for out-of-scale visitation at their winery a debatable necessity? It is a better solution to the contentious issue of at-winery marketing, one that the county has lauded in other presentations. Why were they silent on it here? It was certainly an alternative that would have been considered under CEQA in a real EIR, and the exclusion of its existence prior to the county's review is, from our standpoint, equivalent to hiding exculpatory evidence from defendants in a trial. It is a question that perhaps a judge should answer.

A downtown tasting room at the entry to Napa's largest hotel is, of course, a significant bit of knowledge to counter an argument that Mountain Peak needs 14,575 yearly visitors and 19 daily employees coming 6 miles up a dead end road to insure their success in selling their product. Not to mention the benefit to the environment: The tasting room is 11 miles from the winery. At 2.7 visitors per car and say 10 hospitality employees, 199,059 vehicle miles would be saved each year by not using the winery as a tasting room. That's 8 trips around the earth, and 82 metric tons of CO2 (411 gram/mi).

This was the second Mountain Peak surprise in 2 days. At the hearing we learned that Supervisor Dillon, whose commissioner was the dissenting vote at the planning commission hearing, would not be attending the appeal hearing. Chair Ramos reminded us that it is incumbent on citizens to be knowledgable about all publicly published information, and that the documentation indicating that she would be out of the county was to be found in a BOS agenda line item from the previous week. It didn't occur to the county to add that information at the time that the Mountain Peak agenda was published 5 days before the hearing.

We were also surprised a few weeks earlier when, a few days after the planning commission approved an increase in the capacity of The Caves at Soda Canyon and approved their bootlegged portal and patio, the property, increased immeasurably in value due to the approvals, was put up for sale. Did the commissioners know? Residents, who spent enormous amounts of time and money in making a counter argument against the sleazy nature of the project from its inception, were left agog. Did the commissioners and the county and the "wine industry" know of the impending sale?

There is a sense that much of what happens between the county government and members of the wine industry operates sub rosa. The county exercises due diligence to provide open access to documents and public involvement in the planning process, and yet this is a one-industry county and the daily interactions of the dominant industry and its regulators is a bond that mere citizens can never hope to break into. (A couple of Mountain Peak's consultants started their presentations with a bit of jovial banter with the Supes. Toward the appellants the Supes seemed to have only stern looks and words.) In a world in which the dominant industry provides benefits and a sense of well being for the county's citizens, that sort of cronyism is acceptable. But now we find that the development that the industry continues to pursue and that the county continues to approve is having impacts that are definitely not a benefit to the quality of life of the rest of us. And the anger at a government unwilling to protect the interests of its citizens against the monied interests of its major industry is continuing to build.

Over 800 people in the county signed a petition opposing the Mountain Peak project including most of the residents of Soda Canyon Road. Sup. Pedroza's lament during the hearing about decisions being perceived as "either business or residents" is unfortunately not just perception, it has become the reality, with residents on the short end every single time.

There seems to be a sense among some that last November's election was the definitive rejection of the importance of citizen resistance to development projects throughout the county such as Woolls Ranch, Yountville Hill, Walt Ranch, Girard, Syar, the Woodland Initiative, Mountain Peak, and that we are now in the season of elections having consequences (as we are nationally!) And they may be right. Only time will tell. But thus far the injuries to a way of life have not been written off by those immediately impacted and the resistance and anger, at least in this quarter, are more keenly felt than ever.

Stephen J Donoviel - Aug 21, 2017 5:11PM

[Letter to Napa County Supervisors 8/21/17]

A final Appeal on Mountain Peak

August 20, 2017

Belia Ramos, Chair
Napa County Board of Supervisors
1195 Third Street
Napa, CA 94559

re: Mountain Peak Winery Appeal Decision

Dear Ms. Ramos and Members of the Board:

On Tuesday August 22, 2017, you have the fortunate opportunity to rectify what I think was an egregious error in your decision in May to tentatively approve the above project which, if carried forward, will negatively impact the lives hundreds of citizens living off Soda Canyon Road and present serious risks to the water supply to thousands of others. I think that the data, detailed analyses, references (submitted in attachments to appellants NCC form 2.88.050) and testimony presented by the appellants at hearing was far more convincing than that presented by the applicant and, were it trial by jury, my bet on the finding would be in favor of the appellants beyond a shadow of a doubt.

The fact that enormous amounts of matter from the tunnel diggings will be spread near feeder streams to the water supply for Yountville and the Veterans Home creates a significant increased risk of contamination--a colorful portrayal of this type of problem was recently shown in the Napa Register (August 11, 2017). This increased risk, I think, far outweighs any positive environment attributes of LEED construction touted by the applicant's spokesperson.

I sympathize with the residents and others who, on a daily or regular basis, have to drive the narrow, winding roads with only one access point. I fail to understand how you and some members of the Planning Commission and a few others acknowledge the situation and yet can rationalize and dismiss the increased danger to drivers/residents that will accompany the increased vehicles that will result from the project. Also, from the almost cavalier attitude and minimization of dealing with the issues surrounding the risk of wildfire, I gather those presenters had not witnessed the Atlas Peak fire or interviewed residents who lost homes or otherwise suffered through it. There was a suggestion that monies for road surface repairs might be forth coming next year which I'm sure would be welcomed. However, the bigger safety issues, it seems, concern the fact that there is only one point of entry/egress to the neighborhoods/residences and the width of the road (for which widening is undoubtedly out of question) is not conducive to evacuation concurrent with transport of fire trucks, other equipment, etc., and would be further hampered with increased traffic requested by the applicant, thus increasing the danger for all concerned. While, I have made only occasional drives up Soda Canyon Road, one time was a garbage pickup day which was enough to demonstrate the perils of driving the route and obvious dangers if there were a wildfire (or being on the road facing drivers who had spent the day wine tasting). The offered "voluntary condition of approval" is certainly in keeping with expectations and requirements for the AVA and NV branding (and seemed a determining factor for most of you) but it really offers almost nothing to the conversation of fire danger, road safety, water supply degradation for Rector and the host of other environmental problems which are addressed in detail in appellants presentations and never adequately rebutted by the County.

I must add that with this project, as well as others I've studied or read about, you (as well as the Planning Commission and City Officials) seem to give little or no consideration to the cumulative impact each approved project adds to the degradation of ecology and quality of life in our county. Residents are complaining about their quality of life, be it at town hall meetings, letters to the editor, testimony at hearings, in the locker room or other social gatherings and, while we have lived here for fifty years, the drums are beating louder and louder the past few years.

I write to recommend and request that you RED TAG this project and note that in doing so you will fulfill your responsibilities as Supervisors by protecting the environment and not increasing the risk of harm to the citizens living in the area.

Thank you for considering my input


Stephen J. Donoviel

Shelle Wolfe - Jun 8, 2017 11:11PM

[First published as an LTE to the Register, 6/8/17: Voices, not grapes, get crushed]

Voices, not grapes, get crushed

As expected, Napa citizen concerns were once again squelched, their voices disrespected during the May 23 appeal hearing with the Board of Supervisors on Mountain Peak Winery -- Napa's most recent 4-0 approval by the board of yet another 100,000-gallon commercial winery event center that is primarily focused on tourism -- 14,575 annual visitors to be precise -- and will add some 40,000 additional annual auto and big rig trips to the already dangerous, dead-end Soda Canyon Road.

This remotely located commercial winery is proposed by an extremely wealthy family whose members are not local residents and have no relationship to, or concern about, Napa and its citizens. We elect the supervisors whom we assume represent us and our concerns, not foreign investors.

Supervisors? No. Caretakers of a corrupt system, calculating appearances to seem caring and absences to avoid accountability (or perhaps to avoid upsetting a winery consultant and longtime friend?) They pretend to listen to those of us they represent, all the while complaining that we, the citizens to whom they are supposed to answer, are submitting too many documents, too many pages of evidence.

Environmental impacts? Not according to the supervisors; a silent nod of approval to the applicant's phony focus on environmental purity propaganda. These elected officials are pretenders: pretending to care, to listen, to engage, to "reach out."

Instead, they complain we are too late with information, annoying them with facts about public safety (639 government reported incidents on Soda Canyon Road in 2014, 2015, and 2016), reminding them of the dangers of driving Soda Canyon Road (which is in horrible shape and twists and turns with steep hills where big rigs and tour buses are regularly stuck for hours), and environmental impacts (removing and heaping nearly 2 million cubic feet of earth near two blue-line streams that feed directly into the Rector Reservoir water supply), slapping down the appellant's request for a 5-minute recess before having to rebut numerous misleading statements made by the applicant, but quickly thereafter providing a 5-minute recess to review new documentation provided by the applicant.

These pretenders disdain our very presence. Just get the vote over so we can go home. These citizens have already wasted enough of our time.

In a display of arrogance and disrespect, our own elected supervisor for District 4, Alfredo Pedroza, personally and gleefully made four separate motions to deny each appeal, to silence our voices with grinning disdain, obviously his mind long ago made up; campaign payback? Deny his voice in the next election, and maybe then we, the people, will finally be heard.

Whose government is this, anyway?