SodaCanyonRoad | February 2018 Update

February 2018 Update
Bill Hocker | Mar 26, 2018 on: PRN Posts

Thank You Firefighters

First, our hearts go out to all of those on Soda Canyon, as well as in other areas of Napa and Sonoma, who lost their homes and lives during the October 2017 fires. While no words can express the pain many of you have and continue to endure, we do want to say thank you to those who came to our rescue, and did in fact save several homes on Soda Canyon Road.

Firefighters take a break

Specifically, several Soda Canyon residents, including Doug Christian, Glenn Schreuder, Chris Frassett, and brothers Anthony and Nicholas Arger, among others, stayed on upper Soda Canyon to assist local and distant fire crews battle the blaze. They worked with several different departments from around the State of California who literally fought the fire around the clock for more than a week straight. We have already sent thank yous to several of these firefighters who helped save upper Soda Canyon, and have included their contact information below if you would like to do the same:

John Lovie
Tony Martinez
Napa County Fire Department/Monticello
1820 Monticello Road
Napa, CA 94558

Chris "Bert" Gerking (Battalion Chief)
Ernie Amato (Fire Captain)
Kings County Fire Department
280 Campus Drive - Headquarters
Hanford, CA 93230

Dave Bakas (Division Chief)
City of Riverside Fire Department
3085 St. Lawrence Street
Riverside, CA 92504

Jeff DeLaurie (Battalion Chief)
City of Riverside Fire Department
3401 University Avenue
Riverside, CA 92501

Fresno Strike Team 9430 Charlie
Jeremiah Whitemore (Strike Team Leader)
701 R Street
Fresno, CA 93721

May 20th: 5th Annual Soda Canyon Road Picnic

Potluck Picnic 2017

While many residents of Soda Canyon Road have been displaced by the fire, this is an opportunity to reunite the community, to share experiences of the fire and show that wherever we may be at the moment, our home remains on Soda Canyon Road. We are also inviting several of the above-named firemen, who we hope will be able to attend.

Save the date for the 5th annual Soda Canyon Road Potluck Picnic, Fundraising, and BBQ - SUNDAY, MAY 20, 2018 1-4PM Ho/Hocker Residence, 3460 Soda Canyon Road. BYOB, a dish to share [A-M Salads, N-Z Dessert], a chair to sit on!

In addition to the Atlas Fire, 2017 was not a good year for the rural future of Soda Canyon Road:
  • The Mountain Peak Project, bringing 40,000 some more vehicle trips up and down the road each year, was approved in January and the appeal denied in August. A legal challenge to the project is going ahead. More on that below.

  • In April The Caves On Soda Canyon Road was granted permission to expand production from 30 to 60,000 gal/yr. bringing more industrial traffic to the road. And they were granted the use of the ridge, and bootlegged portal for tourism events.

  • Also in April, residents protesting the granting of a license to the Relic Winery on the basis of its added tourism traffic were rebuffed by the ABC. More on that below.

  • And at the junction of Soda Canyon Road and the Silverado Trail, four(4) new or expanded winery projects were approved (not to mention the very non-residential looking Ellman Family Estate currently under construction) adding to traffic on that stretch of the trail.

The County government continues to support entrepreneur's interests over those of residents, and the loss of the rural character that makes this place special is being lost.

Join your neighbors and friends once again for the opportunity to carouse and take stock of the issues that bind us together, and add your fundraising contribution to the effort to protect this special place and places like it throughout Napa County.

A separate invitation will be sent out as the date approaches.

Mountain Peak Winery - the next step

Mountain Peak site, Spring 2015 and October 2017

Last year, during the County Planning Commission hearings and the Appeal to the Board of Supervisors on the Mountain Peak Winery project, numerous Soda Canyon and Napa citizens implored the County to significantly reduce the project size on several grounds, including a substantial reduction in the 14,575 annual visitors and 40,000 additional vehicle trips it will create specifically due to the public safety concerns related to accidents and the dangers of fire (unsuspecting tourists causing a fire, impeding escape routes during a a large and devastating wildfire, getting trapped at the end of the road, etc.)

Incredibly, less than two months after the Supervisors approved the project, all of those concerns and many more played out with tragic poignancy during the Atlas Fire, where most residents on lower Soda Canyon barely escaped with their lives, and more than 100 individuals (residents, property owners, and vineyard workers) were trapped on upper Soda Canyon Road by the fire on Sunday night, October 8, 2017 at the very entrance to Mountain Peak Winery and had no escape route because lower Soda Canyon was ablaze and entirely blocked by flames. Surrounded by the firestorm, the trapped individuals were either forced to shelter in vineyards or be evacuated by CHP helicopters in 60+ mph crosswinds. Tragically, two individuals on lower Soda Canyon were heartbreakingly lost in the fire, and 72% of the homes (118 of 163) on Soda Canyon were completely destroyed by the fire, with another 16 severely damaged for a total of 82% (134 of 163) of all homes on Soda Canyon damaged or destroyed by the fire.

As part of the lawsuit filed last September under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by several Soda Canyon residents and property owners, the parties were required to attend a mandatory settlement conference on January 26, 2018. In the wake of the Atlas Fire tragedy, the residents specifically requested that all five Supervisors, as well as the Owners of Mountain Peak, Hua and Eric Yuan, attend the settlement conference to address what are obvious safety concerns stemming from the project as it relates to fire, which will happen again someday in the future. Indeed, there have been devastating wildfires on Atlas Peak/Soda Canyon every 20-40 years since the late 1800s including the 1981 Peak Fire.

The Supervisors and the Owners of Mountain Peak all refused to attend, instead sending "representatives" with no decision-making authority. Nothing was resolved. This behavior on the part of both the County and the developer again demonstrated the disdain and disrespect for residents and property owners that has now become the norm in government-citizen relations. Continued disregard of citizen concerns must stop. The catastrophic fires we endured this past October warned us that when development in rural areas is driven by the greed of a few rather than the health and safety of all, the results can be catastrophic.

If you would like to help, we encourage you to:

Appeal to ABC over Relic Winery license

Relic Winery on Soda Canyon Road April 2017 and October 2017

On January 11, 2018, attorneys for Opponents (composed of Soda Canyon residents and neighbors) of Relic Winery, a winery located just above the fire-station on Soda Canyon that is seeking 4,500 wine-tasting visitors per year, appeared before the Appeals Board of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and requested that the visitation and on-site retail sales components of Relic's license be eliminated due to public safety concerns (Relic Opponents do not oppose the operation of wine-making activities).

Under Article XX, section 22 of the California Constitution, the ABC is charged with protecting the "public safety and welfare." Relic and the ABC contend that traffic, the condition of the road, and fire are all "outside the jurisdiction of the ABC." Protestants vehemently disagree, and hope that the Appeals Board will determine that issuing a license for thousands of wine-tasting tourists to a winery 4 miles up a dead-end road in the very belly of Soda Canyon that was decimated by the Atlas Fire is not in the best interests of public safety and welfare.

Unfortunately, even after the Atlas Fire, the Appeals Board did not appear to be very sympathetic to Opponents' concerns during the oral arguments, and it is anticipated that the Appeals Board will rubber stamp the ABC's poor decision to grant the license without restrictions. If this occurs, Opponents of Relic Winery will have the option of appealing the decision to the Courts, warranted in light of the decision's potential for precedent regarding public safety on Soda Canyon Road.

Walt Ranch goes to Court

This coming Tuesday, Feb 13th 2018 at 8:30am , Circle Oaks County Water District and CO Homeowner's Assoc, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club, and the Living Rivers Council will present their CEQA lawsuit against the County for approving the Walt Ranch development. The hearing will take place in Department G of the Napa County Superior Court, 1111 Third Street, Napa. Please consider attending.

There are many environmental impacts to this project dismissed by the developer and the County as "less-than-significant". The urban development that is taking place throughout the county, including Soda Canyon Road, in the form of vineyard estates, tourism wineries, major hotel, industrial and housing projects along with the traffic that they all generate and the increase in taxes they require, are not less-than-significant. The rural, small-town character of the county and its quality of life are being lost. We can change this trajectory, but it takes your commitment. Please, be involved.