SodaCanyonRoad | To the BOS on Benjamin Ranch

To the BOS on Benjamin Ranch
Bill Hocker | Nov 11, 2021 on: Benjamin Ranch Winery

[Letter sent to the BOS for the 10/16/21 Benjamin Ranch appeal hearing which was continued at the last minute]

Nov 11, 2021


Geographer Amber Manfree has recently produced a map (not done for this project) showing building projects on Ag Preserve lands since 1993. I have reproduced a screenshot of her Google Earth interactive map with the Benjamin Ranch development area overlayed.

Building Projects in the Ag Preserve since 1993

The intent here is not to show that the project is larger than other recent building projects, (although at 10 acres of development area it is one of the largest), but to show that as you continue to approve building development in the Ag Preserve you are creating exactly the situation that your predecessors were concerned about in crafting the legislation to protect an agricultural economy from urbanization. It is also a concern often heard in your public discussions, somewhat ingenuously I must say, while you continue to approve building projects now.

From the findings of the Winery Definition Ordinance, 1990:
    "(e) Napa County is one of the smallest counties in California and within the County areas suitable for quality vineyards are limited and irreplaceable. Any project that directly or indirectly results in the removal of existing or potential vineyard land from use depletes the inventory of such land forever.

    (f) The cumulative effect of such projects if far greater than the sum of individual projects. 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."

From the findings of Measure J, Agricultural Lands Preservation Initiative, 1990:
    "Uncontrolled urban encroachment into agricultural and watershed areas will impair agriculture and threaten the public health, safety and welfare by causing increased traffic congestion, associated air pollution and potentially serious water problems, such as pollution, depletion and sedimentation of available water resources."

From the vision statement of the Napa General Plan, 2008:
    "While other Bay Area counties have experienced unprecedented development and urban infrastructure expansion over the last four decades, Napa County's citizens have conscientiously preserved the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure."

From Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, 2016:
    "Once our open space is gone, it's gone."

The appellants of the Benjamin Ranch Winery approval are asking that the project be evaluated with a full Environmental Impact Report. That is the least you should require. It is curious that every vineyard conversion in the county over 100 acres routinely requires an EIR to assess its impacts. But for a winery that would theoreticaly need an additional 700 acres of vines to fill its tanks (or those of the wineries that will lose production to this facility), while paving over some 10 acres of the best vineyard land in the county, a neg dec from the planning department is deemed sufficient. It is not.

The total scale of this project, 475,000 gal/yr, 86,000 visitors/yr, 61 new employees, and all of the traffic, service, resource and accommmodation impacts throughout the county that such quantities present, has not happened in the Ag Preserve in the last decade, if not much longer. A more thorough airing of its impacts and the trajectory of building development on the valley floor that it represents and portends, with a full EIR, is the least you can responsibly do in this case.

But you should do more. It is beyond time for you to realistically consider the impacts of a building project on every 10+ acre parcel allowed under current zoning. It is well beyond time for you to begin to live up to the lofty words quoted above and stop the urbanization that threatens the rural character, resources, community harmony and long term survival of agriculture and open space in Napa County.

This particular project is on some of the most valuable arable land in the world. Preserve it. Don't pave it over as some ritual sacrifice to "economic growth." Napa can easily remain a successful economy if it maintains the natural resources necessary for great wines. It doesn't need more tourist attractions.

Please, stop pandering to a tourism industry or donor class whose only interest is in the profit or conceit to be had from a building on each and every allowable parcel in the county. Start listening to neighbors and residents, many also members of the wine industry, whose interest is in maintaining the rural environment that makes Napa a desirable place to live and a viable place to grow crops in the urban Bay Area.

You have a responsibility to previous public servants and citizens who, over the last fifty years, have resisted a tidal wave of development pressure in protecting the agricultural lands and open space that still remain. Deny this project while considering the dozens if not hundreds of projects that might come after it, and work to end the ongoing urbanization of Napa County. You owe it to your predecessors, to your constituents and to posterity.

Bill Hocker

More comments on the Benjamin Ranch Project are here
Notes on Amber Manfree's Urbanization Map of the Ag Preserve are here