SodaCanyonRoad | BOS Revokes Mountain Peak Use Permit

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BOS Revokes Mountain Peak Use Permit
Bill Hocker | Nov 11, 2022 on: Mountain Peak Winery


County website screenshot

Update 11/9/22
NVR 11/9/22: Napa County revokes Mountain Peak winery approval
11/8/22 video clip of BOS hearing
The adopted resolution

    "When there is this level of community concern and vocal opposition to a project, perhaps it would be a good time to listen to your constituents instead of working so closely with the developer to find some kind of way to move the project through"
      - Amber Manfree in public comments to the BOS

About 20 Soda Canyon residents and county-wide stalwarts showed up to witness the revocation of the Mountain Peak use permit, some voicing their appreciation for the Board's action and others admonition for what the saga says about Napa county governance. The comments of those who spoke are here.

The Supervisors seemed anxious to put this whole vexatious affair behind them as quickly as possible. The presentation by county council was brief - the court has required that they do something in response to the court's demand of an EIR for the project, and the "setting aside" or "rescinding" of the use permit (the county seems reluctant to use the term "revoke" despite that being the clear term used in the resolution) accomplishes that. After our comments, Chair Gregory began Board comments by saying "It's that simple; the court is asking us to do this and we are doing it." With no other discussion it fell to Sup. Ramos (who, to our great appreciation, had switched her vote last time to uphold our appeal) to propose the motion to revoke. Our own District 4 Supervisor, in the first effort he has made on our behalf since being appointed, seconded the motion. All members aye - the motion passes. The Mountain Peak winery is dead - 8 years, 8 months, and 6 days after our neighbor's first anguished email.

But is it? As documented in the emails below it is still unclear in my mind what "revoke" or rescind" or "set aside" actually means since none are actually defined in county code. I'm not sure that the county has ever, in fact, revoked a use permit. Is this project now really dead? Or can it rise, zombie-like, with an owner willing to pay for the EIR? If it means a conclusive end to 9 years of anxiety, sleepless nights and obsession, if it means that our remote rural neighborhood will not become, for now, another of the county's growing number of tourist attractions, then I thank the supervisors from the bottom of my heart for the action they have taken.

Over those 9 years similar projects have brought heartbreak and division to many other rural neighborhoods throughout the county, and they continue to do so, with dozens of wineries currently in the planning department. I wish that those communities could take courage or solace from this decision. But for many it is too late. And for others the unique circumstances that compelled the revocation may be too serendipitous to offer such hope. But I do hope that this process will encourage the County to more carefully consider the concerns of residents whose rural lives will be forever changed by these projects, rather than only showing concern for the developers wishing to profit from a commercial venue in a bucolic location.

We know that this will not be the last tourist attraction proposed on Soda Canyon Road. And, of course, even a project on the Mountain Peak property may be tried again. Nothing that we've heard, even after the devastation and hair-raising evacuation of the road during the Atlas fire and the two other fires that have followed it, indicates that the county would be less receptive to those possibilities in the future.

But right now I'm grateful that the Board has taken this action to help preserve this very unique place for the peaceful benefit of its many residents rather than the personal benefit of one investor. A truly rural quality-of-life is one small facet of the agrarian legacy that previous supervisors worked so hard to create and maintain. It's a legacy that we should all continue to treasure and defend.

We all adjourned to celebrate what seemed to be a small ray of sunshine in what has been an otherwise gloomy era in the county's long history of residents trying to protect the county's rural character in the face of ever-present development pressure.


Update 11/3/22
On 11/8/22 the County Board of Supervisors will vote on a resolution to revoke or rescind the Mountain peak use permit - it's not clear which. The language of the Resolution is quite clear (my underline):

    "NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Napa County Board of Supervisors as follows:

    1. Resolutions Nos. 2017-130, 2017-131, 2017-132, 2017-133, and 2021-81 are
    hereby rescinded and are null and void.

    2. Use Permit No. P13-00320-UP, the Exception to the Napa County Road and Street
    Standards, and the Negative Declaration are hereby declared invalid, revoked and null and void."

But a couple of emails from Planning DIr. Bordona leave me in doubt about what action is being taken. In the first he says:

    "The Board will be 'rescinding' the use permit (by order of the Court), not revoking it.

    Use permit 'revocation' of is quasi-judicial act on the part of the planning commission that typically occurs when there’s a violation of an existing use permit, which isn’t the case here.

    In terms of future development, I’m unaware of what the current or future owners may decide going forward, but they will be subject to all regulatory requirements."

In the second, when asked why the resolution uses the word "revoked" he replies:

    "We are rescinding the approval and revoking the grant of the permit."


Go figure.

Almost 9 years after a neighbor's email alerted us to a proposed tourist attraction next door, the Board of Supervisors has been compelled by the court to take action following the court's decision that the project required an EIR. Their action is to revoke the use permit. Does that mean that the owner must start over, as if the last 9 years hadn't happened? Or does it mean that he can decide to produce the EIR and the project continues where we left off? Unfortunately it is quite unclear what that means. The only reference to revoking a use permit in county code is related to the Planning Commission, in which case revoking means that the use permit is void and that a new application for a similar project may not be begun for a year.

I want to believe that this is the end of the project and that the 9-year threat to turn our community into a tourist attraction has finally abated. But even now, the county presents a lack of specificity seemingly intended to make sure that we don't really know what's going on.

11/8/22 BOS Agenda
Resolution to Revoke the use permit

The whole agonizing saga is documented on this page. The anxiety over the potential loss of our remote haven at the top of Soda Canyon Road has fueled not just this page, but the cathartic need to document, on the rest of this site, the many ways that that the county government works to protect and promote the economic interests of a few entrepreneurs and plutocrats at the expence of the county's rural residents and at the expense of the county's own stated commitment to the preservation of its environment. And as the years have passed, as the climate crisis deepens, as the county's forests disappear to vines and fires, as the water resources dry up, that promotion of ever more development has only become more grotesque. The County currently has 160 development projects under review. Unfortunately, this small win in one community, while of immense relief to its residents, is unlikely to change the trajectory of urbanization the County is following.

In fact, just as one project is removed from the current projects page, another more significant development on the road may be added: the rebirth of the Napa Soda Springs Resort. The impacts to the community would be several orders of magnitude greater than those of Mountain Peak. I am not looking forward to the years ahead.

10/27/22
Following the finalization of the judgement of the Napa Superior Court on 7/29/22 that the Mountain Peak use permit be set aside and the project be returned to the county for an EIR, the project will again be an item on the BOS agenda on 11/8/22. The Court has commanded that the county take action on its judgement and the agenda item will consider a resolution to accomplish the actions required.

Interestingly, on the day the Court Judgement was finalized, the Mountain Peak property was put up for sale on realtor.com and other realty sites. The unreasonably high asking price of $19,995,000 does raise the possibility that this is just a fallback position at this point.