"Everyone wants an increasingly larger piece of the tourist income. If we ever reach the point where tourism, not agriculture, drives the economy we've lost the ball game".
- Planning Director James Hickey 2008(?)
... I think the challenge for Napa County is to regulate tourism, curtail it and make sure that you don't create a situation where tourism competes for resources with the wine industry. That is the real challenge. If I get the rich guys to bring me money for my wine that's wonderful, but somehow if the 30,000 tourists ruin all the highways and then I have to pay in extra fees for fixing the highways, the usefulness of the direct purchase is diminished, shall we say.
"Do we want to maintain an agricultural economy that benefits from tourism, or do we want to transfer into a tourism economy that capitalizes on agriculture?"
- Planning Commissioner Matt Pope 2014
This is not Disneyland. I think it's just agriculture in the 21st century.
- Sup. Alfredo Pedroza 2017
Tourism has never saved anything. It's destroyed many things. Tourism devours what it loves.
- Writer James Conaway 2018
The Tourism Event-Center Winery
In a trend codified in the 2008 changes to the Napa General Plan equating marketing and processing in the definition of agriculture, and in approval of State Bill AB2004, the "Evans Bill", in 2008 which allows the purchase and consumption of bottles of alcohol in picnic areas on winery property, and in the 2010 approval of changes to the 1990 Winery Definition Ordinance allowing expansion of food service and "marketing events" at wineries, tourism marketing on winery properties has become an increasingly important aspect of wine makers profitability and is now leading to the proposal and approval of what one wag referred to as an invasion of "crush-n-party pads" (otherwise called event centers) throughout the county.
The thing that made the property in this ad worth $280,000 per acre in 2014 is the imagined return on the 25% of the vineyard that can be removed for the winery, tasting rooms and parking lots of a tourist facility. In my mind, the fact that a very prime piece of vineyard land is advertised as a "building site" indicates that something has gone wrong with land use policies nominally designed to protect agriculture. (In fact, the county application for a new or modified use permit does not ask about the number of acres permanently removed from the agricultural preserve to accomodate these new facilities.)
New wineries are being proposed to the Planning Commission at the rate of almost 1 per month and many established wineries are asking for changes to their use permits to allow increased marketing plans. The County has so far approved almost every marketing plan proposed. They have done so without looking at the long term cumulative effects that radically increased tourism would have in maintaining the county's landmark 1968 Agricultural Preserve.
In the knowledge that small scale agriculture cannot compete profitably with almost any other capitalist endeavor, the Ag Preserve was set up to drastically limit what uses Napa County land could be used for beyond agriculture. Developers have always been pressing against the dikes of the Preserve trying to find a way to turn Napa land to more profitable use.
The Winery Definition Ordinance of 1990 was a response to the development pressure, a compromise between growers concerned about unregulated development of vineyard land and vintners concerned about their profitablility. Wineries and wine tourism, industrial and commercial activities in any other part of the world, were redefined as part of the agricultural process. For vintners, a limited level of winery tourism was codified. For the growers, grapes to fill new winery capacity were required to come from Napa vineyards. It was a balance of interests that slowed (somewhat) development for 20 years. In 2008, the General Plan was updated to integrate marketing into the definition of agriculture. In 2010, in response to the great recession's effect on the high-end wine industry, a growing desire to increase profits by some vintners and the increasing clout of the tourism industry, tourism restrictions were eased in the WDO, and the county officially became more supportive of tourism and the production-vs-marketing scale began to teeter. Just enough so that, apparently, investors saw a reasonable profit to be made in wine tourism, and they have been jumping in since. The map and lists of projects approved or still in planning dept since 2010 are here
The Board split along its pro-development faultlines with Sups. Pedroza, Ramos and Gregory supporting more tourism and Sups. Dillon and Wagenknecht pushing back on the ever increasing commercial business use of lands zoned for agriculture. The problem is that once you officially define tourism as an essential element of the wine industry, as has happened in Napa County, it's difficult to exclude those tourism uses that go beyond the restaurants, event venues and amusement parks (like Castello di Amorosa) currently allowed on ag zoned lands.
Barry Eberling, reporting in the Register about the upcoming "Balloons Above the Valley" appeal hearing at the Board of Supervisors on Jan 12, 2021 (item 13B here), links to other projects coming before the Board which, taken together, represent a broad issue: the pushback of residents trying to to prevent the commercialization of their communities in a county now more devoted to urban development than rural protection. Each project, like the remote Mountain Peak winery proposal on our fire ravaged road, has its own specific issues that have brought them to the Board, a couple with a detour through the courts that question the Board's previous approvals. But since these legal battles must be fought on very specific issues, the more general issue of loss of community quality of life that each development represents often goes unsaid. Yet it is at the core of the anger makes residents willing to spend the vast amount of time and money needed to fight them. Unlike developers, residents get no tax writeoff for their efforts or the promise of money returned on their investment. Their only reward is the maintenance of the quality of life that they feel they have found in rural Napa County, "the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure" in the words of the Napa County General Plan vision statement. In its rush to promote tourism, housing and industrial development in the name of "growth", the Board of Supervisors no longer embodies that vision.
While each new year I feel like giving up on this quixotic effort to document the progression of urbanization in Napa (and thereby feel I'm doing what I can), an article like Mr. Eberling's comes out, or the Planning Commission makes a good decision like "Balloons", or the Board steps back from its development zeal, just enough to show that the ideal of retaining Napa county as a rural refuge in the greater bay area still has some currency; and I go on adding to the site.
The message seems to be getting through. Tourism is a threat as well as a cash cow. While the recognition is a welcome sign, the potential mitigations of more affordable housing and better traffic management are simply developers' solutions to the problems of urbanization. They are solutions that make further urbanization more likely. The supervisors took a modest step recently toward solving the real problem by deciding not to ramp up industrial development. It is hard to think of Visit Napa Valley trying to discourage tourism, but that is what's really needed: an organization like Visit Napa Valley that spends its money trying to promote export sales Napa Wines beyond the county border.
According to the VNV stats, the county now hosts 950,000 more visitors per year than it did 6 years ago, an additional 2600 more visitors per day on average. The total resident population of Napa County has increased by 1.4% in that period to 141,000. The yearly tourist population has increased by 33% to 3.85 million. The yearly visitor/resident ratio has gone from 21:1 to 27:1.
As VNV celebrates it will, no doubt, boast about how much residents benefit from the tourist dollars. But for many residents, the specious $1728/ household in generated tourist taxes (used to pay VNV salaries and the increased infrastructure of an expanding tourism population among other things) is a sop to cover the negative impacts of an expanding tourism economy. For those residents the clearing of vineyards for event centers and parking lots, loss of local businesses and housing for boutiques, hotels and airbnb, and roads clogged with tourist traffic and tourism events all represent a lost Eden that money, real or fictional, can't replace.
The rural, agrarian, small-town soul of the county that attracted many here, the
result of a successful economy based on a low-impact agricultural product within a beautiful natural environment, is dying under the tourism onslaught. Residents futilely show up at government meetings, write letters and vote to stop the pain of the loss. Eventually they will probably move to Oregon, because the lust for more money continues to ruin everything - as it always has.
It appears that the Napa hotel lobby is launching a promotional campaign to convince residents of the county that tourism is good for their way of life, despite evidence to the contrary. Visit Napa Valley CEO Clay Gregory extolls the economic benefits that his organization is helping to bring to Napa County. Visit Napa Valley, he says, "is working daily on behalf of the lodging industry with local government officials and partner organizations to help address the collective impacts of tourism on our community."
There are indeed collective impacts on our community. How is he addressing them? "Attracting visitors during non-peak seasons and mid-week in order to minimize traffic and crowding, as well as working to convert day trips to overnight visits." How exactly does spending $6 mil/yr to attract additional tourists minimize traffic and crowding? The effort is really meant to ensure high occupancy rates and maximum traffic all week and all year around. And to insure that the collective impacts of tourism on our community happen 24 hours a day and that the lodging industry on whose behalf he works can continue to expand, with traffic increases and the loss of affordable housing and local shops, and a once serene landscape littered with building projects, and the disappearance of a rural and small-town quality of life.
The TOT, touted by Mr. Gregory as the principal benefit to the residents of the county, will never pay for the increased costs of infrastructure and services needed to serve the new development. As they are now, residents will continue to be asked to pay for bond measures, and tax increases to fix potholes and sewer systems and school upgrades each made worse by the ever increasing tourism and hospitality employee populations.
There is a place for tourism in the Napa economy, as an incidental and subordinate activity to the business of making wine. The amount of wine that can be made from Napa grapes is finite - the number of producing acres in Napa county has barely risen in the last decade. The amount of tourism must also be finite to maintain an appropriate balance. What we need is not a promotional campaign trying to sell residents of the benefits of tourism, or of a promotional campaign to sell Napa county as a tourism destination. If money is to be spent on promotion let it be on a campaign to sell Napa wine to the world beyond the county borders. There are numerous ways to do so other than tourism and many Napa wineries survive quite well in the business without encouraging the urbanization and resident discontent that tourism brings.
As Andy Beckstoffer has said, Napa is one of the few places on earth in which agriculture can survive the pressure of urban development, but it means a commitment to not let more profitable uses - and tourism is a more profitable use - become the driving force in the economy. The first place to make that commitment is to shut down Visit Napa Valley.
The latest Visit Napa Valley statistical analysis of the tourism industry is out; the numbers are good (oddly better, in fact, than the Visit California numbers outlined here). The number of visitors are increasing but at a slower rate than the previous 2-year cycle, it seems. Revenues from tourist venues are way up, so the amount taken in per visitor is dramatically increased. (The median family income of visitors is $161,000 - a bursting tech-startup bubble may have significant impacts.) The number of employees is way up so perhaps service is good, although the daily commute and need for affordable housing is getting much worse.
More visitors seem to like the place as it is than they did 2 years ago. Except for the traffic. What will they make of the 140 or so wineries still in the planning/construction pipeline, or of Napa Pipe, Watson Ranch, and the dozens of other projects destined to fill county landscapes and roads. Sup. Pedroza's question from 2015, what is the carrying capacity of the county?, isn't yet answered.
Tourism taxes are way up as well, but the county still doesn't have enough to repair potholes or bridges, build a jail, upgrade the sanitary system, relieve traffic congestion or build affordable housing, and probably not enough to cover the costs of servicing the 17,000 visitors (12% population increase) driving into the county each day. $6 million of those tourism taxes goes to Visit Napa Valley to encourage more tourism and create more jobs, and to fund the studies.
At the Board of Supervisors on Dec 14th, 2015, Visit Napa Valley presented its financial report for fiscal 2015 and an overview for the first half of fiscal 2016. Tourism "shows healthy Napa County growth in all key lodging metrics". No one can accuse VNV of not doing their job.
Given my now almost manic obsession over the development impacts of ever increasing tourism in the county, VNV director Clay Gregory had some reassuring news: the number of tourists arriving each year is only increasing at about 1.5%. The amount they are spending is rising several times faster, meaning much more money in TID and TOT to deal with a modest increase in impacts. He also made a point of stressing the mandate of VNV to promote off season and weekday events, which seemed a direct link to an answer Sup. Luce gave me several months ago when I asked how the county justified spending $5.6 mil to increase tourism impacts.
I want to be comforted. But somehow the county pursuit of 130 new or expanded wineries under review or approved but not yet built with their cumulative request for 1.6 mil new visitor slots per year does not speak to a goal of just evening out the tourism flow. Just as with the discussions about wineries, the present is often conflated with the future. There are presently 3.3 mil tourists coming into the county each year who feel overwhelmingly they like things the way they are. In this regard Sup. Pedroza asked the right question of Mr. Gregory:
"The way tourism grew in our valley was remarkable, but at a certain point our lens should be, how do we live within the means of what we have. More rooms than this will not survive because of traffic and lack of access...That's information we need to know as we grow. How do we know we are within our capacity."
A question that has been asked before in respect to wineries as well - what is the tourism carrying capacity of the county? We will see if Sup. Pedroza's question finds an answer in Mr. Gregorys' presentation two years hence.
The concept of putting gates at the entrances to neighborhoods in Venice to limit the number of tourists is a lamentable proposal. "'It's the last step to becoming Disneyland,' sighs one of the city's urban planners."
Perhaps one of the most memorable of the hundreds of bullet points from the Napa Strategic Plan meetings is this from the Wine Growers: "Fee for Silverado Trail (aka 7 mile drive)". It might be considered tongue-in-cheek were it not highlighted as one of their principal proposals. As Supervisor Pedroza at one BOS hearing dismissed the annoyances of the tourism economy that we are all having to deal with: "This is not Disneyland; I think it's just agriculture in the 21st century." Update 8/28/18Dan Mufson sends along a link to this 2-part article in Der Spiegel on the worldwide pushback on the undesirable impacts of tourism on local communities:
Der Spiegel 8/21/18: How Tourists Are Destroying the Places They Love
"Here's an important article that describes the state of tourism today and it's negative effect on locals. We heard the same message from Professor Mendlinger at our Forum on the Costs of Tourism in April, 2016. George said then that tourism creates private profits along with socialized costs. Others now state this: 'Tourism is a phenomenon that creates many private profits but also many socialized losses,' says Christian Laesser, a tourism professor at the University of St. Gallen.
When will our elected officials acknowledge this?"
As I have mentioned before, our travels are no longer as naive as they use to be. We now see every place visited through the lens of the impact of tourism on our own appreciation of Napa. And on the environment. We are headed to Porto for a conference in October, so the Der Spiegel article is timely - and concerning.
The solution proposed by a tourism conference in Berlin? Spread it out. Rather than being overwhelmed by tourists at peak periods, have constant tourists at every location at all times. This is a tourism industry solution to the very real impacts that tourism is having on residential communities all over the world. And, in fact, it is the solution that Napa County takes with Visit Napa Valley. When I asked Mark Luce why the county spends millions of dollars on Visit Napa Valley each year to attract more tourists, he said that it's not about attracting more, but in spreading out the tourism by promoting visitation in off-months and off-hours. What it really does is to promote filling up the level of tourism at all times to match the overwhelming tourism at peak periods. And, of course, to increase the tourism urbanization that threatens the rural small town quality of life in the county, impacts not so different to those being felt, and fought, around the world.
The international uprising of locals against the unwanted impacts of tourism has been building for some time, as chronicled in this 2015 article in the NY Times.
It is interesting to look at the ratio of yearly tourists to residents to ask if there is some breaking point at which rebellion occurs. Venice is the extreme example: 20 mil tourists/yr and 265,000 residents (including suburbs) or 75 tourists/resident/yr. (Just
look at this graph to see what the "success" of post-war tourism has done - and can still do - to a resident population, a goal that the tourism industry might prefer.)
Compare this to the other cities mentioned in the articles that have been experiencing tourism backlash:
Venice 75 tourists/resident
Charleston: 38.4 tourists/resident
New Orleans: 27 tourists/resident
Amsterdam: 21 tourists/resident
Ankor Wat 9.1 tourists/resident
Barcelona: 4.4 tourists/resident
Berlin: 2.6 tourists/resident
Copenhagen: 1.5 tourists/resident
Buthan: 0.3 tourists/resident (a ratio that any place wishing to maintain its quality-of-life should strive for)
Our local stats:
Napa 27 tourists/resident (2018)
Sonoma 14 tourists/resident
While it seems there is no universal magic trigger point at which resident anger over the threat to the character of their communities becomes actionable, clearly Napa residents, having moved firmly into the double-digit tourist-to-resident category, have begun to realize that a crisis is at hand.
As valid these generic factors are, it is difficult to throw the Napa Valley into that mix. This is the queen of wine quality in the nation after all and ought to be immune to them.
Featured in a last February Press Democrat article, Paul Mabray of Napa-based Emetry Consultants believes that our wine industry does not understand its customer, neither do most of its members have the resources (like E&J Gallo and Treasury) to adjust to the new marketing digital age. According to Mr. Mabray, both Napa and Sonoma counties still view tasting rooms the best way to draw customers. But direct-to-consumer sales now make up 61 percent of an average family winery's revenue according to a January survey by Silicon Valley Bank (p.21 here). The problem is that this number has been steadily declining over the past five years in Napa and Sonoma counties compared with other regions.
A five-year decline is proof that the model has outlived its sustainable limits. Established basic economic policy would be to limit the supply. Instead our planning officials do exactly the opposite. One more would be to make access to tasting rooms easier and more pleasant rather than more exasperating as our planners’ policies have been doing while on myopic autopilot.
While Mr. Mabrey sees solutions in adjusting to a digital age of marketing - "if you don’t fly to Detroit to buy a Ford, why would you fly in to buy a few bottles of wine?" - he is not recognizing the proliferation of wineries and tasting rooms as undermining the second strongest statistical reason why visitors come here: the valley’s natural beauty, the one which inspired wine critic Robert Parker to pronounce the Napa Valley the most beautiful wine region to visit in the world. But this was a few decades ago.
Since then, while overall visitor numbers have not declined, the steady undermining of the overall Napa Valley experience, tasting room visits and direct-to-consumer sales have.
The long-term damage to the Napa Valley has been the long-term refusal of the local government to acknowledge the negative impacts and put the brake to the increasing number of new wineries, their production and visitations just for the asking even when they have flaunted existing laws. Planning officials dress up this practice as a policy “to bring their violations into compliance” all the while assuring the public that in doing so, the impacts are less than significant.
But the piling up of less than significant impacts is finally hitting home, not the least being the spending one full hour driving from Napa to Calistoga at most times of the day and more than two to two-and-one-half from the San Francisco airport. In this fast-moving world - especially for analytically minded Millennials - why would they subject themselves to this ordeal for a few bottles of wine when they can buy them on the internet at a substantial discount and have shipped free to their home?
Many of us have been sounding the Golden Goose alarm but our government officials have been ignoring it as a too-often-invoked slogan and continue to pursue their policy of unfettered growth and unsustainable competition while degrading the environment and the overall Napa Valley experience.
Our farmers, our wine industry and government officials must finally recognize the existential threat unfolding right before our eyes and adjust to a model which safeguards the overall resource. The health and quality of this resource - not wineries at all cost - are the Golden Goose. New ideas sacrifices and restraint while still an option are preferable to digging deeper into the permanent hole of an irreversible negative image and economy.
We went to Las Vegas this past weekend to see a friend get an award. Some may enjoy it, but 44 hours in the trashy canyons of unfettered American capitalism and consumption was way too much for us.
On our return, a link was waiting in my inbox to a Fortune Magazine article about the economic direction that Napa is taking: The Wine Country Tasting Room Is Dead. But Long Live Wine Country. Wine Country is no longer about wine but about tourism entertainment. I couldn't help feeling that Las Vegas had something to tell us about the meaning of that movement from an economy based on a product to one based on tourism.
An article in Business Insider in 2013 dissected the arc of the Las Vegas economy. In 1990, tourism accounted for 40% of Las Vegas's revenue and gaming 60%. It was a gaming economy. By 2012 tourism had become 65% of the economy. .
In the 1980's tourism was seen as a means to make the product economically viable, Visitors were encouraged to come to the casinos with an offer of cheap hotel rooms and food. The object now, represented in the mega-hotels that continue to be built, is to pack as many beds and restaurants and shops and entertainment venues as possible into a consumption-rich environment. Losing money on the slots or tables may still be a draw for some, but Las Vegas now makes most of its money like any other tourist trap - rooms, food, amusements and trinkets.
Napa is currently Las Vegas in the 80's. The "direct-to-consumer" dogma often touted in support of new event center projects pretends that bringing tourists into Napa County is about the survival of the wine industry in a post 3-tier world. In reality the encouragement of Napa winery visitation is about the long term potential for hotel, food and entertainment revenue and, of course, associated transient taxes. County governments now spend millions on Visit Napa Valley promoting hotel stays and the tourism industry, and yet they spend nothing promoting wine sales outside the county to support the actual wine industry.
One only has to look at the quantity of hotel rooms in the development pipeline to realize that at some point in the not too distant future the amount of money taken from hotel stays and TOT will eclipse the amount of money to be made from trying to sell wine. And once the economy is firmly tourism-based, the need to maintain an agricultural environment (and the disinterest in highway construction that has been seen as an agricultural protection) will dissipate. Like Las Vegas, the object will be to pack as many hotel rooms as possible into the tourist destination fiction of "Wine Country" and build the infrastructure needed to keep the visitors coming.
"Agriculture in the 21st Century", in the words of one growth-minded supervisor, may end up looking a lot like Las Vegas.
"It would have been hard to imagine Robert Mondavi wineries dotted around the globe, but it would not be surprising to see Prisoner "wineries" pop up in places like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, London and Tokyo. With this change you certainly have an "evolution."
There are many things to like about this new winery (high quality, decent pricing, support of small growers), but there are things that are also of concern (a blurring of the lines between restaurants and wineries, the use of imprisonment as a form of entertainment and the erasing of a prior iconic wine brand without any sense of gratitude or remembrance). However the bigger concern might be that the loss of a sense of place will harm other local businesses, especially if other wineries widely adopt such strategies."
Mr. Carl's take on this theme-park winery, a wine version of the Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood, has succinctly highlighted the distorting effect of the corporate/plutocrat quest for mass-market tourism and branding that is steadily turning an authentic place with an enviable history into something else entirely.
"Rising out of vineyards, the five-story-tall d'Arenberg Cube looks like a glass Rubic cube in mid-move. Visitors can see a 360-degree video room, take in art in the Alternate Realities Museum, sniff flowers and fruit in sensory rooms, taste wine and eat in a restaurant. The center contains no wine production."
Update 10/12/18It turns out that I have not been the only person obsessed with the GHG costs of developing a remote project like Mountain Peak. Over the last year the State of California has begun to link its ambitious goals of reducing vehicle GHG production to the process by which projects are evaluated under the State's CEQA guidelines. Rejecting the Level of Service (LOS) methods of evaluating the vehicle impacts of new development (used to evaluate the Mountain Peak project resulting in the negative declaration), new state guidelines now will require the analysis of vehicle miles travelled (VMT) as a measure of environmental impact. The method of doing so is outlined in this Advisory from the State's Office of Planning and Research (OPR):
I can't pretend to understand completely the full significance of the technical advisory, and it is unknown how the County will eventually apply these guidelines in their review process, but much of what I can understand seems to support my own naive effort with the Commissioners in 2016 to quantify the energy impacts (GHG's) of the Mountain Peak project.
"As I pointed out in my previous letter, the amount of energy to be saved in the building through LEED compliance might be compared to the energy spent on the 44,000 trips up and down the 6 mile road each year, 260,000 miles, 10 trips around the earth each year just to get to the project from the Trail. Remoteness is at the heart of this inappropriately ambitious project and of the very large amount of energy consumed in accessing it. "
The real story here is not that another event center will be adding its traffic to the county's road congestion, even in the remote areas of the county, and that its patrons will be adding to the tourists stealing the towns and rural areas from their residents. The real news is that Comm. Hansen voted to turn down her first event center. What's going on here? Of course Comm. Gallagher also voting out of form, approved the project on the basis of a modest reduction reduction in capacity. But the fact that one of the most reliable pro-development commissioners has turned down a project, even after the pro forma concessions from the developer, hopefully says that some attitudes may be changing regarding the value of tourism development in the remote areas of the county.
Update 8/28/19 After its near denial at the Aug 1, 2018 Planning Commission hearing, the Maxville Lake Winery is up again on Sep 5th. (Agenda and documents are here) Tours and tastings remain the same as proposed in the rejected scheme, but events have been reduced from 6210/yr to 3900/yr. In total 20500 visitors will be adding their traffic to the remote Chiles-Pope Valley Road each year rather than the 23110 previously proposed. Does that make it acceptable this time around?
It will be followed by the Aloft Winery, at a remote-dead-end-road location. With a more modest 5260 visitors/yr, and a provenance of renown, it will be an easier approval. But as the Maxwell Winery shows, the initial building of a winery is just phase one in bringing additional tourism urbanization and traffic to the remote corners of the county. 8/1/18On Aug 1st, 2018 the County Planning Commission decided not to approve a use permit major modification request for the Maxville Lake Winery on the remote Chiles Valley Road. In a subsequent motion the project was continued until Sep. 5th. The request would add 175,000 gal of winery capacity per year bringing the total to 240,000gal/yr and 11,590 additional visitation slots per year bringing the total to 23,110 visitors/yr. The project was somewhat unique in that a very large winery building was approved in 1998 to handle a medium sized production capacity and visitation. The current owners now want a capacity and visitation commensurate with the size of the building. The project was initially denied on the basis of its remoteness for the production and visitation requested.
After presentation and discussion, Comm. Scott made the motion to approve. The vote was 3-2 against approving the project. Comm. Whitmer joined Comm Scott in voting to approve, which was a bit of a surprise because of his previous concern over the constraints of remote locations.
Comm. Cottrell, consistent with votes since Mountain Peak, could not approve the project because of the amount of visitation and production in such a remote location. Likewise Comm. Gallagher who has also been consistent in looking hard at wineries as tourism venues.
The real surprise was Comm. Hansen. She is a reliably pro-development vote on the Commission (as in the remote Dry Creek-Mt Veeder Winery) so her opposition to the project stands out. And, in recollecting her vote to approve Mountain Peak, it is worth quoting her comments on Manville Lake:
"Where I am struggling is the number and intensity of marketing events on this site in a remote location... In this particular case all the winery comparisons are on the valley floor... they're not 6 miles up in the hills from St. Helena in a remote location...We've had a lot of conversation about intensity of use and appropriateness of location and treating every location independently and customizing it to that space... What we've been hearing is that there is need for tasting and events because there isn't distribution... face-to-face consumer interactions that are very necessary to a business that doesn't have that distribution channel. Here I feel like they're getting both ... and that's a lot to send 6 miles up to the east..."
The Mountain Peak parallel"6 miles up in the hills... in a remote location" just struck a chord, I'm afraid. The proposed Mountain Peak winery next door to us, which Comm Hansen approved in 2017, is 6 miles up a dead end road, one that is more convoluted and in much worse condition than Chiles Pope Valley Road.
In Maxville Lake, Comm. Hansen made a clear distinction in her thinking between tours and tastings at 46 visitors/ every day (which she was OK with) and events either 30 visitors/day twice a week or 95 visitors twice a month (which she didn't like). I didn't quite get the distinction. 25-75 people arriving every day seemed to me as impactful, if not more so, than the less frequent events.
The visitation numbers of both wineries are similar at 275 vs 325 per week. Mountain Peak's event numbers, which initially were similar but were reduced during the hearings, may be the reason Comm. Hansen felt she was not being inconsistent in opposing this remote winery while supporting Mountain Peak. It was hard for me to see the decision in that light, I'm afraid.
Regarding distribution and the need for winery consumer sales: it is worth mentioning that it is possible to find less impactful ways of marketing than inducing tourism to the remote corners of the country. Mountain Peak's owner, realizing that building a winery would not be a quick process, opened a tasting room across the street from the Archer Hotel (opened 2 days after Comm Hansen approved the project) and has contracted with distributers to sell their wine in California Nevada and Arizona. For those vintners that are in the business of wine making rather than wine entertainment, at-winery marketing is not the end all even for new wineries.
The remote winery questionMaxville Lake was not the only winery taken up by the Planning Commission on Aug 1st. The Castlevale Winery, with crenelations and turrets, was unveiled up the road from Maxville. Given its modest visitation and productions numbers, and its royal provenance (a Martini scion), it was approved without issue. It will, of course add a bit more tourist traffic to the remote byways of the county.
Considered along with the continuance of Maxville at the Planning Commission next month will be the Aloft Winery, another "6-miles-up-a-remote-dead-end-road" winery, with a modest visitation proposed by another scion (Mondavi). The modest visitation now seems to be a selling point in getting new wineries approved. As we have seen in the many major mods coming up before the commission, and as presented in Maxville, a future visitation upgrade after the project is in place is perhaps becoming a more palatable route to tourism intensification. And tourism intensification now seems to be the goal of most winery development in the county.
The question these remote wineries pose is whether it is justified, in an age in which GHG generation and vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) are becoming the metrics of ethical development, to promote a tourism model that involves transporting ever greater quantities of tourists and tourism employees to the remote corners of the county. In a recent study, tourism now accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. The extra tons per year generated by tens of thousands of 6 mile trips to wineries in Napa county will probably not move that percentage very much, but the fight against global warming is being fought at the micro level throughout the world and Napa should be doing its bit. Electric charging stations and bicycle racks in these remote locations may win an approval or a LEED certification, but are really just palliatives considering the GHG's created by vehicles traveling that extra 6 miles.
The 2010 WDO update (which allowed increased food service at wineries) has an appendix that counters the obvious inducement to tourism that the allowance provides with a warning to consider remoteness in winery approvals. The Napa County General Plan extolls urban-centered growth. The LEED certification process gives significant points for the same goal. The evaluation of GHG's generated by projects CEQA analysis is becoming an ever more important part of the process. The county is about to take up its won Climate Action Plan. It is time for the County to give more serious consideration to winery development on the basis of remoteness to discourage transportation dependent tourism.
(Technical Note: Using the total averages from the 74 wineries on my remote wineries list we get 74 wineries x 28 ave trips/day x 4.5 ave miles from hwy x 365 days per year = 3,403,260 miles x .00042 MTCO2/mile = 1429 MTCO2/yr created to access these remote wineries starting at major highways.)
The use permit modification was approved 5-0 by the planning commission.
A last minute letter from Caltrans, adding a myriad of (very expensive sounding) conditions because of the project's potential traffic impacts right at the intersection of State Rtes 29 and 128, caused uncertainty about the final Conditions of Approval which were left - uncertain.
No one seemed too bothered by an additional 45,000 visitors a year, feeling that this was the right place for visitors to the Napa Valley, while still complaining about the amount of traffic on Hwy 29.
Eve Kahn brought up a good point in public comments: 45,000 more visitors/yr with new meal service at tours, tastings and events and yet no more employees? We already have enough employees said the owner's rep. Are they just standing around waiting for the new marketing plan to be realized? Maybe they're planning a shift from wine making to meal service?
The winery-vs-restaurant issue arose from the dead in both the commissioner discussion of this project and in their general comments at the end of meeting. Comm. Cottrell wanted staff to help the commission understand what the difference was between a food service at a winery (to 550 visitors a day and thousands at events throughout the year, for example) and meal service at a restaurant. Does it just come down to a choice of menu items. Is the French Laundry or Chez Panisse not a restaurant then? asked Eve Kahn. Comm Gallagher said that she had visited a winery with a $75 wine pairing lunch that from her standpoint was no different than a restaurant. Comm. Scott brought up the necessity of food being provided at cost . A $75 lunch was at cost? How do you regulate what is at cost? Comm. Whitmer, as a newby (perhaps still struggling with the obfuscating jargon of the WDO), also wanted to find out from staff what was the difference between a winery serving food and a restaurant serving food.
It is encouraging that the commission is willing to take up the food-service-at-wineries issue again, even if it is 4 years after Comm. Phillips hesitantly broached the issue and after it was diagnosed as a critical change of use made in the 2010 WDO (see here and here) and brought up frequently in APAC discussions and in arguments over the definition of agriculture (see here and here). Over 800,000 new visitor slots have been approved at wineries in those 4 years, based in large part on the increased profits to be made by a sit-down dining experience at the winery.
All of these discussions about the conversion of wineries into de-facto restaurants has so far been ignored by the industry and the government, to the extent that Beaulieu can now ask for and receive a modification that will allow them to serve hundreds of very expensive meals each day, and not be considered a restaurant. After 30 years Terra restaurant closed in St. Helena, not for lack of business but for lack of workers. I suspect their previous employees are all now working in wineries.
With this discussion I can't help thinking that had Dir. Morrison been in the planning manager's chair, he would have asked the commission if they wanted him to agendize a report on food service allowed at wineries and there might have been future discussion. Dep. Dir. Smith didn't make such an offer, and this brief blast from the past will probably simply return there.
The Beaulieu Winery is up for a use permit modification before the Planning Commission on June 6th, 2018. 100 more tasting visitors/day with meals and a tripling of event visitation most meal-centric, 49 more parking spaces. It's a complicated request that not only adds quantities of visitation and parking, but tears down somewhat historic buildings on the site and repurposes the more historic parts. It also involves increasing water consumption by 36,000 gal/day (with no increase in wine production).
More tourism with no increase in production, and the use of wineries as de facto restaurants is a trend happening more and more often in use permit requests. It is a clear indication that the wine industry is no longer about making wine; it's about corporate ownership, branding, marketing, and profit to be made from entertainment experiences. It is a change in the industry that has turned the residents of the county, long supportive of the wine industry for the environment it has preserved, into an adversary as the impacts of a tourism economy begin to degrade the quality of life and the environment that an agricultural economy created.
As one of the county's founding wineries, Beaulieu already has an enormous amount of visitation, 450 people a day - no appointments necessary. Not enough, obviously, from Treasury's standpoint. (Beaulieu is a "brand" owned by the Treasury Wine Estates Corporation which includes Beringer, Etude, Stag's Leap and Stirling in its Napa portfolio.) Another 100 people per day are requested. Plus an increase in event visitation from 3500 to 12800 guests/year. The PBES attitude:
"Although the requested maximum visitation exceeds the average and median of similar production capacity pre-WDO wineries, potential environmental impacts were found to be less significant." As usual.
Its 1.8 million gallons of wine each year are sold at retail outlets throughout the world. Making the case that it needs the tourists to survive, as every "family" winery now does at planning commission hearings, would be a bit disingenuous. It's really about developing another, more profitable business on the property than merely making wine. As each new request throughout the county shows, tourism has become the highest and best use of the land.
Update 5/25/18Dry Creek-Mt Veeder Winery Appeal
On June 12th 2018 the Board of Supervisors will hear an appeal of the use-permit rejection by the Planning Commission on Apr 19th, 2018 for a proposed 30,000 g/y winery at the intersection of Dry Creek and Mt. Veeder Roads. Hearing Notice
One of only 3 use permits (out of 137) rejected by the planning commission since 2010, this proposed winery was squeezed onto a tight site with no vines and no established sourcing, requiring setback variances, off site disposal of cave spoils, bringing tourists and grape deliveries 3.8 miles up the Oakville grade from Hwy 29 to a remote area of the watershed.
It was an appropriate decision, an indication that industrial and commercial activities in the watersheds must now face increased scrutiny. It was a decision that the Supervisors should support by denying the appeal.
TODAY, of all days, with only 3 days until Earth Day, the Napa County Planning Commission turned, sorry, TURNED DOWN a WINERY PROPOSAL. (hearing video here)
A winery was proposed just down the road from my home on Mount Veeder, that had no grapes on the parcel, located on the corner of Mt Veeder Road and Dry Creek Road. Yet had 17,000 sq ft of caves, 30,000 gal capacity and a small home for the winemaker. squeezed into the only flat space of a 50 acre mountainous parcel
I opposed it as a neighbor and the President of the Mt Veeder Stewardship Council and produced the letters here and here to remind the PC of what was at stake....It is a residential neighborhood in the mountains with few homes visible from the road.... we like it that way, we moved up here just for that seclusion, but the owner had other ideas for, what I felt, was a spec winery.
It was not a huge fight, but rather a discussion of a shoehorn into the mountains of a winery that could not meet the 300 ft setback requirement from Mt Veeder Road. Not to mention the proximity of Dry Creek, a major spawning stream for Steelhead Trout. Joelle Gallagher, Terry Scott and Ann Cotrelle voted it down based on the square peg in the round hole argument, the inappropriate nature of the proposal on a site that had no grapes.
The proposal just did not fit the site, and it was obvious. They were trying to sneak the Cave Spoils off site and pretend that the road traffic, bicyclists and Trucks (remember the 12 ton limit). so they voted it down stating that even if it came back in a revised version, that it would remain unacceptable.
So we had a victory of sorts. They may appeal to the BOS but I welcome that as a time to continue our arguments to retain our neighborhoods. Vineyards, yes. Vineyards with a Winery, Maybe. Winery without a vineyard, NO.
This winery was the 2nd (or 3rd) to be denied a use permit by the planning commission since 2010. Girard was denied on a 2-2 split that was later approved on appeal. Flynnville in 2013 was continued, but denied in all but name. (A greatly reduced Flynnville project was eventually approved.) Yountville Hiill, of course, came famously close to being denied.
In all, some 134 wineries have been approved since 2010, so each of the minuscule number of denials is worth scrutinizing. The event is so rare that the commissioners had to ask county council what happens if they deny - what are the next steps. (The denial can be appealed to the BOS. The applicant can re-apply from scratch after one year.)
The Commission split along predictable lines. Comms. Basayne and Hansen, the development wing, voted to continue. Comms. Cottrell and Gallagher, the preservationist wing, voted to deny. Comm. Scott, appointee of the Dodd-Pedroza development establishment, went rogue here (as he has before) siding with the preservationists.
I want to believe that the denial represents some sort of direction - the tipping point that Gary Margadant referred to in his post. Particularly following on the Caldwell deliberation which generated a discussion about land use planning as something other than an accommodation to developer's business models.
But this was a project easy to criticize. Jammed by topography next to 2 roads and a creek, needing variances, with a huge cave and no place for spoils, and no room or suitability for vines, and no commitment on grape sourcing, the project had little to recommend it to the commissioners. It was, perhaps, a poor precedent to hang a trend on.
And yet, after the Caldwell continuance, which came quite close to a denial, in two projects in a row, this planning commission has delivered on the scrutiny needed to slow the proliferation of winery projects that are commercializing and urbanizing Napa's landscape. Is it a tipping point, a turning tide? Let's hope.
Chuck Wagner, in his opinion piece against Measure C, is right to recognize that "opposing sides desire the same end goal. We all agree it's a priority to preserve our beauty and natural resources." He makes the point that overregulation of the wine industry in Napa County will eventually lead to its demise. I'm not sure that he is wrong.
We are, as he says, having the wrong conversation. He feels that conversation should be whether more regulation is bad or good for the wine industry. But the real question should be why the citizenry of the county feels that more regulation is continually necessary.
Mr. Wagner talks about the wine industry as if it's "grape growing and winemaking", "growers and vintners", "about farming and making wine". Where is the recognition that the wine industry is no longer about farming and wine making. It's now about entertainment and corporate profits and real estate deals. The wine industry now revolves around and will eventually be subservient to the tourism industry and the good-life housing industry. The difference between the wine industry and the citizenry is not about farming and wine making; it is that the wine industry has not regulated itself to avoid creating objectionable impacts on the lives of the citizenry.
Whatever the technical grounds for opposition, (unfortunately projects are forced to be fought over technical concerns rather than philosophical goals) the real issues are the intrusion of tourism into the residential sphere and the creation of vineyards as a trojan horse for real estate development and population growth.
Until the wine industry recognizes this and that the desire to regulate the industry comes not from concern about growing grapes and making wine but from the impacts of that urban development (just as growers recognized in pushing for the WDO in 1990), the conversation will continue to be the wrong one.
A flier arrived in the mail from Visit Napa Valley, the publicity arm of the Napa tourism industry. "Tourism isn't just for tourists" was the message, touting the jobs created and the TOT received. I assume it was sent to every address in the county.
I can also only assume that it was sent to counter the negative impacts that the residents of the county have begun to see and feel as the economy morphs from one based on agriculture to one based on tourism. Costs like traffic, unaffordable housing, loss of local serving businesses, the loss of a sense of community among municipal residents, the loss of rural character as agricultural neighborhoods become tourism venues, and the threat to limited water resources to serve ever-expanding tourism uses in an age of global warming (as in Bali).
Visit Napa Valley has been quite successful in increasing the visibility of Napa as a mass market destination. President Clay Gregory touts the increases each year - although he does downplay the increase in quantity of visitors in favor of the increase in money spent. Still, the TOT take is one of his (and the government's) principal metrics of success and I'm sure he is intent on increasing it as much as possible. The many hotels currently in the pipeline and coming online in the next few years should add mightily.
This flier comes on the same day as two other pieces of tourist news. The first is the major modification of the Beaulieu Vineyards use permit due to come up before the planning commission on June 6th. The request in the modification is for an increase in the visitation from 167,000 visitors/yr to 213,000 visitors/yr. and another 49 parking spaces to accommodate the increase. No increase in production capacity is requested.
As with many requests coming before the planning commission, it represents the shift of the wine industry into an entertainment industry, and the further conversion of an agricultural-based economy to a tourism-based one.
Beaulieu is, of course, one the handful of "original" wineries at the base of the wine industry in Napa, and I for one, would like to see all winery tourism activity concentrated at the major marquee wineries on that strip of Hwy 29, with a rural-urban line to separate wine tourism from wine production in the rest of the county.
Unfortunately such a tourism zone is not likely to happen. Every plutocrat now buying property in the remote corners of the county has dreams to build their brand into a Beaulieu Vineyards, in terms of visitation if not production. If BV can get 45,000 more vis/yr why not us?
And finally, a news article from Space Daily, a science blog reporting on an Australian Research finding on the CO2 cost of tourism dependent economies. (research abstract here.)
The county will soon be taking up the stalled County Climate Action Plan, which will presumably look at the CO2 costs of our increase in visitation and expansion of our vineyards at the local level. But the costs of a mass tourism economy go beyond that. "The multi-trillion dollar industry's carbon footprint is expanding rapidly, driven in large part by demand for energy-intensive air travel". ... to places like Napa.
This issue has already surfaced in a decision in a Sonoma court case. The cost to the planet of travel to get to a destination is now becoming as important as the cost to the planet once here. If this reality is not reflected in the County's Climate Action Plan it will be a dereliction of the county's responsibility to its residents - and to the world.
The Maxville Winery will be returning to the Planning Commission on Aug 1, 2018 for a major modification of their use permit to increase output from 65,000 gal/yr to the 240,000 gal/yr cited in the article.
Unfortunately not before leaving some potential damage to the nature of Soda Canyon Road. In all fairness, we can point to the sense of community that opposition to commercial exploitation of the road has fostered.
It appears that Napa is gearing up for true bulk tourism á la Castello di Amorosa and Bunny Foo Foo - with Chinese characteristics. This article makes the wine industry seem actually gleeful at the thought of the money to be made from Chinese masses, an attitude, I suppose, shared by western entrepreneurs since the Treaty of Nanking. (Opium the drug then being peddled). Are Dominus or Harlan really itching to open their gates to the multitudes? Are there any vintners left in the county more interested in making wine than selling wine-pairing experiences with Chinese food?
And what if the dreams are realized? The totality of Napa brand red wine produced each year will now supply 14 days of Chinese wine consumption - and Chinese wine consumption is growing rapidly. How will the Napa vintners keep their Chinese customers happy? The end of the 75% rule is definitely in sight.
Unfortunately, we on Soda Canyon Road seem to be on the front line of the invasion with a winery event center being developed in conjunction with Hong Kong wine tourism interests. Given the stars in the eyes of the good-life impresarios, and a board of supervisors increasingly becoming a hardened tool of development interests, the effort by residents to save Napa county from its rendezvous with a theme-park-tourist-trap destiny seems more quixotic than ever.
"Tourism is becoming the big driver in the local economy. The wine industry is [now] here to accommodate tourism; tourism doesn't create the winery business. You look at San Francisco, Fisherman's Wharf, you've got everything there but fishermen. The fishermen can't afford to dock there any more because the motels, the shopping...
"The more the rest of the Bay Area develops, the more pressure there will be to locate some development in Napa County, because it has that appeal and the open land. It has that attraction. When you have people touring, they like to have all the accommodations they had at home. They want to have all the different food facilities, they want to have all kinds of overnight accommodations available to them and there are always people happy to provide them. And that's urban development in the urban areas. If it stays in the urban areas, that's good but if it starts spreading into the unincorporated area, that could be the end of the Agricultural Preserve. The Preserve exists by three votes and 30 days. That's three supervisors voting yes on any change and 30 days for the ordinance to become effective. And you don't have to take elimination the Ag Preserve head-on. You can just undermine it by changing the definition of what a winery is, or reducing the standards." (page 146 here)
He is extolled in his Register obituary as a "celebrated county and regional planner" as he should be. But he was, in fact, pushed out of the position of Planning Director in 1990 over the winery definition ordinance, a victim in the battle between his own preservation and conservation efforts and a wine industry then, as now, looking to increase profits through the tourist trade and with a Board of Supervisors then, as perhaps now, split 3 to 2 between developers and preservationists. In his words:
"The question that had to be answered was, 'What's a winery?' It had to be defined, and it had to be defined in a fashion that made it clear that what was happening there wasn't an oversight but it was by design. And so, I raised the question in a series of discussions and reports to the Planning Commission, 'What is a winery?'
It was not popular with the wine industry, because they felt that they had the opportunity to decide what was going to be done at their wineries, particularly some of the bigger ones. And so it became very, very contentious and the board who had authorized the release of the reports that I had prepared, found themselves cought in a crossfire. And, to resolve the problem, they said to the industry, 'Why don't you write a definition and give it to us, and we'll take a look at it and we'll see if we like it?' and I said, 'Well that's one way to answer the question.' So the industry did a very good job. They wrote a definition and Board of Supervisors adopted it and it was fine. And shortly thereafter, it was suggested that I retire. I was removed as the Planning Director and appointed the Executive Director of Special Projects, and I was moved to an office up on the third floor of the County building.... It was kind of lonely up there because I was the only one in the office."
On Dec 20th, the County Planning Commission approved the visitation expansion of the B Cellars winery on Oakville Road. No change in wine output, just 79% more tourists and 87% more traffic, and 6 more employees in need of affordable housing. 3 similar requests for visitation-only increases were approved in 2017, and 2 more are on the calendar for the first commission hearing on January 17th. Is it a trend? As I have mentioned before, producing vineyard acreage has barely budged in the last decade, but winery tourism requests have increased by at least 2.4 million visitors slots. (Side note: average visitation slot requests each year more than doubled after 2010 changes to the WDO allowing food to be served at tastings.)
There is an argument to be made that the transition from a wine producing economy to a tourism economy is the easiest direction for "growth" in Napa county. The amount of plantable acres of vines has become limited by a variety of constraints. The number of tourism venues that can be built is only limited by the number of wealthy individuals seeking a winery-of-their-own and the willingness of politicians in need of campaign contributions to allow their construction.
One difficulty is that such tourism development was never really considered in the impacts presented in the EIR for the 2008 County General Plan. And tourism has impacts: an increased daily population, increased burden on the utility infrastructure, increased work force needing housing and services, increased traffic, increased need for lodging, dining, and shopping venues for the transient population. And there's the loss of community character as towns and rural neighborhoods go from resident-centric to tourist-centric: the loss of small town life as density increases; the loss of the rural landscape as more wine-tourism venues occupy once-unobstructed vineyards and wooded hillsides.
James Hickey, the Napa County Planning Director at the heart of the General Plan that grew out of the Ag Preserve ordinance, has just died. I met him only once, at Volker Eisele's memorial. The two together had much to do with the preservation of a rural economy in Napa County for the last 50 years, and their skills, unfortunately, have never been more needed than they are now. A new era of urban development is under way in the county and the clear foresight and political skill that they brought to the table are sorely missed. Housing development was their bogeyman. And they managed to thwart it better than every other community in the bay area. Tourism is now the prime urban development threat in the county (along with south-county industrial development). Tourism development, of course, ramps up the demand for more housing development, and every other kind of urban expansion. Yet in an era of developer's dominance in governmental affairs, local to national, it is difficult to make the case that maintaining a rural-small town place in an urban world is a worthwhile endeavor.
Many of the stories making the news this year have revolved around the pushback of residents to increasing urban development in the county. Our own battle over the Mountain Peak winery, and the commercialization of the remote rural parts of the county, began at the first Planning Commission meeting of 2017. The Woodland Initiative petition garnered 6000 plus signatures for the second time. Some see it as anti-wine-industry. I see it as preserving the natural landscape from vineyard estate development. The helicopter initiative, spawned by the visceral reaction to the Palmaz proposal and the prospect of helicopters flying to all those vineyard estates, is headed for the ballot. Unfortunately the Raymond Winery decision represented the clearest transfer from agriculture to tourism urbanization. And concern was continually voiced over the pace of hotel development and its impact on the character of small town life in the City of Napa. The Napa Oaks project was one of the few actual victories, probably only temporary, for those lamenting the loss of Napa's natural landscape.
In 2015 the Board of Supervisors recognized the concern of residents about the proliferation of tourism development and they created APAC. But the process seemed to harden the resolve of the "wine industry" in their push to seek more profits from tourism than from wine. The recommendations to curtail winery proliferation were at first watered down by the committee and then ignored altogether by the Board. Recommendations to rectify abuse of use permits have been placed on a slow track process to legalize all abuses. The concerns about tourism urbanization were un-addressed.
Back to B Cellars: Several tour operators spoke in favor of the project - It was just the kind of high quality wine pairing experience they want to bring their customers to. (My previous rant about the food-centricity of B Cellars is here.) One person, a neighbor, spoke about the undesirable impacts that a tourism facility has on the quiet enjoyment of their property. Ironically it was Paul Woolls, whose own Woolls Ranch project has threatened to destroy the quiet enjoyment of the property owners on Mt. Veeder Road since it was proposed in 2011.
Human nature, not hypocrisy, may be the best expression for the behavior of many in the "wine industry" who turn a blind eye to the rising impacts of tourism until it's the peaceful enjoyment of their own properties that is being invaded. Such was the case on Yountville Hill, on Raymond, on Girard, on Flynnville, on Melka and on B Cellars. My guess is that most vintners want to live and make their living in a beautiful slow-paced rural place. Yet their concern fades when it's someone else's backyard that is being despoiled. Without the support of the wine industry, any effort to curb the urbanization of Napa County will be impossible to achieve. Pretending that winery event-centers are "agriculture" isn't good enough. Unfortunately, beginning with two projects at the Planning Commission that are only about tourism expansion, and under a Board of Supervisors that seems determined to approve any construction project that comes before them, this year does not bode well for our rural character.
I have tried not to get worked up about this puff piece in support of the head of the Napa tourism industry's lobbying organization, Visit Napa Valley. It is a yeoman effort at boosting tourism after the fire by a credible author, who, as someone uninterested in drinking wine, at a time when the landscape is a mess, encourages tourism just to appreciate the hand-craft nuts-and-bolts involved in winemaking. It is an extension of the dubious "educational" mission of winery visitation, enshrined in the WDO, that allows wineries to become very profitable restaurants and party venues in all respects but their code definition, and legitimizes a proliferation of wineries and inducement of visitation despite little actual increase in wine production.
As Clay Gregory is probably happy to tell you, the percentage of revenues from tourism vs wine is increasing each year. It will not be long before tourism (an inherently more profitable enterprise than wine making) will be the dominant economic engine with wine production less and less important as an actual industry. Boutique, hand-crafted wines will still be necessary to give a reason for the tourism trade, but the production of Napa wine will come under increasing stress as land is developed to return higher profits than wine making alone can sustain.
The problem is not that Napa will become a tourism economy rather than a wine making economy. It is what a tourism economy does to a place. If successful, it will become, as Las Vegas has become, an urban tourist trap, filled with high rise hotels and glitzy event centers instead of casinos. And more and more entrepreneurs will continue to arrive to try to cash into the success. Napa may not look like Las Vegas in my lifetime. But the trajectory is already upon us, in the many hotel projects in the works and the monthly stream of new winery venues and winery visitation expansion being approved.
3 days prior to the Mountain Peak appeal hearing before the Board of Supervisors, Chuck Wagner, of Caymus Vineyards, sent this letter to the Board offering his encouragement to deny the appeals. Considering the very slim chance that the appeals would be upheld it was probably an unnecessary gesture, but it represented a chance to perpetuate yet again (see here) a canard that has become widespread among development interests: that a small vocal group of residents was out to kill the wine industry.
As was stated in this response to Rex Stults' similar statement, nothing could be further from the truth. And the truth needs to be reiterated here: residents that oppose these projects are not against the "wine" industry; they are against the non-agricultural urban development that the wine industry is adopting to increase profits from the much more lucrative tourism and real estate industries. The development of wineries as tourism venues and of vineyards as part of housing estates have major impacts on residents and on the county infrastructure way beyond the practice of crop raising and processing.
If tourism and estate development is claimed necessary to the survival of the wine industry we need to see the facts to back up that claim. Many vintners, some of the best in fact, seem to survive in the high end wine business with little or no visitation at all. What percentage of total Napa winery revenues are attributable to at-winery sales, and is that percentage worth the impacts of urbanization, diminished quality of life and high costs resulting from tourism and real estate speculation that the Ag Preserve, Measure J and the WDO were originally intended to counter.
There are many people in the county who are concerned about the changing nature of the wine industry, and the impact of that change on the rural character of the county and the quality of their lives, and that have no interest in "taking down the wine industry". They recognize that the wine industry, built by resident vintners and growers that valued not only the success of their industry but the preservation of their rural communities, has always had the respect of the other rural residents that benefit from the maintenance of a rural environment and small town life that was its product.
But the industry, as the industry itself constantly mentions, is changing. And the nature of that change is toxic to residents who treasure the bucholic pleasure of an agricultural economy. It is difficult to know whether the wine industry is becoming, or is just acting as a cover for, the tourism, entertainment, real estate and consturction interests that are beginning to engulf us all with development. Traffic is only a symptom of a development boom that is filling the vineyards with buildings and parking lots, and clearcutting hillsides for estates, resorts and more vineyards to replace those paved over on the valley floor, and for the tourism conversion of the municipalities that eliminates affordable housing, local businesses and decimates the sense of small-town community life. And for the mining of parklands to build it all.
In a previous generation the wine industry fought the urbanizing trajectory that those industries represent. Urbanization is the death of agriculture. One is left to wonder why now, after 40 some years of the wine industry being the defender of a rural environment, it is now up to the residents, against all odds including the bullying of the wine industry, to try to save the rural environment which an agricultural economy needs to exist.
A couple of years ago, the Napa Valley Vintners launched a PR campaign dubbed Our Napa Valley, casting the urban impacts as solvable with more transport infrastructure and more housing, i.e. more development. Until the wine industry returns to the notion that curbing development is in its own best long-term interest, as well as the interest of all citizens concerned about preserving the rural character of this place, resident anger against the industry and the government that continues to do its bidding will only increase.
This article is one of the most forthright explanations of the "wine industry" in Napa, an industry no longer driven by the production of wine but by the production of visitor experiences.
Rob McMillan hits on an essential point. "What we have planted right now in Napa is effectively what we're going to have." Since 2006 the number of Napa acres in grapes has leveled out - no doubt with new vineyards in the hills offset by covering valley vineyards with wineries and parking lots. (view the crop reports here).
Most of the limited supply of Napa wine will continue to be sold by major winery distribution throughout the world, because that's probably where the real money is for Napa's real wine industry. The minor percentage left is being divided into ever smaller pieces by the ever increasing number of brands too niche-market for wholesale distribution, targeted specifically at the direct-to-consumer tourist and wine club trade. It is this fraction of the industry that has become the preoccupation of residents, county government and the industry alike. The building projects and the influx of customers for such retail commerce have impacts on everyone in the county.
Even given the limits on grape production, the number of new wineries and winery expansions being approved is greater than ever before. Since 2006 the county has approved some 175 new or expanded winery permits (from this county report), most of which have not yet been built. There are currently about 50 new or expanded winery requests in the planning department (my own chart here). The Planning Commission is beginning to hold 3 sessions per month to deal with the logjam of applications. Together these new production facilities will increase county wine-making capacity by 6 mil gallons but Napa wine output by nothing. They must use grape sources that are already being used elsewhere to make Napa wine, with no net impact on the Napa brand "wine industry". (Actually there is an impact: niche vintners outbidding everyone to fill their new tanks are raising grape prices and undercutting the competitiveness of Napa's wines on the world market.)
Thus the necessary redefinition of "wine industry", based on wine tourism rather than wine making (actually made in 2008 changes to the County General Plan) . Most of the applications since 2006 have been predicated on the 2.4 million added visitor slots (from the county report) which developers are depending on for their business models to succeed. The object is to increase the amount of money that can be made per bottle on an ever dwindling amount of wine to be sold.
Rob McMillan pointed out in a 2014 presentation that visitors are willing to spend more sitting down than standing up. This latest NVR article mentions wineries that are cutting back on wine production while increasing more pampered visitor experiences, or cutting back on visitation to increase the quality of the experience. In 2010 revisions to the winery definition ordinance, "tours and tastings", the bulk of winery visitation, were for the first time allowed to include food service (more here). Since then wineries have moved toward more intimate seated tastings with expensive wine pairings, turning wineries into defacto restaurants to supplement the parties previously allowed as "marketing events".
But one can imagine, even without another recession, a leveling off of tourism as well. Short of more freeways, anathema to all concerned about urban sprawl, the pain of getting here both for tourists and workers is beginning to take a toll. And the touristic nature of experiences here is already becoming a turnoff to aficionados looking for authenticity. The competition for the tourist trade as well as for grapes, as the new wineries and expansions come online, will be ferocious. It will be interesting to see how well the new wineries will fare against the well funded corporate players as grape and visitor scarcity increases. For those that can't sell out to the corporations (who may already have their own bundle of niche wineries), the pressure will only increase to allow brew pubs, b and b's, weddings, yoga retreats, resorts, amusement parks, casinos, anything to prop up the existence of buildings and jobs and business models that never should have been created. At worst (or maybe best) we will end up with another generation ghost wineries.
Unfortunately the NVR article is strictly about the wine industry conversion to a tourism industry and not about the broader impacts of wine tourism on the character of Napa County and the lives of Napa residents. Wine tourism has impacts that wine making does not, and that difference is a large part of the resistance that the industry and governments have received from residents all around the county in the last couple of years. The increasing traffic; a prized rural landscape filling up with buildings and parking lots and clear cut hillsides; the loss of local businesses, affordable housing and community consciousness in the towns; the need for ever more taxes and bond measures to pay for the infrastructure of an ever increasing workforce and number of visitors; the demand on limited water resources by ever more development.
The essence of the original ag preservation ordinances was to severely limit urban development in the county to insure that agriculture can survive. The conversion of the economic base from wine making to wine marketing through tourism, requiring as it does an urban infrastructure to support millions of visitors, will eventually destroy the rural character of the county and the goal upon which the Ag Preserve was based. The visitor is king, but of what? As the Google Map default image for "Napa County" shows, Napa is already becoming an ersatz Magic Kingdom. How appropriate.
Earlier this year, I visited Florence - generally regarded as one for the most beautiful cities in the world - for the third time since 1965. Its hotels, restaurants and stores are packed with tourists - 14 million of them. Its metropolitan area has a population of 1.4 million but all tourists descend only on its historic core where 380,000 make it their home.
One would think that with all its revenue, the city would be thriving, but the lawns and landscaping of the Boboli Gardens of the Pitti Palace ($16 entry fee) are brown, the giant 150-year old cypresses in the Santa Maria Novella court yard are dying because, though the Arno river runs through it, Florence is running out of water. Many of its narrow streets smell of raw sewage, indicating that its sewer treatment capacity has exceeded its limits. And the ability of its roads to carry its traffic was compromised decades ago.
Obviously, the massive revenue created by tourism is not enough to maintain its magnificent buildings and monuments, its slowly decaying sandstone columns, widow surrounds and railings of its historic bridges. Yet these are the assets that make Florence the attractive city that it is. The fiscal equation, while sufficient for providing immediately needed services to 10 times the people who live there, falls short in the long term capital costs they create.
Florence is not alone. The same fate is evident in all of the most attractive places in Europe including Ibiza - part of the Balearic islands - which professor Mendlinger had touted as one of the few successful models of a tourist economy at last April's Napa Valley forum on the tourist economy. But as Spain's minister of tourism recently reported, Ibiza has reached the limit of a variety of resources, including water.
If you ask the people who live in Florence, Ibiza, Santorini or Bruge whether they like it, they answer: "No, but this is where we make our living"!
Switching to the Napa Valley; if we are not there yet, we are awfully close. The percentage of tourist revenue the cities and county receive is somewhat in the order of a paltry 10 percent. All additional costs to maintain and expand the infrastructure its 3.5 million visitors require (25 per resident), in roads, sewer capacity, water treatment, administration, police, emergency services, cleanup, trash disposal etc. fall on the general population in the form of taxes, bonds and never ending funding measures. Despite the $50 million in Transit Occupancy Taxes, and more in sales taxes, we keep falling behind.
Calistoga and St. Helena are under orders to update their sewer plants, water is diverted from streams having to be defended in lawsuits, water and sewer rates are getting higher and everyone is aware of the sad condition of our roads, sidewalks and some 80 intersections at service level C or worse.
The reality is that the major winners of the tourist economy are the very few international corporations who have discovered the Napa Valley golden goose with their multi-million-dollar hotels and resorts but take their profits elsewhere, leaving behind the associated costs of services, the staggering long-term costs of infrastructure maintenance and expansion, the lowest paying jobs ($22,000 median for a single person) which create commuters and subsidized services - including grants for affordable housing - all spread among the wider population.
This is an unfair equation that satisfies mostly self-created immediate needs and ignores long-term costs. It is an ingenious cost-shifting vortex impossible to escape from.
There is no question that tourism is highly beneficial on many levels up to a certain point, but over-reliance on it has devastating fiscal, environmental and social impacts.
Because reliance on a tourism-based economy can never be scaled back until it reaches the point of collapse, I once again urge the county and the cities to commission a joint study before we get there.
In one of the more overt examples of tourism boosting, the Planning Commission granted Frog's Leap Winery an additional, say, 45000 visitor slots/year to sample their jams and jellies. Frog's Leap seems to be a model citizen in the wine community, and like other good stewards (e.g. Long Meadow Ranch and Hudson) it is adding a variety of agricultural products to its offerings. There would seem to be a trend here, not necessarily unhealthy, in that it diversifies the agricultural base of the county (albeit modestly) and reminds us that the ag preserve and ag watershed designations are not just about grapes. All of the commissioners seems pleased to be able to approve the project,
But there is also an area of concern, one that Comm. Phillips touched on by asking to be assured that all of the jams would be produced from produce grown on site. The concern is that we are headed toward a Nut Tree business model in winery development. The diversification in products really does little to increase agriculture in the county (will the watersheds now be cleared to replace the plum orchards lost to vines on the valley floor?), but it gives a new end-run to the WDO if it is used to justify significant increases in visitation at "wineries" and a greater incentive to continue building and expanding them with no link to wine production. (In an ominous comment from Comm. Gill concerning winery visitation comparison numbers, she pressed the point that the WDO is "silent on numbers", setting no limitation on number of visitors or events. Just as the wineries eased their way into becoming restaurants competing with in-town offerings, this approval represents the potential to edge into Dean and DeLuca territory for the classier brands and Knotts' Berry Farm for the real entrepreneurs.
In a related bit of research, the WDO would allow a "jamery" to be built: "Uses permitted upon grant of a use permit: Facilities, other than wineries, for the processing of agricultural products grown or raised on the same parcels or contiguous parcels under the same ownership;" Why is this specificity about the source of the crops to be processed not applied to grapes as well, I ask myself?
In commissioner comments at the end of the meeting, Comm. Gill, seconded by Comm. Scott, took issue with a column title in the planning department's annual review of pending winery applications. The planning department keeps referring to "new annual visitors" being requested in the use permits. Citing an industry canard, brought up in many use permit presentations, the commissioners restated that visitors to new wineries will only be tourists that are already in the valley looking for other venues to frequent, a redistribution of existing visitors (just as Sup. Luce indicated that that the $6 mil spent on Visit Napa Valley was just to even out visitation rather than increase it) and that the wording of the column should not imply hordes of new tourists arriving to frequent the wineries they are approving. There will be, they seem to imply, no more increases in the number of tourists in the county resulting from the hundreds of thousands visitors needed to fulfill the new wineries business plans. "Less than significant" impacts here folks. Fortunately Director Morrison disagreed, beginning what Chair Basayne would describe as a "lively discussion". Assuming that new wineries contribute nothing to new tourism is just as erroneous as assuming that every visitor request will result in a new visitor to the valley, he implied. How much they add is an open question. In any case, he pointed out, CEQA requires the planning department and the commissioners to consider worst case scenarios in their review: 1 person/winery/trip.
The connection of new visitors to the valley and new visitation slots might be somewhat quantifiable. Based on the 2014 NV Visitor Profile average of 3.3 wineries/visitor the 677,000 new visitor slots/yr under review (as of Aug 2016) would require 200,000 new visitors to the valley each year to fill the slots. It's either that or poach visitors from other wineries (which doesn't seem to be a wine industry concern) or increase the visitation rate to 5 wineries/visitor (unlikely since wineries now serve lunch).
The Supervisors unanimously approved both the use permit and development agreement. Mr. Wagner complained about the impact that a vocal minority of residents might have if their concerns hobble the continued growth of the wine industry.
This is a good opportunity to say that the vocal minority speaks for residents all over the county suffering the negative impacts not of grape growing and wine production but of the tourism development that the wine industry has embraced as its new global marketing strategy. County residents have always supported the wine industry for the character of the environment and economy it has produced. But that support is eroding as tourism and events have moved from an incidental and subordinate aspect of the wine industry to its reason for being. As the county shifts from resident-based agriculture to corporate/plutocrat-based tourism the impacts are no longer palatable, and the pushback of residents hoping to maintain the rural, small-town character that they grew up with or found here should be expected. Until the industry finds a less destructive way of marketing their goods (and the internet age offers other ways in addition to traditional legwork), until it recognizes the enormous difference in community impacts between grape processing and tourist processing, the industry should expect condemnation from a vocal minority representing those more concerned about the quality of their lives and their environment than the quality of tourism experiences occurring next door.
Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards and the county have worked out a perhaps trend-setting approach to the relationship between wineries and their regulators: the creation of a development agreement with the county that codifies assumed, but never really documented, pre-WDO vested rights for marketing while at the same time recognizing and allowing many of its previous abuses of its use permit, and adding on a whole new development of the site.
Caymus is one of the iconic brands of the Napa Valley. But (perhaps from founding winegrower hubris) it has run afoul of the county in continuing to produce up to 20 times as much wine as the 100,000 gal/yr permitted in their 1988 use permit. In addition it has continued to illegally build and make other improvements on the property without changes in the use permit. In a 2013 settlement it paid the county $1 million in fines for its excess production. This use permit modification and development agreement are an attempt to clarify its vested rights as a pre-WDO winery and agree what its development conditions will be allowed in the future.
I attended the Planning Commission meeting (3/23/16) devoted to the project. Option 1 in the staff report was approved 4-0 (Comm. Phillips absent) and sent on to the Board for review of the development agreement.
I hadn't taken a careful look at the project and now regret not doing so (although the opinions of weekender NIMBY's or Farm Bureau stakeholders alike seem to have little impact in these proceedings.) In addition to recognizing and allowing production capacity and visitation in a 2 phase process, much of the winery site is to be rebuilt with 5 buildings being torn down and a new "Greenhouse" erected.
While the complex history of the use permit and its rectification are a bit beyond me (a Napa Farm Bureau letter addressed to those issues is here), the significance of the "Greenhouse" and the development around it were quite clear, and not really discussed in the planning commission meeting. The greenhouse is referred in the application as an "agricultural building" which in WDO language means it is not considered as production or hospitality in calculating the production/ hospitality ratios. It is presented as an agricultural building in the way that a tractor shed might be. But one look at the size and architecture of the greenhouse and its position at the center of dining patios and event lawns and it is obvious that this is not an agricultural building. It is, in fact, a distinctive tourist attraction, little different in purpose than the Castelo Di Amoroso, or Stirling's arial tram or the Hall's Bunny Foo Foo - just another monumental edifice shouting "Here I am!" to attract more tourist traffic.
The project will now come up before the Board of Supervisors on May 24th. In addition to the trend-setting nature of such a development agreement, it may be trend setting in another way as well. Chuck Wagner has been a substantial campaign contributor to Supervisor Pedroza. It is the first test in a series of decisions that the Supervisors will have to make regarding the projects of their major campaign contributors. Walt Ranch, the Syar Expansion, the Palmaz heliport will all be before the board in the next few months and their owners are big doners. Will Supervisor Pedroza begin a healthy trend in governance by recusing himself from the Caymus decision? We shall know shortly.
"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 the Vision Statement of the Napa County General Plan
Napa's resident-based agricultural economy is dying. It is quickly being replaced by a corporate/plutocrat-based tourism economy. What does that mean for the residents, the government, the physical environment and the soul of the county?
There seems to be agreement that the Napa of today is successful, referred to often as a "golden goose" at many of the planning commission and supervisor hearings over the past year; a state of balanced interests that has allowed an agricultural-based industry to survive and thrive and allowed a rural small town quality-of-life to remain in an urban world.
Unfortunately, such a blissful combination of commerce and community doesn't fit with the "growth-is-good" ethos harbored by the corporate barons and plutocrats now dominating the culture of the valley who know how to monitize a good thing when the see it. The goose has been getting some forced feeding to see if it can't produce more golden eggs.
We already have 120 new or expanded wineries in the development pipeline with over 3,000,000 new visitor slots, 2000 new hotel rooms, a few resorts, several million square feet of new industrial and commercial development all on the verge of being built. They will happen. And even before they are built, many more projects are likely to be approved if the development trend continues. The installation of 3 pro-development supervisors next year will greatly hasten the trend.
The development binge means a lot of jobs coming into the county. According to Cal DOT, job creation has been increasing at 2% per year: tourist development in the valley, vineyard development in the watersheds, wine-related industrial development in the south country. Job growth in the county is forecast at 1.3% for the next few years, mostly in the "leisure and hospitality" sector.
Developers often argue that population growth is inevitable and we need constantly growing economic activity to create jobs for all those people that are coming. But the reality is that the county has been averaging only .7% population growth in the past and is forecast to grow at only a .4% per year increase in the next few years. (Compared to 1% statewide.) The unincorporated county is actually loosing population (perhaps as homes, like the one next to me, are leveled for event centers), as is the city of St. Helena (where homes become short term rentals). This means that job growth in the next few years is forecast to be 3 times the rate of population growth. Meaning also, of course, a whole lot more commuter traffic than we currently enjoy.
No one likes the amount of traffic in the county at present. So, what to do about the housing-jobs imbalance that is a major contributor to it?
One approach is to do nothing, continue winery, vineyard and industrial development and hope to relieve symptoms by building more traffic lanes, a flyover, a light rail system, a worker and tourist shuttle bus system - or maybe staggering employee hours to even out the traffic jams!. The Napa Valley Vintners have suggested this approach. The problem is that these paliatives, given the difficulty in their realization, or the cost, are very unlikely to catch up to existing conditions, much less accommodate the increases in traffic that continued job creation will be generating. It will be a losing battle. The jams will just get longer, the citizens more frustrated and Caltrans will eventually be forced to build the freeways. The politicians will feign helplessness saying they tried their best to protect rural napa.
A second approach is to build more housing, i.e. increase the rate of population growth to match the rate of job growth, the race of housing and jobs resulting in the urban Bay Area we know today. In Napa, of course, most of the new leisure and hostility workers couldn't afford the homes even if they were built. So everyone is talking about building affordable housing. The Napa Valley Vintners have also suggested this approach. But affordable housing is difficult to achieve. When it happens, it usually happens because of fees or taxes generated from other urban development, and it takes a lot of urban development to subsidize a few affordable houses. The 180 affordible units at Napa Pipe, supposedly aimed at existing housing shortages, are subsidized by huge development project that will generate some 900 new, mostly low-paying, jobs. Where will they live? How does this approach solve the housing jobs imbalance?
A third approach, which no one seems to be suggesting but which is quite suited to a county that wishes to limit its urban growth, might be to adjust job creation to match the inevitable population increase. If the projected population increase in the county is .04%/yr why is it not reasonable to propose a .04% allowed increase in job growth/yr to bring potential job and housing growth into some sort of parity. Pushing this reasoning a bit further, perhaps job growth should be reduced slightly to begin slowly, over time, to address the current imbalance in jobs and housing.
Limit job growth!? some may sputter. Job growth is, of course, the holy grail of governments and developers everywhere. It's where the money is and, you know, for some there can never be too much money. But Napan's decided some time ago that money isn't everything. The Ag Preserve was a commitment to a less profitable land use in order to sustain an industry and an environment, and a way of life that provided wealth for the soul at a cost in profits. It was a commitment that has produced a balance of economic activity and quality of life envied everywhere. It is an economy that seems to be working fine. But as the job creators keep descending, and the wine industry continues to morph from resident-based agriculture to corporate/plutocrat-based tourism, that sacrifice of profit for a better community life - at the heart of Napa's history - seems to have been forgotten.
It is beyond time that Napa makes a recommitment to keep urban growth at bay in the county and to reaffirm that Napa wishes to remain a rural, agricultural-based county for the next 50 years - a good place to live and a sustainable place to make a living. The promotion of tourism as an "agricultural" process in the general plan, and the promotion of imported grape industrial development both diminish the probability that the Napa grape crop will continue to be a significant portion of the county's economy in the next 50 years. Once Napa grapes become a minor portion of county's economy, the incentive to convert to more profitable uses will begin to dominate land use. The current conversion of vineyard acres into tourism event centers and the current push for housing development is just the beginning of that process.
It is time to stop worrying about the ever increasing profits of the major campaign contributors, and the impacts that the pursuit of those profits bring, and to concentrate on a sustainable and livable community with agriculture at its base. We can begin by reducing future development to a point that accommodates the gradually increasing population, and no more. It is a level of development that insures the entire Napa community a steady diet of golden eggs in the future, rather than the current path - just one helping of fois gras for the wealthy, and a dead goose.
Geoff Ellsworth has done an excellent job of defining the issues facing county residents interested in preserving the rural character of the county. Wineries have been the focus of citizen pushback because the wine industry, by embracing a growth model dependent on an ever expanding tourist population, and an ever expanding urban workforce and infrastructure to cater to it, is causing resident support for such an invasive a "definition of agriculture" to evaporate. The wine-tourism industry always poses the argument as either wineries or houses. The wine industry has been successful in preventing housing development in the county, a fact that all who live here appreciate. But if one now has to choose between an a McMansion or an event center open each night to 10:00pm next door, supporting the wine industry over the housing industry becomes an increasingly difficult choice.
As they did a little over a year ago, 3 members of the wine tourism lobby made a presentation to the planning commission to reinforce the narrative (a much-used word these days) that the wine industry is changing and if the wine industry is going to survive in Napa county direct-to-consumer sales at wineries are necessary.
There are lots of comments to the NVR article and well worth reading. Rob McMillan, calm and reasonable as always, proposes some concrete steps to alleviate the existing traffic that even he (along with arch-tourism proponent Rob Mondavi) now finds unbearable. Those ideas are well worth pursuing but they are really just symptomatic relief that can never keep up with the real problem: the development trajectory (a word used by NativeSonNapa in the comments) that the county is currently on. The real solution to the problems we face here is a commitment to slow or stop future tourism and industrial development (as well as vineyard conversion) through the same level of regulation that has been used to slow housing development. Once urban growth as a whole is slowed then we have a chance of dealing with the traffic or affordable housing problems that are its symptom.
The Napa Valley Vintners have just touted this report to bolster their contention that increased tourism is necessary for the survival of the Napa wine industry. At $1 billion that probably represents 10% to 20% of the total of Napa appellation wines produced (depending on which numbers you use in this 2012 study).
But there are two facets to the Direct-to-consumer market which are often conflated in reporting on the trend and not analyzed in this report which just covers shipped goods: wine bought and ordered at wineries (including wine club commitments) and wine ordered directly from the winery from non-visitors. The important thing to know is how much of a winery's sales are a direct result of a winery visit vs hearing about the wine from a friend, a web or magazine article or review, an ad, a restaurant meal, or a remote tasting and then going to the winery's website to buy the wine or join the club. Even more important is knowing the value of these at-winery sales compared to the totality of Napa appellation wine sales.
For those of us who live in the Napa Valley the ratios are important - the winery visit may or may not be having a significant impact on the winery's bottom line (the cost of building a winery and running a tasting room aren't reflected in revenue figures) or on Napa wine industry revenues in general, but, as an excuse to bring in more tourists, it is surely having a urbanizing impact on the rural county that the General Plan claims to protect and that residents really do treasure.
DTC shipments will increasingly be the future of all businesses including wine. But just as I don't feel the need to travel to Cupertino (or Shenzhen) to form an emotional bond to my iPad, as the process of selling wine over the internet becomes more common, relying on tourists to deplete inventory will become less an issue. One can find out about the quality of a product in many ways and those ways need to be given more emphasis and investment in the wine industry than in the creation of the financially iffy and environmentally destructive construction of hundreds of tourist-centric wineries. The goal is to insure that the natural beauty and rural character of the place where it is made is not destroyed before the click-and-ship future of the industry arrives. As Supervisor Pedroza has said several times now, "once our open space is gone, it's gone."
Wine tourism lobbyists have previously presented to the county the idea that visitation is necessary for the survival of the wine industry, and not just to feed the growth of the tourism industry. They will be presenting again this Wednesday (2/1716) at the Napa Planning Commission, probably with this report in hand.
It is no longer just winery event centers and resorts and airbnb hotels beginning to encroach in residents' backyards, but the entirety of the tourism infrastructure.
The Vine Trail may serve the interests of locals and visitors alike, but let's not be naive - it is principally being developed as a tourist attraction. And as such it is a very clear, even archetypal, example of the continuing effort to transition the dominant economy of the county from agriculture to tourism. The Farm Bureau recognizes the long term threat to agricultural viability when land use decisions are made on the basis of what is best for tourism rather than what is best for agriculture.
Let the Vine Trail happen, but put the burden on the Trail developers to provide the mitigations necessary to prevent it from being a nuisance to farm families and to farming operations. The first mitigation should be not to run it through the vineyards. If the desire to provide a rural "experience" for visitors trumps the quiet enjoyment of property owners and their right to farm their land efficiently, then the future of the county as a place to engage in agriculture is doomed.
I went up to visit the Ehlers Lane neighbors last week to look at the proposed Vine Trail route through their Ag and residential areas.
This would devastate their neighborhood and community in the same way a large Event Center Winery would devastate one of our neighborhoods.
While I'm sure we all support bicycling, this is about zoning encroachment and setting a precedent for recreational/commercial use of Ag Preserve land.
I believe the Vine Trail must stay along the existing major transportation corridors.
I've signed this petition and hope we can build the signatures to over 500 by Tuesday
In a public comment at the Nov 18th meeting of the Napa planning commission David Heitzman of the Defenders of the Napa Watersheds (DENW) asked the commissioners, and the rest of us, to google "napafication".
I did so and came across the above article about a Sonoma meeting two days earlier. "Napafication" has been used for some time in Sonoma to describe the negative impacts of tourism development, traffic and degradation of the natural landscape, as this LA Times article from 1999 attests. Salinas residents were also concerned about the trend in this article in 2002. And another from Oregon, and Canada and this from an article on a Long Island winery also from 1999: "Some locals worry about the potential Napafication of their pretty little corner of the world. Will it become commercial and overcrowded and lose its rural charm?" I don't think one could find a more succinct definition of the phenomenon.
I also discovered it used in articles on the a spanish wine region and on a mexican tequila region not necessarily as a pejorative but as examples of how singular regional agriculture can be exploited as the base for a tourist economy. The residents of those places had yet to feel the impacts of napafication, I suspect.
While "like Disneyland" or "like Las Vegas" are often referred to as similes for the conversion of an authentic community or environment into a tourist trap, I could find no word other than "napafication" as a synonym for the process. What does that say about the world's image of this place?
Unfortunately my naive assumption for the last two years has been that the tourist commercialization of the next door property in my remote mountain retreat was a recent trend. We just had to lobby hard and present some common sense about the obvious negative impacts of tourism development to the good people of this county to nip a disease in the bud. Unfortunately, it seems that Napa was in fact the source of the disease long ago, and, like a phylloxera, has spread to wine growing regions everywhere. Tourists to the Napa Valley have been carrying the napafication bug on their shoes to the remote corners of the world ever since Robert Mondavi opened the prototype for the tourism event center in 1966.
Can napafication be rooted out at its source? Too late, I'm afraid - we will have to continue living with the scars. But do we just give up, bear up under the traffic, let the vines wither to make way for wine themed event centers and vine-garnished parking lots that recall a storied past like the grape crusher presiding over Meritage's potemkin vineyard. In a hundred years will the world's only image of this place be the term "napafied" applied to a thousand winery tourist traps around the world?
There is still much of Napa county, like Soda Canyon Road, and like much of the watersheds, that has remained un-napafied. The threats are there - napafication projects have been proposed. Does the county have the courage to halt the spread of this disease bearing its name? And once arrested, does the county have the courage and foresight to begin a recovery, where possible, of its agrarian health currently threatened by the development of ever more tourism infrastructure? I would like to think that the world's source of this affliction might also become the source of the strategies, the policies, in a word, the "de-napafication" necessary for remission.
At the Nov 18th Planning Commission meeting, Chair Phillips had agendized an issue that seemed to have received scant attention so far: the big Bunny Foo Foo phenomenon. Art as advertising.
The signage at wineries is regulated by the county's sign ordinance. Signs are limited in area and height and the dimensions are somewhat modest. This results for the most part in long low signs that intrude rather minimally into the landscape. The desire of most wineries to maintain a sophisticated image means that they are generally a low key recognition of the winery's presence. The intent of the sign ordinance is worth repeating:
"A. It is the purpose of this chapter to eliminate excessive and confusing sign displays which do not relate to the premises on which they are located; to eliminate hazards to pedestrians and motorists brought about by distracting sign displays; to ensure that signs are used as identification and not as advertisement; and to preserve and improve the appearance of the unincorporated area of the county as a place in which to live, work, and visit.
"B. It is the intent of these regulations to protect an important aspect of the economic base of the county by preventing the destruction of the natural beauty and environment of the county which is instrumental in attracting nonresidents who come to visit, trade and vacation; to safeguard and enhance property values; to protect public and private investment in buildings and open space; and to protect the public health, safety and general welfare."
Publicly visible art in Napa County, it turns out, has no such restrictions. Indeed, as planning director Morrison pointed out at the meeting, such art has in the past been considered an expression of free speech protected by the Constitution.
Until now it has been mostly through the architecture of their wineries that vintners have tried to lure tourists out of their cars. We now have a Tuscan castle, French, Italian and Persian palaces, fairy tale confections, and any number of modernist "statements" (one with an arial tram) all vying for the tourist's attention. But there are building setbacks (though not always enforced). And such architectural exhibitionism doesn't reflect the barn-ish "Napaesque" image that many vintners often, to their credit, want to project. Art, particularly large scale environmental art, on the other hand, has no such moderating influences. As in the case of Bunny Foo Foo, the grotesquely oversized rabbit cavorting in the Hall Winery's front yard, the intent of the artist and owner alike is to shout "here I am, here I am".
For the meeting, the county presented some photos of the Bunny Foo Foo trend beginning to occur in Napa (taken against an unusually spectacular sky). They are here. None are overly offensive in themselves, although the Ca'Nani kitsch does cause a bit of nausea. But as with everything talked about in the last 2 years there is the issue of cumulative impacts. Bunny Foo Foo alone in the landscape might have the captivating effect that the artist and the Halls wanted. But if the rabbit is followed on the next property by a giant cornucopia, and on the next by a dinosaur and on the next by a reclining vixen and on the next by a giant hand holding a grape, the captivation, I would argue, is lessened. So much effort is now put into preventing the destruction of the Napa landscape and yet the unregulated damage that might be caused by the hundreds of vanity vintners desperately seeking tourist attention to keep their marginal wine making efforts alive may create a carnival landscape that will put Discovery Kingdom to shame.
As was pointed out by one of the speakers at the meeting, absent ordinances regulating the art in the way that buildings are regulated with setbacks and height limits, even offensive art may be placed on private property without regard to the sensibilities of those forced to see it. Offensive art, perhaps a giant champagne bottle with two large Del Dotto amphorae at its base, has yet to make its way to Napa's vineyards. But whether it is one objectionable piece or the destruction of a prized valley vista littered with sculptural nonsense, at some point we will all go through the contortions of trying to regulate it after the damage has been done - much as happened with the viewshed ordinance and the conservation ordinance. This is the right time to bring up the issue, and shame on the 3 members of the planning commission unwilling to recognize these works of art for what they really are: advertising signage, billboards really, for the wineries and a further destruction of the natural beauty that the county claims it wants to prevent with its signage ordinance.
In an article in the NY times last year the writer suggested that prices and traffic had made the Valley a less-than-perfect getaway. Time for real afficionados to have an authentic wine experience in Oregon, something that some Napa Valley residents have also begun to recognize. As this LTE exemplifies, Napa's failure to stem the addiction of municipalities and the wine industry to tourism dollars - while converting an authentic wine industry into a tourist attraction and our roads into gridlock - may prove a quicker cure to our tourist problems than all of the 3 minute exhortations, and tens of thousands spent on opposition consultants. Perhaps the best solution might be to get out of the way and let unenlightened self interest sort things out.
Glenn Schreuder sends this photo of the Napa Farm-to-Flight bag that his lunch came in while at the airport on his way to the Bahamas. Supervisor Luce assured me that the $5.6 million the county gives to Visit Napa Valley from TOT taxes is just to even out the flow of tourists, not to create more tourism. I hope the patrons at the airport understand that.
My takeaway: A winery tasting room near where the tourists gather (like copia?) is more efficient than luring the tourists into the vineyards. It is a trend that we need to encourage. Unfortunately, I suspect that Rudy Von Strasser's property is worth a good deal more as an event center site than as a source of grapes, and that we will end up with more building development in new and old locations.
Mr. Sattui was not shy about expressing himself in the APAC meetings, nor is he here in this letter to Supervisor Luce. His statement was submitted in response, no doubt, to the Planning Commission's recommendation to the BOS to amend the primary definition of agriculture in the General Plan to insure that the "marketing of wine" is a "clearly incidental and subordinate" accessory use to agricultural processing. There is clearly nothing incidental or subordinate about Mr. Sattui's Castello di Amorosa when it comes to the marketing of wine. It would seem that he envisions many more such ersatz monuments covering the hills and the valley of the county, providing entertaining experiences for generations of tourists to come. If residents don't like it, then move.
Mr. Sattui, with some of the deepest roots in the wine industry in California, perhaps has a greater sense of the historical trajectory of his industry and of this place than us newcomers. It may be that his vision is inevitable and that our efforts to save this place through his first suggested alternative, stopping development, is doomed. Unfortunately his second alternative, the unfettered development (beyond public safety concerns) of the Napa Valley as a tourist destination to rival, perhaps, Waikiki or Las Vegas may be the future of his industry, but this place will be gone.
Update 10/7/15: In several recent editorials in the Napa Valley Register from Bill Ryan and Stuart Smith and Terry Pilch, a line of argument has been advanced that if tourism at wineries is not supported that the wine industry will die and housing projects will ensue. (now including Dario Sattui's letter above.)
A new event center winery is coming up before the planning commission on Oct. 7th: 80,000 gal/yr, 66,000sf (inc 33,000 sf of caves) 27,000 visitors/yr. on a 166 acre property in Carneros. Item 9A on the agenda here.
What's interesting here is the first use of Dir. Morrison's more comprehensive charts designed to help the planning commission in determining the appropriateness of the requests before them. The charts for the project are here.
Several things are now quite apparent: 1. this project is a bit smallish compared to its public winery neighbors but largish compared to its by-appt. neighbor. 2. It is over the top in building size (4x) , and visitation (2-2.5x) compared to other similar capacity wineries throughout the county. (the median calc on the by-appt wineries looks like it's off)
This is also the first opportunity to try out the two criteria categories and see if they help to arrive at an appropriate project.
The project is quite frankly a clean and low key "napaesque" design, tucked away in the hills on a very large site. Is water a problem - probably not given the reservoir. I could be wrong but is seems that there may be no neighbors that will complain. Its impacts will be only those of the additional traffic its visitors and employees will generate at the already clogged interchanges along 29 south of Napa and the additional people it encourages to come to Napa Valley requiring hotels and restaurants. Those cumulative impacts are, of course, what everyone is complaining about. The county's Hudson page is here
What can one say? Ginna Beharry's online response is worth repeating:
RURAL TOURISM? Sounds a bit like an oxymoron. How "rural" will an experience be if the visitor is stuck in traffic for an hour? Does a $165 food and wine pairing constitute a "rural" experience? The return on "marketing investment" spent by Visit California fails to take into consideration the cost of tourism to the local residents - the cost of deterioration of infrastructure, the use of water, the costs of disposing of waste created by tourists, the social cost of the low wage jobs created by the industry. No mention of balance in this article. Where's the tipping point? How many tourists can you cram into a "rural" experience before it doesn't feel rural any longer?
It doesn't take a lot of imagination to realize that the money to be made from short-term home and room rentals to tourists in a place where hotel rooms go for more than $500/night might have an impact on residential neighborhoods. An entire residential community can easily become essentially a bungalow resort. Residents move elsewhere to rent their properties here. Properties are bought and enhanced, perhaps by tourism development companies, to tap into the demand. Home prices become ever more unaffordable for those that actually want to live here. It has been happening for some time in St. Helena and the impacts are now being recognized. The Napa City planning commission, unfortunately, has given the blessing for the residential hollowing to proceed there.
It is only one of the many impacts that have begun to change the rural, small-town quality of life that residents have long enjoyed living in Napa County, and that makes this a special place in the Bay Area as an economy built on an agricultural product is transformed to an economy built on tourism.
Regarding the visitation presentation at the Sep 2nd PC meeting, one didn't get the impression that a plan was at hand as the commissioners peppered Dir. Morrison with more questions and requests for guidance and number crunching, more information, that could help them make better decisions. It seemed by the end of the hour that they wanted him to include all of the metrics and charts that have been used in the past plus more metrics and criteria (from the Jun 17th PC agenda letter) that have come out of his quest to find a more rational basis for winery approvals over the last months. All of the numbers have given little guidance in the past - it seems unlikely that more numbers heaped on top will make the decisions easier. The idea of comps (like this one from Girard), a list of comparatively sized wineries and a list of neighborhood wineries seems guaranteed to move the new numbers and applications steadily upward. Winery proliferation continues. The list of criteria might be applied to increase or decrease numbers doesn't help if you don't have some fixed number to start from. As he said at the outset of his presentation, the issue of visitation does indeed seem to be getting into ever murkier waters. In the agenda letter for this meeting Dir. Morrison did present other methods to limit visitation beyond just numbers.
Dir. Morrison did not talk about Framework X, the proposal that he submitted to APAC which was a ray of clarity in the proceedings and was unanamously approved until the Vintners started fretting that it might apply to them. Then it was dumped. It had visitation and production numbers proposed that actually might slow winery proliferation. It was the only concrete proposal (given that the redefinition of agriculture was a non-starter) that might have protected ag lands from the ravages of tourism going forward.
Dir. Morrison seemed to be experiencing a bit of staff-response fatigue and frustration (after months of non-stop number crunching and proposals for both the commission and APAC) as he tried to get at what more the commission wanted from him. Particularly when Chair Phillips asked him for a staff report on APAC in addition to the individual reports made for each meeting and the final report that the APAC committee will be presenting. His agenda letter makes clear his frustration with continued commission requests for more information - and that was written before this meeting's new requests for slicing and dicing of the data.
The somewhat tense staff presentation and commission response, perhaps reflecting the failure of APAC to come to grips with the problems confronting the planning commission, were lightened when Alex Ryan of Duckhorn took to the mike. His outspoken rhetoric had bullet points for each side. What I liked (to paraphrase): "I don't really want visitors, especially those in stretch limos - vintners have responsibilities to their neighbors - visitation at crux of neighborhood impacts - visitors come from 10 to 2 - there are wineries, like Screaming Eagle and Harlan with no visitation". The other side probably took heart from other points.
Ginna Beharry, fearless in confronting the wine barons, took him to task for lauding overflow parking lots. The last part of her extemporaneous response:
"And this whole idea of a parking lot? You want a busy parking lot? Right, but where - not in a residential neighborhood. This whole idea of comparing it to a bar is the issue. The recent changes to the WDO and the current trends in hospitality and visitation are changing wineries into bars and restaurants. Under ordinary zoning that would not be allowed in a residential area, too close to private homes or schools. But because they're wineries they get use permits and are not subject to those zoning regulations. Don Giovanni's had to get a ballot measure to put a patio on their restaurant. Wineries don't have to do anything like that, but they have a much bigger impact than the patio at Don Giovanni's has. We really need to think about that imbalance. Is that fair? Is that consistant?
I never heard Mr. Ryan - I love you, Mr. Ryan, I'm not picking on you - mention the words sustainable and cumulative impact. Those are the words and thoughts that have to underlie this entire discussion. Sustainability doesn't mean we can have more and more wineries and they can be Napa Green. We can have a thousand Napa Green wineries and it will still be too much.... There is a limit to the space; there is a limit to be able to deal with these restauran... wineries and impacts. So that's all - sustainability and cumulative impact."
To which Mr. Ryan got up to claim that he agreed with every point she had made.
Earlier, Mr. Ryan humbly volunteered to be a "lifeline" to the staff any time industry input was needed. I think that Mr. Ryan and Ms. Beharry might better be taken on by the planning department as a point-counterpoint advisory body to help hash out the consistant, fair and sustainable winery policy called for in the department agenda letter. As Dep. Planning Dir. John McDowell quipped late in the meeting, he, for one, was certainly in need of a lifeline at this point.
This was Commissioner Pope's last day on the commission. Chair Phillips lauded his eloquence and in particular his framing of the issue that has driven events since the May 20th 2015 joint PC/BOS meeting: "Do we want to maintain an agricultural economy that benefits from tourism, or do we want to transfer into a tourism economy that capitalizes on agriculture?" But it was his more simple question at a later meeting that ought to be emblazoned above the dais of the Supervisor's chamber: "What is this valley going to look like in 30 to 50 years?" It is a vision that every commissioner and supervisor should be required to make, in writing, and have in their minds as each new project comes before them for approval.
As usual there is not one use of the word "tourism" in the article, just as the word is never used at APAC meetings and rarely in the County General Plan. Am I the only one who sees a difference between the wine industry and the tourism industry? People who like the wine industry but don't like its traffic are in fact conflating the two, just as the county does (perhaps in good faith) and as winery event center developers do (in their own self-interest). If you've been to any real agricultural region you know that traffic congestion is not a major concern. If you've been to tourist traps you know that traffic is always a problem.
In Napa it isn't just winery tourists and the winery tourism workers that are causing the problem (although they do cause 20% of the traffic which is not a small amount). It is also the tourism infrastructure that the municipalities supply, and their employees, all of those restaurant, hotel, resort, limo, and catering workers that must commute because they can't afford to live here. And there is the army of people and equipment needed to build the tourism infrastructure, new buildings, new roads, new sewers, electrical grids, and of course eventually new housing, new schools, new fire stations and wastewater treatment plants. And of course new jails. And more workers to quarry the all the aggregate necessary for all these projects.
The argument is out there that much of the traffic is generated by institutional employees (some of the largest single employers in the county) . Even if this were true, which it is not, those are not population growth industries. Neither is the wine industry, even counting commuting vineyard workers and cellar rats . Only the tourism industry in Napa county is a growth industry and the growth is exponential as more and more workers are needed to handle the ever increasing daily influx of visitors.
Please, lets stop asking what residents think of the wine industry and start asking them what they think of the tourism industry. The wine industry makes this a desirable place to live because it has maintained a lovely rural community, a rarity in this urban world. The tourism industry makes this an undesirable place to live because it is replacing the rurality with urban ills. One traffic jam at a time. Lets stop confusing the two.
2014 visitor count up 11% and tourism jobs (mostly hotel and restaurant low paying) = 11,776
Low income, high housing costs = most of those 12,000 employees commute
Low-wage jobs, commuting employees and lots of day-trippers: 2.21 mil of 3.39 mil visitors per year
Nearly one in three lodging guests joined a wine club (29.7%).
The majority of intercept respondents reported high likelihood to purchase and take home wine. Day trip and VFR visitors were asked their likelihood of purchasing wine to take home. Two-thirds of these visitors were "Likely" (25.6%) or "Very likely" (42.6%) to buy wine to take home.
Two-thirds of lodging guests surveyed bought wine to take home (66.5%).
In 2014, Napa Valley visitors spent an average of $482.71 per day in-market. The bulk of this spending is attributed to wine bottles purchased at wineries ($130.64), followed by Restaurants ($124.97). Reported visitor spending usually covers more than one visitor. The average daily spending reported in the previous question covered an average of 2.2 persons.
Napa Valley lodging guests commonly travel with one other person. Lodging guests were asked how many people stayed in their lodging room. Over three-fourths of lodging guests shared their room with one other person (77.8%). The average lodging room accommodated 2.2 persons.
Is the use of our resources and the traffic mess worth it? The article above says no - they use old Napa County visitor data (in 2012 the take was $10/visitor/winery) which prompted me to update with 2014 data - interesting.
Visit Napa Valley 2014 data:
Average visitor spends $482.71 per day "in-market"
(reported spending covers more than one visitor - actually covers 2.2 visitors)
Wine bottles purchased at wineries = $130.64
And Average visitor went to 3.3 wineries per NV visit
130.64 / 2.2 visitors = $59.38 wine purchases at winery per visitor
59.38 / 3.3 wineries = $17.99 per visitor per winery
All this for $17.99 wine sales per visitor?
Bill Hocker adds:
In re-looking at the 2014 visitor profile one statistic that jumped out was a question to visitors about how to enhance the Napa Valley experience:
5% wanted more wineries. 30% (6 times more than any other response) felt it was great as it is. Who will the county and the wine industry listen to?
Norma Tofanelli just forwarded a 2013 report done by the Portland State University School of Urban Studies and Planning to help guide the development of winery tourism in Oregon. While the conclusions seem to reinforce the wine industry embrace of tourism, the case studies (of the existing wine regions of Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, and Walla Walla) upon which their conclusions are based are very thorough. Done before the current community backlash against winery tourism, the Napa case study nonetheless gives a comprehensive look at the issues involved here. The comparison to the similar tourism issues confronting other wine growing regions is also instructive. I am amazed that this report has not surfaced in discussions before.
I have read with interest the two-part series by Pam Simpson, CEO of the St. Helena Chamber of Commerce, published in the St. Helena Star in which she analyzes the tourist contribution to the valley's economy. Citing the findings of the recent Visitor Profile study that shows that in 2014 the annual visitor spending per Napa Valley resident was $11,741, she concludes: "This means $11,741 is the amount each Napa Valley resident would have to spend to keep our economy going if visitors were not here". If it only were that simple.
There are about 147,000 residents in the Napa Valley and they host 3.5 million visitors. Together, they require an entire accommodating physical and service infrastructure including adequate road capacities, utilities, hotels, restaurants and retail stores. Unfortunately, our hospitality and retail section of the economy pay the lowest wages, with a median wage of around $22,000 while the Napa County Self Sufficiency Standard (SSS) for a single person is around $28,000 and the wine industry median wage is around $35,000 below the SSS for two adults with no children, which is around $39,000. This workforce commutes from outside the county and accounts for 25 percent of all traffic adding to the 16 percent of direct visitor traffic. The public pays the difference between the low tourism wages and the SSS through a variety of social programs.
If one interpolates the 2014 Fehr & Peers Travel Behavior Study data, the Napa Valley population increases during season by 1/3 from the influx of visitors and outside workers, and they come with costs in 13 different categories ranging from increased services, to the physical infrastructure: Fire and EMS, public safety and government facilities and services, road transportation, waste water and storm drain systems, water service facilities and increased cost of water. The associated workforce able to earn a decent SSS, requires mandated affordable housing, school system and parks and recreation facilities and not least, it has to cope with visitor caused cost of living increases which pushes the SSS farther out of reach to the spiral freefall of even more commuters.
Unfortunately, there are no studies that have quantified the actual costs of tourism but there are tangential studies regarding the comprehensive costs of resorts in Oregon, which offer strong indication that the $11,741 is likely to move from the positive to the negative side of the ledger.
One such study by Fodor & Associates for the Thornburg Resort in Dechutes County, Oregon (population 157,000)-a large mix of hotel, timeshare, full occupancy homes and golf courses-quantified only 6 of the 13 cost factors. They show a deficit for infrastructure capital improvements (or the proportional shared cost of existing improvements already paid for by the public) of $51 million. On the other hand, it shows a net annual revenue of $466,000 from room and other taxes and fees. When this net revenue is capitalized over 20 years, it still results in a net deficit of $46 million.
Making the matter worse is that by then, the infrastructure will require updating to the tune of several million dollars; one more spiral freefall.
A good local example is the multimillion dollar widening of Highway 29 just south of St. Helena for which every California resident is paying, solely necessitated by the population increase caused by the tourist industry and the types of jobs it creates. According to the 2007 Napa County draft environmental impact report, just to maintain level C road service by 2030, 6 lanes will be required from Vallejo to Yountville and 4 lanes for Yountville to St. Helena, or it will be bumper-to-bumper traffic. Just these costs will eat up not only any fiscal tourist contribution but leave an enormous gap to be borne once again by the public.
Napa County is in urgent need of a comprehensive study on the cost of growth that will calculate the net fiscal impact of the ever increasing visitation model. It is the only rational way by which from a purely fiscal point of view we can determine whether this is the way to, as Ms. Simpson writes, "keep our economy going".
However, as dubious the fiscal model is, it is not the most important factor to consider, and that is whether we really want this way of "keeping our economy going". Do we like the urban type traffic congestion in our supposedly agricultural area? The gradual displacement of neighborhoods by part-time residents? The inflationary impact and unsustainable local services? Do we want to end up Bowling Alone in the anonymity caused by the disproportionate influx of visitors in what Robert Putnam in his eponymous seminal book coined as "the loss of social capital"?
In the end, for whom do we keep this economy going?
At the end of one of the planning commission meetings as a few people talked informally with Dir. Morrison he chided us, saying that things are not going to return to the way they were 40 years ago. "There's just too much money involved."
One person interviewed said she liked Sonoma because it was not "the Disneyland of wineries". Where might that be?
The most consistent voice at the APAC meetings thus far has been for the concept of the 10 acre dream winery - to insure that there are places where someone just starting out can realize their ambition to mint a wine brand. If looked at in the tech analogy, such winery startups might just be seen as spec investments, funded perhaps with venture capital, built with the intention to get bought out by wealthy individuals or corporations. It does not bode well for the 4500 parcels in Napa County that can currently be occupied by wineries.
One of the visits was to the island of Sylt on Germany's North Sea. The island is connected to the mainland by bridge with road and train service. Its spectacular 25 mile long sandy beaches have always been the secret playground of the German rich and famous. Beautiful thatched roof homes used to comprise a cohesive country community, always a big part of the attraction.
In the last few decades, tourism discovered Sylt as an opportunity resource for exploitation. The massive proliferation of expensive hotels, second home buyers and Porches for rent have gradually pushed out the local population. The steadily diminishing number of children forced its first elementary school to close a few years ago, then the second one combined classrooms with children of different ages. Recently, the last school was forced to close leaving no alternative for the remaining children but to board the train to the mainland. Local residents complain that they no longer have neighbors they know or to talk to. While the local economy seems to be thriving, the social fabric has been torn to pieces. Low paying jobs are proliferating, the income gap stares one in the face... Stage 3.
The second, the historic city of Bruges in Belgium is as charming a mediaeval city as there is. Lovely steeped roofed brick homes, two incredible cathedrals, cobbled streets and canals bring tour bus after tour bus with 3 million tourists a year on to its 117,000 residents. Chocolate and waffle shops abound, restaurants are packed with tourists. The economy seems to thrive but the income gap widens. One can understand why locals hate living in what has become a Hansel and Gretel Disneyland... Stage 3.
Late last year, a few thousand locals staged massive protests against the onslaught of tourism in Barcelona. The least obscene banners proclaimed, "Don't step on Barcelona" and "Tourists don't trample on us". Similar scenario, with GDP declining and the national economy relying on EU bailouts. No difference in Portugal...Stage 3 1/2.
Greece which completely sold out to tourism after joining the EU, found out that the jobs it brought are the lowest paying ones. Subsidies to supplement them have proliferated and so have government jobs, the only ones paying decent wages. We all know how this bankrupt scenario has played out... Stage 4.
The literature on tourism generally recognizes 5 stages in its trajectory. The first, is purely supplemental and supportive to an existing economic base. Stage 2 leads to the local economy's increasing reliance on tourist dollars and is perceived by local governments and businesses as essential. Stage 3 sees the beginning dislocation of the local population, a gradual tearing of the social fabric, the proliferation of low paying jobs with the associated concentration of outsider investor wealth at the top. With those factors in place, turning back the clock is almost impossible. That process is irreversible by Stage 4. The deficit economy of tourism becomes evident as the 30 to 40-fold wear and tear of the infrastructure requires ever increasing funds for maintenance and further destructive expansion.
By stage 5, the Faustian Deal is complete. Local government has negotiated itself into the corner of no alternative than the vicious circle of even more and more tourism to pay the bill. It never catches up. Finally, tourism having left thriving communities in tatters both in terms of infrastructure and social capital, it moves on little by little to other destinations to devour.
The Napa Valley is steadily approaching the Stage 3 tipping point and the local population is starting to feel it in its bones.
It just occurred to me that this is the "Platex Strategy" again! In the lingerie garment industry Platex would place a big order from the manufacturer . The company was thrilled and went out and bought machines, rented space and hired workers to make the order -- they could not turn down the order. The next order was for a lower price but the company had debts by then and so had to accept the price. The next order was even lower. Until you can guess the outcome but by then Platex was on to another company. In the industry this was a famous case study in business schools.
On Tuesday, June 16th 2015 the Board of Supervisors will consider a $5,600,000 appropriation for Visit Napa Valley to continue its effort to flood the county with ever more tourists. The agenda letter is here.
"Tourism is one of the largest industries in the Napa Valley" the article states. (No other industry was mentioned.) Members of the tourism industry positively gushed about the amounts of money and people coming into the county. At the current 6% rate of increase the visitor population will grow from 3.3 mil to 6 million visitors in 10 years. "Napa is just becoming internationally well known as a destination" a tour operator states. "We're very pleased with the significant increase in international visitation" says the president of Visit Napa Valley. That number is currently increasing 44% per year which might mean 16.4 million international visitors alone in 10 years.
These projections represent a 2 to 6 fold increase in the number of tourists and venues and hotel rooms and workers and traffic and infrastructure, all over the next 10 years. The tourism industry didn't seem to see any downside to the numbers.
Many have indicated that county planning decisions need to be based on data. Visit Napa Valley has provided some data that implies a very large amount of development required in the future. Much has already begun. Perhaps 70 winery projects have been approved but are still unbuilt. Perhaps 50 more are in the planning department awaiting approval. Major hotel and resort and worker housing projects are in the works. But much more will be needed if Visit Napa Valley continues its success. And with each development the agricultural base of the county is more at peril.
Visit Napa Valley has done its part in helping create the "reliable market" seen in the WDO for Napa wine. But an ever increasing amount of tourism is having impacts on the character of our community and the ultimate viability of agricultural in an increasingly urban environment. Perhaps the goal should now be to maintain that level of visitation as is going forward while the county begins to deal with its impacts. And perhaps the Supervisors should consider an equal effort in creating a reliable market for Napa wine, particularly the small labels that seem the most anxious to sell their wines directly to customers, beyond the borders of the county.
An open letter to the Napa County Board of Supervisors,
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the appropriation of fiscal 2015-16 funds for the Napa Valley Tourism Improvement District, aka Visit Napa Valley. As you know their 2014 visitor studies were recently reviewed in this NVR article: As Napa Valley's prestige increases, so do visitors
It will seem churlish perhaps to take issue with a government agency that has by all measure been a great success in dealing with the tasks assigned to it. The NVTID has done more than its fair share in adding to the "reliable market" for Napa wines envisioned in the WDO. But, as has been discussed throughout the last year, and as the county has acknowledged through the creation of APAC, and as the planning department proposals on visitation acknowledge, tourism into the county has impacts. As many have argued this last year, the development impacts of tourism and of the expanding workforce and services necessary to cater to it, will, if left unchecked, change not only the physical character of the county that we treasure but will also make less viable the agricultural resource you strive to protect.
The numbers reported in the article are presented as a great blessing, with members of the tourism industry gushing about the amounts of money and numbers of people coming into the county. But the visitation numbers also foretell a darker omen. Overall visitation has increased 6% per year since 2012. At that rate of increase, the visitor population will double from 3.3 mil to 6 million visitors in 10 years. Referring just to the international visitation, there has been a 44% per year increase. If Visit Napa Valley continues its success rate, there will be 16. 2 million international visitors alone in 10 years.
These projections represent a 2 to 6 fold increase in the number of tourists to be accommodated in the county in the next decade - not a long time in planning terms. That implies a similar 2 to 6 fold increase of event venues and accommodations and hospitality workers and tourism traffic and infrastructure, all in the next 10 years.
Many have indicated over the last year that county planning decisions need to be based on data. Visit Napa Valley has provided data that implies a very large amount of development required in the future. Much has already begun. Perhaps 70 winery projects have been approved but are still unbuilt. Perhaps 50 more are in the planning department awaiting approval. Major hotel and resort and worker housing projects are in the works. But much, much more will be needed if Visit Napa Valley continues the trajectory of its current success. And with each new development the agricultural landscape and the rural nature of our community, treasured by resident and visitor alike, is diminished.
I would urge you to take this opportunity to begin re-looking at the direct-to-consumer dogma, promoted by the tourism industry, that encourages tourism as the principal means of developing a reliable market for smaller Napa brand wines. No doubt many small wineries have a hard time reaching a market beyond the county borders, particularly if owners are unwilling to do the leg-work that their predecessors in the valley had to do to survive. But tourists-through-the-door is not the only way to promote their viability, and the county should put as much effort into developing alternative marketing strategies as they have into the tourism strategy.
Bricks-and-mortar retail is disappearing in the digital age and it will happen in the wine industry as well. The county should put its resources behind an internet sales portal for small Napa wineries. It should encourage alternative, less profit oriented, distribution organizations to market smaller labels. It should encourage tastings and sales through small-label wine markets in the municipalities giving the visitors that are here exposure to the many labels. It should support advertising campaigns not for tourism but for wine. The county might even consider supporting a Napa small-wine boutique in Hong Kong. Most importantly the county should drastically reduce the visitation allowed at wineries. Wineries should represent a need to process fruit, not a desire to process tourists.
Granted the revenues to the county from these solutions may be less than tourism development fees and TOT. But the support of agriculture as the best and highest use of the land is also not the most profitable use of the land. The county's fundamental commitment is to support an agriculture-based economy. Tourism is in competition for the land and water resources necessary for an agricultural economy.
As your predecessor, Mel Varrelman, recognized: "Tourism is a very destructive thing, I mean, anybody who thinks otherwise is just not thinking it through very clearly." We need solutions to maintain the wine industry and its agricultural resource that don't rely on ever increasing development. Please, begin to think through those solutions now.
The premise that the wine sales model has changed, requiring direct sales for wineries to survive, which the County believes is basically false. For it to be understood in terms of implementing policy, it must be recognized for what it is and separated into its different components.
While in Los Angeles, I spoke to two people in the wine distribution, brokerage, retail and import trade. They have been at it for as long as I have known them; 40 years.
The 3-tier sales system is alive and well. No new laws have changed it.
What is true is that the number of distributors has become smaller due to consolidation and the large distributors prefer large volume wineries. Though fewer, they sell more wine than ever before.
However, the slack has been picked up by many more wine brokers who handle smaller wineries. Scores of them would love to sell the many wines that wineries choose to sell directly to customers.
But, just as before, direct sales are more profitable, eliminating the middle tier costs of storage, commissions etc. Nothing new.
There are two ways to sell wine direct: One is benign and one is destructive.
DIRECT SALES/WINERY EVENTS:
Direct sales are easier to implement than they have ever been. In addition to winery trade tastings, winemaker dinners at markets around the country, the internet has provided a powerful new tool for developing a direct sales data base and increased winery profits.
Trade tastings and winemaker dinners involve travel and hard work which the new winery owners are not willing to engage. They prefer the easier way and have convinced the County that this is an issue of survival. And the County keeps accommodating them with increased visitation rights. It is a short sighted policy.
Direct sales as such have no direct impact on the valley. Entertainment at the wineries is another story.
The concept of bringing the customer to the winery, instead of taking the winery to the customer is not the result of "the changing marketing reality". It must be recognized for what it is [event related] and the consequences it has for everyone.
More tourist traffic and more hotel rooms, the primary drivers of an accelerating low wage job market, create more commuter traffic, diminished quality of life, more use of the infrastructure and its deficit maintenance/expansion/replacement costs which are borne by the community at large. All for the benefit of very few who are not willing to put in the work.
Any formula which increases the number of winery visitors unleashes this destructive chain. Tying visits to production levels will only increase the applications for increased productions.
This chain of consequences gradually transforms the agricultural character of the valley to one of retail entertainment. It is a slippery slope and it lies at the root of the increased search of new definitions and variances, around what constitutes agricultural or commercial use.
I asked John McDowell for a list of current winery projects. This is what he has. Brian Bordona wrote to say he'll have a list of winery projects by next week. Geoff requested this information be kept updated and posted like St. Helena does.
This is good information to have in weighing cumulative impacts and for staying ahead of the public notices, such as the Anthem neighbors are determined to do.
Current Planning projects list attached. It is updated about once a month by
our Supervising Planner, Charlene Gallina. Hopefully we will be able to get
this up on our webpage soon, but we have some IT logistics to work through
Vineyard projects are handled by our Conservation Division and the Supervising
Planner in that section is Brian Bordona who is out sick. I'm pretty sure he
isn't going to make it back to work this week, and I don't know how to get to
Geoff Ellsworth adds:
Hi, St. Helena doesn't do this either but the suggestion has been brought up, I think it is necessary at this point
Chris Malan adds:
This is useful and puts things into persceptive for Vision 2050 Coalition, and perhaps we need the same table for vineyards in the pipeline. Jim can you ask David or Brian Bordona for the same on vineyards? We really need the County's list of all development projects-one supervisor said there are 90.
I have requested info on applications in the pipeline from Charlene Gallina at the Planning Department and will post it here when available. In August the planning department produced this table of projects in their pipeline which included 26 new wineries or major modifications (in pink). At a meeting in November Mr. Morrison indicated that perhaps 15 additional applications had come in. I've been using the number 40 in describing the backlog. The 80 may include minor modifications as well - we'll see when and if I get the info.
Update 2/11/15: 41 new wineries and major modifications in the hopper as of this date.
Someone happened to mention the cult wine producer Screaming Eagle yesterday and so I looked up their website. This note on the site's FAQ made a great impression:
"Can I visit the property?
We are sorry to report that the property cannot accommodate tours and that because of the extremely small quantity of wine produced we do not offer tastings."
The lesson I took from this: Great wines don't need tourists.
The very well regarded Dominus Estate, recently involved in opposing the proposed mega-tourist attraction Yountville Hill Winery, is also a tourist-free zone.
Given all of the pleadings that some vintners make that their survival depends on tourist sales, these two examples make me wonder how many other of the valley's greatest winemakers feel no need to cater to tourists to sell their wines. And while those wineries that allow no visitors are probably rare, there are many wineries, like White Rock Vineyards on our road, that have managed to sell extremely good wines for decades with a very modest amount of by-appointment tastings. It does make me wonder if extensive marketing plans might, in fact, be a sign of second rate wines.
These examples reaffirm my belief that tourism at wineries should only include tours and tastings. Food (well, except maybe crackers) should be banned. "Events" belong in the hotels and resorts and restaurants located within the city limits as is intended in the general plan. Wineries may belong in the vineyards (although I think we've reached a saturation level) - but entertainment does not. The inclusion of "and may include food service without charge to except to the extent of cost recovery when provided in association with such education of development" is one of 2 original sins in the 1990 WDO. It needs to be struck. (The other is the ambiguous "or members of a particular group for which the activity is being conducted on a pre-arranged basis", meaning, like, anyone on earth. That also needs to be struck.)
Sandy Erickson has an excellent page devoted to Tourism on her St. Helena Window site. It includes a synopsis of the Butler Report on Tourism Life Cycles along with other references which summarize exactly the context being confronted by the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commissioner in their current search for direction to the county's future. Her page is essential background for the community discussion we will be having in the weeks and months ahead.
Based on the county Special Project Assignments (2014) I have updated the list of projects approved since 2010 in my tourism project use permit database to include the projects that are still in the pipeline in the county planning department. The numbers for these projects are still quite sketchy and I will update them as they become available.
[Email from Sandy Ericson of the St. Helena Window sent to supervisors and commissioners]
Dear Supervisors and Planning Commissioners:
In view of the recurring requests for greater tourism facilities and the accompanying community backlash, this may be a good time to review the Butler Report, a famously quoted study and an effective "head's up" for geographic areas contemplating the growth of tourism. It is an area fraught with unintended consequences for those new to the game. For instance, this spring, within the City of St. Helena, citizens successfully used the Referendum process to defeat a revision of the Small Winery Ordinance which opened neighborhoods to commercial wineries and events. At some point, this will likely happen on the County level as well.
I sent this in response to Geoff Ellsworth's appeal for a few lines on cumulative impacts to present to the BOS on June 24th.:
At what point will the county, nominally intent on preserving an agrarian economy, begin to realize that it has made a Faustian bargain with the tourism-development industry? Equating tourism with agriculture means the vineyards will slowly be consumed by tourist facilities with their event centers, parking lots and accessory wineries. And then the vineyards will be consumed by the resort, hotel, road and commercial development necessary to house, feed, transport and entertain tourists. And then they will be consumed by the housing developments and schools and shopping malls necessary for the workers and contractors that must service a tourist economy. And then the vineyards will be consumed because nobody will care what the valley once used to be. It is past time to recognize that not only is tourism not agriculture, it is an existential threat to agriculture. Tourism development, like all forms of development, is the realization of an economy of maximized profits that the ag preserve was created to counter. If the county still wants an agricultural economy, then It is time to find a new bargain that saves our imperiled rural environment. If not, then bring in the tourists and let the devil have his due.
Date: Tues May 20th, 2014
Time: 9:00 am
Location: Napa County Building
Combined Board of Supervisors Planning Commission meeting to discuss:
1. Noticing procedures (enlarge the 300' neighborhood noticing requirement for new proposed projects)
2. Winery visitation, marketing and cumulative growth impact analysis (Cumulative effects of approved and future winery-tourism projects)
3. Environmental Impact Report process (reliance on applicants paid consultants for project analysis)
4. Climate Action Plan status (current status of County' greenhouse gas reduction policy)
The consideration of two new winery projects by the Planning Commission brings up once again the impacts that the loosening of tourism-marketing restrictions in the 2010 revision to the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO) is bringing to the county.
As a resident of upper Soda Canyon Road faced with the possible location of a winery-tourism project in my neighborhood, I have become quite sensitized to the concerns of residents, and perhaps some vintners, all over the county that are confronting the same intrusions into the rural life they thought they had found in the Napa Valley.
These projects, the Castelucci Family Winery and Titus Vineyards and Winery, are just this month's examples of how the development pressures released by the change to the WDO (and the enactment of the State's Evans Bill in 2008 allowing on-site consumption of wine purchased at wineries) are playing out.
The Agricultural Preserve was created in 1968 in the knowledge that small-scale agriculture cannot compete profitably with almost any other land-use endeavor. The Ag Preserve was set up to drastically limit what Napa County land could be used for beyond agriculture. But developers have always been pressing against the dykes of the Preserve trying to find a way to turn Napa land to more profitable use. American Canyon was created in 1992 to relieve pressure against the rest of the County.
The Winery Definition Ordinance of 1990 was a similar response to the development pressure. Wineries and wine tourism, industrial and commercial activities in any other part of the world, were redefined as part of the agricultural process. The tourism was heavily restricted, but it was a crack in the dyke.
In 2010, the tourism restrictions were eased, to allow "marketing plans" that included meetings and events of almost any kind (short of weddings) and to allow "wine pairings" or the serving of food with wine, allowing the wineries to become in essence restaurants. Combined with the Evans bill, the profitability scales tipped and development proposals have been coming in at the rate of several per month for the last few years.
In the last year alone, proposals amounting to more than 1 million gallons per year in winery production capacity, 300,000 square feet of increased winery area, and 500,000 new visitor allowances have come before the Planning Commission. One new tourism-winery is being added to the county each month and existing wineries are beefing up marketing plans and infrastructure to tap into this new wave of tourism.
Each new project impairs the maintenance of the Ag Preserve. The Titus Vineyard most clearly shows the threat: 3 vineyard acres of the 31-acre property have been removed from true agriculture and are now devoted to industrial and tourism uses. That nibbling away of agricultural land in these developments was best described in one of the 1990 WDO "findings of fact":
"(f) The cumulative effect of such projects is 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 use."
The other threat to the Ag Preserve lies in the tourism numbers. The combined allowed visitors (34,000 per year, by my calculation) in these projects, along with the other half million new visitors per year permitted in the last year will all need hotels and restaurants and parking lots and bathrooms - all of which require land and water that currently belongs to the Ag Preserve.
Tourism and agriculture are not mutually compatible, each requiring for different purposes the land and water resources that seem to be in ever shorter supply. If the concessions to tourism made in the 2010 WDO are not removed, the tourism they are spawning will continue to nibble at those resources until the vineyards, like the fishing villages of Cape Cod, become only a prop to justify tourism.
The WDO argued that wineries are integral to agriculture, and that accessory uses (like wine marketing and tourism) were to be subordinated to agricultural use.
I may be wrong, but I would guess that if the tourism components of new projects were eliminated, the wineries would not be considered; that the positions of agriculture and tourism have been reversed from that intended in the WDO, with tourism and marketing profitability driving the decision to build a winery, not the need to process grapes. (Indeed vintners are already concerned that winery capacity has overtaken their ability to supply the necessary Napa grapes.)
It is past time for the Board of Supervisors to decide if Napa County is to base its economy on agriculture, or on the more profitable economy of tourism. It is just that imbalance in profitability that the Ag Preserve was created to guard against in the first place.
Tourism, regulated at its current level, will undoubtedly consume and deface the rural environment that is the legacy of the Ag Preserve, the loss of an environment treasured by residents, vintners and tourists alike. It is time to re-look at the unfortunate decisions made in 2010.