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The Palmaz Heliport
Feb 24, 2017
As with most of us, the traffic in Napa is slowing down Christian Palmaz. Unlike most of us, his father, Dr. Julio Palmaz, has the means to do something about it. The county has just sent out this hearing notice for the Final EIR for a heliport to be built next to the family house. The application is being pursued by Christian, who "lives and breathes aviation" and would like the neighbors to experience his passion as well, albeit from the ground. "What else can you do to alienate the world?" Dr. Palmaz asks in this 2009 article concerning neighborhood opposition to the construction of his winery. He also alienated the county by filling in Hagen Creek during its construction resulting in a $550,000 fine. (The county's complaint)
In 2004, except for "helicopter landings solely in support of direct agricultural production activities" un-permitted commercial helicopter landings were banned in the county. It was a very good decision. The ban was in response to one operator beginning to promote tourism flights to wineries. (This was before tourist processing become an agricultural activity in the 2008 General Plan so I'm sure at some point even this ban will be revisited.)
Unfortunately, at the same time the Supervisors allowed "Personal use ... heliports" to be a permitted use. Just like setbacks, the rules for wineries don't apply to houses. It was a bad decision. (Conveniently for some well healed oenophiles, the Palmaz house is next to the family winery, a vast underground wine laboratory seemingly inspired by Dr. No. Separating buyers from friends may be a bit difficult to regulate.)
There is no end to the ostentatiously wealthy of this world who have or lust after an estate of their own in this prestigious wine capital. The Palmaz family, if the county permits, will not be the only helicommuters. In addition to the numerous conspicuous consumers already here, there are still around 4000 properties waiting to be developed into Xanadus. Helicopters would make commuting to even the most remote estate developments, like Walt Ranch, a breeze.
While the din of the armada traversing the valley might provide a bit of nostalgia for the Yountville vets, it is a catastrophe for those of us, ordinary and wealthy alike, who appreciate the peace and quite of this rural place.
What level of diminishment will the county permit to the quality of life of its residents to appease a few individuals? An entire tourism industry has grown around the exhibitionist desires of a gaggle of good-life entrepreneurs, bringing traffic, the loss of affordable housing, the littering of the valley and its ridges with expressions of ego, and the loss of rural peace and enjoyment to event center noise and lights. Must we also endure the constant thump-thump as those with the means avoid the traffic they have helped to create.
Alas, we now find ourselves in the full bloom of a plutocratic age beginning to shake up institutions large and small. Much of the community activism in the last 3 years has been about projects being developed by a handful of plutocrats wishing to impose their will to the detriment of their neighbor's quality of life. No doubt the loss of rural tranquility on Diamond Mountain Road, Mt. Veeder Road, Soda Canyon Road, Atlas Peak Road, Circle Oaks Drive, Hagen Road and many other places in the county by a handful of plutocrats means little next to the chaos being created by the handful of plutocrats now governing our nation. But one must make a stand where one can. The Palmaz proposal can't even begin to argue any benefit to the public welfare or economic vitality of the county, and only promises a degradation of the rural character that we treasure.
Update 10/23/18With the passage of Measure D by a vote of 61 to 39% in the June 2018 primary, the Palmaz appeal to the Board was rendered moot and the appeal was withdrawn thus ending the saga of the Palmaz Heliport.
Well, not quite. In a surprise consent item on the 10/23/18 BOS agenda, Christian Palmaz was to be appointed to a vacant seat on the Airport Land Use Commission, the very body that denied his application, being the only applicant for the nominally publically advertised position. The stir in the activist community in the 48 hours prior to the meeting was ferocious, and the Supes not only removed the item from the consent calendar but asked for a review of their advertising and notification policies and a reposting of the position. No one asked who might have been responsible for such a stealthy process. Even members of the ALUC had not known about the vacancy. Only pilots could apply, and several were ready to do so once the issue became public.
The appeal has been scheduled for July 10th 2018, after results from the Heliport Ban Initiative [Measure C] are known.
Update 9/6/17On Sept. 6th, 2017, the County Airport Land Use Commission and the County Planning Commission each rejected the proposal for the Palmaz Heliport. The decision will probably be appealed, but this is a rare win for the residents that will be impacted by the many development projects being proposed throughout the county. This project may just be an exception - its potential impacts are egregious both in its particulars and in the precedent it sets. But let's hope this is a harbinger of a shift in the county's interest toward balancing the interests of most residents against those of developers and plutocrats and their impactful good-life enterprises.
The Airport Land Use Commission has turned down the Palmaz Proposal as inconsistent with the ACLU Plan on the basis of noise and safety impacts on surrounding land uses. The vote was 6-1 with Walker, Brod, Gallagher, Cottrell, Basayne and Gill opposed to the proposal and Scott in favor. Four hours later the Planning Commission followed suit voting 4-1 with Gallagher, Cottrell Basayne, and Gill opposed and Scott in favor.
The decision will probably be appealed, but this is a rare win for the residents that are being impacted by the many development projects being proposed throughout the county. This project may just be an exception - its potential impacts are egregious both in its particulars and in the precedent it sets. But let's hope this is a harbinger of a shift in the county's interest toward balancing the interests of most residents against those of developers and plutocrats and their impactful good-life enterprises.
Nothing has changed in the proposal since the May 17th hearings. One hopes that Barry Eberling will ask Comms. Gill and Basayne why they reversed their positions. The answers might be of interest. (Comm. Gill's closing comments need to be transcribed.) It also puts a spotlight on Comm. Scott, who did buck fellow commissioners before in support of residents, but continued to support plutocratic desire here over the overwhelming rejection of the project by community and commission alike. The spotlight thus also falls on what can only be interpreted as Sup Pedroza's unique support of the Palmaz project.
Update 8/30/17:On Tuesday, Sep. 6th 2017, the Airport Land Use Commission and the Napa County Planning Commission will again take up the Cristian Palmaz request for a personal heliport, a precedent-setting decision that will enable the plutocratic entrepreneurs proliferating in the county to escape the traffic that their good-life enterprises are generating. The thump-thump of their disdain for the peace and quiet of Napa's less-well-healed residents just adds to the neighborhood and county-wide impacts of their vanity developments. The two hearings will begin at 9:00am at the County building, 1195 3rd St. Public comments are welcome.
Update 5/17/17:The Airport Land Use Commission (ALUC) has not approved, by a 3 to 3 vote, the Palmaz heliport proposal. Commissioner Walcker (a pilot on the ALUC but not the Planning Commission) and Comm. Cottrell both cited the ALU Compatability Plan's Commission Authority (page 1-2):
Among bad ideas the proposition of helicopters over Napa County is the worst. One flies directly over my house in Calistoga regularly---circling the neighborhood for about 15 noisy minutes on one occasion. It's a convenience for someone but a horrible quality-of-life degradation for us below.
You can read this in the quiet of your office; but I could not have spoken it to you at my house, if the copter was overhead, because of the clamor. It's that loud.
Please do what you can to prohibit this kind of intrusion into the valley.
28 February 2017
Napa County Planning Commission
1195 Third St., Suite 305
Napa CA 94558
RE: Palmaz Personal Use Heliport Use Permit #P14-00261-UP
Dear Chairperson and Commission Members:
I am writing to register my opposition to the granting of this personal use heliport Use Permit (#P014-00261-UP). The permission to establish such an obtrusive use associated with a residential use in rural Napa County displays a willingness to permit additional such uses in the future, and encourages others to consider doing so.
Currently, the citizens of our County endure frequent helicopter and low level plane traffic over residential and recreational lands. Over the years such traffic has increased. This traffic encroaches on the peace and tranquility that characterizes our valley. The land use assessment of this project fails to reflect the value of the quality of life in our county and disclose how this project may induce its subsequent deterioration.
I am surprised that the potential for this project to encourage others to do the same has not been assessed. And, I am surprised that reference to future review by the Airport Land Use Commission is understood by County staff to address the air traffic consequences of the use permit. Similarly, do we know whether County limits on frequency of use and air traffic patterns will be enforceable over time?
I believe that the Use Permit would open the door to increasing use of the site beyond County limitations and the encouragement of others to establish similar uses throughout the county wherever land and funds are available. Therefore, I suggest that the future cumulative effects of this project do not conform to General Plan considerations, violate the spirit and intent of land use limitations reflected in recent votes by residents, and constitute encouragement to proliferate similar uses in the Napa Valley.
Of course the No Project Alternative does not meet the personal wishes of the applicant. But, when does such a personal convenience outweigh the long-term consequences of further degrading the quality of life in the Napa Valley. Please DENY this use permit application.
I am writing to express my opposition to the prospect of the approval of a private heliport in Napa County. There is no justification for its approval.
The issues of noise, even with a "low-noise helicopter," restricted number of flights per week, and 'mitigation measures' as hinted at by the consultants who prepared the EIR, have been addressed by other concerned citizens.
The crucial question is why such a facility is needed? The individual in question does not live in an inaccessible area where there is no other way to get to his property. He is within an easy drive of the Napa airport and, surely, the drive would not take longer than a helicopter ride. And what about the times when there is bad weather that would prohibit the flying of the helicopter? The individual would have to drive to his residence under those circumstances. The heliport is merely an extension of the individual's sense of entitlement, to the detriment of his neighbors and Napa County, not a necessity.
If commercial helicopters are banned, shouldn't private ones be as well? They present the same noise, intrusion, and privacy issues that were the basis for the ban on commercial helicopter use.
I do not live on Hagen Road, nor near the proposed site of the heliport. However, as I live off of Soda Canyon, where the number of wineries seems to be proliferating to the detriment of our rural life and there are a number of large properties, I am very concerned about the slippery slope that will be created if the Palmaz heliport is approved. Once one such place is permitted, how can the County deny the application for other heliports? I would hate to see the skies of Napa become congested by private helicopters. Not a pretty thought. The many balloons one sees, especially during the summer, are bad enough, with their noise and sometimes intrusive positions above our homes.
I respectfully suggest that the Planning Commission take these points into consideration as it decides whether to approve or deny the application for the Palmaz heliport. And I believe that the only decision is to deny the application for a private heliport in Napa.
The first of two (or three) days of hearings on the proposed Palmaz heliport on Mt. George occurred today at the Napa County Planning Commission. 2 members of the public spoke in support of the project. 46 people spoke in opposition.
The Palmaz heliport is one of the numerous projects that have roiled all who feel the rural tranquility that has been the hallmark of Napa County is slipping away into the maw of an urbanized future. Like Walt and Syar and Yountville Hill and Woolls and Mountain Peak (and APAC) and numerous other projects around the county, the residents come out in mass to protest these tangible examples of the loss of Napa's irreplaceable rural character. Government councils patiently give them due diligence and then sanction more development on the basis that impacts have been abstractly rendered "less-than-significant". But the impacts are significant, in traffic, loss of affordable housing and local businesses, the littering of vineyards and hillsides with building projects, deforestation, ever more taxes for infrastructure, and now the looming presence of skies filled with helicopters.
The Palmaz heliport should be a no-brainer. The discomfort of the entire population of Napa county having to bear the noise of more helicopters overhead is put against the desire of one person with means to avoid the 10 mile drive to the airport. Given the more remote location of the proposed alternative pad site, it is not even about saving time. There is no public welfare benefit, only a major impact. And yet the county staff has made every effort to find a way that the project can be approved. But, as one protestant said to the commission in the packed chamber "Your job is to oversee the welfare of the community. The community is here and they don't want this project."
While many speakers made the case eloquently about noise and wildlife impacts and the precedent it would set in a place crawling with plutocrats potentially lusting for a helicopter-of-their-own, it was the last public speaker that appropriately seemed to sum up the big picture of Napa's future and what's at stake here:
"My name is Stephen Winiarski. I have a house out there on Mt. George Ave. I'm coming late to the hearing and I don't know what's been said up until now, but I do feel like we're at a watershed moment for the valley where we need to collectively decide what kind of future we want for the valley here, whether it's something that's going to be of, by, and for the 1%er's, or it's going to be something that's for all of us. I feel like the idyllic and bucolic and tranquil nature of the valley which, given, is under pressure, there's something we all need to decide - how we want that to be preserved and how helicopters would negatively impact that lifestyle and that way of life that we all enjoy here in the valley. I think that once this starts then there's really no going back, and there's going to be more and more helicopters. Everyone who can afford it, and wants to have one and has the recsources and place to do it will do it. I understand that the staff is recommending approval. I find that a betrayal, honestly. I just wanted to make my thoughts and feeling known and how negative I believe the impacts would be for all of us. Thank you."