Update 10/7/15 At the Oct 7, 2015 Planning Commission meeting Dir. Morrison presented his latest number crunching on grape harvest, actual wine production and permitted production capacity in the county. The 2014 grape crop was enough for 21 mil gallons of pure Napa wine. As in his previous presentations, only about 18 mil gallons of capacity is currently required to be Napa grapes. Legally he feels that the county is required to allow that additional 3 mil gallons to be permitted in new wineries or winery expansions. The reality is that all Napa grapes are being processed and there is a portion of the Napa grape crop, probably much more than 3 mil gallons, that is now being processed by Napa wineries not required to do so. And the reality is that most of those wineries are unlikely to give up their Napa grape sources. The question is still why keep permitting new and unnecessary wineries and additional capacity, as long as there is already an existing demand for the whole of the Napa crop? The Farm Bureau's Norma Tofanelli dissects some of these numbers here.
Update 9/1/15 At the Aug 11th BOS meeting, Planning Director David Morrison gave the board a presentation on code enforcement and compliance issues (item 9B on the agenda) which included a summary of the tentative provisions of proposal Z unanimously approved at the APAC July 27th meeting. As part of his powerpoint presentation to the Board he included some grape crush statistics based on information received from the TTB which illuminated changes in Napa grape crushing over the years. Three graphs stood out: the number of Napa grapes crushed outside of Napa county has gone from 11% to 26% of the total harvest since 1991. Napa grapes have gone from 67% to 31% of the total grapes crushed in the county since 1991. There is an increase of 27% in Napa grown grapes and an increase of 124% in total grapes crushed since 1991. What is to be made of these numbers? Only that the amount of non-Napa wine being produced in the county is expanding (principally around the airport) while the amount of Napa wine remains somewhat fixed, based on the slow growth of new Napa vineyards.
Update 3/11/15 Planning Director Morrison produced his own numbers (page 32) at the Mar 10th 2015 joint Bos/Pc meeting. His conclusion: 28 mil gallons of wine are produced from napa grapes. Only 18 mil gallons of capacity has been added since 1990 that is required to use napa grapes. There are 118 mil gallons of capacity in the county not required to be from Napa grapes, but 10 mil gallons of which is now being used to process Napa grapes. His implicit and uncomfortable conclusion: Pre-WDO wineries have the right to shift all their pre-WDO production to central valley grapes. And the county has the obligation to approve another 192 more 50,000 gal wineries.
Original Post 3/12/14
"Are we at capacity?... Is there justification to continue building wineries in this valley?"
-- County Supervisor Mark Luce, 2015
At the joint meeting of the BOS and the Planning Commission on May 20th 2014, the above question was asked by Supervisor Luce to the planning director. It was a monumental question, as much at the heart of the new winery debate as tourism. The planning department has given itself until October to come up with the answer.
While the county may take months, I'm willing to take a stab at it now, because like many other NIMBY's across the county I am facing the brunt of bad planning decisions right now. Projects currently proposed may be cast in concrete by the time October comes around - I can't afford to wait. I preface this by saying that I have no expertise to bring to this analysis and having just begun to look at these issues since finding our about my winery in March, have no insight into the complexity of the issues involved. I will anticipate being labeled a fool (or worse) by people who do have expertise in the area.
1. What are the policy implications if the County has approved enough wineries subject to the 75% rule that the wineries (at maximum production) could use up all of the fruit that is grown in Napa County?"
The 75% rule was created in the WDO of 1990 and requires all capacity created after 1990, new wineries and expansion of existing wineries, to use a minimum of 75% Napa grown grapes.
Based on the staff report graph, the total county permitted capacity of 118,600,000 gals/yr in 2012 would seem to be about 4 times the amount needed to process, according the crop report of 2012, the 29,000,000 gals worth of 75-25% napa wine produced that year. But much of that capacity is exempt from the 75% rule: 26 million g/y of pre 1990 AP/AW capacity is exempt, as are wineries outside of the AP/AW zone (the Bronco winery at the airport is permitted 43,000,000 g/y, one third of all permitted capacity in Napa county).
Only 36 million g/y (the increase in production in the AP/AW zone since 1990 on the chart) is mandated to use napa grapes. That is still much more than the 29 million gallons of 75-25 blend capable of being produced from the 2012 crop. Enough new capacity has been permitted since 1990 to process all napa grapes and then some. But adding to that capacity is that many new wineries use 100% napa grapes and also that much of the 26 million g/y being produced before 1990 was from Napa grapes and it is unlikely that all or even most of that processing has shifted to non-napa grapes. Unfortunately the complexities of tracking pre-WDO wineries ability to shift Napa grapes in and out of their old facilitates makes an estimate of that capacity difficult.
The staff conclusion, perhaps understandable given the conflicting goals of the industry "stakeholders" participating in the review, was that the status quo need not be challenged at this point.
But the staff did produce a statistic of interest in the report: reviewing the Commission hearing agendas (as I did for my new wineries page) they concluded that 5-7 million gals/yr of capacity subject to the 75% rule were added between 2007 and 2012. (The exact number is difficult to determine because of the source-shifting abilities of pre-WDO wineries.)
But based on the County's crop reports, between 2006 and 2015 the acreage producing Napa grapes has hardly changed. In that same period almost 6 million gallons of new winemaking capacity have been approved in the county,
So while capacity has dramatically increased, no doubt based on the presumed profitability of winery-tourism, the acres of grapes added, whether because of the drought, a turndown in the economy, more concern about water availability, more neighborhood activism, or the previous development of all the easy watershed land, the rate of new vineyard production has leveled off.
The answer to Supervisor Luce's question? It is clear that the permitted capacity within county wineries has exceeded that necessary to process Napa grapes. Given the new-capacity-to-new-vine ratio over the last several years that will remain true for years to come. Whether this reality is hidden or convoluted because a faction wants to maximize the processing of more profitable non-Napa grapes, or because development profiteers want to promote the construction of more tourism facilities, doesn't change that reality. Adding new capacity (and new land grabbing winery facilities) results in a shift of production (and tourist dollars) from one winery to another resulting in loss of land and resources with great benefit to development interests but little benefit or some actual loss to the agricultural viability of the County.
My policy implication: Stop building new wineries and expanding old ones. If the capacity is there, then rather than approving new wineries and expansions that use up vineyard land being built solely to attract tourists that will further strain the land and water resources of the county (and the peace-of-mind of residents like me), the County should begin to look at the incentives that will encourage wineries with unused or non-Napa capacities to fill that capacity with the fruit of new Napa vineyards.
Another approach would be for the County to begin auctioning new capacity based on the new acreage coming into production each year. Or perhaps the developers of new vineyards would have the option to sell the new capacity their vines would allow. This approach means that a market would be created in new production capacity which, for those believing in market based solutions, might be a good thing. Developers would have an incentive to turn unused or brownfield properties into vineyards.
It does also mean that more pressure would be felt to increase the creation of new acreage, which in turn raises the question of availability of water to supply the new wines and the effect of more water extraction on the aquifer as a whole in an age of global warming. That, of course, is another story.
When a suggestion was made by Amber Manfree that the micro-winery permit should be revoked when the property is sold, the Planning Director responded with the oft-repeated County mantra that use-permits go with the land not the owner. But there is no reason that use-permits cannot be given a time limit after which they must be renewed, perhaps at a time of changed development priorities.
The problem with use permits granted in perpetuity is that urban development becomes a one way street. The use permit permanently raises the value of the property. A new buyer wishing to revoke the permit will probably be outbid by someone wishing to expand the permit to pay for the increased value of the land. More development is inevitable. The owner of the Napa Soda Springs property on Soda Canyon Road wishes to sell the property for $50 million, based, no doubt, on its potential as a resort, despite the fact that no paying guest has been on the property for over 100 years. Other parcels in the county, such as the Oak Knoll Hotel site, should have reverted to agricultural use with the lapse of commercial activity, but instead is allowed to be massively urbanized. Property in the rest of the world is often developed on the basis of a time limited lease, and there is no reason that development in Napa county, which purports to protect its agricultural lands, should not adopt that model, particularly on low impact projects like micro-wineries in which the reconversion to non-commercial use is feasible. The effort to maintain an agriculture-based economy is doomed if every non-farming use permitted at some point in time can only be expanded and never removed.
Comments on the Draft Ordinance are being solicited by Planning Director David Morrison, at email@example.com, with a comment deadline of 9/3/21. The the Draft Ordinance and comments will be presented to the Board of Supervisors at a public workshop on 9/14/21.
The Micro-Winery Ordinance follows the Small Winery Ordinance enacted in Feb. 2020. The two ordinances are an effort to make it easier for normal people to get into the winery business in Napa County. The standard process of approving new and modified winery use permits has become so torturous and expensive that only well-heeled plutocrats or corporations have been able to outlast and outspend the community opposition that that can bog down the approvals. That opposition is, of course, due to the potential change that a tourist attraction will bring to the peace and enjoyment of a community living in a rural place. Virtually all requests for new or modified use permits involve hefty amounts of winery visitation and events.
The question is whether additional quantities of small- and micro-wineries will resurect of the low-key authenticity inherent in the Napa wine industry in the 1970's, potentially acceptable to residents adjacent to 4500 rural properties suitable for micro-winery development; or will they be an initially-more-palatable step-by-step establishment of the community-destructive, mass-tourism event centers that now define the Napa wine industry. In either case, the winery glut and the commercialization of, and tourism industry expansion into, Napa's rural communities shows no sign of abating.
It was good to hear that the proposal has changed in the last 2 years to stay clear of the WDO. The details, unknown at present, will be critical to insure that these permits won't just provide a cheaper gateway for the wine-tourism commercialization of the rural communities whose residents support agriculture but not the conversion of their neighborhoods into tourist destinations. In a previous proposal both capacity (30,000 gal/yr) and visitation (25 vis/day) allowed were well above the medians for real wineries in Napa County,
The supervisors in their comments seemed to recognize that the impacts of such tourism intensification should be an important consideration in the drafting fo the ordinance. Sup. Dillon also pointed out the danger of homes being built as micro-wineries and how development standards for homes should also be part of the discussion.
The essence of the ordinance will be to allow home visitation and sales. But the purpose of the visitation should be to sell wine, not to profit off tasting and event fees. I think this is an opportunity to analyze, perhaps for the industry as a whole, how much visitation is actually necessary to sell, say, 5000 gallons of wine a year taking into consideration wine club sales and the increasing use of online sales. There should be a direct quantifiable relationship between the level of visition and the amount of wine produced. Dir. Morrison's Proposal X at APAC was one indirect attempt at defining that relationship -- it was shot down by a wine industry that knows that the profit to be made from tasting and event fees is a revenue source quite independent from actual wine sales.
Save the Family Farm seems like one more end run around protections of the Ag Preserve and the WDO meant to speed up the conversion of an agricultural economy into a more profitable tourism economy, just as is the Winery Streamlining Ordinance considered by the Supes in October (item 10A here).
At the Strategic Plan hearing before the BOS on 12/19/18 several people got up to describe how difficult it was as for small winemakers to survive: those vintners that had a small number of acres of vines that they processed at a custom crush facility or in their barn, but had no means, in an age of consolidated distributers needing large quantities, of actually selling the wine other than inviting people to their farm. The cost of getting a use permit for a winery, a multi-year process at the County, and the cost of actually building a commercial winery was way beyond their means.
The refrain of the small family winery being priced out of the Napa Valley has been fairly constant since APAC and before, with the discussion about the CEQA small winery exception. Apparently there are many winemakers out there that have been operating completely off the grid of official county statistics for some time.
For me, and perhaps the Supervisors, this is much like the issue of winery use-permit non-compliance which turned out to be a much more widespread than first thought. The emphasis on the plight of the small family winemakers, operating without a winery permit and depending on "home" tours and tasting to sell their product may be just as big. And now that the County is cracking down on winery non-compliance with a deadline of 3/29/19 for wineries to register to recognize the conditions of their use permits, the many sub-permit wine makers may be getting nervous.
It seems unlikely that the County doesn't know about number of commercial wineries documented in the Napa Wine Project, regardless the Supes surprise as the small winemakers are coming forward. But it is probably safe to say that the impact of those wine makers on their neighborhoods and on the metrics of traffic generation and housing need have thus far been ignorable. Until now.
The Save the Family Farms Committee has produced their own definition of the Small Family Winery. There are good aspects to the proposal, but the 30,000 gallon limit represents a 50% increase on the median size of existing use-permitted wineries in remote areas, not really small by Napa standards. And the 25 visitors every day is 4 times the median visitation in remote areas and would present a noticeable commercial presence in most rural (or urban!) neighborhoods.
In 2017 The county floated a Limited Winery Ordinance but tabled it because of likely pushback. With the county approving one new winery a month, developing a fast-track method of administrative winery approvals didn't seem like a good idea. The specs were even further above the existing median Napa winery than the Small Family Winery.
Actually, the County already has a Small Winery definition on the books for old existing wineries. It would seem a reasonable template to fit the needs of "Save the Family Farm" petitioners, with the removal of the word "existing". It prohibits tours and tastings, a deal breaker for the Committee I'm sure. But it is worth noting that Screaming Eagle, Coglin, Scarecrow and other very pricey Napa cult wines are all in compliance with this definition - >20,000 gal/yr, no tours, tastings or events. It is possible for a small winemaker to be successful based on the quality of the wine rather than the quantity of the experiences.
In 2014, the first year of doing this website, I proposed a series of solutions attempting to stall the urbanization of the county. One was a "true" family winery ordinance of my own. The overriding considerations were that such small wineries have minimal impacts and that they not be expandable - that they are meant to allow a proof of concept for budding winemakers and an authentic tasting experience for a limited number of aficionados. If the wine maker wishes to expand, it is time to move additional production and visitation out of the hills. The most important aspect of the proposal was that the permit is given to the owner of the land. If the owner left the land, the permit ended. And that it be the only type of winery allowed in the watersheds going forward, so that these permits are not simply a cheap and easy way to start a large event center project. Protecting the watersheds from corporate and plutocratic overdevelopment is the goal. And prohibiting tourism development of the watersheds means that the properties that are available are less expensive for small family farms. It is a workable proposal for just the vintners that are coming forward now.
One of the other "solutions" that gets at the issue of marketing small brands might be appropriate to mention here: The development of public wine markets in each of the municipalities specifically to sell the county's small labels, with a boutique stall for each of the winemakers. The TOT would be used to subsidize, or pay entirely, for the cost of rent on the stalls. The marketing of wine by dragging ever more visitors into the rural areas of the County is not a sustainable approach - in terms of protecting that rural character or of dealing with the VMT issues of climate change and global tourism. But small family farms are sustainable - if they remain small family farms.
Update 10/25/21 Tamber BeyThings seem to be getting really strange in the winery review process. The Tamber Bey Winery is up for review at the Planning Commission on 11/3/21. Tamber Bey seems to be asking for a modest revision to permitted production from 60,000 to 80,000 gal/yr. And they are asking for changes to their t&t and marketing events which seem to add a modest 600-850 visitor slots/yr. This request is going through the normal, public planning commission process. (The neighbor does have believable compaints, however.)
The Amizetta Winery, described below, while more modest in production request, is immensly larger and more impactful in its other requests: over 11,000 more visitors/yr than originally permitted, a new tasting room building, expansion of caves and winery, 12 more parking spaces, a commercial kitchen, more employees, setback variances and driveway exceptions, new well and water system, a long dead-end, sub-standard road in a high fire severity zone. Yet it was approved by the less informal and less scrutinized Zoning Administrator process.
The Small Winery Ordinance, aka the "Streamlining Ordinance", is the reason the projects are treated so differently, despite the impacts created by changes to the "small" winery being so much greater than those of the "larger" winery. A large percentage of the 500+ "official" wineries in the county fit into the definition of "small" wineries. Many other "unofficial" wineries may now apply for under the "streamlining" process. All will attempt to max out their visitation and employees within the limits of the 40 trips/day standard (30,000 gal/yr, 11,500 vis/yr, 5 employees) to be approved under the lowered scrutiny and expense of the Zoning Adminsitrator. The cumulative impacts will be significant.
On 9/22/21 the County Zoning Administrator reviewed the proposal for a recognize-allow-expand request for the Amizetta Winery on the remote end of Greenfield Rd. The winery was granted a small winery exemption use-permit in 1986 for 12000 gal/yr and 0 visitation. This request will legalize 8000 more gal/yr, 11090 vis/yr, a new tasting room, expansion of winery and caves, 12 new parking spaces, food service, commercial kitchen, 2 more employees, setback variance, at least 8 driveway exceptions, all at the end of a heavily forested, mostly one-lane, dead-end road 6.3 miles from the Trail. Approving this amount of tourism in such a remote, inaccessable location, and such clear deviations from county road and street standards in such a high-fire hazard zone should be a clear abuse not just of discretion but of common sense.
This is the kind of small-scale, truely "family" winery that is the Napa ideal. But it is now a public accommodation hosting 30 people a day on a long sub-standard road, up an extremely substandard driveway, in a high-fire-risk area, all not envisioned when first approved. The fact that the owners have increased production, expanded facilities and hosted that amount of visitation for some time is not a reason for the county to just say, oh well, I guess it's OK. It needs a public discussion, and more input than just an administrative sign off from a county staff who seems willing to bend or break any of their own standards and ordinances in order to promote the tourism economy. Considering that the Planning Commission just nixed the 3120 visitor/yr expansion on the much less remote Pickett Road Winery, having the ZA just wave through 11,000 visitors/ yr seems a very inconsistent approach to zoning.
Another rural community is sacrificed to Napa's tourism industry; another 2 acres of prime vineyard land are urbanized with a building project. As defined by the Board Chair, this is just agriculture in the 21st century; get over it.
As with the Mountain Peak appeal, Chair Pedroza was a martinet in enforcing procedures and timelines to the disadvantage of the appellants, rejecting any effort to augment the record with new revelant material unavailable at the time of the PC hearing. His disdain for the neighbors, with the audacity to value the privacy of their rural community over the promotion of winery tourism, was palpable.
"And when I drove by I just looked at the neighborhood and these are homes in ag zoning, folks that made a choice to live around vineyards. That was the choice everyone made and I have all the expectation that the neighbors should be respectful -- those that are doing business whether vineyard or a winery. Same thing for those that choose to have a residence in those areas. Facts matter and I just quickly look at the size of these homes, some of these homes are bigger than the hospitality building for the winery. So again we just need to be mindful of the balance we're trying to strike especially in the ag zoning. You can build a home anywhere in the world. There's very little place where you can have a winery and a vineyard. "
All of the neighbors are grape growers. No one's debating about living around vineyards here. The message from the Chair was "If you don't like your farm community being converted to a tourist attraction, move somewhere else".
Update 8/6/21The appeal to the BOS of the Planning Commission's project approval will be held on 8/24/21. Given the thoroughness of the CEQA presentation at the Planning Commission, it seems unlikely that the project will not be litigated if the appeal is denied by the Board. Notice for the BOS appeal hearing Appeal documents
Donna Oldford: "Wineries and residents have existed copacetically. They’ve co-existed in the Napa Valley quite nicely for decades.” Of course it's only in the last decade (chronicled here) that the County and the wine industry have decided that the only way to sell wine is to bring mass market tourism down small country roads and into the lives of residents who thought they lived in a rural paradise away from the urban chaos of the rest of the Bay Area.
10/7/19The Scarlett Winery, a new 30,000 gal/y facility, came up for review at the Planning Commission on Oct 2, 2109. While the Ellman Winery approval at the same hearing was a loveliest, there was considerable community pushback against Scarlett including 175+ pages of documentation, letters and public comments from most of the roads residents, and a complete CEQA challenge from the Shute, Mihaly, Weinberger law firm representing one resident. Public comment was taken and the project was continued to give staff and commissioners time to digest the document submittal.
It is on the narrow Ponti Road, a road not meeting the county's road and street standards for winery access, which should be enough to deny the project. The property backs up onto the Trail, and residents of Ponti Road argued that access off the Trail was much more logical. There is a modest grade differential from the trail, but less than many of the other wineries along this section of the highway. That change should be a no-brainer.
The neighbors complaints about water drawdown, increased traffic and noise from a event center were backed up with expert witness reports contradicting the usual less-than-significant-impact claims of the applicant's consultants. Unfortunately, as we know from every contested project, the County gives short shrift to the opinions of outside consultants.
I was pleased to see that that Ellison Folk in the Shute Mihaly argument brought up the much broader issue of the cumulative impacts that are changing the character of life in Napa Valley as more and more tourism generating projects are approved.
From the SMW letter:
1. There Is a Fair Argument that the Project-Specific and Cumulative Traffic Impacts Would Be Significant.
The County repeatedly evades its legal obligation under CEQA to look at the cumulative impacts of its multiple project approvals in favor of relying on the EIR supporting the 2008 General Plan. However, the 2008 General Plan EIR’s cumulative traffic impact analysis did not adequately address the impacts of winery-related traffic. ...
In addition, the County has experienced an explosion in expanded winery marketing and increased events in recent years. From just 2013 to the present, the County approved more than 90 permit applications with 40 permit modifications for existing wineries, many of which involve significant increases in marketing and hospitality activities. See, attached spreadsheet of recent County winery approvals, included as Attachment E. The General Plan EIR did not analyze winery expansions, and the County has failed to consider the additional Project-specific and cumulative traffic and other impacts of these approvals.
Environmental Impact Reports were done for the two major documents that underlie landuse policies in Napa County: the Winery Definition Ordinance EIR done in 1989 and the Update of the General Plan EIR done in 2007. The continued reliance on negative declarations in approving wineries is conditioned on the projections of vineyard and winery development made in those 2 EIR's.
The 1989 WDO EIR did, in fact, consider the impacts of increased tourism at wineries. In doing so it presented an extensive list of mitigations that would be required to create less-than-significant impacts from the creation of the ordinance. The list is long, and it should be noted that the vast majority of the mitigations were not mentioned in the WDO and have never been realized.
While the 2007 General Plan EIR posits a rate of new winery creation, it is silent on the impacts of winery expansions and even more silent on the expanded use of wineries as tourism venues. There is no analysis of the direct-to-consumer trend in wine marketing that has exploded since its writing, a trend that is at the heart of most requests for new and expanded wineries taking place. 2010 changes to the WDO codified this expansion of tourism uses to help the industry move from 3-tier to d-t-c marketing, but no EIR was done to analyze what environmental impacts those changes would create.
The impacts of the direct-to-consumer event-center business model are far different than the impacts of wineries as production facilities. The increase in visitors and the employees needed to cater to them create a demand for road and utility expansions, restaurants, shops, hotels, employee housing and services, i.e. a level of urbanization that is at odds with the General Plans stated desire to maintain an agricultural economy and a rural way of life.
In the last 12 years the number of producing vineyard acres in Napa County has not increased. Yet in that time the county has approved over 150 new and expanded wineries, not to process a nonexistent new supply of grapes, but to process an ever increasing supply of visitors. Unfortunately the environmental impacts of that expanding visitor population were not subjected to an analysis on a county-wide basis. The increased traffic, the demand for affordable housing for the growing workforce, the loss of existing housing and resident-serving shops to more profitable tourism uses are all impacts of prioritizing tourism over an interest in maintaining a rural, small-town quality of life.
The battle by residents to defend the rural character in Napa County, as the residents of Ponti Road are doing, has been repeated over and over as wineries have come up for approval in the last 5 years. In the face of an exploding tourism industry and the flood of goodlife entrepreneurs, and of a County government that has embraced the "fairy tale of eternal economic growth" residents are losing the battle.
Since June 2020 many permit issues are be handled by the Napa County Zoning Administrator rather then the Planning Commission. These are administrative approvals done in a public hearing roughly once a month on Wednesdays when the Planning Commission is not in session. Zoning Administrator Agenda and Hearing page
While many of the zoning administrator decisions involve viewshed or exceptions for private residences, winery projects and modifications are also being reviewed and approved by the zoning administrator under the Small Winery Ordinance approved on 2/4/20.
The Planning Commission approved the Benjamin Ranch Winery on 5/19/21 to complete the approval of the 6 wineries that came up last fall. The developer had dropped the visitation numbers from 154,000/yr to 87,000/yr even before the project was continued in Sept. The vote here was 3-2 with Comms. Cottrell and Joelle opposed. THis is not the end of the Benjamin Ranch story and I will continue to cover it here:
The total number of visitation slots added to the to the county each year after the 6 approvals (see the final figures below in this post) thus amounted to roughly 203,000. The number of additional visitor slots added for other winery approvals, not including those 6, between Sept of last year and now is 116,000. The winery approval list is here.
The Planning Commission has completed its review of 6 wineries in the last month. The most controversial of them was continued to a date uncertain (the Commission's polite kiss of death). The other 5 were approved unanimously and added 150,000 more winery visits per year to the county.
The controversial one, the 475,000 Benjamin Ranch Winery ran into pre-CEQA-appeal resistance from neighbor Michael Honig and pushback from the one industry group that seems to be taking on the unlimited growth agenda of the wine&tourism industrial complex, the Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture. (More on the G/VRA here.) Both opposition and support for the project was made by other well known names. It also ran into a planning commission unwilling to pass at one sitting a new mega event center in the heart of the valley.
The developer, Hollywood mogul Rich Frank, is expanding the wine empire he established with the purchase of Larkmead Winery in 1993. The initial ask on Benjamin was for 146,000 visitors/yr but the ask was dropped prior to the hearing to about 87,000/yr in the hopes of pushing the project through - to no avail. Like some other entrepreneurs in the valley, the Franks expressed their frustration with a bureaucratic process that stands in the way of such entrepreneurial spirit.
Update 9/14/20The 9/16/20 meeting of the County Planning Commission will be reviewing use permit requests from 3 more wineries. Together, the 3 will be asking for almost 198,000 more visitor slots/yr, with the bulk, 146,000/yr for one new winery in the heart of the valley. (A continuance has been asked for.) If all are approved, it would be a significant 1 day increase in the wine tourism industry in Napa County. In the last two Planning Commission meetings a total of about 68,000 more visitor slots/yr have been approved to add to the tourism load, potentially adding 260,000 more winery visits/yr in 1 month of approvals.
The first of the projects, a Saintsbury Winery request for 36,000 more visitors/yr was approved by the Planning Commission on 8/19/20 after horse-trading brought the number down to about 24,000 more vis/yr. (NVR article) After his vote to bring more tourism into the county, during a workshop on winery comparison charts later in the day, Comm. Whitmer made a somewhat stirring exortation of Planning Commission purpose:
"A major focus about how we implement the entitlements, particularly how they relate to things like accessory uses [winery tourism], I am still hung up on the idea that the major focus of our county and this commission should be on agricultural preservation, and I mean growing of crops, and to the extent that we don't consider ag preservation as kind of a lead in these discussions, it's troubling. Because we've got a really fragile agricultural industry. A lot of people would look at it and say, wow, this is a tremendous thing, and everybody we know wants a piece of it. But its fragile. And we have the potential if we go too far, to kill the goose that's laying the golden egg. And one of the biggest challenges I think for the planning department and for this commission and for the board is to try and balance those issues of allowing for economically viable and sustainable businesses while not creating an environment that changes the bucolic nature here, that speaks to the beauty thats exists here, the fundamental agrarian and agricultural base that we have."
Bravo! ... But then, perhaps looking out at the wine industry lobbyist in the audience, he deflated his own lofty rhetoric:
"So part of the sustainability model is economic viability, and I don't want to gloss over that, that's important in this discussion. We're hearing from wineries that these uses are important to them for the economic vitality of their businesses. So its clear we need to be focused on that as well."
A few minutes later, that lobbyist, Michelle Benvenuto of the cliquish Winergrowers, got up to remind the Commisssion who they worked for:
"We appreciate you guys bringing the item [the revision of winery comparison charts] forward for discussion and, as has been noted, it has evolved over time into a more formal table -- but with limited input from stakeholders, the public, or the board. There were no stakeholder meetings, all discussion has been in a formal session. The Board of Supervisors has consistently agreed that this is a tool and not intended to be definitive. Commissioners familiar with APAC know that there is a Proposal X that was a metric that the Board of Supervisors chose not to proceed with. Additionally the staff report notes that "this item is not intended to solicit input related to changes in policy" yet no mention as to what that policy is. The Board has made clear as recently as your joint meeting, that each winery needed to be judged on its own individual merits and decided on a case by case basis. Attempting to create a document that is more definitive or, in layman terms, more black and white would be change in policy. The process is discretionary and the commission must use their discretion in making decisions."
My interpretation of her statement is that important decisions in Napa County [policy decisions] are made by the moneyed interests [stakeholders] behind closed doors directly with the supervisors [stakeholder meetings] and not debated in public [formal session] at the PC level. As everywhere, unfortunately, public policy is crafted by businesses to promote their own economic interests.
The referenced APAC hearings, begun in an effort to address citizen concerns over winery proliferation, is good example. The public APAC committee came up with a list of recommendations which tried to incorporate public concerns, although still watered down by the large majority of "stakeholder" representatives on the committee. The Planning Commission, in their public review of the recommendations again restored some citizen concerns into the recommendations. But eventually the Supervisors, perhaps after some "stakeholder meetings", "honed" (I would say eviscerated) the recommendations in their final actions. The result was to create a policy that allowed wineries to legalize and expand their previously illegal activities. Another policy created a fast track policy for the approval of smaller wineries. Nothing was done to limit winery development or the continuing tourism urbanization that results. The resulting policies only made winery proliferation easier.
(Similar stakeholder meetings, following the 2008 meltdown, led to 2010 "clarifications" of the 1990 WDO to allow food service and non-wine-related events at wineries, vastly expanding their use for tourism. Considering them "changes" in WDO policy would have involved a much more public process.)
The resistance to creating any "black and white" policies that seek to control future development, the original intent of convening the APAC Commission, is a bugaboo for the wine industry that knows they will be more successful in getting what they want without clear cut development rules. And what they want is more tourism development.
The Mabray presentation
The planning commission meeting of 8/19/20 was quite remarkable. The first item on the agenda was a presentation by Paul Mabray, the online wine sales evangelist. His message is that a marketing strategy that attempts to sell wine through tourism is ultimately a futile and environmentally unfriendly business model and that wineries, in the internet era, must become more effective at moving their goods though online sales rather than brick-and-mortar (literally for some wineries!) outlets -- just like the rest of the world's economy.
As Dir. Morrison later pointed out, the previous Mabray presentation to the commission happened 6 years ago, just at the beginning of winery development becoming a more controversial topic. He hoped this presentation would not be a harbinger or omen of more to come. Paul Mabray is proposing a solution, in Comm. Whitmer's words, "allowing for economically viable and sustainable businesses while not creating an environment that changes the bucolic nature here." Is the County or the wine industry listening any more now than they were 6 years ago? (More on Paul Mabray here.)
8/18/20Coming to the Planning Commission
At the Napa County Planning Commission In the month between Aug 19 and Sep 16, 2020, 5 winery expansions and one new winery are requesting use permit approvals. Together they are seeking to add 286,000 visitor slots per year, and 137 more employees. By my calculations:
30,795 (23,900 aprvd)
39,700 (23,660 aprvd)
22,835 (20-21,000 aprvd)
Bengamin Ranch Winery
146,000(reduced to 87,000)
continued (approved 5/19/21)
Nickel & Nickel Winery
If approved, eventually a cascade of urban development will be needed to accommodate the new people that make those projects profitable. More hotels, more houses, more restaurants and commercial areas, wider roads, enlarged sewers and more water.
There are dozens of new or expanded wineries behind these 6 projects, awaiting their day at the Planning Commission. The laborious PC hearings (and BOS appeals of the PC decisions) have done little in the last 6 years to change the trajectory of approvals and their eventual impacts on us all. There are marginal reductions in visitation, moderation of requested visiting hours, notifications required for events. The effort to exercise planning oversight, in staff, applicant and citizen time and money, is disproportionate to the actual impact on development. It is the figleaf of due diligence, nibbling at the edges, while allowing the urban development to continue as it would unscrutinized.
Update 9/15/21Staglin Appeal was was settled prior hearing with approved conditions remaining.
Update 5/28/21An timely appeal was filed on the Staglin WInery approval by the Planning Commisssion. The Board of Supervisors set a hearing date on the apeal for June 15, 2021. All parties have requested a continuance of the hearing which will now be held on Sept. 28, 2021, 2:00pm. The notice is here.
On Feb 3rd the County Planning Commission approved the visitation expansion of the Staglin Winery on Bella Oaks Lane, owned by one of the "Old Land, New Money" generation of winemakers roasted by James Conaway in the "The Far Side of Eden".
The project generated an unusual, and organized, amount of neighborhood opposition (20 some neighbors) in a short period of time. This was a one month turaround from the shock notice that the county sends out warning neighbors of pending destruction of their bucholic lives. Most end up having at least a few months and sometimes years to assemble their defense.
As often happens, the commission fell into horse-trading on the tourism numbers, probably leaving both sides unhappy. Visitation went from 2980 to (about) 10800 vis/yr. Given the full blown legal brief filed by neighbors (see here), there is a good chance that the project will be appealed to the BOS seeking an EIR.
The proposal had nothing to do with wine production - it was strictly a request to increase tourism and tourism hours at the winery. After 34 vintages the winery doesn't see survival possible without more visitors. It is another indication of the fall in demand for $100-$350 bottles of wine as The Wine Advocate connoisseurs die off and well-heeled millennials turn to less pretentious and more eclectic quaffs. For the Napa wine industry as a whole, pursuing more visitors rather than expanding internet sales advocated by Rob McMillan earlier in the day (beginning at 43:00 in the meeting video) to offset the demographic change will probably doom many small wineries to expensive and futile tasting room competition, and the physical environment of the county will continue to degrade, as more and more tourism venues spring up desperately hoping for tourism as their salvation.
In each of the neighbor-opposed projects that have come to the commission over the last 7 years, I keep wondering why more residents (including growers and vintners) only see tourism as a problem when it shows up in their backyard -- at which point it is a battle over the technical nitty-gritty of a proposal rather than the "big picture" issue of tourism degrading the quality of life of every rural county resident. The Supervisors in 2015, with Sup. Luce still on the Board, tried to take on the issue after hundreds of residents showed up for a meeting to address winery proliferation. The result was the creation of the APAC commission which ultimately, under industry pressure, did nothing to reduce winery proliferation, but instead lead to the creation of a process to exonerate and legitimize wineries already operating well above their permit limits. Since then a small winery ordinance has been added to make proliferation easier, and now there is mention of a micro-winery ordinance probably to encourage tourism to winemakers not yet owning a permitted winery.
Most residents bemoan the baleful impacts of increased tourism, but until those impacts finally get to their front door there is no effort to do something about it. Activism led by Napavision2050, and the diligent NVR reporting of Barry Eberling on the issue never seem to lead to another surge among the public to act. After 7 years of obsessing about this issue, it is a bit depressing that the battle is still being fought, quite ineffectively, one impacted community at a time.
It seemed as if Sup Pedroza was the only Board member supportive of the effort by Coalition Napa Valley (most of its members having generously supported him for reelection) to gut the winery regulations that have attempted to keep winery tourism from dominating the wine industry for 30 years. Even the traditional "stakeholders", NVV, Winegrowers, Farm Bureau and Grapegrowers, normally not inhibited when it comes to direct-to-consumer marketing, were unwilling to back the suspension of the WDO that they had spent so many years negotiating. Is there a renewed recognition in the industry that there may be a downside to opening the tourism development floodgates on an agriculture based economy? Is it a recognition, as others have suggested, that the industry needs to find a different method of marketing their wares than the boom-and-bust strategy of at-winery sales? Unlikely. Coming out of the pandemic there will be enormous pressue from the industry to loosen the WDO, just as happened after the 2008 recession, to allow more tourism to make up for a lost year of revenues. This seems more like a battle over who will be controlling the process.
In a notable intrusion to the proceeding, Save the Family Farm members phoned in to make their case for winery-less visitation and sales on their properties. A financial mechanism, supported by the government, does need to be found to allow independent small winemakers and their farms to survive. They represent the authenticity that has been lost in the corporate-plutocrat-tourism model that the wine industry has become. Unfortunately, relying on bringing even more tourists each year into the county, and into every private rural neighborhood, should not the answer. The Supes seem reluctant to even listen to their concerns, perhaps a recognition of just how locked in they are to the stakeholder view of the industry.
Update 12/10/20At their 12/15/20 meeting, the County Board of Supervisors will take up the proposal of Coalitiion Napa Valley to essentially eliminate the regulation of visitation that has been in place since 1990. They seek an unlimited restriction of the Napa's tourism-based marketing model in the future in response to the collapse of the tourism industry today. (Item 10A here) Planning Director Morrison has presented a chart of actions that would be required to change the ordinances and the General Plan to accomodate the group's wish list -- a mere 895 hours of staff time and the decimation of the preservationist soul of the county defined in the battle between agriculture and tourism for the last 5 decades.
It has become fairly obvious that those trying to preserve the rural character of Napa County have been losing the battle as building developments and tourism expansions continue to be approved. Enacting the Coalition Napa Valley wish list would represent one more concession to development interests that have already become the norm from the Planning Commission and the Board. At best it would be an accelation of the evisceration of the county's preservation policies. At worst it might be eventually be seen as the coup de grâce to Napa's rural agricultural protections.
In a related development, Castello di Amorosa, Dario Sattui's mega-tourist trap, has recently submitted a request for a modification of its use permit that would allow
"Recognition of visitation levels exceeding previously permitted levels; recognition of employee levels exceeding previously permitted levels; recognition of conversion of the farm management office and barn for winery use; recognition of conversion of areas of the winery originally approved for production use to hospitality use; recognition of parking spaces exceeding previously permitted levels and add additional parking spaces; permit on-premises consumption."
This has to be the poster child for the "recognize and allow" process established by the BOS after APAC (recommendation 4 here) to legalize production, visitation and construction beyond the limits of existing use permits, with no penalty and often with an approval to expand operations even beyond those being done illegally. The county has for years, apparently, turned a blind eye to the flouting of use permit restrictions, even for wineries as hard to ignore as the Castello di Amorosa.
Much like the recession of 2008 which decimated the market for $100 bottles of wine, the pandemic and fires of 2020 have decimated the tourism market created to mitigate the recession's losses. In both cases vintners have lobbied to ease restrictions on tourism marketing to improve their profitablility. Oddly the pandemic has caused a spike in retail and online wine sales, but the Napa Wine industry having spent all its energies in the last 12 years trying to promote tourism as their business model rather than promoting a strong retail presence elsewhere, is suffering.
The eternal battle between tourism development and agriculture in Napa Valley has recently produced two wine industry groups specifically to represent each side in the debate. Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture (G/VRA) represents the side of the industry attempting to restrain tourism, woodland conversion and climate change that they feel poses a theat to the rural heritage and agricutural viability of Napa County. Coalition Napa Valley (CNV) sees the future of the wine industry in the unfettered expansion of vineyard acerage and the development of tourism as the means to market wine. The two groups coalesced in the fight over woodland protection vs. vineyard development in Measure C.
But the tourism stances draw on the personal experiences of the founders. Mega-grapegrower Andy Beckstoffer, of the G/VRA, had to confront, just like many residents in the county, the prospect of tourism revelry in his backyard with the expansion of the Raymnond Winery by the bon-vivant wine impresario Jean-Charles Boisette.
Members of the CNV have roots in their own grievances with neighbors over their event center ambitions and with the county over their disinterest in staying within the law. Chuck Wagner was fined by the county for exceeding his production capacitiies. Ryan Waugh was reprimanded by the county over illegal construction. Dario Sattui is quite literally trying to turn Napa Valley into Disneyland, and Stuart Smith just can't bear government meddling in his property rights. A couple of other members have been stalled for years in battles with neighbors over their winery ambitions.
But like Measure C, it is a fight beyond personalities. It is the fight over the future character of Napa County: either a world reknowned wine making region for the ages tightly regulated, as the wine regions of France are, to prevent urban development, or else, in the American style, a Las Vegas of wine where the principal industry is tourism and vineyards survive only as photo backdrops in travel agency brochures. It is a fight, unfortunately, that I am more and more certain has already been won by developers and entrepreneurs seeking a better return on investment from the land than agriculture can provide.
10/11/20Gary Margadant writes:
Coalition Napa Valley - WHO are they and what do they want?
Last week, the GSA (BOS) had a discussion and action where they realized a problem of membership on the Advisory Committee when Harvest Duhig submitted a resignation letter. Harvest was the sole representative of the Coalition Napa Valley on the Advisory Committee. The letter was not made public, but the contents were recounted in the Staff Report stating that Harvest requested Jeri Hansen (Gill) replace her as the CNV rep.
Some complications quickly boiled to the surface as recounted in the Staff Report, so the Bylaws needed changing in 2 areas, 1) to designate 5 seats specifically earmarked for 5 industry groups, and 2) direct member replacement of an agency or group.
Before the change, the GSA was not required to replace an in kind member of an agency or group. OOPS , we gotta change the rules, to avoid confusing the public with any possibility of their choice coming under consideration.
This Kerfuffle led to questions of CNV ---- Who are they and what are they advocating for? David Morrison said he has met with CNV before but would NOT name the members of the coalition. No responses of clarification from any supervisors, although Diane Dillion later admitted she knew who they were but would not reveal their names.
This is a real muddy pool of transparency. I searched for information on CNV and only found 2 documents. The 2018 white paper to the BOS from CNV following the culmination of the BOS Strategic Plan and their suggestions for issues of the SP. This document lists the membership of the CVN at that time.
The second doc, the CA 461 (Major Donor and Independent Expenditure Committee Campaign Statement) from 6/5/18 show the group listed as an Association (but not a business entity) with no 410 (statement of Organization) filed with the CA SOS office. The responsible Officer of the CNV is Tom Davies, the CEO of V Sattui Winery
So who within the Association doled out the $ to make the $50,000 contribution to the Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture on the 461. The donors are hidden within the Association.
I have spoken with the CA FPPC and been advised that Napa County should receive a courtesy copy of any 410. I need to follow up next week.
The county, in one of their first attempts to implement the new streamlining ordinance to handle winery expansions administratively rather than through a planning commission hearing, illustrates the concern in allowing County staff to decide which winery projects should be public knowledge and which should not.
For a large winery with massive visitation in the heart of the Hwy 29 tourism kill zone, the request was modest: a small building is to be rebuilt to be more visitation friendly. And event hours were to be extend from an old permit allowance of 6:00pm to 10:00pm. The winery has residential neighbors who objected to the extension of hours. Apparently even the heavily trafficked areas of the valley are still quiet and dark after nightfall. In this prime area of the valley the neighbors are well tied into the wine establishment of the valley and the opposition was led by John Williams, the founder and owner of Frog's Leap, one of the iconoic Napa brands established in the 1970's. Mr. Williams initial letter is here.
Mr. Williams concerns are not at all different from the concern over tourism impacts that we voiced in our opposition to the Mountain Peak Winery beginning 6 years ago. And that neighbors of every contentious winery project since have expressed about tourism impacts to their neighborhoods. This is not the first time that founding members of the wine industry have been impacted by the negative impacts of the entertainment model that their industry is adopting. Yountville Hill was torpeoded by the opposition of neighbors like of Dennis Groth and Christian Moueix. Andy Beckstoffer battled mightly with the tourism expansion of the Raymond Winery next door. Winery developer Paul Woolls was pained that B-Cellars across the street from his home was operating like a restaurant. Their are other examples.
No one who lives in the county wants tourism to spoil the quiet enjoyment to be had being in a rural small town community. Yet members of the wine industry continue to push the conversion of the economy from wine making into tourism, in their own economic self-iiterest only recognizing the pernicious, long-term effects of such efforts when the events and parties and traffic come to the property next door to their homes. Until the moguls of the wine industry recognize collectively that something they value personally is being lost by converting to a tourism economy, there is little hope that that Napa will escape the the sad trajectory of urban development that it is on.
It will be located on the Trail just south of the strawberry stand. The building is about 85' from the edge of the Trail requiring a variance to the 600' required setback. It is so close to the road because that is the one tiny corner of the site that is not in the Napa River flood zone. (It seems the only affordable sites for new wineries these days need dispensations to be developed, and the County seems to want every 10+ acre site to have a winery on it.)
It is an unhandsome box of a building bristling with solar collectors surrounded by a parking lot and water tanks. It's entry is a couple hundred feet south of the strawberry stand increasing the dangers of the harrowing traffic movement already there. And It is one more winery adding to the strip-mall of wineries developing on the lower portion of the Trail.
Update 9/13/19Dir. Morrison has released an update to the fast track ordinance for small wineries intended to enable small wineries to participate in the wine tourism economy without the enormous cost and time needed for the current use permit modification process. He is asking for public comments to be submitted by Oct. 4, 2019 (to David.Morrison@countyofnapa.org) and will present the ordinance and comments to the Supervisors on Oct 15, 2019.
Good luck coming up with an ordinance based on the free-for-all of ideas thrown out at the meeting, many requiring changes to the WDO, the General Plan EIR and the entire winery regulatory regimen of the last 50 years.
While the emphasis seems to be on simplifying the process for the approval of small wineries, there is still the unresolved question of what the definition of a small winery is. In Napa county 30,000 gal/yr is a medium-sized winery. 60% of the wineries in Napa county are 30,000gal or smaller. The proposed 9800 visitors/yr to be allowed for small wineries (an approximation assuming half of the proposed 40 vehicle trips/day are visitor's cars+events) would be many times the median visitation of existing wineries that are 30,000 gal or smaller. Meaning that the impact of fast-tracking is not to encourage more wine making (it would just redistribute the existing Napa wine output to a greater number of makers), but to encourage more wine tourism venues and more urbanization to accommodate a larger tourist population.
Actually, the Matthiasson approval shows that the current review process can be expeditious for small wineries - as long as the proposals are appropriate for the communities in which they are located. The multi-year battles that some wineries are experiencing in obtaining approval are a direct result of the scale of the disruptive industrial and commercial impacts that they will bring to bucolic rural farming neighborhoods. A fast track process is a developers' (or realtors') solution to put small winery development beyond the reach of community participation; a willingness and mechanism to achieve community consensus about appropriate scale, beyond just telling residents and developers to work it out between themselves, is needed instead.
Update 11/5/17Eve Kahn sent along this update on the decision to table the ordinance:
"David Morrison was reviewing staff priorities with the board in late Sept and when Limited Winery Ordinance was discussed the board opted to table it to an unknown date. Diane felt that this was a solution looking for a problem - and was definitely not what she expected or wanted to see.
SO - bottom line, between given a low priority prior to the firestorm and more pressing issues at hand - this one is off the radar for now."
No, a CEQA document has not been prepared as of yet. This comment period is solely to obtain public input and concerns regarding the proposed ordinance.
After the additional 45-day review period has been completed, staff will revise the draft ordinance, incorporating public comments where appropriate. The revised draft ordinance will then be used as the project for preparing a CEQA document, which will have a separate public comment period. In addition, the public will have opportunities to comment at public hearings before both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.
I hope you find this helpful in clarifying the status of the current review period. If you have any further questions, please let me know.
What can one say? The County is issuing use permits for new wineries at the rate of one a month (and increases to existing wineries at two per month) even with Planning Commission review. Apparently that is still not fast enough to keep up with developer's desire to profit from an expanding tourism economy and booming real estate market. The County wants to streamline the process, providing an easier avenue for speculators to increase resale value with "winery-ready" properties. Not one more gallon of Napa wine will be added to the county's "wine industry" (producing acreage hasn't budged in the last 10 years despite some 100 new winery approvals), just more luxury estates and tourism venues. This is not about affordable small "family" wineries. It's about expediting a real estate strategy targeting wealthy vanity investors.
One can see the problem from the County's standpoint: The amount of pushback from citizens who will be negatively impacted by all of the proposed development is bogging down a process whose purpose is to allow public participation. The solution proposed is to reduce the visibility and amount of public input in the process.
The Planning Commission is a public event. Its meetings are predictable and previewed on the county's website and in the Register. Its proceedings are broadcast and a video archive is retained. The county claims that the public will have a similar opportunity to vet projects being presented to the Zoning Administrator. But notification will only go to residents within 1000' of the project. No previews in a public calendar. And likely no mention in the Register. It will then be up to a neighbor to make the project known to a wider audience, a daunting task for some. Once the hearing is done, no record beyond brief meeting minutes will be available for review. But the collective changes that these projects bring, with increased tourism throughout the remote areas of the county and the expansion of taxpayer-funded infrastructure to accommodate an ever increasing number of tourists and employees, will affect the county as a whole, not just the immediate neighbors.
As a recent article on Visit Napa Valley highlights, county and municipal governments seem to see a "growth" economy based on tourism as the prime objective of planning decisions. As we have seen in all meetings throughout the last few years, the county is unwilling to seriously consider the increasing cumulative impacts of growth that have led to so much citizent opposition. In this proposal, conceding to the demands of the development industries, they wish to make the opposition more difficult.
The County's continued promotion of building projects and the resulting impacts on traffic, affordable housing, community character, infrastructure and service demands, the physical landscape and resource sustainability, run counter to the County's stated image of itself in the first paragraph of its Vision Statement in the Napa County General Plan:
"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."
Many county residents, seeing the urbanization taking place before their eyes, no longer feel that vision is being supported by their government, and they should be allowed to conscientiously make their voices heard. In a public forum.
The question the County should be addressing is not how the approval of building projects can be streamlined to increase the pace of urban development. The question should be how to scale back the amount of development being proposed, as previous governments and citizens have done with the Ag Preserve, zoning ordinances and initiatives, to insure that Napa remains a rural, agricultural place to be treasured in the future. Fast-tracking building projects (much like pretending that building projects are "agriculture") is not the answer.
Note the difference between the 2015 and the current proposal: the requirement that grapes must come from the property has been eliminated. Wineries can be approved under the new proposal on properties having no vineyard potential (like The Caves); a lease on grapes (currently leased by someone else, no doubt) suffices. There is no mention of use-permit revocation in the ordinance, so presumably the lease may be sold as soon as the winery is approved.
[Comment submission to Dir. Morrison re limited winery ordinance]
Attached is my revised comment on the Limited Winery Ordinance.
I revised Section "H" with a calculation of visitors this Ordinance would permit which is so staggering that one has to indeed wonder what thought if any is behind it.
And Divid Morrison's response:
From: Morrison, David [mailto:David.Morrison@countyofnapa.org]
Sent: Wednesday, August 02, 2017 1:14 AM
Subject: RE: SMALL WINERY ORDINANCE
With all due respect, I strongly disagree with several of the statements made in your letter.
A. There is a policy reason for the draft ordinance. It says so in the third paragraph of the ordinance recitals, where it states: 'Action Item AG/LU-16.1 directs that consideration be given to amendments to the Zoning Ordinance that define "small wineries," a "small quantity of wine," "small marketing events," and "mostly grown on site," and establishes a streamlined permitting process for small wineries which retains the requirement for a use permit when the winery is in proximity to urban areas. In turn, the Action Item implements Policy AG/LU-16, which states:
In recognition of their limited impacts, the County will consider affording small wineries a streamlined permitting process. For purposes of this policy, small wineries are those that produce a small quantity of wine using grapes mostly grown on site and host a limited number of small marketing events each year.
The County's intent and purpose in considering this ordinance is clear. It is to amend the County Code and create a simpler permit review process that reflects the limited impacts of smaller wineries. You may not agree with the policy, but the basis for this action does not require any surmise.
I would also point out that the proposed ordinance does not minimize either public scrutiny or the CEQA process. Applications considered under the draft ordinance would still be subject to CEQA review. They may obtain a Categorical Exemption, if they qualify, as they may currently do under the adopted Local CEQA Guidelines. If they do not qualify for a Cat Ex, then a Negative Declaration, Mitigated Negative Declaration, or EIR will be prepared, as is appropriate. The draft ordinance would not change CEQA review in any way. Similarly, applications under the draft ordinance would still be noticed to all neighboring property owners within 1,000 feet of the project, still be noticed in the newspaper, and would be considered in a public hearing, where interested parties may testify, and any resulting decision may be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. The draft ordinance would not minimize public scrutiny in any way.
B. There appears to be a misunderstanding. The provisions of the draft ordinance would be available to all wineries that meet the qualifying criteria, whether they are newly established or are already established and want to modify their existing use permit within the constraints of the definition of a limited winery. To do otherwise, would create an unfair advantage for one class of business over another.
C. Why is 30,000 gallons considered a small (or in this case limited) winery? Because that is how they are defined in Napa County's Local Procedures for Implementing CEQA. Appendix B, Class 3, Subsection 10 states:
Construction and operation of small wineries, other agricultural processing facilities, and farm management uses that:
(a) are less than 5,000 square feet in size excluding caves;
(b) will involve either no cave excavation, or excavation sufficient to create no more than 5,000 additional square feet with all of the excavated cave spoils to be used on site;
(c) will produce 30,000 gallons or less per year;
(d) will generate less than 40 vehicle trips per day and 5 peak hour trips except on those days when marketing events are taking place;
(e) will hold no more than 10 marketing events per year, each with no more than 30 attendees, except for one wine auction event with up to 100 persons in attendance; AND
(f) will hold no temporary events.
As for national metrics, wine economists generally categorize wineries as follows:
Large - 500,000 cases and up (1,2 million gallons)
Medium - 50,000 cases to 500,000 cases (120,000 - 1.2 million gallons)
Small - 5,000 cases to 50,000 cases (12,000 - 120,000 gallons)
Very Small - 1,000 cases to 5,000 cases (2,400 - 12,000 gallons)
Limited - less than 1,000 cases (under 2,400 gallons)
By this standard also, 30,000 gallons is considered a small winery.
D. The focus of the draft ordinance is to provide some relief to small and family-owned businesses. If there are many such businesses, should they be denied relief simply because of their number, or should policy instead be based on their circumstances?
For clarification sake, about 1/3 of the wineries listed on the Napa County database would fall within the criteria of the draft ordinance. While there are more wineries that produce under 30,000 gallons, about 70 of those wineries have buildings, caves, visitation levels, or marketing events that exceed the definition of a "limited winery."
E. I don't agree that there is a contradiction. If wineries were to take advantage of the draft ordinance (should it be adopted) to increase production to 30,000 gallons, they would still be small wineries. There is only a contradiction if you define a small winery as having much lower production. I do not share that perspective.
F. Once again, I have to disagree. The cumulative impacts of winery development was already evaluated in the General Plan EIR, which was certified in 2008. Each winery permitted under the draft ordinance would undergo appropriate project-specific CEQA review. The draft ordinance does not allow any additional winery development not already anticipated in the General Plan. In fact, as stated previously, the draft ordinance is a direct implementation of the General Plan. Additional cumulative CEQA review of the draft ordinance is not required, in my opinion.
G. See F above.
H. See F above.
I. With regards to justifying the consideration of the draft ordinance, that was part of the policy debate regarding the General Plan in 2008. The purpose of the General Plan is to provide a set of policies under which the County would operate over the following 25 years. That is why adopting comprehensive General Plan updates is such a lengthy and expensive process. If you believe that circumstances have changed since 2008, you may want to request that the Board amend the General Plan to delete Policy AG/LU-16. Again, you may not agree with the idea, but an adopted policy carries significant legal weight.
If you are suggesting that the production level for limited wineries in the draft ordinance could be reduced to 15,000 or 20,000 gallons annually, I agree. The 30,000 gallon criterion was initially offered as a starting point for public discussion, but one that was consistent with the adopted Local CEQA Guidelines. Others have also suggested a lower threshold. The Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors are free to use an alternate metric.
J. Once again, I have to disagree. Length of time in permit review does not necessarily equate to public benefit. Staff is required to follow State law, which includes the Permit Streamlining Act. There is a balance between the exercise of private property rights and public interest. This ordinance would continue to provide full public review and participation for the review of development applications.
The draft ordinance would not permit any greater level of winery development than is already allowed under the General Plan, which evaluated the cumulative impacts of winery and vineyard development between 2005 and 2030. As this ordinance would not increase that potential, further cumulative analysis is not required.
The Zoning Administrator would not become a "winery czar," any more than the Planning Commission could be described as such. The Zoning Administrator currently makes decisions regarding Use Permit Modifications, Variances, Certificates of Non-Conformance, and other applications. This would be similar to the Administrator's existing duties. The Administrator's decisions may be appealed to the Board of Supervisors, who ultimately is responsible for setting policy in the County.
As always, I am happy to discuss these issues and welcome constructive dialogue towards developing a better draft ordinance.
Thank you for you comments.
And George Caloyannidis' response
Sent: Wednesday, August 02, 2017 11:37 AM
To: 'Morrison, David'
Subject: FW: SMALL WINERY ORDINANCE
Thank you David.
Your statements are technically correct as they reflect the provisions of the Ordinance which are already known. However, they neither refute or specifically address mine because by their nature, they try to show the shortcomings of the Ordinance. Specifically, your statements do not provide answers to the points I presented.
• They do not explain the rationale for the need of the Ordinance other than to make things easier for applicants.
• They do not explain by what standard (or reason) a 30,000 gallon production winery is a new "small" one when 52% of all existing wineries in the county produce less.
• They fail to explain why potential quantifying data have not been presented to the Planning Commission.
• They do not explain why potential impacts of the Ordinance have not been presented to the Planning Commission or even a suggestion by staff that there may be worthy of consideration.
• They fail to explain which specific provisions of the Ordinance are the ones which facilitates its "streamlining". What specifically has been eliminated from the current process and what is its downside?
Maintaining that the Administrator's decisions may still be appealed to the BOS is correct but let's stop trying to hide the fact that it facilitates a process by which many of his/hers decisions will occur under the public's radar. Unless you can explain otherwise, this is the main instrument behind the "streamlining" of the process.
The 1,000 foot notification radius is grossly insufficient. Has staff tried to put the adequacy of such radius into perspective? For example, how many property owners would be notified if some of the randomly selected wineries below would apply?
Dalla Valle (20,000)
Diamond Mountain (10,000)
Does Staff seriously believe that a 1,000 foot radius is sufficient to serve the public interest? Or does this number prove my point?
But the main concerns is the roundabout way by which this Ordinance will have advanced the Napa county CEQA baseline (traffic, water etc.) without CEQA review.
Your response does not address how an Ordinance which has the potential to incrementally add 3,564,277 gallons of production to the EXISTING "small" wineries, add 7,931 acres of vineyards plus 3,248,628 annual visitors is not cause for alarm meriting responsible environmental review. Mind you, this does NOT include special event visits NOR the impacts of NEW "small" winery streamlined applications, the number of which staff has also failed to make a credible effort to quantify.
These are massive numbers with potentially profound cumulative impacts - none of which were presented to the Planning Commission or the BOS for consideration - but obvious to any thinking person. They are so obvious that it is hard to hide the agenda driving this Ordinance by disingenuously hiding it under the innocent clothing of "SMALL".
It is perhaps not illogical that the efforts by the county and wine industry in Napa to streamline winery use permit approvals is happening at the same time that demand for wine is falling from of lack of interest by a new generation of consumers, avid foodies nonetheless turned off by the stuffy pretensions, high costs and phony hard-sell "experiences" of wine connoisseurship.
A similar dynamic happened when wine demand tanked in the great recession and the county and industry also pushed the County to encourage more winery tourism. Changes in the WDO to allow more food service at wineries and the creation of Visit Napa Valley were the result. More wineries have since been approved to attract more tourists needing more restaurants and hotels requiring more commuting workers, parking lots, affordable housing, infrastructure and road expansions.
And poof, here we are, a beautiful rural landscape and an authentic, productive agricultural economy are disappearing, being reduced to a mass-market tourist trap living on the fumes of a storied past.
The glimmer of hope that the County would begin to address the potential negative impacts of tourism venues on farming neighborhoods faded in the Planning Commission's review of the Darm's Lane Winery. As with Caldwell, the Darms Lane winery is at the end of a dead end road that passes through an uncommercialized neighborhood. Neighbors objected to the proposed change in their quality of life. The complaints were ignored and another tourist trap will use up agricultural land and drag more traffic to the minor roads of the county. Along with the O'Brien winery "recognize and allow" request approved later in the day, three more commercial building projects have now been added this year to the urbanization of the ag lands of the county.
The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 (Ramos, Pedroza, Gregory Wagenknecht yes, Dillon no ) to remand the project to the Planning Commission with direction to consider lowered visitation and event numbers proposed by the applicant, seasonal variation in visitation, traffic and visitor log monitoring, 3 yr phased increases in visitation with review at each phase, greater notification range for events.
The Board has punted again in trying to resolve the inherent incompatibility of winery tourism in remote residential-farming neighborhoods. The Planning Commission expressed their willingness to take on a continuance at their last meeting which the winery owner rejected. Now they may be a bit chagrined that the Supes have taken them up on it. The Supes have essentially said they don't want to deal with the issues raised here. The Planning Commission should reverse their decision. Another failure of leadership.
Sup. Ramos felt the solution to the problem was in reducing trips and proposed that the Planning Commission look at a very elaborate 3-year formula and monitoring program to do so. Will the county really provide such detailed oversight of the numerous projects proposed in residential areas? I suspect that her concern over trips, rather than the noise and light impacts of tourism on a quiet rural community, has something to do with the traffic jam that she frequently navigates at the Soscol Junction.
The most interesting presentation in the meeting was that of the Caldwell's lawyer in rebutting public testimony. She called attention to the case law argument made in the Staff letter to the Board that justified the Planning Commission's denial:
"Additionally, concern of neighbors is sufficient to constitute substantial evidence that a contemplated use is detrimental to the welfare of the community. Expert testimony on these issues is not necessary. It is appropriate and even necessary for the [planning commission] to consider the interest of neighboring property owners in reaching a decision whether to grant or deny a land use entitlement and the opinions of neighbors may constitute substantial evidence of this issue." (SP Star Enterprises, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 459, 460.)
(The referenced case in the Staff letter regards another adult entertainment venue, legal under zoning laws, denied a permit because of community concern. )
She placed that justification next to the county's "Right to Farm" ordinance:
"Napa County has determined that the highest and best use for agricultural land as defined below is to develop or preserve said lands for the purposes of agricultural operations and it will not consider the inconveniences or discomforts arising from agricultural operations to be a nuisance if such operations are legal, consistent with accepted customs and standards and operated in a non-negligent manner."
The General Plan reference to the "Right to Farm" also (I think brutally) specifically dismisses citizen concern over impacts of agricultural practices:
The "Right to Farm" is recognized throughout this Plan and is specifically called out in both this Element and in the County Code. "Right to Farm" provisions ensure that agriculture remains the primary land use in Napa County and is not threatened by potentially competing uses or neighbor complaints
The Napa County "Right to Farm" ordinance no doubt was initially based on the state definition of agriculture both of which define agricultural operations that include "preparation for market, delivery to storage or to market, or to carriers for transportation to market." The ordinance does include reference to the county's "definition of agriculture" ordinance section 18.08.040 which at the time of the adoption of the "Right to Farm" ordinance said nothing about the marketing of wine beyond the sale of wine produced at wineries. In 2017 marketing, as redefined in the 2010 WDO, was added to that definition, and made marketing, i.e. parties, lunches and dinners at wineries, activities that were protected by the "Right to Farm" against neighbor complaints.
When some Supervisors assumed that the visitation neighbors were concerned about was not a "Right to Farm" issue (as might any normal-thinking person), they were unfortunately philosophically right but legally wrong. This connection of the "Right to Farm" and tourism uses was previously discussed here and here and elsewhere on this site. It is the heart of any discussion on the County's unique definition of "agriculture".
Were the Supervisors willing to state here that the "Right to Farm" now protects luncheon service and business parties? No. They kicked it back to the Commission so that they wouldn't have to. The question now is how far the County is willing to go to argue that the "concern of neighbors is sufficient to constitute substantial evidence that a contemplated use is detrimental to the welfare of the community". We shall see if they hold to that argument when the deliberation is returned to the Planning Commission, or if that argument will also arise in the Darms Lane, O'brien, Anthem, Aloft or O'Connell wineries coming up.
Update 3/9/19The Caldwell appeal will be heard by the Board of Supervisors on Mar 12, 2019. Agenda and documents
"Appellant is incorrect that the Planning Commission's denial is not supported by substantial evidence. Based on its review of the Project, the Planning Commission unanimously found the proposed visitation levels were too high, especially given the Winery's remote location at the end of a narrow, dead end road with shared access, in a fire hazard zone. The Commission's basis for denial was clearly articulated and based on substantial evidence in the record."
This is the crux of the battle over the last 5 years: as is to be expected in one of the world's great wine capitals, the growing of grapes and the making of wine are accepted activities that create the rural character of Napa communities appreciated by most all who live here; but winery tourism is not a neighborly activity. The daily traffic, the noise of crowds of people being entertained outdoors, and the lighting needed for evening entertainment is the death of that rural character. Wine making generates traffic, noise and lights only during brief periods of the year, an acceptable impact of the right to farm. Wine tourism happens every day.
Zoning protections limiting almost all rural Napa land to "agriculture" since the 1960's have been somewhat successful in preventing the spread of building development into those areas. But in 2010 the County expanded its definition of "agriculture" to allow greater profits with the increased commercial uses of event hosting and meal service to visitors. It was the "Citizens United" decision of Napa County, giving a green light to entrepreneurs to develop potentially very profitable entertainment businesses on the back of marginally profitable (or unprofitable) wine-making operations.
The question in the appeal is whether or not the Supervisors will continue to ignore residents concerned about the character of their rural communities by granting building projects that commercialize and diminish that character (and urbanize the county as a whole in the process); or will the Supervisors finally recognize that the embrace of tourism as "agriculture" (and the corporate and plutocratic exploitation of that linkage) has destroyed the comity between rural residents and the industry and fueled much of the citizen pushback for the last 5 years. The conversion of Napa County from an agricultural economy to a tourism-entertainment economy will eventually destroy the county's rural beauty and unique character. Will the Supervisors put the brakes on that process? They have a chance to begin here.
The continuance to a date uncertain of the hearing to modify the use permit of the Caldwell Winery from 25 to 35,000 gal/yr and from 2000 to 21000 visitors/yr proved a very bittersweet one for those of us who have lived through the heartbreak of a neighborhood, completely opposed to a project that will bring a daily intrusion of tourists to a rural, dead end road, being denied any say in the decision.
A few of the comments from commissioners in their discussion at the end of the presentation were remarkable.
First from Comm. Jeri Hansen, in the developer wing of the commission:
"I am fond of saying that this is an ag use in an ag zone. And that we have a right to farm - and that is true. But I also do not want to discount the legitimate concerns of legitimate neighbors who live in proximity to a site... The fact that it [the road to the winery] is a small lane in an area where there are not that many neighbors, but the fact that all of them are here with same concerns tells me something."
I heard this with some vexation. At the Mountain Peak hearing, the concerns of the many residents that packed the chamber for the hearing and the 150 residents on our dead-end road that signed a petition opposing the project, she seemed quite willing to discount at the time. Perhaps she sees some residents as being more legitimate than others.
But the real comments of interest were voiced by Comms. Gallagher and Cottrel, the preservationist wing of the commission.
From Comm Gallagher: While she commented on and was opposed to the excessive visitation in such a remote location, a sentiment that she may have voiced on Mountain Peak had she been empaneled at the time, she also had this to say:
"The question was asked by one of the speakers why are wineries limited to the number of visitors and I think its really important that we address that. Wineries are limited on the number of visitors because marketing and visitation are incidental uses to the ag uses on the property. And the ag uses are growing the grapes and processing them."
And then this:
"I just want to make a comment on something that we have heard today and that we have heard in the past: Issues of making businesses viable or making them successful. I'm a little bit concerned that we would be implementing land use policy that is driven by any particular business model. And while we of course want businesses in our county to be viable and to be successful we can't be adjusting our land use regulations to insure the success of any particular operation. We really need to be focused on Land use."
Comm Cottrell in her comments reinforced the sentiment:
"I'm very concerned about any kind of an argument in favor of a marketing or visitation plan where the county is being asked to support a particular business model or where a number is needed to obtain economic viability . Our job is to approve use permit terms that are consistent with the general plan and the goal to preserve agriculture. Not to insure profitability."
Both made very clear statements to the effect that wine production and wine marketing are two very different activities and that the role of the county may be to foster the viability of the former but not to insure the viability of the latter.
Unfortunately, the trajectory of both the "wine industry" and the government that serves it, as we have witnessed these last 4 years, has been moving decidedly in the opposite direction, promoting wine tourism to be the principal product of Napa County, not wine. And I'm sure that the industry and some government officials would be quite willing to cite chapter and verse of the code they have crafted in the last 10 years (in the General plan in 2008 and the WDO in 2010 and the official definition of agriculture in 2017) to encourage that transition of the county's principal economic activity.
I can only applaud the stance that Comms. Gallagher and Cottrell have taken in this project to separate true agriculture from tourism. As I have raved every time county government gives a modest nod to the concerns of residents about the loss of rural Napa, I hope this represents some kind of backbone beginning to grow to confront the direct-to-consumer dogma and the tourism urbanization it induces with such adverse impact on the character of this place. There seems always just a glimmer of hope.
[Email sent to Dir. Morrison to clarify the County use of case law to defend PC's decision to deny Cadwell. No response received as of 4/12/19]
Subject: Neighbors' concerns vs the "Right to Farm"
Date: March 13, 2019 at 4:21:56 PM PDT
To: "Morrison, David"
My apologies for bringing this up. I know you are busy.
In the staff letter on the Caldwell Appeal, Staff made a defense of the Planning Commission's decision based on case law:
"Additionally, concern of neighbors is sufficient to constitute substantial evidence that a contemplated use is detrimental to the welfare of the community. Expert testimony on these issues is not necessary. It is appropriate and even necessary for the [planning commission] to consider the interest of neighboring property owners in reaching a decision whether to grant or deny a land use entitlement and the opinions of neighbors may constitute substantial evidence of this issue." (SP Star Enterprises, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 459, 460.)
The Appellant's lawyer then cited the County's "Right to Farm" ordinance which states that the County will not consider the inconveniences or discomforts arising from agricultural operations to be a nuisance. The General Plan also recognizes that "Right to Farm" provisions ensure that agriculture remains the primary land use in Napa County and is not threatened by potentially competing uses or neighbor complaints.
As you know, the "concern of neighbors" and "neighbor complaints" (particularly over visitation) are at the center of most battles over new and expanded wineries that come before the Commission.
As you also know, the revision of the definition of "agriculture" in 2008 and 2017, and by extension "agricultural operations" was about the inclusion of marketing, as defined by the 2010 WDO revisions, in the definition. The "Right to Farm" ordinance makes several references to 18.08.040. It seems hard to avoid the conclusion, which the Caldwell lawyer posited, that tours and tastings, wine pairings and event hosting now fall under the "Right to Farm" and that such activities are not to be threatened by neighbor complaints.
In light of the County's defense of the Planning Commission, it is now a bit unclear what position the County will take on the link between winery tourism impacts (and all farming impacts for that matter) and the rights of impacted neighbors to present substantial evidence in their complaints that a project is a detriment to the welfare of their communities. Projects like Caldwell will continue to come up before the Commission (Darms Lane, Anthem, O'Connell, Aloft are all on the horizon), and knowing whether or not the case law will be a part of the presentation made to Commissioners in future Staff letters would be helpful.
[Email sent on 3/11/19 to Dir. Morrison, Planner Wyntress Balcher. and the Supervisors for the BOS Caldwell appeal hearing]
Thank you for this opportunity to comment.
"I feel that enactment of this ordinance reflects the wishes of the people of Napa County. I believe that these people wish to create for themselves the environment in which they wish to live and for future generations."
- Jack L. Ferguson, Napa Supervisor in approving the Ag Preserve, 1968
In the last five years you have probably noticed a heightened level of community participation in land use policy. While there are numerous causes for that participation in each project that comes before you, at root is a changing relationship between the residents and the dominant industry of the county. The influence of the resident farmer-vintners that created the Ag Preserve as a place in which they wished to work and live, and created the environment that all residents are privileged to enjoy, has given way to corporate and plutocratic ownership which seems to pursue a desire to expand production, marketing potential and personal expression regardless of the impacts on that rural environment. These changes have fostered a loss of faith among many residents that the government and the wine industry are fully interested of protecting the rural character that residents identify with and that the county has nominally pledged itself to preserve.
In the case of new and expanded wineries, the adoption by the wine industry of an ever increasing reliance on at-winery tourism to boost profits has created pushback from residents who accept the occasional right-to-farm impacts inherent in living in an agricultural economy but resent that right being expanded to the every-day impacts of commercial entertainment venues in their residential-farming neighborhoods.
The Planning Commission, in denying this proposal has, at along last, recognized that there is a difference between agriculture and the marketing of wine, and that wine tourism creates impacts that can be incompatible with life in a rural community. Each application needs to be judged on its own merits. And there are, no doubt, places where a tourism venues may be appropriate in the agricultural areas of the county. But when the residents of a potentially impacted community rise up in significant opposition, that should be an indication, in and of itself, that such a use is not appropriate for that location.
Rural residents are no less interested in the survival of wine industry and the unique and beautiful rural environment that is its product as are most members of the industry. But at-winery tourism is driving a wedge between the industry and those residents. There are other ways to market wine and those need to be looked at, for the sake of maintaining Napa's rural community character and, as some have suggested, for the sake of the Napa wine industry's survival as well.
A denial of this appeal might begin to restore faith between residents and their government, and hopefully be the start of a process of healing the rift between residents and the industry that better reflects the founding vision of an environment in which we wish to live, now and for future generations.
At the Oct 4th 2017 Planning Commission meeting, Comm. Cottrell asked Dir. Morrison once again about the evaluation of the cumulative impacts of all of these projects that they are approving and why those cumulative impacts are never considered as part of the discussion in individual projects, a question her previous colleague, Heather Phillips, was also quite concerned about.
As long as the cumulative quantities (of wineries, acerage, housing or jobs) aren't pushed beyond the predictions of the 2008 General Plan EIR there is no need he responded. Individual projects are evaluated only for localized impacts.
Interpreting the complexity of the EIR is not an easy process, involving as it did evaluating some 7 alternatives, bits and pieces of each making it into the final General Plan. This "Preferred Alternative" document seems to come as close as anything to summarizing the chosen bits. Under "Vineyard Development and Agricultural Processing" (p. 2.0-9) 225 new wineries are anticipated between 2005 and 2030, 9 per year very close to the reality thus far. The number was probably arrived at as an extension of the previous pattern. While the average capacity of each winery was assumed to be 50,000, the amount of visitation per winery, i.e. impact in the growth of the tourism industry, was never specified. Marketing, i.e. tourism, is hardly mentioned in the EIR beyond references to the WDO. In a meeting some time ago Dir Morrison indicated that while the number of wineries approved was in line with predictions, the amount of visitation requested in the last so many years had well exceeded historical requests.
Dir Morrison implied in his response to Comm. Cottrell that localized and cumulative impacts were exclusive. In the wording of the Preferred Alternative document the distinction is a bit more ambiguous: "As with vineyards, localized impacts -- both project-specific and cumulative -- would still require careful review when specific projects are proposed." How far into the future or how far from the project are localized cumulative impacts to be looked at before they are no longer localized?
Alliance for Responsible Governance Letter County Response to the Letter
In Director Morrison's response to the Shute Mihaly letter he basically highlights the problem with the 2008 General Plan and with the county's governance in its approval of new and expanded wineries. First, because the EIR recognized that there would be significant unmitigated impacts to future winery proposals under the General Plan, if new projects are creating environmental impacts, those impacts are justified. The writers of the General Plan provisions, representatives of stakeholders in the wine industry, accepted the impacts because there was development money to be made in the Plan's projections. Now that the impacts are upon us, residents and perhaps even some stakeholders, have become very concerned about the resultant reality of the devil's bargain.
Second, he tries to portray the winery approval process as only being about the number of winery permits being given and the production capacity of those wineries, both within the limits quantified in the 2008 EIR. But it is the amount of visitation being approved as the wine industry morphs from agricultural production to more profitable winery tourism that was not quantified in the EIR and hence not vetted under CEQA. And it is the embrace of tourism by the wine industry that is driving the resistance to winery approvals and to the pushback on winery compliance. Yet "tourism" is a word barely mentioned in county discussions. Complaining about the "wine industry" is caged as an attack on "agriculture".
There is no question that tourism is beginning to have significant impacts on the "agricultural lands and rural character" that the General Plan claims to protect. Yet the county continues to pretend that 40% of winery square footage devoted to tourism, or a consultant's manipulation of atomized traffic, noise or water statistics will result in less-than-significant impacts. Despite the 4300 acres of vineyard approvals, the total producing acreage of vines, and hence the total amount of Napa wine that can be produced, has hardly risen in the last decade. The reality is that most of the new and expanded wineries are not necessary or economical as processing facilities and would not even be proposed without their tourism component. Tourism is not incidental and subordinate to the decision to propose a project, but the reason for the proposal. And the impacts of that tourism are not less-than-significant.
The promotion of tourism is a much greater problem than just the proposal of event center wineries, and the municipalities need to recognize that their lust for the tourist dollar is also a threat to the character that makes this a desirable place for tourists and residents alike. But the county needs to confront the problem where it can. The county and the wine industry need to acknowledge that tourism is not agriculture, and that the urbanization that tourism brings is a threat to lose in the next generation the agricultural economy and rural environment that previous county governments fought so hard to maintain.
Residents, who have had to lead the resistance to the rise of a tourism based economy in Napa county, can only hope that the creation of the "Alliance for Responsible Governance" is a sign that some in the wine industry are willing to recognize the threat that Napa's ongoing urban development is beginning to pose to the survival of their own agriculture-based industry and are finally willing, whether anonymously or not, to say so.
The impact of tourism on the residents of Napa County, and the traffic increase and loss of affordable housing that is its most obvious result, has begun to receive pushback in a number of ways in the last three years. The resistance that initially began as opposition to projects coming before the Planning Commission has now progressed into the Supvisiorial realm with appeals to planning commission decisions now becoming routine where they were once exceptional. The number of articles and letters to the editor now related to outrage over the number of wineries being approved and the impacts they contribute to, like the appeals, are beginning to stack up. As are questions about how carefully the EIR to the 2008 update of the Napa County General Plan analyzed the impacts of increasing tourism brought about by its changed policies.
A letter to the Napa Board of Supervisors by attorneys Ellison Folk and Perl Permutter of the law firm of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, has stated the case that County Government has neglected to adhere to CEQA requirements by inadequately assessing cumulative impacts in its ongoing approval of winery projects each month: Pattern and Practice of failing to Comply with CEQA regarding Winery Approvals
And now, a significant court decision to a case brought by attorney Jerry Bernhaut in Sonoma has stressed that GHG's generated by the full extent of winery and tourism activity into and out of Sonoma County has not been properly considered under CEQA in the development of their Climate Action Plan and that alternatives to this form of activity have not been evaluated.
In each case county general plans and ordinances sanction development projects that the governments contend have less-than-significance impacts on the environment. The environmental impacts felt by residents in the realization of these projects has not, however, been less than significant. And residents are questioning, more and more how those less-than-significant determinations are made, through comments at hearings and in the press, and in appeals to decisions made by governmental bodies, and finally in court challenges to the governmental processes that allow such significant impacts to occur. It is no longer enough for counties to pretend that impacts are less-than-significant because they say they are. The impacts are just too obvious.
Policy AG-LU/16: In recognition of their limited impacts,the County will consider affording small wineries a streamlined permitting process. For purposes of this policy, small wineries are those that produce a small quantity of wine using grapes mostly grown on site and host a limited number of small marketing events each year.
Action Item AG/LU-16.1: Consider amendments to the Zoning Ordinance defining
If a municipality wanted to preserve the ambiance of a single-family neighborhood, it wouldn't rezone it to residential high-rise. Over a short period of time, homeowners would sell to developers at a profit and the area would experience a fundamental transformation.
In Napa County, whenever a small winery pleads hardship, officials accommodate it with higher use permit limits of production and visitations. They say: "We all love small wineries. We must do everything to support them." Who can possibly argue with that?
But there is a problem. Even when wineries have been operating in gross violation of their use permits, their plea for survival becomes their passport to riches. Just like that, even without proof of hardship, the value of the winery is often doubled and tripled and sold within weeks.
Further proof of how this policy incentivizes small wineries to disappear from the supposedly intended idyllic landscape into big investor portfolios, is the current rampant winery consolidation activity, all fueled by the county's policies marketed by its disingenuous rhetoric as compared to its actions.
I often visit the northern foothills of the German Alps, dotted with small towns, forests and meadows where a dozen or so cows of small dairy farmers graze. These farmers make a living with milk, cheese, honey and schnapps. They are prohibited from increasing their grazing lands by clear-cutting their forests, a long view policy that provides them with a decent living but keeps the value of their holdings to levels not attractive enough to corporate takeovers.
Small farms are preserved in harmony with forests and crystal-clear streams. When visiting the region one is captivated by the agricultural serenity so beautifully preserved since 198 years ago, when it was memorialized in Beethoven's 6th symphony, so appropriately named:
Mr. Workman has crafted another of his insightful looks at the "wine industry" in Napa County. (I've begun to collect links to his LTE's here.) As an outsider to the mechanisms of the industry I have always been a bit nervous in voicing conclusions that seem obvious but don't seem to be shared or voiced by the industry. I'm glad that someone more connected with it seems to have the same concerns, especially when they are stated in such a clear and concise form.
The Flynnville proposal was continued just before lunch. Surprisingly, it was not to be the major time-consumer of the day. That honor fell to the tiny, 10000 gal/yr, no-visitation Whitehall Lane Winery, a proposal so modest that it was hard to imagine any controversy given the now weekly approval of multiple wineries at the planning commission. The difference? The project is surrounded by respected resident growers and winery owners who don't want another building project (particularly one done by a spec developer) in their neighborhood. Yes, many of the complaints revolved around the drainage issues of Bale Slough that flows through the site (just as the depletion of groundwater became an issue for a respected neighboring vintner on Flynnville.) But as we know, and as Comm. Scott mentioned earlier in the day, these battles must be fought on the technical, "fact-based", nitty gritty issues that can be reduced to numerical "standards" and CEQA subsections. They are not fought over the real and non-quantifiable concern that the ever proliferating building projects are destroying the rural character and way of life that residents, growers, vintners and weekenders alike all treasure. It is that visceral concern that (IMHO) brings forth the energy and money necessary for the fight. Technical problems can be negotiated with technical fixes and CEQA "mitigations". There is no mitigation for the loss of a treasured rural character and way of life.
One of the great disappointments in the ongoing proliferation of winery projects these last 3 years has been the unwillingness of growers and vintners to confront the urbanization of agricultural lands until the buildings are proposed in their own backyard. Growers and vintners ("people who don't normally come to speak to us" in Chair Gill's words) have a great deal more power in convincing county officials than other residents. By remaining quiet they are insuring that eventually their backyards will be filled with building projects, and the rural character of the county that they appreciate and that is their livelihood is sure to disappear. [The project was a continued]
Napa County Planning Commissioners sent the Flynnville Winery proposal back to staff indicating that the "size and scale" of a winery of 60,000 gal/yr, 25 visitors and 15 employees/day located on Hwy 29 next to the Castello di Amorosa on a brownfield site was inappropriately large. A month and a half earlier 3 of those commissioners approved a winery of 100,000 gal/yr, 60 visitors and 19 employees/day 6 miles up a mountainous dead-end road in an area with virtually no previous tourism, on a site that a requires the removal of 10% of existing vineyards to accommodate the project. I don't disagree with their decision on Flynnville. I strenuously disagree with their decision on Mountain Peak.
Despite many proscriptions in the county's winery definition ordinance, there is no definition of appropriate capacity or visitation. County Planning Dir. Morrison attempted to reduce the arbitrariness with Proposal X in the APAC hearings last year tying both to parcel size, an idea pooh-poohed by the wine industry members and eventually shot down by the Supervisors. Applicants are free to propose capacity and visitation based on their "business plan" which itself is never scrutinized. Staff shows the commissioners comparable existing wineries with similar capacity to assess the appropriateness of visitation. There is no metric to assess the capacity. The grapes grown on the gerrymandered Flynnville site might be enough for 2500 gallons of 75% wine each year. 60,000 gal/yr is just an arbitrary number.
As shown in the county crop reports, the number of acres in vines in the county have not increased much since 2006. But some 6mil gallons of capacity have been approved in that same period. At present all new wineries and winery expansions in the county will have to poach grape sources already used to make wine elsewhere, merely shifting the location of grape processing. Winery capacity, a permanent entitlement that "goes with the land" is often justified on the basis of grape contracts that developers claim to have. Those contracts may have been owned by someone else in the previous year and can be bought by another (desperate) new winery developer before this winery is even built.
The capacity and visitation decisions are left to individual commissioners' sense of appropriateness. (They are given the discretion to deny a project as well but have done so in only one previous project - the original, over-the-top Flynnville proposal made in 2013.) The arbitrariness of their decisions often leaves one shaking one's head in despair as tourist venues continue to proliferate in the agricultural zones.
Most new projects and expansions are in fact being proposed simply to provide additional venues for wine tourism. Unfortunately the growth of the tourism industry has much different impacts on the environment than agricultural processing. By presenting the marketing and sales of wine ( i.e. tourism) as "agriculture" in the 2008 General Plan (policy AG/LU-2 on page 13 here), the analysis of the impacts of tourism development were conveniently avoided in the EIR leading to 2008 General Plan adoption.
A wine-tourism economy has impacts. It inflates rural land values and labor costs and urbanizes the rural environment, undermining the profitability of an agricultural product that must compete in a global market to exist. Winery tourism brings an ever increasing labor force into rural areas and an ever increasing number of tourists to be housed and fed and transported by ever more employees in the municipalities. It is a cascade of urban development impacts that we are already experiencing in traffic, loss of affordable housing, infrastructure taxes, natural resource degradation and the changing rural and small town character so important to us all.
At the Nov 2nd, 2015 Planning Commission meeting, Planning Director Morrison presented a brief review of projects in the planning department pipeline. A total of 51 new or major mod winery applications are currently under review. He noted that at the normal rate of Planning Commission review getting through the 51 would take 3 years. Of course the normal processing rate has been slowed a bit in the last 2 years. As he also noted, more projects will continue to be added in that time - the pipeline has not been shut off. And, as new restrictions based on the APAC recommendations are being considered for implementation by the Board of Supervisors, a surge of applications to get in under a wire may be expected as well.
The number of plutocrats and personalities in the world wishing to have a winery of their own in the Napa Valley is probably much larger than the 4500 parcels in the county available for such projects. Few of these projects will add to the wine output of the county. They will only subdivide that output into ever smaller brands, harder to sell in the wholesale chain. These vanity vintners will continue to demand tourism for retail sales and to exhibit their good-life identity, a trend encouraged by an ever expanding tourism industry wanting venues to drive demand, heedless of the impacts that tourism development is having on the rural character of the county and its agriculture based economy.
Supervisor Luce has already intimated that it is time to consider a permanent moratorium on new wineries in the Ag Preserve. The planning department is receiving applications faster than they can process them, also a reason for a moratorium. The BOS is considering changes to the General Plan regarding wineries, another cause for a moratorium while the changes are made lest there is a surge of applications.
It is time for a moratorium on winery development.
The supervisor recalled his role on the planning commission at the time the 1990 Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO) was formulated and recounted its original intent: to boost the capacity and increase the amount of Napa grapes processed in county. He compared the original intent to foster more capacity and compared it to the reverse situation now where there are several times the capacity to process grapes than there are grapes available. He stated that “The justification, frankly, for putting yet another new winery into our Ag resource area is much thinner than it has ever been in the past. And I think that we are really faced with a question of why should this be allowed to continue.”
He indicated that he didn’t have an answer to the question but, frankly, in posing the question he let his feelings be known. He had expressed the same question at the May 20, 2014, joint meeting, with the desire for more numbers from the planning director to provide guidance.
Director Morrison’s presentation here indicated that the current actual wine production in Napa County uses 2.43 times as many grapes as the total current Napa grape crop. The total permitted capacity (the theoretical amount of production currently allowed in the county) would be able to process 5.25 times the current total Napa grape crop.
At the end of his remarks, Supervisor Luce hedged a bit on the need for winery prohibition in the watersheds, but in doing so clarified his stand on their prohibition on the valley floor. (Given the overcapacity argument, I don’t quite see a distinction myself.)
One of the directions given to Director Morrison at the meeting was to set up an ad hoc committee to look at the current WDO and winery issues. The Agricultural Production Advisory Committee (APAC) is to be composed of 17 members from various county constituencies. One of its tasks is to look at what changes can be made in the current WDO to ensure the long-term sustainability of an agricultural economy that is not consumed by tourism. A series of issues were proposed to be looked at: minimum parcel size, estate grape requirement, no-vineyard-loss provision, separation of valley and watershed winery requirements, visitation limits, etc. All might be considered “tinkering” with the ordinance to control the number of new wineries, expansions and visitation going forward.
The firmest proposal to date, an increase of the minimum parcel size for a winery to 40 acres from the current 10, would mean that 2,400 new wineries might be developed in the future rather than the 4,500 currently possible.
What was not proposed was the option, raised by Supervisor Luce, to cease building and expanding wineries altogether. That option should be the first decision that APAC undertakes.
That Supervisor Luce’s proposal seems to have been unconsidered by the other supervisors and by the planning department indicates perhaps political or economic interests that I, as only a concerned citizen, am not privy to. But the supervisor is not naive about the political possibilities in the county, and his proposal is the only real suggestion made thus far to stop the development wave that continues to degrade the character and the substance of the rural, agricultural, small-town life that we all claim to cherish and is my reason to be here. That development wave will eventually bury the vines.
Supervisor Luce’s proposal is a first step to protect the vision of the Agricultural Preserve, made in 1968, for the next 50 years, and it needs a full discussion now.