Mar 12, 2014

and the definition of agriculture

"Tourism is becoming the big driver in the local economy...The Ag Preserve exists by three supervisors voting "yes" on any change and 30 days for the ordinance making that change to become effective. You don't have to take elimination of the Ag Preserve head-on. You can just undermine it by changing the definition of what a winery is."
- Jim Hickey 2008 (Napa County Planning Director 1970-89)

In 2010 the definition was changed.

Update 12/20/16:
As you can discover by reading all that has gone on below and on the APAC page, the optimism experienced at the 3/10/15 Joint Meeting and at the beginning of the APAC process was completely naive. The process was, in fact, a platform around which the industry participants on the committee, aided by a pro-development Board of Supervisors, have been able to further solidify their control over the political process with no meaningful impact on their development interests. The concerns over winery and tourism proliferation, and the impacts that tourism is bringing to the county, which initially led to the Mar 10th meeting and the creation of APAC, have remained unaddressed.

In April of 2014, when we had our first community meeting to begin discussing what to do about the proposed Mountain Peak project, Harris Nussbaum of the Mt Veeder Stewardship Council spoke to us about the necessity of a revision of the "Winery Definition Ordinance". I knew little about it except that it was a founding document of the powerful economic players in the county and it seemed quite unlikely that it might be changed by a group of fearful NIMBY's. I might have been wrong.

The county has now proposed a community forum to take place in March of 2015 to begin discussions through the remainder of the year that will address not only possible changes to the Winery Definition Ordinance but a discussion of the development impacts that the current General Plan allows and what they might mean for the future of Napa County. Those discussions will involve the municipalities as well. What seemed in Aug of 2014 like an effort to address the impacts of the 2010 changes to the ordinance have in the intervening months morphed into a look at the "big picture" of Napa's future and what we can do now to shape it.

The "WDO", as it is universally called, is responsible for the tourism winery being proposed next door to us. The ordinance was created in 1990 as the maturing Napa wine industry began to appreciate the potential impacts that a lack of regulation might bring. They included the threat that unregulated winery and tourism construction and the threat that less expensive grapes imported from beyond valley might begin to affect the viability of agriculture in the county. The 1990 WDO codified how much vineyard land could be taken over for winery use, defined tourism uses as accessory and subordinate uses that were limited in area, and most importantly required that all new wineries use at least 75% napa-grown grapes in their wines.

It was a balance of interests of the "stakeholder" organizations in the valley: growers received assurance of a market for their grapes and vintners knew that their plans for wineries and tourists, while restricted could not be denied capriciously. Those provisions only applied to future wineries or winery expansions - existing wineries were exempt.

In 2010 after the high-end wine industry tanked during the great recession, the WDO received it first modification. Referred to as a 'clarification' of the intent of the WDO, it in fact made two significant changes: food service was allowed as part of tours and tastings. And marketing events were expanded to include a new event class, "business events". I have included a detailed comparison of the differences between the 1990 and 2010 versions of the ordinance below. The "clarification" was no such thing - it was a change in the profit center of the winery from wine sales to food service and event hosting. And developers responded appropriately.

It was also a change in land use un-vetted by a CEQA process or by voters as required by Measures J and P.

By late 2013, as the magnitude of the approvals being made were becoming obvious, letters -to-the-editor were being written and by 2014 an open revolt has been occurring in the numerous neighborhoods that will be impacted by the many projects going through the pipeline. The county has now realized that the opposition is not just localized NIMBYism but that these projects are going to have cumulative impacts on the future of the county that had not heretofore been looked at.

For over a year now citizens and the county have begun to realize, either through intolerable traffic or by event centers filling the vineyards, that the WDO and the General Plan is not doing an adequate job of protecting the agriculturally centered life that is at the heart of the 1968 legislation and of the Napa County General Plan. A joint meeting of the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission on May 20, 2014 began a process to analyze and shift the trajectory of development. A second joint session on Mar 10, 2015 proposed the creation of structures to begin proposing solutions to the problem. Many of the posts below summarize the Mar 10th meeting, a meeting that we hope will prove to be a milestone in the ongoing effort to preserve the rural character of Napa County for future generations. My summary of the meeting is here.

Following the Mar 10th joint BOS/ Planning Commission meeting the county established the Agricultural Planning Advisory Committee to begin a revision of the WDO and other winery related issues. The committee will hold its meetings over the next several months. I will continue to follow the APAC meetings here.

WDO Documents:

Draft Environmental Impact Report for the 1990 WDO
DEIR for the 1990 WDO (Impacts and Mitigation measures begin on page 1)
DEIR mitigations as supplied by County for APAC #8 in response to Farm Bureau question 7/24/15

Final Environmental Impact Report for the 1990 WDO
Winery Definition Ordinance Final Environmental Impact Report I (FEIR Page A1-A23)
Winery Definition Ordinance Final Environmental Impact Report II (Winery Map)
Winery Definition Ordinance Final Environmental Impact Report III (FEIR pages A-24 to A-112)
Winery Definition Ordinance Public Comments I (FEIR pages B-1 to B-115)
Winery Definition Ordinance Public Comments II (FEIR pages B-116 to B-220)
Winery Definition Ordinance Response to Public Comments I (FEIR pages B-221 to B-355)
Winery Definition Ordinance Response to Public Comments II (FEIR pages B-356 to B-482, Appx G travel study, Appx H Endangered species)
Winery Definition Ordinance FEIR Append E-F
(Appx E Grand Jury Report, Appx F Legal Council Memo)
Winery Definition Ordinance Errata (FEIR errata sheet, repeat FEIR page A1-A3, 10/18/89 BOS hearing transcript, misc comments)

The approved 1990 Winery Definition Ordinance

Other Documents:
Calif State definition of Agriculture
"Oral Histories of Napa County Agricultural Preserve", by Rue Ziegler, Ph.D.
History of "agriculture" in General Plan
History of "agriculture" in County Code
APAC creation resolution
2015 Grand Jury Report: Are Napa County wineries following the rules?
Dir. Morrison's Data analysis of the county 2015
Napa County Travel Behavior Study 2015
Napa County Travel Behavior Study Powerpoint
Tourism in Napa County 2012
Tourism in Napa County 2015 powerpoint
David Morrison's Board Agenda Letter: WDO Review
Napa County Land Use Map
Geoff Ellsworth's map of potential winery/event center sites in the county
County General Plan Ag Preservation & Land Use Element
Napa Valley Vintners WDO page
2010 County WDO revisions
8/18/10 Planning Commission Winery Study Session Item 10A
4/14/10 Planning Commission agenda re: changes to the WDO
Correspondence for 2010 WDO not included on agenda (from St. Helena WIndow)
Stakeholder Statement of Principals re 2010 changes to the WDO
2008 Cumulative Impact Staff Report
Shocking idea from Grapegrowers in 1987
1983 General Plan definition of agriculture
1976 Ordinance 511: Earliest "ag preserve" ordinance? with definition of agriculture

Stephen Donoviel LTE 4/19/17: The definition of agriculture
NVR 4/19/17: Napa County's new definition of agriculture to include marketing and sales
Wines&Vines 3/13/15: How Many Wineries are Enough?
WineSearcher 3/12/15: Napa Rails Against Disneyland Image
2010 WDO changes should have been put to vote Geoff Ellsworth 8/18/15
County looking for ag advisory committee members
Anyone want to be a Supervisor? George Caloyannidis plus citations
Sour grapes in Wine Country: Intense challenges to wineries erupt Shepherd Bliss
Selling tickets, not wine in the Napa Valley Sandra Ericson
Napa Valley at the crossroads George Caloyannidis
Napa county to explore the price of wine success/
Dillon: Land use, a new jail top county agenda
New year will feature new debate on winery development
Enough is enough already on winery development Kelly Wheaton
Don't sell out to greed and profit Anne Carr
Napa County's resources are not limitless 10/2/14
Napa Valley May Cut Back On New Wineries 8/22/14
Napa County supervisors hear calls for new winery rules8/19/14
Winery Definition Ordinance should be reexamined 8/13/14
Our current business model is flawed 7/29/14
Small wineries' expansions can have big impacts 7/14/13
Calistoan 5/20/14: Planners, supervisors take cautious approach to curbing winery visitation
Former planning commissioner clarifies original intent of WDO 2/24/13
Our View: Winery ordinance powder keg needs defusing1/26/13
Supervisors back some changes to winery ordinance 3/8/10
Supervsors to hear arguments on winery event rules 3/1/10
Groups Examine Winery Event Rules 11/23/09
Weddings at Wineries 10/10/09
LA Times 10/17/85:Napa Valley Debate: When Is a Winery Not a Winery?
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The restaurant-winery impact

Bill Hocker - Oct 2, 2019 10:56AM  Share #520

Update 10/2/19
NVR 10/2/19: How much dining can you do at a Napa Valley Winery? It depends.

NVR 9/30/19: Local Tastes: Challenges continue for Napa Valley food and wine Tim Carl continues his documentation of the slow and possibly sudden demise of Napa as a good-life paradise.

Update 12/1/18
Just on heels of his insights on the meaning of the opening of The Prisoner Winery, Napa's newest tourist attraction, the Register's food and wine writer Tim Carl has done a deep dive, with statistics, into Napa's dying restaurants. There is a relationship between the two stories

NVR12/1/18: A staffing shortage clouds the future of Napa Valley restaurants

Update 10/30/18
Eve Kahn et al LTE 10/30/18: Why are supervisors allowing restaurants in the Ag Preserve?

Update 10/16/18
NVR 5/22/18: Brian Arden Winery's new food and wine experience are perfectly paired

NVR 10/16/18: Diane De Filipi: Food and wine at Sequoia Grove

Eve Kahn at the BOS on Oct 16, 2018 brought up the De Filipi article from the Wine section of the Register. The author of the article offers some jaw-dropping candor:

"Wineries and visitors are now able to benefit from an ambiguity in the ordinance [the WDO] that allows for educational wine and food pairings for visitors. This little loophole is making it possible for us to enjoy meals at wineries while still preventing most gargantuan events.

One of wineries that has created an inviting and impressive dining experience is Sequoia Grove. Their five-course seasonal cuisine wine and food pairing was an intimate, no more than 16 guests, experience."

Creating a restaurant-class kitchen and hiring a top chef and support staff is no small endeavor. Neither is staying within the parameters of the loophole. Sequoia Grove has figured it all out and in a setting, which is lovely without the least bit of pretense."

What can one say. Except that the wine industry was fully aware what the "ambiguous" 2010 changes to the verbiage of the WDO would mean - that wineries could then become much more profitable commercial enterprises, i.e. restaurants.

At the BOS meeting, industry spokesperson Debra Dommen discounted the quotes in the Redd article below, saying that, based on her inside knowledge (more reliable than mere employees presumably), restaurant closures were not related to losing business to wineries. Just more fake news she implied.

But, at his first meeting as Planning Commissioner on the day following this BOS meeting, Comm. Mazotti, a member of the company developing several major Napa urban projects, had just the opposite view from Ms. Dommen. The market for high end restaurants is saturated in the valley. The urban development community looks at each new "restaurant" as a net zero condition, with the loss of one existing restaurant expected for each new one. If the new ones are at wineries, then the town suffers.

Update 10/9/18
NVR 10/9/18: Why Yountville's Redd restaurant closed
"Restaurants have to compete with so many wineries that are now offering food pairings and lunches, with in-house chefs creating menus to keep their visitors engaged. Tourists aren't necessarily interested in a big dinner or fancy lunch when they can have a food experience at the winery. It's really tough on restaurants now." - Redd sommelier Chris Blanchard

Redd is not the only example: George Caloyannidis mentioned in one email that:
"I had a long talk with the Dierkhisings who own 2 restaurants in Calistoga. Despite the increase in visitors they told me they will be going out of business. When I asked why, they said tourists get enough food at the wineries and they don't come to us. Several other restaurants in Calistoga have closed."

Charlotte Williams then replied:
"In small Calistoga the effects of any trend become clear sooner than in larger towns. Brannan's Bar & Grill closed a few weeks ago. The owners
cited traffic as a problem but there's also the probability that winery
hosted dinners and lunches didn't help business in the restaurants in town.

I imagine that was a problem for Terra and Cindy's Backstreet in St.
Helena, too. Market (restaurant) figured it out and decided to take
their food to the wineries, instead, essentially becoming a catering

The labor shortage, as the wineries poach workers as well as customers, is another cause of demise. There is a lack of workers either for want of housing or from winery and resort competition. The approval of ever more commercial development in the municipalities without the infrastructure or housing to accommodate the increased work force is putting the squeeze on all employers. It will only get much worse as the many hotels and resorts and industrial projects approved but not yet built come online.

As mentioned in the article, the preference by tourists for less expensive food in town when they spend $125 for winery lunch speaks to another issue - the promotion of Napa as a mass market tourism destination. One trip to Oxbow Market, an ideal, I'm sure, from the tourism industry's standpoint, should convince anyone that the days of oenophiles and epicures seeking an undiscovered gem are over. Like being at Disneyland, an expensive meal at a winery is part of the ride, but for all other meals it's strictly comfort food.

The County's land use policies are clearly a cause in the transfer of food revenues from the municipalities to the vineyards. By including food service as an agricultural process allowed under the County's restrictive agricultural zoning, the County has encouraged the use of wineries as restaurants. The result, as has been apparent in the use permit requests since 2010 changes to the WDO to allow increased food service, is a bleeding of a definite commercial use, a restaurant, from the municipalities into the unincorporated areas. The urban-rural line has been perforated. Hotels are sure to follow.

The "wine industry" claims that serving food at tastings and events is the only way attract the patrons needed for wineries to survive. In fact, it is the economic justification needed for wineries to be proposed in the first place. Without the wine pairings and food serving events, the number of wineries being proposed, and the number of employees contributing to the population challenges the county now faces, would be considerably reduced. The decision to build a winery would be based on the need to process grapes into wine, and the county already has several times more than enough approved processing capacity for all the grapes grown in the county.

NVR 12/31/14: Etoile, restaurant that helped launch Napa Valley food scene, is closing

Although the above article is a unique case, it is representative of what we can expect to happen in the next few years as the synergy between wine and food, codified under the WDO, is exploited. Note that food service isn't ending, it's just that the winery will be serving the food in the form of banquets and private parties.

My two screeds on the ongoing conversion of wineries into backdrops for restaurants are here and here. The jist of my arguments, and the reason that the 1990 version of WDO went to such linguistic pains around "marketing events", is that restaurants should not be allowed in the vineyards. It is not that wineries and restaurants cannot cannot coexit - they do quite well together. In fact the two together present an unbeatable profit center that will eventually eliminate the need for municipal based restaurants. The combination is, in fact, profitable enough that every vineyard owner will want one, and all of the empty vineyards will eventually be occupied by their own restaurant-wineries. Whereas the profits to be made from tours and tastings at wineries is not enough to justify building a winery solely for that purpose, a restaurant within the winery does justify the cost. I'm sure that the winery being proposed in my back yard on Soda Canyon Road would be a very dicey investment if it were to depend only on tours and tastings. And as the profits from winery tourism eclipse the profits to be made from the sale of wine, the need for the vineyards also diminishes, and other uses, like parking lots to accommodate that large winery events, will be found for the land.

My own modest recommendation: the new version of the WDO, being debated in February, needs to remove food service from the vineyards - lest the vines are literally eaten away.

The restaurant coming to a vineyard near you

Bill Hocker - Feb 4, 2019 8:57AM  Share #352

Update 2/4/19
NVR 2/4/19: Napa County hits B Cellars with code notice over food service

This yelp review gives a good idea of the B Cellars experience (use firefox if safari bombs)

It is great that the County is making good on its post-APAC resolve to enforce the provisions of its ordinances. Kudos to the community activists and recent press that have encouraged them to do so.

Planning Dir. Morrison indicated at the Feb. 6, 2019 Planning Commission meeting that review of winery application marketing plans and facilities will be much more closely scrutinized in future to insure compliance with 2010 WDO limitations. While that alone is not enough to curtail the rise of winery restaurants allowed under the code (given the ambiguity of the provisions), it is a welcome commitment. Hear! Hear!

Fortunately it sounds like B Cellars will contest the citation, which means that there will be an opportunity to begin defining what is "food service" (allowed) and what is "meal service" (forbidden) under the WDO (see here). At the same time the County needs to vet another provision of the WDO: is the food at an $80, $125 or $185 wine pairing, each of which would be an expensive lunch at most any restaurant, being provided "without charge except to the extent of cost recovery"? What data is required, in a government now obsessed with data-based decisions, to decide if it is? It is an important data number if it shows that boutique wineries are being proposed and built, as I believe, solely because the profit made from wine pairings and events makes up for the more modest profits, or losses, from vanity wine making. Much of the wine industry has become instead an entertainment industry based on a wine-making image, filling up the vineyards with buildings and parking lots and filling up the roads with visitors and employees while claiming to protect agriculture by such urbanization.

Original post 9/9/14

You know there were some compromises made that probably shouldn't have been made... It had to do with food services and basically turning these places, some of them, into restaurants.

- Mel Varrelman 2008 (Supervisor 1983-2002) on the passage of the 1990 WDO

The back page of the Yountville Sun on 9/1/14 offered an article on the just opened B Cellars winery on Oakville Crossroad developed by Duffy Keys. An earlier article appeared in the Register here:

NVR 8/28/14: B Cellars builds winery for the luxury traveler

The winery is one of the 33 new wineries (B Cellars is technically an addition to the never-built Miller Winery) so far approved under the 2010 modifications to the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO). Those modifications allow food to be served as part of winery "tours and tastings" and allow business meetings to be considered as "marketing events". The two modifications, following the 2008 state law allowing wine purchased at the winery to be consumed on site, tipped a profitability point resulting not only in the 33 new winery approvals but in approvals for expansions and use permit modifications to 38 existing wineries. There are currently 24 additional projects in the planning department awaiting approval including the Mountain Peak project next door to me on Soda Canyon Road.

A debate is now going on in the county regarding the pace of development brought on by these changes in the WDO and by the county's intent to boost tourism following the 2008 meltdown of the high-end wine industry. The essence of those changes was to allow more food service at wineries, edging ever closer to that so-far taboo entity: the restaurant-winery. The euphemisms abound to create a false distinction: a lunch or dinner is called a "wine pairing"; banquets are referred to as events in the "marketing of wine". There are 3 distinctions that the WDO uses to differentiate a winery from a restaurant: 1. menu options are not allowed. 2. "food service" is allowed while "meal service" is not. 3. food service must be charged at cost. These are meaningless and disingenuous. Meaningless because many restaurants (like Chez Panisse in Berkeley) have one daily fixed menu, and also because "meal" vs "food" is undefined in the WDO providing no enforceable difference. (The Mondavi Winery offers 3- and 4- course "wine pairing dinners" for $150 to $350. B Cellars offers a $125 Chef's Garden Pairing). Disingenuous because a $125 lunch isn't profitable? If the food service were not profitable no changes to the WDO would have been requested in 2010.

Why is the food-meal distinction necessary? Under the WDO, wineries are allowed tours, tastings and marketing events with their 'food service' as accessory, incidental and subordinate uses to the winemaking process. In contrast, restaurants are commercial enterprises offering 'meal service' quite able to stand on their own. Food service is important in these applications because it is an effective profit booster. (At Raymond, if only half of their 400 allowed daily visitors went for a $100 wine pairing instead of a $50 tasting that would mean an additional $3.65 million/yr in revenue) With food service the wineries are becoming the subordinate element, the crush pads and caves, as shown in the B Cellars renderings and video as backdrops to the "hospitality experience".

The result of allowing these commercial enterprises in the vineyards, nominally forbidden under the county's 45 year old year commitment to protect agricultural lands, is a direct challenge to the Napa General Plan's intent to maintain agriculture as the county's economic engine. The transfer from an agricultural economy to a tourism economy is directly embodied in the restaurant-winery. Food service is at the heart of all new use-permit applications, like the high profile Yountville Hill Winery or the remote Woolls Ranch Winery on water-starved Mt Veeder Road, currently making their way through the county meat grinder. Food service is especially important to the tourism experiences in the contentions Raymond Winery application.

The new tourist facilities that will be springing up in the next few years present other impacts besides just the vineyard land that they consume. The many well-lit al fresco events lasting until 10pm will eclipse the serenity of dark and quite rural nights, and a late night rush hour of limos will traverse the valley. In-town restaurants may see a drop in their clientele, unless the wineries succeed in attracting the hundreds of thousands of new tourists necessary to fill their tourist slots, in which case residents may look back to the traffic of 2014 as the good old days. In either case in-town restaurants may begin to find their top chefs and experienced staff moving to the vineyards. Also, restaurants and their many patrons may present sanitary waste problems not well suited to rural leach field solutions. And the expanding, labor-intensive tourist industry will need housing, schools, shopping centers and municipal infrastructure for its workforce, an ever consuming municipal and county concern with ever more work for the development industry promoting the tourism wineries.

This rant is not specific to B Cellars. Mr. Keys has done a low-key, handsome, and modestly-sized project (comparing it to Yountville Hill and Raymond). His is just an early example of a construction boom that will be played out in the next few years. The 70 or so approved projects now in the construction pipeline will unfortunately be built, and we will bear their impacts. But the many projects in the planning department and the vast number that can be built on the 10 acre+ properties in the county (perhaps on the one next to you) can be stopped with a commitment from residents and the county and anyone else who sees the importance of protecting the agricultural base and the rural character that makes the county special. Sometime in November [now in Mar 2015] the county is convening a community forum to discuss possible changes to the WDO. I would urge everyone concerned about the future of the county to participate.

[A subsequent SCR post on was made on the meaning of the B Cellars expansion in 2017]

Defining an end to agriculture

Bill Hocker - May 8, 2017 10:32AM  Share #1495

NVR 4/9//17: Napa County's new definition of agriculture to include marketing and sales

"Tourism is becoming the big driver in the local economy...The Ag Preserve exists by three supervisors voting "yes" on any change and 30 days for the ordinance making that change to become effective. You don't have to take elimination of the Ag Preserve head?on. You can just undermine it by changing the definition of what a winery is."
- Jim Hickey 2008 (Napa County Planning Director 1970-89)

Redefining "agriculture" will also do the job.

An open letter to the Board of Supervisors:

The current definition of "agriculture" in §18.80.040 (and the proposed markup here) is already a hodgepodge of unrelated provisions. The specificity on farm management building lighting or the number of roosters that qualify as "agriculture" makes one's eyes glaze over. This seems like an ideal opportunity to bring some clarity, a "bright line" in the words of Ginny Simms, between "agriculture", and the myriad types of residential, industrial and commercial uses (houses, wineries, other processing and sales facilities, farmworker housing, kennels, hunting lodges, nursing homes, day care centers, satellite stations, etc.) that the County allows to be built on AP and AW zoned lands either with or without a permit.

Those uses are listed in §§18.16.020-18.16.030 and 18.20.020-18.20.030. Why not just reference those code sections in the definition of agriculture as uses allowed on agricultural lands. If there are new uses to be added or qualifications to be made, or, even better, uses to be eliminated, then make them there. But start with a decent and clear definition of agriculture, perhaps like the State definition.

The need to define some uses as "being" agriculture, rather than just uses allowed on ag lands, is a bit of a mystery. The fact that the wine industry is so concerned about turning them into agriculture (in 2008 and now) indicates that there is some intention to place non-agricultural development under the protections of the "right-to-farm" and immune from the pesky concerns of the citizens of the county impacted by ever more urban development in the name of "agriculture". If so, we are right to ask whether the marketing activities at wineries now included in the definition are "agricultural processing" and whether winery employees are in fact "farm workers" allowed housing in the vineyards.

Tourism is not agriculture. The event-centers that continue to consume the vineyards are one facit of a cascade of development that will eventually overwhelm the agricultural base of the county. The encouragement of more tourism means more hotels and resorts, more employees needing more housing and shopping centers bringing more employees, all of which will need more roads and other infrastructure. Those new employees, living perhaps in the huge developments at Napa Pipe or Watson Ranch, as Sean Scully has pointed out, will add to the voters more concerned with urban rather than rural issues, and the ability to protect an agricultural economy will diminish exponentially.

Eventually agriculture will be tolerated only to the extent that it is a backdrop to draw in tourists, like Cape Cod lobster pots and fishing shacks. The St Helena Window brought up the Butler Report on Tourist Area Life Cycles a while back to illustrate the point. Already those people looking for an authentic wine producing region are headed to Oregon. and even those that have long supported the ag preserve are saying change is inevitable, why fight it. But it is not too late.

All agree that if agriculture were not a profitable investment then the wine industry would die. The industry does need a sustainable level of profitability, and many wineries have produced sustainable profits for decades with minimal or no tourism, some of the best with no tourism at all. Tourism is already a substantial part of the county's economy and the current ratio of wine production to tourism has been successful.

But the amount of Napa wine that can be produced is leveling out. Tourism can continue to expand indefinitely if encouraged. The creation of a glut of inefficient and unnecessary vanity wineries now vying for a relatively fixed grape crop exacerbates the shift from an agriculture to a tourism economy. As grape and land and bottle prices rise in response, Napa wines become a harder sell on in the world market and profits must increasingly be found wine pairings and event hosting, even by the larger players.

The denial of unlimited profits was at the heart of the creation of the ag preserve. The wine industry exists here not because it is the most profitable use of the land, but because the voters of Napa county decided in 1968 that retaining a rural, small-town, agriculture-based life was worth curtailing individuals' right to maximize their profit. The wine industry exists because it has the respect and protection of residents for the quality of life that is its byproduct.

"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."
-Napa County General Plan vision statement

Unfortunately the impacts of development, of congested traffic, of the loss of affordable housing and local businesses and a sense of community, of the deforestation of hillsides, and the littering of the landscape with buildings and the loss of a rural character, of the demand for more tax hikes and bond initiatives to pay for the infrastructure of urbanization, all are plainly beginning to overwhelm the life in this treasured place. The environment that is the byproduct of a more profit oriented industry is no longer so bucolic, no longer so easy to support.

Napa's citizens have confronted the County on many projects in the last three years: Woolls Ranch, Yountville Hill, Reverie, Girard, Walt Ranch, Syar, the Woodland Initiative, Raymond, Mountain Peak, Palmaz and in the municipalities on Calistoga Hills, Davies, Napa Oaks. In each of the contested projects, the interests of developers have won out, or seem to be winning out, over the preservationists. Each community has specific concerns, but all are united in the concern that continuing development is threatening the rural, small-town character and environment of Napa County that is the special legacy of a commitment to an "agricultural" economy four decades ago.

The county's definition of agriculture does need to be changed if this place is to remain an agricultural economy for the next 35 years. - but you are going in the wrong direction and the county is filling up with buildings.

"(f) The cumulative effect of such projects is far greater than the sum of individual projects. The interspersing of non-agricultural structures and activities throughout agricultural areas in excess of what already exists will result in a significant increase in the problems and costs of maintaining vineyards and discourage the continued use of the land for agricultural purposes.
- from the Napa County Winery Definition Ordinance 1990

This discussion does present one more opportunity, perhaps now being passed up again, to ask: what do you want this place to look like in 35 years? How many more tourist attractions do you want to see, how many more buildings and cars and and subdivisions and parking lots and highway expansions do you want construct?

At what point does a place nominally devoted to "agriculture" become one more Bay Area suburb with an agrarian past? Listen to what your concerned citizens have been telling you - those with no financial stake in the outcome but only a desire to perpetuate the "agricultural" quality of life that is currently so successful here.

Thank you for the opportunity to vent.

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Road

The Definition of Agriculture changed!

Bill Hocker - May 6, 2017 7:41AM  Share #1302

Update 5/6/17
On Tues May 9th, 2017, the Supervisors will be approving a final revision of the definition of agriculture in County Code §18.80.040 (markup here) to try to square it with the General Plan definition in Policy AG/LU-2 (see Norma Tofanelli's dissection here).

IMHO they've just further scrambled the relationship between "real agriculture" (as defined by ordinary human beings and the State) and the myriad types of residential, industrial and commercial uses (houses, wineries, other processing and sales facilities, kennels, hunting lodges, nursing homes, day care centers, satellite stations, etc.) that the County allows to be built on "agricultural" AP and AW zoned lands either with or without a permit. They are listed in §18.16.020-18.16.030 and 18.20.020-18.20.030. The need to also define some of those uses as being "agriculture", rather than just non-ag uses allowed on ag lands, is a bit of a mystery. The fact that the wine industry is so concerned about doing so means that there are probably implications for the rights of owners, decipherable only by their attorneys in consultation with the county staff, to allow increased development of their properties in the name of "agriculture".

Though seemingly arcane, these code redefinitions are a big deal in the ongoing conversion of ag lands into urban uses (like tourism processing and "agricultural" worker housing), and to the changing meaning of the "right to farm", all of which is beginning to impact and diminish the rural, small town character that is a legacy of a previous generation of community leaders. NapaVision2050 encourages you to write a letter to the Supervisor here.

Update 4/19/17
Stephen Donoviel LTE 4/19/17: The definition of agriculture

Dr. Donoviel gives the historical context for the County's unique definition of agriculture and its use, first in service to protect the agricultural future of the county and, and more recently, its re-crafting to serve the needs of development interests. And finally, a proposition to place the definition before the voters.

Update 4/9/17
NVR 4/9/17: Napa County's new definition of agriculture to include marketing and sales

On Apr 4th, the Board of Supervisors approved (5-0) changes in County ordinance §18.08.040. The revision markup is here. (As Dir. Morrison noted the following day, it was the first of the APAC recommendations to be completed - almost a year after being made.) It adds farmworker housing ("agricultural employee housing" in the General Plan, another definitional discrepancy needing clarification), agricultural processing facilities and marketing facilities "accessory" to production facilities to the list of buildings that can be built in the ag zones of the county. I was pleased to see that wineries and event centers were placed below chicken coops in the pecking order of buildings permitted under the ordinance, though I expect that we will continue to see more event centers than chicken coops being built.

The meeting was contentious with residents negatively impacted by the "marketing of wine", i.e. tourism, up against the "wine industry" that sees greater profits to be made in tourism development. Sup. Pedroza acknowledged the resident-vs-industry angst and tried to calm the room by pointing out that this redefinition was simply to bring the code into conformance with the general plan, (just as arguments were made in 2010 that changes to the WDO were merely clarifications) and that re-visioning the definition of agriculture was appropriate for another forum. Of course that forum was the APAC process, in which changes to the General Plan were never seriously considered. While much hot air was given to the subject at APAC (e.g. here), AG/LU-2 remained fixed in stone. Debra Dommen spoke up then, as she did today, to state that "we've" been working on this since 2006 and that the General Plan update in 2008 settled the issue. By "we" of course she meant the wine industry, not the citizens of Napa County.

Geoff Ellsworth's philosophical take on the issue is here.

Update 3/29/17

On Apr 4th, 2017 the Board of Supervisors will weigh in again (item 9H here) on the proposed update to the definition of "agriculture" in the County Code of Ordinances to bring it into alignment with the "marketing" aspect of the definition in the General Plan that has fueled the rapid transition from an agricultural economy into an entertainment economy.

Of interest are 2 documents from staff, demanded by the Board at the last meeting to give context to the issue, detailing the histories of Napa's peculiar definition of "agriculture" in both the General Plan and in the County Code.

Update 3/21/17

NVR 3/23/17: Napa County still struggling with its agriculture definition

After a presentation by Dir. Morrison to the BOS today on changes to the definition of agriculture in county ordinance §18.08.040 (item 9B here) and a stream of citizen arguments about the apparent equation of processing, marketing and housing in the definition and the confusion and inconsistencies that the definition portends for the "right to farm" and for unintended development in the county (and a couple of industry reps supporting approval as being in line with the developer-friendly definition they created for the General Plan in 2008), the Board had their say.

Sup. Dillon started out expressing frustration that the definition was not given appropriate context for the benefit of the two new board members and others unfamiliar with the long and fraught history of the definition in the county, seeming to feel that the definition was being presented as a fait accompli for their approval and not given appropriate due diligence appropriate to its primal significance to the county's soul. Chair Pedroza, obviously anxious to despatch the issue as quickly as possible, after rigorously enforcing the 3 minute rule for public comments, ran into wordsmithing issues from Sups. Gregory and Ramos who, with fresh eyes, were concerned about the ambiguity of the relation of agriculture to agricultural processing and agricultural processing to marketing.

Dir. Morrison spent a fair portion of the last two years dealing with this issue and seemed vexed that it was headed back to staff and council for yet another editing session. The item was continued and the Board will consider the definition of agriculture again at its April 4th, 2017 meeting at the very precise time of 11:15am.

Norma Tofanelli has updated her letter on the real dangers and conflicts of placing marketing activities, farm worker housing and all other accessory uses, under the "right to farm" protections of the code of ordinances. Her letter is here.

Geoff Ellsworth reiterated his opinion that the definition might be called the "Knott's Berry Farm ordinance", an issue more discussed here.

Ginny Simms (the only speaker with enough status to be able to ignore the 3 minute admonitions) brought forward the need in the definition for "bright-line" conditions that separate farming from processing and that separate processing from marketing. The various conditions sprinkled throughout the General Plan and the Code of Ordinances present some very muddy lines indeed, and this current proposal seemed to do nothing to brighten things up. A muddy definition is, of course, a boon for developers seeking to turn ambiguity into building projects.

Update 9/23/16

The vote was 4 to 1 (Comm. Phillips voting no) to send the revised definition on the BOS with recommendations for some staff clarifications on the verbiage.

NVR 9/26/16: Napa wrestles with definition of agriculture

Correspondence received at or prior to the meeting is here. The correspondence, particularly the two legal letters, reinforce the points made by Norma Tofanelli below. It has become obvious that, from the 2008 General Plan revisions on, there has been a consistent effort on the part of corporate development interests to weaken the protections that have allowed Napa County to remain an agricultural economy and kept it's agricultural lands free from development. Following the squashing of community concerns in the APAC hearings and the election a development candidate in the Supervisorial primary, re-defining the meaning of agriculture to allow urban development in its name is a principal part of the process, as James Hickey recognized in the quote at the top of the WDO page.

Update 9/21/16

Today, Sept 21st 2016 public comments will be heard on the proposal for changes as shown in Dir. Morrison's email below to the definition of agriculture as set out in Napa County ordinance 18.08.040

NVR 9/19/16: Napa planners to discuss agricultural definition

While my initial view was that the additional convolutions generated by the changes will just create more uncertainty about the definition of agriculture (an uncertainty that tourism entrepreneurs and real estate developers will continue to milk), Norma Tofanelli has shown just how easy it will be to create milking stations going forward - the probable intention of the changes. The new definition, if adopted, will give the legal basis to claim that winery event centers, country stores and other tourist venues (Nut Tree comes to Napa) no longer need use permits to be built. They will be allowed "by right" just as real agriculture (you know, the growing and harvesting of crops) currently is.

She writes:
    If the additional uses (ag production facilities, ag product sales, marketing events, farm worker housing) are added into the base definition of §18.08.040 you will be mandated by at least §18.16.020 and 18.20.020 to allow such uses without a use permit:
      §18.16.020 - Uses allowed without a use permit.
        The following uses shall be allowed in all AP districts without use permits: A. Agriculture;

      §18.20.020 - Uses allowed without a use permit.
        The following uses shall be allowed in all AW districts without use permits: A. Agriculture;

    In addition, the uses will be protected by:
      §2.94.010 - Definitions.
        "Agriculture" shall have the same meaning as "agriculture" as defined in Section 18.08.040 of this code.

Her 3/20/17 version of the letter is here.
Her previous 9/19/16 version is here


At the coming planning commission on Sept. 21h, 2016, Planning Director David Morrison is asking for public comments (and commissioner recommendations to the BOS) on a revision to the Napa County Ordinance 18.08.040 definition of agriculture, to bring it into alignment with the Napa County General Plan policy AG/LU-2, the County's prime definition of agriculture. It seems to go a bit further than just alignment by clarifying that the "related marketing sales and other accessory uses" mentioned in AG/LU-2 are "incidental and subordinate" to agricultural production uses. "Related accessory uses" are defined in other parts of the county code as being incidental and subordinate to production, but omission of that clarification from the two principal definitions of agriculture has been a lingering concern. The notice for the subsequently re-noticed Sept 7th hearing is here.

Director Morrison sent along the email below [superceeded by this 3/20/15 markup] which shows proposed changes (in red) to the principal county ordinance defining agriculture. He also sent along a second email modifying the changes (shown in blue), cobbled on at the recommendation of staff and the county council.

From: "Morrison, David"
Subject: Agricultural Definition Ordinance
Date: August 26, 2016 at 5:29:19 PM PDT


The Napa County General Plan includes the following:

Policy AG/LU-2: "Agriculture" is defined as the raising of crops, trees, and livestock; the production and processing of agricultural products; and related marketing, sales and other accessory uses. Agriculture also includes farm management businesses and farm worker housing.

Action Item AG/LU-2.1: Amend County Code to reflect the definition of "agriculture" as set forth within this plan, ensuring that wineries and other production facilities remain as conditional uses except as provided for in Policy AG/LU-16, and that marketing activities and other accessory uses remain incidental and subordinate to the main use.

This Policy and Action Item were also reviewed extensively by the Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee, Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors over the past year. In April of this year, the Board unanimously reconfirmed their support for this Policy and directed staff to implement the Action Item. As a result, I will be presenting the ordinance change shown below to the Planning Commission on September 7 and will be asking that they recommend approval to the Board of Supervisor (amended text is shown in red font and 9/4/16 additions in blue):

On the same meeting, I will be recommending that the Planning Commission accept a PBES department policy establishing guidelines for the use of variances.

If you have any questions or would like additional information regarding this item, please contact me directly.




Section 18.08.040 - Agriculture

"Agriculture" means the raising of crops or livestock and includes the following:

A. Growing and raising trees, vines, shrubs, berries, vegetables, nursery stock, hay, grain and similar food crops and fiber crops;

B. Grazing of livestock and feeding incidental thereto;

C. Animal husbandry, including, without limitation, the breeding and raising of cattle, sheep, horses, goats, pigs, rabbits and poultry and egg production, except as provided in subsection (I) of this section;

D. Production and processing of agricultural products, including agricultural processing facilities notwithstanding requirements for obtaining a conditional use permit;

E. Marketing, sales, and other accessory uses that are related, incidental and subordinate to the main agricultural use, notwithstanding requirements for obtaining a conditional use permit;

F. Farmworker housing as defined in Section 18.08.294;

G. Sale of agricultural products grown, raised or produced on the premises;

H. Farm management uses meeting all of the standards in subsections (H)(1) through (H)(6) of this section. Farm management shall mean the operation, maintenance and storage of farm machinery, equipment, vehicles and supplies used exclusively for agricultural cultivation and harvesting where all machinery, equipment, vehicles and supplies are leased or owned and operated by the farm manager whether that manager is an owner, tenant, or agricultural contractor, and regardless of whether properties managed are contiguous or under similar ownership, provided that at least seventy-five percent of the managed acres are within Napa County. Farm management shall not include manufacturing for sale or retail sales of any kind and shall not include businesses devoted to equipment storage, rental or repair rather than farming. Farm management shall not include the operation, maintenance or storage of equipment used for construction of structures, even if those structures are in support of agriculture;

    1. Offices used for farm management shall meet the definition of accessory uses in Section 18.08.020;

    2. Farm management activities established or expanded after June 30, 2006, alone or in combination with any wineries subject to Section 18.104.220 shall not occupy more than fifteen acres or twenty-five percent of the parcel size, whichever is less;

    3. No single farm management building or structure newly constructed or expanded after June 30, 2006 shall exceed five thousand gross square feet. Multiple smaller buildings are permitted as long as they conform to the lot coverage standard in subsection (H)(2) above;

    4. Uncovered storage areas shall be screened from preexisting residences on adjacent parcels and from designated public roads defined in Chapter 18.106. Screening shall generally consist of evergreen landscape buffers;

    5. Farm managers shall possess all applicable local, state and federal permits and licenses;

    6. All exterior lighting, including landscape lighting, for farm management uses shall be shielded and directed downward, located as low to the ground as possible, and the minimum necessary for security, safety, or operations. Additionally, motion detection sensors must be incorporated to the greatest extent practical. No flood-lighting or sodium lighting of buildings is permitted, including architectural highlighting and spotting. Low-level lighting shall be utilized in parking areas as opposed to elevated high-intensity light standards. Prior to issuance of any building permit for construction, two copies of a separate detailed lighting plan shall accompany building plans showing the location and specifications for all lighting fixtures to be installed on the property shall be submitted for department review and approval.

I. Agriculture shall not include the raising and keeping of more than twenty-five roosters per acre, up to a maximum of one hundred roosters per legal parcel, except as may be permitted pursuant to Chapter 6.18.

Focusing a light on ordinance 18.08.040 frankly raises more questions than it answers. Agriculture "means" the raising of crops and livestock which "includes" a bunch of other things that are not the raising of crops and livestock? Huh? The ordinance begins with the lofty goal of defining "agriculture" but then spends 75% of the text in the weeds of farm management and roosters. If farm management is so well covered what about other agricultural uses. Wineries get entire additional sections of the code. But it seems like canneries, dairies, slaughterhouses, tanneries are also allowed under this wording. As well as their incidental and subordinate accessory produce stands, produce/dairy grocery stores, butcher shops, leather apparel stores, seed or hay supply stores. As will be, I assume, the facilities needed to process and market marijuana in the (near?) future.

The blue additions add even more confusion. Although there may be a different legal meaning, the dictionary indicates the word "notwithstanding" is synonymous with "in spite of" - meaning what?, that the requirements for obtaining a conditional use permit contain a different definition of agriculture? (the latest 3/20/17 ordinance mark-up is here and I'm glad to see that "notwithstanding" is gone.) Are these the requirements? Shouldn't the requirements be changed to reflect this prime definition, rather than this definition be qualified to accommodate inconstancies elsewhere? Should the conflicting requirements have to be stated here as well? (Recall also the county's recent dismissal of the Oak Woodland Initiative for not including the text of referenced documents.) More questions about the County's definition of agriculture seem to be raised than answered here.

Independent of the eccentricities of 18.08.040, the effort to introduce one more repetition of the "incidental and subordinate" nature of marketing to production into the county code is greatly appreciated. It would be even better if that language was also included in AG/LU-2 itself. But I have to admit that the concerns over the definition of agriculture now seem to be a somewhat academic exercise. There is nothing incidental or subordinate about the impacts that the "marketing of wine" is having on the quality of life and rural character of Napa County. Those impacts, whether in traffic, housing shortages, deforestation, infrastructure costs, are beginning to dominate life in the county, just as they threaten to dominate our lives in the remote area at the top of Soda Canyon Road. Nothing in the General Plan or Code of Ordinances has been altered enough in the last year to change the trajectory of urban development that threatens the rural character of the county.

Last year, in the public angst that led to the formation of APAC, and before Sup. Pedroza received his developers' mandate, there was some optimism that those impacts might be engaged with an expectation of abatement. And that the continuing winery proliferation that is the leading edge of the transfer of a resident-based agricultural economy into a corporation/plutocrate-based tourism economy might be slowed. As the three winery use permits that will probably be approved on Sept 7th may attest, that transfer continues unabated.

Many articles on this WDO page fret over the definition of agriculture.
APAC posts on the definition of agriculture are here and here and here and here

Definition of agriculture gone awry

Stephen J Donoviel - Apr 19, 2017 9:31AM  Share #1481

Regarding "Supervisors OK definition of ag zoning," (April 10):

Defining agriculture, a seemingly simple task, (Webster New World Dictionary: "The science and art of farming; work of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock" but, as it relates to the county General Plan, land use policy, codes and ordinances, thoughts of various trade and citizen groups, etc., has proven vexing over the past decades and an exemplar of the saying, "the devil is in the details."

On April 1, 2008, the Board of Supervisors proclaimed April to be Agricultural Preserve Appreciation Month and pledged to support the letter and intent of the Ag Preserve. That proclamation honored the visionary leaders who in the late 1960s, "...realized that agriculture is and should continue to be the predominant land use in the fertile valley and foothill areas of Napa County, where uses incompatible to agriculture should be precluded and where the development of urban type uses would be detrimental to continuance of agriculture and the maintenance of open spaces, which are economic and aesthetic attributes and assets of Napa County."

The proclamation also summarized several milestones:
  • April 9, 1968, the Supervisors adopted Ordinance 274, establishing the Ag Preserve District (APD) protecting 25,950 acres from urban development;
  • 1979, Supervisors adopted Ordinance 610, increasing the minimum parcel size in the APD from 20 acres to 40 acres;
  • 1980, voters passed Measure A, limiting the population growth in the unincorporated county areas to 1 percent per year;
  • Nov. 6, 1990, voters passed Measure J, which spoke to certain land use elements of the General Plan of June 7, 1983 and prohibited changes without a vote of the people.

The Finding and Purpose Section of Measure J reads, in part, "Uncontrolled urban encroachment into agricultural and watershed areas will impair agriculture and threaten the public health, safety and welfare by causing increased traffic congestion, associated air pollution and potentially serious water problems, such as pollution, depletion and sedimentation of available water resources. Such urban encroachment, or 'leap-frog development,' would eventually result in both the unnecessary, expensive extension of public services and facilities and inevitable conflicts between urban and agricultural uses."

Measure J was tested all the way to the California Supreme Court where it was upheld. Subsequently, Measure P, which readopted portions of the General Plan land use tenets of J, viz., agricultural, watershed and open space lands could not be re-designated and made available for more intensive development without a vote of the people.

Over the years, something has gone terribly awry with the codification and implementation of the vision and wisdom of the leaders in the 1960s, the drafters of Measures J and P and the wishes of the people who voted for them. Decades ago, the activities of agriculture, (for which there was little or no regulatory restriction) were pretty much as Webster's definition encompassed and the "rural lifestyle" people enjoyed and many still seek, existed. Over time, more and different activities have been added or changed to those originally assigned to agriculture.

Recently, activities related not to agriculture, per se, but to the business of it, such as housing, marketing, branding, entertaining, serving food, and it seems from the level of limo and general traffic, have taken center stage ahead of the product (wine) and have resulted in the uber-glitzy experiences that have been leapfrogging through the Valley.

The regulatory language related to the implementation of what was meant to protect the Valley, its farming and its citizens has been ratified without attention to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and environmental impact report analyses, resulting in the problems we experience currently and those that the visionaries hoped to avoid. They include multiple ecological degradations, markedly increased traffic congestion, resulting in increased driving hazards and road damage, pressure on all infrastructure spheres, to name a few.

It seems there are two basic camps regarding the latest revisions to the definition of agriculture and modification of the zoning code that the Supervisors favored in their vote of the first reading on April 3. One seems to view it as "no big deal" and a mere alignment of regulatory language, and the other, to which I belong, views it not only as an assault on the English language, but, more importantly, as an assault on the hope and expectations of the visionaries and the will of the people who passed Measures J and P.

Land-use changes can only be made solely by the Supervisors if certain, specific conditions are met, and they are not in this case. Therefore, I think the Supervisors should place this as an initiative for the voters to decide in 2018. If you agree that the electorate should have a say in this matter, please let your Supervisor know ASAP since their second vote will probably be coming soon.

NVR LTE version 4/19/17: The definition of agriculture

Ag Definition Letter to the BOS

Norma Tofanelli - Mar 21, 2017 8:35AM  Share #1448

20 March 2017

Napa County Board of Supervisors
Chair Alfredo Pedroza and Supervisors:
Brad Wagenknecht
Ryan Gregory
Diane Dillon
Belia Ramos

    re: Changes to Definition of Agriculture (§18.08.040)

The stated "purpose and intent of the proposed ordinance amendments are to conform the definition of agriculture in the County Code with the definition adopted in the 2008 General Plan." AG/LU-2.1 is relied upon for authority.

    Action Item AG/LU-2.1: Amend County Code to reflect the definition of "agriculture" as set forth within this plan, ensuring that wineries and other production facilities remain as conditional uses except as provided for in Policy AG/LU-16, and that marketing activities and other accessory uses remain incidental and subordinate to the main use.

AG/LU-2.1 does NOT mandate amending Napa County Code §18.08.040 to include additional uses into the definition of agriculture. These additional uses have already been populated into the code, ie: § 18.08.370, 18.08.620, 18.16.030 and 18.20.030. Marketing activities at wineries have been further clarified by Ordinance No. 1340 and Resolution No. 2010-48.

The mandate of AG/LU-2.1 is to ensure that the identified uses remain conditional uses that require a use permit. As currently proposed, the ordinance, instead, has the potential to undermine our agricultural land protections by unnecessarily creating conflict and uncertainty within the code itself.

1) The proposed ordinance amendments §18.08.040.D & .E create conflict within current code.

§18.16.020 and 18.20.020 mandate that "Agriculture" shall be allowed in all AP and AW districts without a use permit:

    §18.16.020 - Uses allowed without a use permit.
      The following uses shall be allowed in all AP districts without use permits:
      A. Agriculture;

    §18.20.020 - Uses allowed without a use permit.
      The following uses shall be allowed in all AW districts without use permits:
      A. Agriculture;

If §18.08.040 is amended to include additional uses to be conditioned by use permit (§18.08.040 D & E), those sections will be in conflict with the mandate of §18.16.020 and 18.20.020 to allow "agriculture" (as defined by §18.08.040) without a use permit ("by right").

How will such conflict and uncertainty ultimately be resolved? Instead of ensuring that these uses remain "incidental and subordinate", addition of these uses into the definition of "Agriculture"

§18.08.040 may ultimately allow them by right, without a use permit, in any zone that allows "agriculture" as defined by §18.08.040.

2) Such accessory uses will also be protected by Napa County's "right to farm":

    §2.94.010 - Definitions.
    "Agriculture" shall have the same meaning as "agriculture" as defined in Section 18.08.040 of this code.

    §2.94.010 (4)
    "Agricultural operation" means all operations necessary to conduct agriculture as defined in Section 18.08.040 of this code...

    §2.94.020 - Right to farm - Conditions.
    No existing or future agricultural activity, operation or facility, or any of its appurtenances, ... shall be or become a nuisance, public or private, due to any changed condition in or about the county, ...
    (Emphasis added)

Marketing and such "accessory" uses clearly are not intended to be afforded Napa County's right-to- farm protections. But, the word "shall" is mandatory and legally binding - it allows no discretionary interpretation. Once the proposed definition is adopted, all uses identified in §18.08.040 will be protected by Napa County right-to-farm regulations. Napa County will have no means to mitigate the detrimental impacts of such urban uses on ag lands.

Not only does the ordinance as presented have the potential to create conflict within County code, it is redundant and not necessary to achieve the mandate of AG/LU-2.1, which is to ensure that the identified uses remain conditional uses that require a use permit. Current code already requires agricultural processing facilities to obtain use permits; "marketing, sales and other accessory uses" are already conditioned by use permit and required by code to be "incidental and subordinate to the main use".

I urge you NOT to carelessly approve changes to the definition of agriculture, §18.08.040. The consequences, unintended or otherwise, will ultimately facilitate even more destruction of our ag lands, which we are losing daily, inch by inch, through conversion to increasingly urban uses, under the mask of "agriculture."

Norma J. Tofanelli
Fourth-generation Calistoga farmer

PDF version of this letter is here

Why You Should Care About the Definition of Agriculture (updated)

Eve Kahn - Mar 20, 2017 4:50AM  Share #1353

Update 3/16/17: Editor's note: On Mar 21st 2017 the Board of Supervisors will consider changes to the County Code of Ordinances to reflect 2008 changes to the General Plan which include agricultural processing, tourism processing (marketing) and farmworker housing projects all as part of the definition of agriculture. (item 9H here)

[letter first published in this NapaVision2050 newsletter in Dec 2016]

Prior to the 2008 County General Plan (GP) update, the definition of Agriculture in our County ordinance was quite simple: Agriculture is the growing of crops, trees, and livestock. Many other uses may be permitted/allowed but must remain related, subordinate, and incidental to the main use.

We are a county that has valued our Ag lands. In 1968 the Napa County Board of Supervisors (BOS) put in place the Ag Preserve, the first ever in United States, which protects most of our lands outside of cities and towns from development.

However, the huge success of the Napa wine industry during the 80's necessitated an ordinance to keep winery development consistent with the protection of Ag Preserve. On January 23, 1990, the Board of Supervisors (BOS) approved the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO). This ordinance defined a winery as an "agricultural processing facility" for "the fermenting and processing of grape juice into wine." The ordinance also allowed for wineries to sell and market wine, but such marketing activity must be "accessory" and subordinate to production.


Every 10 years the Napa County General Plan (GP) is updated. The Steering Committee for the 2008 update was comprised mostly of industry representatives and winery owners eager to expand their business options. The updated GP, approved by the Board of Supervisors on June 3, 2008, expanded the definition of Agriculture to include not only the raising of crops, trees, and livestock, but also the production and processing of agricultural products and related marketing, sales and other accessory uses. Agriculture now also includes farm management and farmworker housing.

The second event began with the economic downturn of 2008. The wine industry pressured the BOS to include direct marketing as an accessory use of agriculture. The BOS approved this in 2010. This means that VISITATION, WINE AND FOOD PAIRINGS, AND RELATED EVENTS, are consistent with "accessory use of agriculture".


For parcels zoned Ag Preserve (AP) or Ag Watershed (AW), agriculture is a use "by right" (without a use permit). And the Right-to-Farm ordinance (signed by everyone buying property in Napa County) states that the County will not consider the inconveniences or discomforts arising from agricultural operations to be a nuisance. If you live next to a vineyard or winery, you have to accept the noise, odors, dust, chemicals, and operation of machinery which go along with agriculture. If you object, your alternative is to go to court.


What happens, then, when visitation, wine and food pairings, often four or five course meals, and outdoor marketing events are included in the Definition of Agriculture- not just accessory uses?

Are these marketing events provided the same level of protection under the Right-to-Farm as those of actually farming? Are these uses consistent with the protections of Measure J, the 1990 initiative amending the Napa County general plan that sought to preserve all agriculturally designated land? Any change in agricultural land use must be with voter approval. RESTAURANTS ARE SPECIFICALLY CITED AS GROWTH THAT HAS TO GO INTO THE CITIES OR ONE OF THE VERY SMALL URBAN NODES IN THE UNINCORPORATED AREA, UNLESS VOTERS ARE WILLING TO ALLOW AN EXCEPTION.

What about Housing on Ag lands in this Change of Definition of Agriculture? Who really qualifies as a Farmworker (often called Agricultural Workers)? Are the chefs or kitchen/wait staff at wineries and event centers the new Farmworkers? Can high-density housing be built on our Ag Preserve and Ag Watershed lands to accommodate them?

Changing agricultural lands to include expanded commercial uses (by right) violates the intensity of uses and protections under Measure P, which extends Measure J's protections until 2058.

One of the key phrases in Measure P: to protect the County's agricultural, watershed, and open space lands, to strengthen the local agricultural community and preserve the County's rural way of life. By expanding what is allowed (whether by right or by permit), the rural way of life is/can be destroyed. The number of unintended consequences is significant.

This issue will be coming to the Board of Supervisors soon. Please contact your Supervisor requesting that the definition to Agriculture not be modified until all the unintended consequences are understood.

Diane Dillon
Alfredo Pedroza
Ryan Gregory
Brad Wagenknecht
Belia Ramos

Is a restaurant agriculture?

George Caloyannidis - Oct 6, 2016 9:24AM  Share #1326

Is a restaurant agriculture?

At least this is what Napa County wants them to become.

In the current Napa County Code, "Agriculture and Right to Farm," defines Agricultural Operation to "Include but not limited to...the production, cultivation, growing, breeding, harvesting or processing of any living organism having value as an agricultural commodity or product and any commercial practices performed incident to or in conjunction with such operations on the site where the agricultural product is being produced (emphasis mine), including preparation for market, delivery to storage or to market, or to carriers for transportation to market."

Hinging on the words "but not limited to," the County amended this definition in 2010 to include winery on-site sales and events in response to winery claims that marketing conditions had changed. The definition of Agriculture as it was and as it has evolved, makes all subsequent changes in what agricultural operations are, also a right. Quite of note is that any changes in that definition, also become part of the "Disclosure Prior to Transfer of Real Property" which states that: "No person shall transfer real property of or adjacent to agricultural lands without following disclosure as defined (in the Code)."

Under the guise of "Agriculture," the alcohol-tourism model has evolved -- whether we like it or not -- with all its associated problems from the lowest wages paid by it and by the booming hospitality industry, to commuters and traffic congestion, water rationing and exorbitant rates, insufficient sewer capacities, all increased infrastructure costs ultimately borne by the public.

Now we are faced with a new wave of changes in the code initiated by pressure from the alcohol-tourism industrial complex.

The most serious changes included in the proposed language as a right are: "The production and processing of agricultural products and related marketing, sales and accessory uses." Note that the "on-site" agricultural product requirement is removed. Included in the new definition is also "farm worker housing."

Two issues arise:

1) Housing developments are only permitted in the cities. If we allow farm worker housing in the Ag Preserve, the demand is in the thousands. Apartment buildings in the hills? Sorry, you were warned in the Transfer Disclosure Statement. And who exactly is a farmworker? One who works during harvest with a family of four and stays here employed elsewhere the rest for the year? Make no mistake, this is a backdoor to affordable housing in the Ag Preserve because the cities have consistently stonewalled it.

2) Now that the on-site production of agricultural products will no longer be required, beef, tomatoes or any agricultural product may be imported from anywhere, processed and sold here. Why not the manufacturing and sale of qualifying beauty products, leather goods or even biofuels? Staff argues that the price of land guarantees this will not happen. But relying on "the likelihood of something happening" is not a credible criterion by which narrowly defined activities would be inserted in the Code, which is what an ordinance does.

Which brings us to the certainty of restaurants in the Ag Preserve. What are they if not facilities that "process agricultural products" even though they may be imported from every corner of the earth? And that will be by right.

While the county's use permit process may modify or condition a right, I doubt it has the ability to deny it altogether. Undoubtedly, the courts will have a field day.

The supervisors and everyone living in the Napa valley ought to be apprehensive of opening Pandora's Ag Box of widening the permitted uses with their incremental degradation. It will be the second death nail in six years to the coffin of our Valley as we know it.

NVR 10/6/16: Is a restaurant agriculture?

Napa Winery Development Industry seminar

Bill Hocker - Sep 29, 2016 12:06PM  Share #1315

Napa County’s Winery Definition Ordinance
and Implications for Other Winery Markets
Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - Napa, CA

The Seminar Group, a for-profit legal and professional education provider of sponsored seminars, is hosting a seminar on Napa's Winery Definition Ordinance. It's expensive, geared to those attorneys, winery owners & operators who will be making money from their better understanding of the County's unique definition of a winery (and of agriculture!). The organizers and several speakers are lawyers and consultants that have been promoting and defending the current winery development boom, a lead part of the building boom going on in the county.

Lester Hardy, program co-chair, lays out the gist of the seminar: the winery development industry is concerned that approval of applications for new and modified winery use permits has become significantly more difficult. What can be done? (This, despite the fact that 100 such approvals have been made in the last 6 years with more approved at each planning commission hearing.)

For those feeling the unwanted impacts of that development boom, in traffic, affordable housing loss, infrastructure taxes, and the loss of a rural quality of life, it is an another (albeit expensive) opportunity to see how developers use, interpret and modify ordinances and the general plan to promote the continued urbanization of the county.

Information about the seminar and registration forms are here.

The Agricultural Preserve Archive

Bill Hocker - Aug 15, 2016 2:53AM  Share #1295

There has always been a question in my mind, as the various stakeholders get up at meetings to proclaim the primacy of wine industry tourism over the interests of the residents of the county, what the real intent of the Ag preserve ordinance was back in 1968. I will start to amass the documents here as I come across them. Is it an academic exercise? Does it matter any longer what the original intent was? I think it does.

2018 Napa Argicultural Preserve 50th anniversary website
2012JLDAgFund Book Oral Histories of Napa County's Agricultural Preserve
2008 L. Peirce Carson NVR article on the Ag Preserve 40 years later
1976 Ordinance 511: Earliest "ag preserve" ordinance?
4/10/1968: L. Pierce Carson NVR article on the approval hearing
4/9/1968: Ag Preserve Ordinance
12/21/1967: NVR Article on Ag Preserve Dec Hearing

Commissioner Gill revisits the 2010 WDO changes

Bill Hocker - May 3, 2016 3:27AM  Share #1243

[My letter to the planning department regarding Planning Commissioner Jeri Gill's desire, at the Apr 20th PC meeting, to clarify the PC's use of the word "change" in referring to the 2010 WDO activity that has often been described as a "clarification". Ms. Gallina indicated to Comm. Gill that the WDO ordinance language was indeed changed.]


Ms. Gallina and Mr. Morrison,

While perusing this Wednesday's PC video, during the GP implementation report, I was pleased to see that Commissioner Gill brought up the department's use of the word "change" in reference to the activity around the WDO in 2010. Her impression seemed to be that the activity undertaken then was merely a "clarification" and she seemed rather insistent that any mention of that activity should not include the word "change". I heard a similar protest from Bill Dodd at the May 20th 2014 joint PC/BOS meeting which began the county's effort to address the impacts of wine tourism development on the county's residents (unaddressed still, even after the valiant efforts of many at APAC, I'm afraid). I have heard that same insistence on "clarification" rather than "change" (granted, hard to document exactly when) from supervisors Luce and Dillon and from industry spokeswomen Dommen and Benvenuto. And now from Commissioner Gill.

As you no doubt know, the literal changes to the WDO would seem to be spelled out in this county document, one of the documents of item 9A on this 2010 Planning Commission agenda .

Perhaps as a complete outsider I lack an understanding of the subtleties, but I find it difficult to see these changes as merely a clarification. The inclusion of "business events" (which get a substantial new definition of their own) and the removal of the prohibition against "cultural and social events unrelated to such [wine-buyer] education and development" from the wording of marketing of wine is a clear intensification of the amount of activity that is permitted, a change not a clarification.

But more importantly, in the 1990 WDO, the marketing of wine appears to be principally distinguished from tours and tastings by the allowance of "food service" at marketing events. In 2010 the food service provision related to marketing was also added to the tours and tastings definition. Since yearly tasting visitation is typically many times the amount marketing visitation (often over 10 times), the addition of food service to tastings would represent be a substantial shift in the commercial activity at wineries in the direction of becoming restaurants, nominally forbidden by the 2010 WDO wording.

I have droned on extensively (with some naiveté no doubt) about the food issue at wineries on my WDO page here and here. I won't repeat myself here beyond saying that perhaps it is time for the county to define some enforceable distinction between a $135 "cost-only" wine and food pairing (food service) at a winery and $135 fixed-menu lunch (meal service) at a restaurant, and to begin enforcing the difference.

The quote that I use at the top of my WDO page from Jim Hickey is the essence of the issue:

    "Tourism is becoming the big driver in the local economy...The Ag Preserve exists by three supervisors voting "yes" on any change and 30 days for the ordinance making that change to become effective. You don't have to take elimination of the Ag Preserve head?on. You can just undermine it by changing the definition of what a winery is."
    - Jim Hickey 2008 (Napa County Planning Director 1970-89)

Changes did take place in the 2010 update of the WDO. As the cursury negative declaration indicated at the time: "While the proposed changes may motivate existing, or future, wineries to request new or additional events or visitation volumes, the County expects those requests to be limited both in number and scope." Have they been limited?

Perhaps now, given Commissioner Gill's raising of the subject, it would be a good time for the county to do the environmental impact review that should have been done in 2010 to determine whether the changes made were growth inducing and might encourage an intensification of commercial use beyond the incidental and subordinate uses allowed in the AP and AW zones. As Geoff Ellsworth courageously points out at every opportunity, there is a case to be made that a de facto change from agricultural to commercial use has occurred in AP and AW zones without benefit of a Measure P vote. If these changes go unquestioned or written off in the record as merely clarifications, more such "clarifications" will surely continue until the Ag Preserve has indeed been eliminated.

Again there is no need to respond to this rant. It is enough to have it off my chest. And again, many thanks to you and your staff for the enormous effort you continually make to find a reasonable path forward - against all odds.

Bill Hocker

PS: It is probable that these changes in wording were, in fact, a recognition and allowance of activities already happening at wineries that went beyond the intent of the original WDO. The hope, no doubt, in calling them "clarifications" was to exempt the need to submit those expanded activities to CEQA scrutiny - meaning a state-mandated analysis of the urban development impacts of the changes and how they be mitigated. The very insistence on denying the word "change" by wine industry supporters to this day, indicates to many how important it is for the tourism industry, the wine industry and the government to avoid publicly being held accountable for the urban impacts, (traffic, housing, increased infrastructure) resulting from a legal shift from an agricultural to a tourism economy - impacts that we are all beginning to feel, but that those profiting from the shift would rather not discuss.

The intent of the ag preserve

Bill Hocker - Oct 26, 2015 9:05PM  Share #1060

Ross Workman LTE: Question: What's in it for Napa County?

Mr. Workman's editorial is an opportunity to read again the 2015 grand jury report on wineries.

The report is devoted predominantly to compliance issues raised by an industry that routinely seems to operate beyond the limits of its use permits, an appropriate subject for a grand jury to weigh in on. But recommendation 4 (it should have been #1 of the 5 recommendations) asks a much broader question; it asks the BOS to consider "whether the WDO as written provides the regulatory framework necessary to maintain a winery industry that is consistent with the Agriculture Preserve Ordinance".

The definition of agriculture and the WDO, as we have strived to document on this site, were modified in 2008 and 2010 to emphasize the marketing of wine equal in importance to the production of wine in the definition of agriculture and to expand the definition of the marketing of wine to include the more profitable tourist activities of food pairings (lunches and dinners) and marketing events (banquets and parties). It is a shift in the profit center that helps explain the continued proliferation of wineries despite the current existence of 6 times the permitted processing necessary to process the entire Napa grape crop. (The vanity of people with too much money also plays a part.)

And the intent of the Ag Preserve ordinance?: "The AP district classification is intended to be applied in the fertile valley and foothill areas of Napa County in which agriculture is and should continue to be the predominant land use, where uses incompatible to agriculture should be precluded and where the development of urban-type uses would be detrimental to the continuance of agriculture and the maintenance of open space which are economic and aesthetic attributes and assets of the county." (The corresponding AWOS intent is here.)

This intent, I would contend, is what Mr. Workman is speaking of when he asks what's in it for Napa county. How does a new winery support the intent of the ag preserve toward the continuance of agriculture and the maintenance of open space which are economic and aesthetic attributes and assets of the county. Mr. Workman obviously feels that the continuing proliferation of wineries in the ag preserve in the absence of processing need is in conflict with the intent of precluding "urban-type uses" upon which the Ag preserve was created - and so do I.

Back to the future

Bill Hocker - Oct 19, 2015 3:50PM  Share #1045

Julia Winiarski sends along this remarkable article in the LA times:

LA Times: Napa Valley Debate: When Is a Winery Not a Winery?

Agriculture by Definition

Shelle Wolfe - Oct 19, 2015 3:40AM  Share #1044

[Sent to the Planning commissioners on Oct 12th]

Dear Commissioners,

I was traveling last week and couldn't attend the meeting, but as a local Corporate Event Planning business owner, I'd like to weigh in on the topic of "Agriculture", by definition.

I would like to say explicitly this valley has enough new wineries and wineries that can host events. Further stretching the definition of Agriculture to allow wineries to host more events that are for 'marketing' purposes based on a misinterpretation of a word is a horrible mistake.

Wineries are already abusing these terms "Education" and "Marketing". They are adding the word 'Educational' to a corporate dinner booking and it becomes a marketing event? Wineries are stretching this definition and I can send you copies of contracts where this is the case. Are you choosing to look the other way while wineries take advantage of a technicality and basically, flat out lying?

After almost 20 years of business ownership in St Helena, I recently moved to rural Napa. St Helena had become tooooo congested because of the disgustingly liberal amount of growth which is approved in this county, creating traffic nightmares for anyone Up Valley. Now I find, that my new home on Soda Canyon which I believed would be 'quiet' without traffic issues is NOT quiet and does have significant traffic issues. Beginning at 3 AM I hear cars racing down the road people going to work. Evidently there was a traffic examination on Soda Canyon a few years ago that didn't show an inordinate amount of traffic but it was apparently in December! There is no vineyard traffic in December!

Between the large semi trucks, water trucks, bottling trucks, hauling trucks and the inordinate number of speeding vehicles that pass by daily to go to work at the vineyards on this little two lane country road (narrowing to one lane in front of my house) it has literally become a commuter freeway.

It seems there is no escaping the out of control growth in this county. Or is there? PLEASE re-examine the approval process. Growth in this valley needs a TIME OUT. Let the dust settle. DO NOT approve any new wineries or give approval for more event spaces until everything that is planned and approved is completed. Wait to see if we can even drive the roads and highways with the thousands of new cars that are already anticipated with the current plans. That includes hotels also.

I recently read an article in the "World Food and Wine Tourism" newsletter about the nightmarish traffic in Napa Valley and recommending that people stay away from Napa and try the new Wine Country - ANY other Wine Country. Is that really your goal? To chase people away?

Thank you for your consideration,

Farm Bureau Definition of Agriculture

Bill Hocker - Sep 29, 2015 8:42PM  Share #1018

The Napa County Farm Bureau has submitted the following proposal for the definition of agriculture to the County Planning Commission in their deliberations over the APAC recommendations taking place on Sept 30, 2015. It is based on the working definition offered by Dir. Morrison during the APAC meetings and accept as such by the committee as recommendation 3 in their final report.

NCFB definition of agriculture

Other concerns about the APAC definition are voiced here and here and here. I still feel that it was very unclear at the time that the "working definition" was proposed and approved during the APAC meetings, whether it was intended to be a definitive APAC recommendation to the Commission, or whether it was accepted as a working interpretation of the various existing general plan and code references and would be open for modification later before a final recommendation was made.

Napa County Definition of the Word "Agriculture" Altered

Geoff Ellsworth - Sep 29, 2015 2:53PM  Share #1017

On Wednesday Sept 30 there will be an important meeting at the Napa County Planning Commission to discuss a change to the meaning of the word “Agriculture” that occurred when the county General Plan was updated in 2008. The original definition was altered in 2008 to include the wording “...related marketing, sales and other accessory uses” as part of the definition of the word Agriculture. In other words, marketing events are now considered equal to the farmer and his tractor as agriculture. This change was not brought to the attention of the public as it was being implemented, and surfaces again now as it is planned to be further embedded into our county codes.

Please take a moment to consider how changing the “meaning” of the word Agriculture changes the entire meaning of the Napa County Agricultural Preserve. The Agricultural Preserve was intended to save the land for farming. The new definition of Agriculture promotes/protects intensified commercial marketing events on Ag lands.This changes the fundamental concept of what it is we we are preserving and leaves an open door to intensified commercial/hospitality impacts and more paving over of our precious farm lands. This is an important meeting to attend if you can be there or please consider writing a letter/email to county officials if you cannot attend. (the meeting begins at 9, however it is difficult to determine exactly what time this item will be discussed)

Napa County Planning Commission
Wednesday Sept. 30 9 AM
Napa County Administration building
1195 Third St.
Napa, Ca 94559 (3rd and Coombs St)

Please feel free to forward or circulate this letter and consider immediately sending an email to County Planning Commission and Supervisors regarding this issue.

The "CEQA" small winery

Bill Hocker - Sep 25, 2015 3:06AM  Share #973

The County's list of 30,000g/y wineries.
The County's complete winery database

There are about 290 wineries in the County's winery database that are permitted for 30,000 g/y or less. More than a majority are under 5000sf in size. Will they all be able to develop marketing plans with thousands of visitors per year under this streamlined process.

I asked Asst. Planning Director McDowell about this and got, as usual, a very informative answer:
    Applicants cannot apply for a CEQA exemption. They file some form of application of their choosing, and the County makes a CEQA document determination once the application is found complete for processing. Applicants can design (and redesign) their project to attempt to qualify for a pre-listed exemption, but the decision is made by the County.

    Several of the exemption classes do not apply when there is substantial evidence that a project would otherwise result in a significant impact. So a project that qualifies on one property as exempt may not qualify on a different property that has different environmental constraints. Likewise, a project that qualified 5 years ago as exempt, might not qualify today not because, by way of example, a protected species moved onto the site in the interim. As such, the amount of background analysis that goes into an exemption often involves as much CEQA evidentiary support as a negative declaration.


At the final meeting of the APAC, Yountville Mayor John Dunbar made a major proposal which included a "small winery" definition, (item #7 here). I criticized several elements of the proposal (here), including the fact that the small winery definition didn't include any limits on tours and tastings or marketing events. I missed the most important aspect of his small winery definition: that it applies to all parcels less than 20 acres! (Am I reading it right?) There are approximately 4500 parcels over 20 acres in the county. There are about 45,000 under 20 acres. The impacts on neighbors, if this definition of a small winery became a viable tourism marketing tool, would be huge.

The Dunbar small winery proposal was defeated when it was pointed out by APAC committee member Jeri Gill that the county already has a "CEQA" small winery definition and she saw no reason to create another. The CEQA small winery definition had been presented as part of a modified Framework X by Harvest Duhig, a member of the 10-acre "dreamer" contingent, at the meeting.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a set of guidelines to be used in determining and mitigating the impacts that all development projects undertaken in the state will have on the environment and on the communities in which they are located. The guidelines are thorough and a project that must be fully evaluated under them with an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) may take years of studies and public hearings and reports before they are approved to proceed. But for most development projects, like the wineries now proliferating in the county, the CEQA evaluation is done by planning staff who work with the developer to arrive at a project which the staff feels would have insignificant impacts either as originally proposed or through mitigations and would comply with the CEQA guidelines if a full evaluation were undertaken. They then issue a negative declaration or a mitigated negative declaration to the planning commission indicating that a full EIR under CEQA is not necessary.

CEQA has within its guidelines certain "categorical exemptions" from their review process, consisting of 33 "classes" of development, maintenance and repair projects that do not need to be evaluated under the guidelines. Under class 3 (NEW CONSTRUCTION OR CONVERSION OF SMALL STRUCTURES), for example, a new construction project of up to 3 residential units would be exempt.

Cities and counties may also add to the list of exemptions under each class, by issuing "local procedures" meaning conditions or projects that may or may not be evaluated under CEQA guidelines. NAPA County's Local Procedures for Implementing CEQA are here. They include, under class 3, a "small winery exemption" (Appendix B, pg 2) not existant in the state document.

The agenda letter for the 2015 revision indicates the Local Procedures were first adopted in 2004 with amendments in 2006 and 2010. The small winery provision was in the 2006 document (see item 9D here) with the "caves" condition added in 2010. Online BOS meetings don't go back before 2008 so it is not clear what the intention of the original provision was. The Local Procedures were last ammended in Feb 2015 (agenda item 9C here) to increase noticing distances and require project consultants to be contracted by the county rather than developers, both a result of community involvement. The small winery exemption in the document's appendix first came to my attention in the Melka project in Feb of 2015.

The County's "CEQA" small winery definition exempts from CEQA review wineries that:
    a) Are less than 5,000 square feet plus an additional 5000 sf of caves (with spoils disposed on site);
    b) Will produce less than 30,000 gallons of wine per year;
    c) Will generate less than 40 vehicle trips per day and 5 peak hour trips except on those days when marketing events are taking
    d) 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
    e) Will hold no temporary events.
The main differences between this definition and the Dunbar definition are significant: parcel size is not stated so I assume that the WDO limits, which allow wineries only on the 4500 parcels larger than 10 acres, would apply. Visitation is enumerated and thus would be capped.

But the drawbacks of the "CEQA" definition just as with the Dunbar definition are also significant. A very impactful winery might be built under these guidelines with no need for CEQA analysis, the approval to build coming from the zoning administrator (i.e. planning dept.) rather than the planning commission.

Comparing these exempt winery provisions with existing use permits in the county (from the county's winery database):

Winery size: Perhaps a quarter of the 500 commercial wineries in the county database are less than 5000sf. Perhaps double the number are are less than 10,000sf.

Production Capacity: Perhaps half of the 500 commercial wineries in the county database have a permitted capacity of 30,000 g/y or less.

Visitation: Perhaps 90% of the 500 commercial wineries are allowed less than 50 visitors/day, the amount that the "CEQA" small winery exemption would allow. The 40 vehicle "trips"/day translates to about 50 people a day. 50 people per day plus the marketing events would be about 19,000 visitors/yr allowed at each of the 4500 parcels in the county over 10 acres. (Update 10/1/15: My initial calculation here is incorrect. I had assumed that the "40 vehicles" in the definition referred to visitors vehicles. It includes all vehicles, employees, deliveries, exports and visitors. Dir. Morrison estimated that such a definition would result in an allowance of 10-15 visitors/day. The planning commission in their Sept. 30th recommendation to the BOS specifically included the 15 visitor/day language as part of the definition.)

It is possible that a very large number of the commercial winery-use permits in the county might have fallen under this provision without planning department or community review in the past.

But more important now is that, as the permitting process becomes more burdensome and costly, tailoring many small projects to fall under the "CEQA" definition may become a more viable approach to promote the growth of winery tourism than fewer larger projects, in a shift toward an "authentic experience", "family winery" marketing. The "dreamers" in the APAC hearings that effectively promoted the retention of the 10 acre winery, and now champion the "CEQA" small winery definition, may have just such a development model in mind. The impacts for rural residential communities, just as was beginning to happen in the neighborhoods of St. Helena under their (repealed) Small Winery Ordinance, could be substantial.

For those concerned about the commercial development of their communities, the potential consequences and impacts of the "CEQA" small winery definition need to be considered now, so that we do not have to confront the same development fallout now occuring due to changes in winery marketing provisions in 2008 and 2010.

Geoff Ellsworth: APAC #9 statement and LTE

Bill Hocker - Aug 18, 2015 1:55PM  Share #938

NVR version: 2010 WDO changes should have been put to vote
SH Star version: We must suspend all approvals related to wine tourism (Bit of a contrary note says Gary M.)
Weekly Callistogan version
Comments are different in each version and worth reading.

The meetings Geoff refers to (and others) related to the discussion and the adoption of the 2010 WDO are here:
BOS 5/11/2010 item 9D
BOS 3/2/2010 item 9H
PC 4/21/2010 item 9A
PC 2/17/2010 item 10A
BOS 2/2/2010 item 9D

Geoff writes:


Somebody recently asked why the 2010 Winery Definition Ordinance changes were not a Measure P vote. In 2008 Napa County Citizens voted for Measure P - one of the provisions requires voter approval before agricultural land in the Ag Preserve can be converted to other uses.

In 2010 the WDO was changed to allow intensified food service and marketing events in the Ag Preserve. These changes, along with compliance and enforcement issues, now allow wineries to operate like restaurants and tourism attractions upon Ag Preserve lands that Measure P was passed to protect from such urban uses.

The 2010 WDO changes gave inadequate notice to the general public of possible consequences from the changes. There was no Environmental Impact Report on what is essentially a wholesale re-purposement of our entire county zoning, allowing intensified commercial tourism on our Ag lands, impacting every road and citizen. Why was this not a Measure P vote? Why no EIR?

At three county meetings between February 2 and May 11, 2010 (see above) when the WDO changes passed, Board Agenda letters stated there would be No Fiscal Impact and no potentially significant environmental impacts, that the resolution “would neither encourage nor discourage additional wineries or additional activities at wineries…”

This has proven untrue as intensified financial gain of increased marketing events and food service most certainly encourages more wineries and activities at wineries, with precisely the commercial tourism element Measure P was meant to protect us from. We now have close to 23,000 events permitted at wineries each year, creating tremendous cumulative impacts. 23,000 events.

The 2010 WDO changes compromise our county zoning integrity.
Zoning is an insurance of stability for a property owners’ investment and quality of life. Citizen stakeholders are investors here too, thousands of properties. And we were left out of the conversation in 2010, left out of the vote.

With lot line adjustments, almost every acre of county Ag and residential land, as well as every citizen stakeholder and property owner, are vulnerable to intensified commercial tourism impacts.

When zoning is compromised, the value of one property can be usurped by impacts created by a neighboring property. Measure P was passed to insure that ALL OUR stakeholders, including the citizens, are included in decisions that impact our Ag Preserve and our own lives and investment in Napa County.

We MUST suspend all approvals related to wine tourism until impacts are analyzed and due process given the citizens. The citizens, not APAC, must have the vote we were entitled to five years ago. Our first commitment must be to the rights of our fellow citizens of the State of California and of the United States, not to any one industry or private concern.

The Right to Farm

Bill Hocker - Jul 15, 2015 8:57PM  Share #903

Eve Kahn sent this copy of Napa County's "Right to Farm" ordinance

It is contained in Napa County Code of Ordinances Chapter 2.94.

In it is the one reference that I have found in county documents to agriculture being the "highest and best" use of the land. My own screed on highest and best use here.

The California Covernment Code section 66451.22(2) which uses "highest and best use" is here.

An inherent part of the right to farm is the prohibition upon residents against complaining about the nuisance of the sounds, sights and smells of agricultural operations. This is exactly why the in the definition of agriculture in general plan policy AG/LU-2 that includes marketing as an accessory agricultural use becomes such a nasty issue. The right to farm in the county code refers to the definition of agriculture in ord sec. 18.08.040 which included sales of ag products but says nothing about marking of wine. Dir Morrison has already indicated that the general plan provisions override ordinances where they are in conflict. So which definition applies when it comes to the "right to farm" Do residents have a legal right to complain about the nuisance of those late night bacchanals going on at the winery next door? Is that just an agricultural operation?


Chris Malan adds:

‘Right to Farm' comes up willy nilly in our many discussions and I have always discounted it as not pertaining to our efforts. I am not sure why we keep bringing it up but here are my thoughts on ‘Right to Farm’ laws .

All States in US have ‘Right to Farm’ legislation. Napa includes ‘Right to Farm’ in the General Plan. We get Right to Farm notification in our tax bills and are informed of this often when discussing farming issues with politicians. I think the term is ofter out of context to the law.

Right to Farm is all about nuisance laws around noise and dust for example, that can not be used against farmers, i.e, so prospective home buyers will be informed they are moving next to farm close to noise and dust.

Right to Farm is not about land use zoning or any ordinance we choose to put before the voters.

Farmers must obey all environmental laws-they do not get the pass card under ‘right to farm’.

Farmers can still be sued if they violate existing laws such as: misapplication of dangerous chemicals; destroying/altering streams; polluting the waters of the state etc.

We are talking about ag/watershed lands being rezoned for protection of watersheds. Right to farm is not going to impinge on our activities with an initiative/ordinance.

Having said this Right to Farm defines farming as including the right to farm and produce farm products (food) from vines. The huge unspoken here is: ‘Right to Farm' does not include the sale (events;merchandise) or manufacturing (winery) of alcohol under the Right to Farm.

Raising wine grapes is farming but the manufacturing of wine as a farm product, clearly does not fall within the ‘Right to Farm’ definition. Hence the huge pass ag has gotten on ‘right to farm' and manufacturing (and sale) under the Right to Farm and sale products.

Therefore, winery production/manufacturing, sale of merchandise and any produce associated with these activities around the sale of alcohol/wine of is subject to nuisance laws. Neighbors of this can sue wineries for this and probably have a good case.

The sale of alcohol is governed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) -hence an ABC license is needed prior to a winery opening up for sales-there is a posting in the neighborhood and a public hearing is available I wonder if other laws regarding the manufacturing of alcohol would be applicable to our neighborhood concerns about children, schools; neighborhood character etc.

Clearly, there are wineries not impinging on neighborhoods and are good partners in our communities but many have become troublesome and not good neighbors. It would be up to each individual winery and their actives as to whether they are violating nuisance laws. This is apart from the ABC license and other laws regulating the sale, manufacturing of alcohol and trafficking of alcohol.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is a federal law enforcement organization within the United States Department of Justice.[4] Its responsibilities include the investigation and prevention of federal offenses involving the unlawful use, manufacture, and possession of firearms and explosives; acts of arson and bombings; and illegal trafficking of alcohol and tobacco products. The ATF also regulates via licensing the sale, possession, and transportation of firearms, ammunition, and explosives in interstate commerce. Many of ATF's activities are carried out in conjunction with task forces made up of state and local law enforcement officers, such as Project Safe Neighborhoods. ATF operates a unique fire research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, where full-scale mock-ups of criminal arson can be reconstructed.

So, as I see it the ‘Right to Farm’ does not include a right to manufacture/sale products from vines=wine sales and other merchandizing and escape nuisance laws. However, grape seeds, grape oil, grape leaves, grape seed flour etc. can be sold as farm products.

Eve Kahn adds:

Chris - the reason the right to farm COULD be an issue depends upon how the County defines agriculture. If is is only the growing and processing of products that's no problem. But,if the County decides that agriculture includes the marketing and sales of those products (without qualifiying words like incidental and subordinate) then events could not be challenged (unless, as you state there is legal cause). That's the reason this issue came up and why some of us want to make sure that all the appropriate wording is tied to the defn of agriculture. The rest will fall into place.

I don't wish to imply that this is the only thing we should be paying attention to - but if we lose the battle on the definition of agriculture we may be losing our ability to challenge many of the issues Vision 2050 was formed.

Two-track winery definition

Bill Hocker - Jul 1, 2015 11:48AM  Share #881

NVR: County looks at winery visitation formula

Two parallel efforts are currently ongoing in the attempt by the county to bring more rationality to the approval of new wineries going forward: 1. the APAC meetings, proposed by Planning Director Morrison at the Mar 10th joint BOS/Planning Commission meeting, are looking at proposals for revisions of the WDO and by extension the Napa County General Plan; and 2. an analysis of existing permitted capacity and visitation undertaken by Dir. Morrison to provide the Planning Commission with guidance in appropriate visitation numbers for proposed projects. Both efforts seem to be converging as Dir Morrison continues his analysis of this very public work-in-progress.

At APAC he has presented the committee with a framework, dubbed with sci-fi intrigue as Proposal X, for them to begin thinking about and discussing the numerous interrelated parameters involved in winery proposals. It gives proposed numbers for visitation based on winery capacity and location. And he has performed another bravura feat of number crunching on existing visitation to establish baseline visitation numbers for proposals as he thinks through the problem in the latest of the ongoing agenda letters to the planning commission.

What's in a name?

Bill Hocker - Jun 17, 2015 5:00PM  Share #866

Napa relaxes grape-content rule for industrial wineries in city limits

Although it is hard to extrapolate a trend from one incidence, it should be obvious that as the number of wineries seeking Napa grapes continues to outpace new vineyard creation that the pressure of high prices and scarce supply will build against the 75% rule. Also the number of "winery" event venues required by an ever increasing Napa tourism industry and the exploding interest in "Napa" brand wine by a world population unconcerned whether the word "Napa" is on the front or the back label means that big money interests are now being impeded by the rule. We can watch as more exemptions are demanded until the rule is abandoned and the name "Napa" on a bottle becomes meaningless. Or we can try to stop the trend.

How to milk a cash cow

Bill Hocker - Apr 6, 2015 9:25AM  Share #710

Bill Ryan pro winery LTE: Don't destroy our signature industry
Read the pushback in the comments - much more focused and thoughtful than the normal rants.

Carl Sherrill LTE response: Too much of a good thing
James Marshall LTE response: Our cash cow is a prodigious glutton

1990 WDO Archive

Bill Hocker - Mar 31, 2015 9:40AM  Share #732

Supervisor Dillon sent many of these files to Geoff Ellsworth with an update from Norma Tofanelli. They represent the efforts made in 1989 for the first Winery Definition Ordinance. There is no copy of the actual Draft WDO. I have included the final 1990 WDO at the end

These are important documents in the ongoing discussions today about changes to the WDO. Most of the issues discussed and impacts foreseen then are remarkably identical to those being discussed now.

Draft Environmental Impact Report for the 1990 WDO
DEIR for the 1990 WDO (Impacts and Mitigation measures begin on page 1)
DEIR mitigations as supplied by County for APAC #8 in response to Farm Bureau question 7/24/15

Final Environmental Impact Report for the 1990 WDO
Winery Definition Ordinance Final Environmental Impact Report I (FEIR Page A1-A23)
Winery Definition Ordinance Final Environmental Impact Report II (Winery Map)
Winery Definition Ordinance Final Environmental Impact Report III (FEIR pages A-24 to A-112)
Winery Definition Ordinance Public Comments I (FEIR pages B-1 to B-115)
Winery Definition Ordinance Public Comments II (FEIR pages B-116 to B-220)
Winery Definition Ordinance Response to Public Comments I (FEIR pages B-221 to B-355)
Winery Definition Ordinance Response to Public Comments II (FEIR pages B-356 to B-482, Appx G travel study, Appx H Endangered species)
Winery Definition Ordinance FEIR Append E-F
(Appx E Grand Jury Report, Appx F Legal Council Memo)
Winery Definition Ordinance Errata (FEIR errata sheet, repeat FEIR page A1-A3, 10/18/89 BOS hearing transcript, misc comments)

The approved 1990 Winery Definition Ordinance

Mar 10th BOS-PC statement: Mark Luce

Bill Hocker - Mar 16, 2015 2:35PM  Share #706

Supervisor Luce made a significant statement, IMHO, at the Mar 10 joint meeting of the BOS and Planning Commission. So significant that I felt obligated to create a transcript of it while watching the video. He indicates throughout that he is just suggesting questions in looking at the issue, but I think that his feeling is pretty clear, especially since he made the same suggestions last year at the first joint meeting, that the WDO needs to be scrapped, at least in the ag resource areas, and that the county must become much more serious about preserving the preserve. The suggestion, at the very least, ought to be a thoroughly considered alternative at the APAC forum. The video is here and the comments begin at 1:13:15 into it.

    "Madam Chair if I could... I just want to clarify where I'm looking, what we're facing today, and it goes back to something you referred to there on the 75% rule. I was on the county planning commission from 85 to 90 when we were wrestling with what was a winery. Basically we had just rezoned the entire county for consistency with the general plan that said agriculture is the highest and best use. The question really was, what allows the winery in our ag resource areas - why should we allow wineries and why not any other type of commercial activity and a belief that perhaps they shouldn't be allowed, that this is a purely agricultural area. The conclusion was that they should be allowed but the reasoning was that they would be allowed because they would process 75% Napa Valley grapes. And as history's shown at the time there ws a lack of grape processing capacity relative to the grape production. And it made sense.

    Then the next question was what is a winery, what do you allow a winery to do now that they are located in our ag resource areas? That discussion thas gone on as well. So the issue, at least in my mind, was never about attracting new production, it was really how do we protect the ag resource area, how do we keep it in agriculture and prevent it from being commercialized and paved over with those particular interests. And I think that's still the question today and, in fact, as you've demonstrated, the world is very much different that it was in 1990, that we have 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 times the capacity to process Napa Valley grapes than what we produce, which is just the reverse of where we were at.

    So 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. And what does this mean for the next 25 years? How do we protect this ag resource area and keep it the beautiful resource that it is while still allowing the appropriate commerce to continue. I don't necessarily have answers for that, as to how that should proceed, but I think that we are really at a crossroads, and if we just continue to do business as usual, we're going to find that that resource is going to degrade in my opinion. And that's not good for any of us. You noted that the jobs were 25% wine industry, but if that wine industry collapses you can look at the other 75% of jobs as also collapsing because one depends on the other. So I think it's a very important discussion.

    Quite frankly I'm not really concerned about what's going on on the roads, I'm more concerned about what's going on off of the roads. I think as a farmer who has that smell on his boots - that's the smell of money, and to see traffic moving up and down the valley is a general indication that our economy is working well. People who are generally complaining about traffic are the ones in traffic going to their jobs. And that's a good thing. I think that Napa and San Francisco are the only counties that today have more jobs that we had in the year 2000. So those are good things. And there are problems and we need to address them but they are good problems.

    But the serious problem, I think, we're facing is what continues to justify new wineries in our ag resource areas, and perhaps our ag watershed areas - I kinda look at them differently. Based on what you've shown up there the ag resource area, the heart of the valley, is significantly impacted, the other areas the same situation may not exist. But given the agenda which seems to be very broad and wide open I just wanted to really clarify what I think the real issue is today."

His statement is a mixed bag, of course. Under his proposal the watersheds are still fair game for developers and in fact would begin to receive additional developer lust that might have been absorbed by the preserve. And viewing traffic congestion as the good problem of a successful economy is disheartening. (Skyscrapers are the normal metric for a successful economy - are we headed that way?) I don't know, of course, what political complexity is involved in Sup. Luce being the only person actively pursuing this enlightened proposal. But he has invested some capital into the idea and he is not naive about the political realities in the county.

3/17/15 update: After seeing the BOS discussion concerning the formation of APAC which was approved to focus mostly on the nuts and bolts of the WDO, Supervisor Luce again made a plea to consider alternate topics for discussion (like the 75% rule, grape sourcing, and the need for any more wineries) - which was essentially ignored by other supervisors and staff. What is the subtext here?

Cheap housing in the Bay Area

Bill Hocker - Mar 16, 2015 12:26AM  Share #705

Sean Scully NVR editorial: Looking at the bigger picture

Mar 10th 2015 BOS-PC statement: George Caloyannidis

George Caloyannidis - Mar 13, 2015 4:37PM  Share #700

Comment to the Napa County Supervisor Hearing on Policy March 10, 2015

Honorable Supervisors:
Not that long ago, as recently perhaps as 20 years ago, the Napa Valley had a healthy infrastructure and a high quality of life.

The county and the cities balance their budgets each year, but as evidenced by their never ending need for revenue and the declining condition of the infrastructure and level of services, the fiscal model by which they address growth is heading in the wrong direction.

While we know what each tourist spends, we do not know what each tourist actually costs, and simple logic tells us that the current long-term equation is negative. It is imperative that we resolve this question because it lies at the heart of any future planning policy.

The overall underlying deficit has reached a point where, with the exception of the very few who are reaping the profits, people are not happy. We are in urgent need of employing fundamentally different models in assessing the comprehensive costs and effects of growth and assign an equitable responsibility for their recovery.

Here are some numbers which we cannot be proud of:

* According to the 2013 California Community Economic Development, 27% of Napa County residents live below the Self Sufficiency Standard (SSS) of $ 27,841 for a single person as do 43% of families with children.

According to the California Employment Development Division:

* The Manufacturing/Winery sector is our largest employer. Its median wages are around $ 35,000 per year, barely above the SSS for a single person but not enough to support a second person (SSS - 39,242). The bad news is that it is expected to grow by 10% over the next 5 years.

* The Accommodation/Food Service sector has the worst median wage record of around $ 22,000 per year - only 56% of the SSS for a single person. Worse yet, this is an even faster growing sector.
While the County has no jurisdiction for the associated development in the cities, it is the County which enables that growth by increasing winery related tourism.

* Other major sectors of our economy, such as Retail, Waste Management and Administrative Support, pay median wages of around $ 27,000 per year, only 70% of the SSS for a single person.

On the other hand, we do not have any data on the income distribution of the Napa valley economy and its trajectory over time; something which needs to be done. In a model of growth from which business owners and developers profit, it would be grossly inequitable to distribute the cost of growth - both in monetary as well is in quality of life terms - on to the general public, including the 27% and 43%, all the way to teachers, police and fire fighters.

We have reached an unsustainable point in our economy which is based on taxpayer support to supplement the shortfall in SSS with various programs for 27,000 employees. Even the cost of affordable housing, which will never be built to a level high enough to make a difference in commuting, is being charged at highly discounted in-lieu fees and therefore relies on tax-payer subsidies.

Because of the low wage environment and the lack of well paying jobs:

* A full 1/4 of jobs in the county are imported and 16% are exported. This means that 32,000 workers commute twice a day outside the county clogging Hwy 29 and the Silverado Trail, degrading everyone's quality of life.

Even worse, the projections are downright frightening:

If current policies continue, the low paying job sector will increase by 10% over the next 5 years and by 45% over the next 15 years. This is a path to a disastrous decline in the quality of life at every level and for every Napa county resident.

According to 2012 Napa Valley Register statistics, hotel rooms in the Napa Valley grew from 3,693 in 2002 to 5,232 in 2012, a 42% increase with 2,000 more in pending applications. These would add some 4,000 of the lowest paying jobs.

The combined cost of the increasingly intense use of the infrastructure and resources is astronomical. According to credible studies, this leads to an ever widening - not a narrowing - gap between revenues from fees, sales taxes, property taxes, TOT and actual costs.

Local governments are caught in a downward spiral having no choice but to grasp at any short-term revenue of the "Deficit Growth Model". As a result, we are piling the enormous and increasingly out of reach costs of growth on to the general public while the profits go to a handful of financial entities. This is not only a fiscally unsustainable model, it is also an unethical one.

Solutions will require workshops of the most diverse and brightest people in the county. The prospect of continuing current policies without systemic changes is frightening.

BY: George Caloyannidis, PhD
Professor Emeritus School of Architecture, University of Southern California
Calistoga, CA 94515

Press on the Mar 10th BOS-PC joint meeting

Bill Hocker - Mar 12, 2015 10:50PM  Share #689

Two articles by Barry Eberling in the NVR within a couple of hours of the end of the hearing - a record even for his prodigious output:
NVR: Public speakers urge more wine industry controls
NVR: County officials tackle wine industry growth questions (read the comments)
The Press Democrat: Napa County examines ways to regulate winery expansion
Padi Selwin LTE: All eyes are on Napa County
Wine-searcher: Napa Rails Against Disneyland Image

Quotes from: Diane Shepp, Zia Shepp, Dan McFadden, Geoff Ellsworth, Duane Cronk

Mar 10, 2015 BOS-PC statement: Geoff Ellsworth

Geoff Ellsworth - Mar 11, 2015 9:55PM  Share #693

Agriculture versus hospitality

I think it important to make a distinction between wineries and “event center wineries”.
Between agriculture and hospitality.

Also I don’t think anybody would have had a problem with our local wineries doing a few more events. The problem is we left the door open for a vast amount of new “event center winery” projects with little study of the impacts.
Every 10 acre parcel in the county vulnerable?
4,500 potential event center parcels in the county?
I don’t think we can handle even three more.

Recently I heard that opposition groups will be involved in this discussion.
I hope nobody thinks the citizens here are the opposition.
We’re the people who share our roads and water with you, we are your community.
What I also am is a sentinel on the ridge - telling you of a threat coming toward us.

Potential cumulative impacts from a proliferation of “event center wineries” are devastating. The heavy visitation of the event center business model cannot help but encroach upon our shared common resources of such things as roads, water and emergency services.

While I appreciate the joint letter of the industry groups and I know you are concerned, I believe we need to pause NOW, for perhaps six months, to gather and analyze data IMMEDIATELY before further development. We need a long term plan AND immediate, urgent action. We are in a drought, trucking of water and wastewater demonstrates unsustainability, daily gridlock traffic on Silverado Trail and Hwy 29 are beyond inconvenience, now at a level of danger to health, welfare and safety. What is our evacuation plan in the event of another natural disaster? How are emergency response times affected? The pressure builds on our two-lane arteries with every approval, the pressure builds on our water sources and watersheds. How can this continue?

The coming threat is commercialization, urbanization, industrialization and a paving over of our rural growing lands and Ag regions. - to make way for marketing events, tour buses, hospitality centers, parking lots, wedding factories - masking themselves as agriculture and local wineries, corporate owned hotels, restaurants and product tie-ins, co-opting our small towns and Ag zones into marketing platforms with “heads in beds” filled by tourism destination councils, destroying our rural nature AND the fabric of our communities as core citizens move away.
Like a hardy and invasive weed this business model will choke us out.

We are seeing a wholesale re-purposment of county zoning, from AG and residential into heavy tourist commercial use, selling tickets as much as wine.

Perhaps by accident, but by degree, a re-purposement our citizens were not properly aware of, a compromise of the zoning that is one of the insurances our property values remain stable, an insurance of our quality of life.

How would you like to wake up one morning with a leaf blower factory next to your house? When you complain you are told “ didn’t you see the notice in the back of the newspaper five years ago? You should have spoken up then”. This is not fair to the citizen stakeholders of our community.

We must not be fooled by up front dollar signs, the long term costs of this type of boom and bust tourism cycle will exceed any benefits. Could this be worse than phylloxera? Perhaps, because with phylloxera eventually you can plant again. Once we begin paved over our Ag regions and our core citizens start moving away, Napa County/Napa Valley, could easily go the way of the San Fernando Valley and Silicon Valley, both once prime growing regions, now built out with urban development.

We need policy decisions on variances.
We need planning staff that will defend our General Plans.

We must remember it is the citizens here that vote for the Ag, this is a right-to-farm county because the citizens allow it. It might be a good idea to be nice to them.

The Ag community and the true winemaking community of Napa County must stand and protect it’s citizens - so that the citizens will still be here to stand for the Ag and our true wine heritage when that time comes. As Ben Franklin said “We must all hang together or, most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Mar 10, 2015 BOS-PC statement: Zia Shepp

Zia Shepp - Mar 11, 2015 11:47AM  Share #691

My name is Zia Shepp. I live on Soda Canyon. I vote.

I remember being a student here up on that stage. Ahh, I miss it.

I grew up in the Napa Valley. I went to school here. I’ve lived my whole life here. And I want my children to be able to grow up and enjoy what I had here. Open space, clean air, water, and a safe, prosperous community.

This Valley has become an adult Disney World. This Valley, in my generations perspective (due to many reasons outside of the Napa Valley) is an expensive, silly place, full of nothing but snobby people who do not respect what Napa truly is, and that is a highly nurturing and gorgeous place to live with a strong agrarian heritage.

The county website states the mission of the Board of Supervisors is:
    The County of Napa is dedicated to preserving agriculture and the environment and to providing leadership and services to advance the health, safety and economic well-being of current and future generations.

All of the youth in this room, please rise. (I will not put an age limit, so if you think you are youthful, you may rise too.)

WE are your responsibility. We are your future as you declared in your mission statement. And right now, you have the stage (literally) to decide how to be responsible and respectful of our future.

Why should the youth of this county be interested in the WDO? Why should we be concerned about the Ag Preserve and the Ag Watershed? Did any of these youth know your mission statement until now? Are you representing their best interests?

We need to acknowledge this disconnect and educate our youth to be a part of this solution. I would like to share what I’ve experienced as the Napa Valley with our children. Yet every uninformed decision made puts us all one step forward, but twenty steps backward.

Napa County was on the agricultural forefront when they adopted the Ag Preserve in 1968. The Ag Watershed, the WDO, the Hillside and Viewshed Ordinances and the General Plan of 2008 all followed. Like all plans, they need periodic updating to better reflect current conditions.

My question to you is: will there be agriculture to preserve for my and future generations? You decide. Thank you.

My takeaway on the Mar 10th joint BOS-PC meeting

Bill Hocker - Mar 11, 2015 6:24AM  Share #692

The video of the meeting is here
The meeting agenda is item 9c here
The agenda letter is here
the press reports are here

Three presentations were made prior to the public comments:

Data analysis of the county 2015
Director Morrison gave a bravura presentation of number crunching which brought not just one but two ovations from an audience prepared to be skeptical. His numbers seemed strictly factual with some comfort and some chagrin for both the preservation and the development camps. Despite his quick wit, his poker face never betrays his leanings in this battle, but I continue to hope that he will end up in the small pantheon of Napa planning directors that are venerated for their preservation of an agricultural ideal against the forces of development.

Supervisor Luce took this break to voice a position on prohibiting wineries in the "ag resource" areas - the AP zones of the valley floor and several smaller basins in the county. (I initially misinterpreted resource to mean watershed, leading to both elation and then embarrassment in several emails). He has questioned the need for more wineries before, given the probable surfeit of winery capacity, but it sounded here as if he had made up his mind: no more wineries in the ag preserve. He went back to the history of the 1990 WDO, (he was on the planning commission at the time) and gave context for his feeling now. Allowing wineries into the vineyards at the time was seen as a way to insure that Napa grapes would be processed locally rather than shipped out of the county. The situation is reversed now with grapes being shipped into the county to fill available capacity. His point was that the goals of the original WDO have been met and that it is time to rethink at a fundamental level what the new definition should be. His position is definitely a huge step in the right direction with one caveat: he hedged on whether allowing wineries in the AWOS zones was still desirable. That may be bad news for the watersheds that would have to begin bearing the full weight of vanity winery lust. He then reiterated this position at the end of the meeting - his determination on this issue, which I must applaud, is remarkable. (more on his statement is here)

Napa County Travel Behavior Study 2015
The actual study is here
Kevin Johnson of Fehr & Peers made a very good presentation, without notes, of the recent traffic study that will be the basis of discussion over the year. The study included data from license plate monitoring and cell phone movement which are probably really effective tools but are also pretty creepy.

Tourism in Napa County 2015
The actual study is here
Larry Florin, Director of Housing and Intergovernmental Affairs, reviewed the information of the 2012 Destination Analyists study done for Visit Napa Valley.

60+ speakers in public comments

Mayor John Dunbar of Yountville led off the public comments with a description of the negative impacts county winery development was posing to his town. He may be genuinely concerned about increased traffic seeing the negative impact that traffic is having in St. Helena, but it is also quite possible that the municipalities are beginning to see the downside of winery event centers that will begin to draw patrons, restaurant staff and revenue away from the towns.

I was pleasantly surprised that the wine industry as a whole has finally come out the closet (or from beneath the cloak of omertà) to say that the trajectory of development in the county might be bad for the survival of agriculture. The real winemakers, not the vanity vintners, are sensing trouble with the DTC dogma, and the impacts it is creating. Even the Winegrowers seemed to recognize there might be survival issues for the Napa brand if the current development rate continues.

A few of the statements are well worth saving:
Dan Mcfadden
George Caloyannidis
Zia Shepp
Geoff Ellsworth

While many of the speakers mentioned watersheds, there seemed little interest on the dias for that discussion here. There will be much discussion later when the Water Availability Analysis and the Climate Action Plan are taken up.

The issue that I felt was woefully missing here, just as it was in the first coalition meeting, was the development taking place beyond the wine industry. Dir. Morrison brought it up during his presentation, but the rest of the day was spent on wineries and watersheds. I suppose that until the municipalities are brought into this discussion, as Dir. Morrison was charged to undertake in #3 below, the impact that continued urban development in the cities is going to have the ag areas, much greater frankly than more wineries and vineyard conversions, would be academic.

Supervisor Dillon also had some remarks at the end seeming to chide the planning commissioners for not exercising more of the discretion granted to them under the WDO and mentioning the Draft EIR done before the 1990 WDO which gave examples of mitigations that might be applied as guidance in current projects. It is a good sign that they are beginning to discuss original intentions and their relationship to the situation we find today.

BOS-PC Direction to staff

1. Finish Climate Action Plan
2. Revise circulation element of GP and draft traffic mitigation fee plan
3. Define BOS ad hoc committee to create forum with cities about joint regional land use issues (more important to the future of ag, IMHO, than #4)
    affordable housing
4. Define ad hoc committee to review WDO
    17 member committee
    min parcel size
    estate grapes
    no vineyard loss
    outdoor space
    separate AP and AW standards
    temporary event ordinance
    (Note 2 Vision 2050 mentions!!)
5. Refine winery review guidelines and matrix

After 6 hours of talk It seemed that everyone was worn out and perhaps it would be expected that things would end with a whimper rather than a bang since no votes were required. But it is a start of a process unimaginable 1 year ago.

Mar 10, 2015 BOS-PC statement: Dan McFadden

Dan McFadden - Mar 10, 2015 10:02PM  Share #688

My name is Daniel McFadden. My wife Beverlee and I have lived on Soda Canyon Road since 1991, and we vote and pay taxes in this county. Our property was first developed as a vineyard by Luis Banchero in 1870, and we have replanted his vineyard and restored his ghost winery. I am an economist by profession, an emeritus professor from the University of California, Berkeley, and currently a Presidential Professor of Public Policy and Economics at USC. In the past, I have served as President of the American Economics Association, and in 2000 I received the Nobel Prize in Economics for my research on methods for predicting travel demand for BART.

Over the past thirty-five years, Napa County has prospered from a dramatic expansion in its wine industry, and hospitality industries. In recent years, the pace of development has accelerated, with new wineries permitted or proposed throughout the county, and large new tourist facilities proposed in various locations. A critical question for the Board of Supervisors is whether further development at this pace is economically and environmentally wise for these industries and for the residents of the county. A little arithmetic shows the magnitude of the problem. If the rate of growth of hotel rooms in Napa County continues at its pace over the past decade, then 35 years from now, Napa will have 30,000 hotel rooms, about half the size of Las Vegas today. The number of tourist visitors will rise more than five-fold, to 16 million per year. Wine production will increase more than three-fold, and more than 90 percent of wines made in Napa will be using grapes trucked in from outside the county.

The Napa wine industry has been notably resistant to government regulation, unrelentingly optimistic about its future, and dismissive of its impacts on the environment and county infrastructure. However, there are some good reasons for the industry, and the economy built around it, to be cautious about the future. Since the Judgment of Paris in 1975, Napa has benefited from a reputation for producing some of the world’s best wines. This brand reputation is the reason that Napa grapes command prices two or three times those in neighboring counties. But brands have to be defended, not only from rival producing areas who aspire to exceed Napa quality, but also from operators who would try to exploit the brand by selling inexpensive everyday wines with a “Made in Napa” label.

For the past few decades, Napa winemakers whose definition of quality is “best in the world” have held sway, but this brand reputation is fragile. A few significant tastings in which Napa loses to wines from traditional rivals such as Burgundy or Bordeaux, or new ones such as Australia’s Margret River, Washington’s Red Mountain, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, or even Sonoma County, could drain away Napa’s cachet and customers. So far, only Burgundy and Bordeaux have been able to measure in centuries the duration of their reputations for quality. They have done it through stringent environmental regulation, production controls, and aggressive defense of their brands.

What are the prospects for defense of the Napa brand? While the rigid regulation of growers and wineries employed successfully in France is neither possible nor desirable in Napa, there are things that Napa County can do to prevent unsustainable and eventually self-destructive winery development. First, note that Napa County at this point has nearly exhausted agricultural acreage suitable for vineyards. Additional acreage would mostly have to come in environmentally sensitive remote areas that are extremely expensive to develop and would stress available water supplies. Existing wineries have ample capacity to process Napa grapes, in fact enough excess capacity to process a great deal of fruit trucked in from other growing areas. The new winery capacity permitted or planned in the county is either going to go unused, or is going to be supplied directly or indirectly by imported fruit.

Many of the new wineries permitted or proposed will be extremely expensive to develop and operate, and are not economically sensible as pure winemaking operations. Their developers may envision them as “crush and party pads” for wine tourists, or may simply see them as a way to park assets until the wineries can be flipped in the current speculative market. A prime example is a new winery being developed next door to me on Soda Canyon Road. The site is remote, access is tortuous, the water supply is from deep wells and requires reverse osmosis, the land does not perk so that all waste water has to be trucked out, and there are no grapes grown on the property. The business model of this winery, and others being planned, appears to assume that wine tourism will be sufficient to offset high operating costs. But tourists are fickle, and direct wine sales to tourists are costly to generate and sustain. I think most of these wineries are in the process of verifying the adage that the best way to make a small fortune in the wine business is to start with a large fortune.

Perhaps the county need not concern itself with the business success of winery developers and owners, but it should think carefully about the environmental and infrastructure damage to the county caused by winery construction, the pressures that excess winery capacity will create for legal or illegal imports of grapes from other counties, and the impact on the Napa brand of increased production in the county of everyday wines from non-premium fruit and other cost-cutting measures.

I think the county faces a clear choice. If it wants to protect the Napa brand and preserve the character of Napa Valley, it needs to clamp down on expansion of winery capacity that cannot be supplied by Napa County fruit, enforce its restrictions on grape imports, and resist debasement of the brand by operators using a “Made in Napa” label. It needs to account for the environmental damage and congestion costs of more wineries, more wine tourists, and more low-wage workers commuting into the county to work in the wine and hospitality industries. The wine and hospitality industries have been good for Napa County, but it is in their interest as well as all our interests that they continue to thrive on a sustainable path without self-destructive over-development. Currently, the County development plan, and ordinances to channel and regulate growth, have failed to restrain growth of the wine and tourist industries to sustainable levels. To achieve prudent growth levels, the Supervisors have to tighten their current planning and permitting procedures. Here are some specific possible actions:
  1. Ask AFT to reduce confusion of Napa production and Napa AVA wines by requiring all producers to label their products with the percentage of Napa County fruit.
  2. Keep separate production statistics for large everyday wine producers like Sutter Home that rely primarily on non-Napa fruit, and the wineries who do rely primarily on Napa fruit. These types of wineries are very different, and their growth should be regulated separately.
  3. Declare a partial moratorium on winery and hotel expansion, limiting them to growth rates of one percent per year.
  4. Give priority to estate wineries and wineries that are scaled in proportion to their grape supply.
  5. Give priority to wineries who commit to using Napa fruit, and can establish a source.
  6. Give preference to wineries that locate in current industrial areas rather than in the ag preserve.
  7. Give preference for visitor programs to wineries who locate their tasting facilities near major tourist centers.
  8. Increase minimum parcel size for a winery, and require that wineries replace any vineyards destroyed or damaged by construction or operations.
  9. Improve monitoring and audits of wineries to ensure that they meet the Napa fruit requirements and do not abuse the Napa environment.
  10. Give wineries substantial freedom to run their visitor programs as they wish, but strictly limit annual visitor numbers, taking into account traffic congestion, safety, and neighborhood nuisance factors.

Cries and punishment in wine county

Bill Hocker - Mar 5, 2015 10:17AM  Share #670

David Hallett forwards these links:

Another significant editorial on the big picture of over-development issues facing both Napa and Sonoma counties:
Sour grapes in Wine Country: Intense challenges to wineries erupt Shepherd Bliss

And Barry Eberling's latest on the Mar 4th PC meeting (with a Divid Hallett quote!):
County may toughen code enforcement

You are invited to the community forum Mar 10th

Daniel Mufson - Mar 3, 2015 10:44PM  Share #666

Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission Joint Meeting to Discuss the Future of Napa County

Tuesday, March 10
9:45 am
Napa Valley Unified School District Auditorium
2425 Jefferson Street, Napa

The Napa County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission are scheduled to host a joint meeting to discuss the future of Napa County at 9:45 am, Tuesday, March 10. Planning Director David Morrison will review the current environment within his department, including an analysis about development. Presentations of findings from the recent Napa County Traffic Study and the latest information about tourism in the County will also be presented.

The Napa Valley Unified School District is suspending its parking permit enforcement for the day; however, parking for this event is limited as school will be ongoing during this time. Please consider carpooling or finding alternative parking. You are strongly encouraged to attend.

We hope that you will recognize the importance of this event. Many citizens have been attending every Board of Supervisor and Planning Commission meeting since we started to fight one year ago and have become friends aligned in the fight to control this crazy growth in the county. As you know, we recently have held a series of organizational meetings and formed a coalition, Vision 2050, to jointly work to mandate the permanent sustainability of the finite resources of Napa County. We will be forming a Political Action Committee.

We met with some of the key grape growers and vintners to discuss how to jointly support limiting some of the outrageous growth. At this March 10 meeting we will be making some historic proposals you won’t want to miss.

It will strengthen our position if you and all your friends attend this meeting to show the Supervisors and Planning staff how unhappy you are with the current situation wherein they approve every vineyard and winery application with all sorts of variances. Your attendance will count as strongly as your votes in November.

Sandy Ericson's Inbox

Bill Hocker - Mar 3, 2015 9:32AM  Share #662

Sandy Ericson of the SHWindow just sent one of her email blasts with some significant feedback to a previous one. I can't yet link to her emails so I'll just copy the interesting bits here:

    Rex Stults forwards: "It's actually 85% [NV grapes in the bottle]. And it's monitored by TTB [US Treasury Dept.], not the county. And nobody does more to ensure compliance therein than NVV. Our lawyer and I were in DC last week working on all this. It's a federal reg that applies to all 200+ American Viticultural Areas, including Napa Valley and its 16 sub appellations (St. Helena, Howell Mountain, etc.). In order to put those place names on labels minimum 85% of the fruit must be grown within its boundary. Highly regulated."
      (More than I thought but great to know it's watched -- still makes me wonder where all these grapes are going to grow, given all the wineries starting up and expanding?)

    And from George Caloyannidis, a Calistoga USC prof who teaches architecture and studies growth:
    "1) What is the true cost of further growth? Are we using the right formula to assess it? Are we charging the right fees?
    2) What is the true cost of the continued accommodation/proliferation of low-paying jobs coupled with the lack of well-paying jobs? (Makes me wonder why these questions are not on any agendas?)
    3) All structures/patterns, whether in biology or cities collapse when their weakest link collapses. In Napa, if it will not be water first. It certainly will be traffic as the data below shows. Well before 2050, the existing traffic system will collapse. According to the latest traffic study, the largest contributor to congestion is commuter traffic. That again is linked to the lack of "Workforce" housing. "Affordable" housing presents problems because it relies on government grants. Such grants spread the cost to the public while the developer reaps the profit and by law, grant-financed housing must be open to everyone in the State, not just locals.

    GROWTH PROJECTION DATA: A growth of 45% in traffic is forecast or nearly half again as much as we see currently. This does not include people commuting out of the County, which number less than the in-commuters. These calculations assume high end projections, which of course, assume continuing growth in the Napa wine/tourism industry, which in turn, does seem generally supportable under current conditions -- the market is certainly growing worldwide. Here is the background for the 45% traffic increase calculation, a combination of 3 primary sources:

    1. If current patterns hold (30% of Napa workers commuting from outside the County per US Census Journey to Work data 2006-2010: Residence County to Workplace County Flows for the United States and Puerto Rico Sorted by Residence Geography: 2006-2010.

    2. If we do see employment levels reach towards 97,000 workers:

    Current employment level is 82,000 -- this is peak level during crush, per State of California Employment Development Division.
    Plus 15,000 additional jobs by 2040 per ABAG, Association of Bay Area Governments, Plan Bay Area Projections 2013. These projections are generally available for purchase. On their site, go to Napa Tab and see "Total Jobs" projections to 2040.
    It is conceivable that we may expect 29,000 workers commuting into Napa County each day by 2040."


Director Morrison begins quantifying the future

Bill Hocker - Mar 2, 2015 3:26PM  Share #659

PC agenda letter: Proposed method for evaluating future winery visitation proposals
Barry Eberling's NVR piece: County planners grapple with caps on winery visitation

A principal argument that we have used against the Mountain Peak proposal is that the capacity and visitation for the project were excessively high for the location. It is based on a Supervisors directive that accompanied the 2010 WDO:
    "To ensure that the intensity of winery activities is appropriately scaled, the County considers the remoteness of the location and the amount of wine to be produced at a facility when reviewing use permit proposals, and endeavors to ensure a direct relationship between access constraints and on- site marketing and visitation programs."
DIrector Morrison, in an effort to get a handle on complaints from the Planning Commission and the public that requests for visitation seemed to be arbitrary and that guidance is needed, has proposed to the commission, by way of clarifying the Supervisors directive, a two-step process to link visitation and permitted capacity.

Step 1: (a) Take the median (or else average) visitations for all existing wineries with a similar capacity to the proposed winery as a base visitation number to be used.
(b) Or more simply, based on a review of existing winery traffic numbers, use an average of 275 visitor slots/yr per 1000 g/y of wine capacity as a base visitation for new wineries.

Step 2: Modifiy the base visitation up or down based on certain criteria, that define remoteness and other site constraints. Each criterion will no doubt require its own quantification.

The median and the average numbers proposed for each metric for step1(a) above are quite different from one another, and there is no indication in the analysis which of the values would be used to evaluate new projects.

One statistic in this analysis was interesting. The AW zone contains 58% of the wineries in Napa county and yet they account for just 18% the permitted capacity . Those same wineries generate 34% of the visitations slots.

The percentages were used to differentiate the AW form the AP zones, but these numbers also tend toward an economic argument that needs to be made in the county wide visitation-to-production ratio: A large majority of wineries in the county generate little wine but a lot of visitation. Those large visitation numbers demanded by the many small wineries to increase the profits of their inefficient operations increase development pressure on the ag preserve, either through event center conversion of vineyards, or the need to expand municipalities to accommodate tourists and a tourism work force, and put the entire viability of an agricultural economy at risk for large and small producers alike.

Joint PC / BOS meeting Mar 10th

Lisa Hirayama - Mar 1, 2015 7:38AM  Share #657

Hi Everyone,

One of the reasons the county has been slow in processing applications is that they are also preparing for an extensive review of development trends in Napa County, brought on in part by community activism this past year. One of the issues is how to accommodate a booming economy throughout Napa Valley.

On March 10, there will be a joint Planning Commission/Board of Supervisors community forum to begin a lengthy discussion, essentially on the future of Napa County. This meeting will be to find out where they see problems. The results could be an invitation for a larger discussion involving other jurisdictions, the wine industry and various groups to see how the issues relate to each other. It is a public forum and every individual or group that is concerned about that future is encouraged to attend.

If you are willing to speak your thoughts (3 min limit), it would be greatly appreciated. If you prefer not to speak, just attending the meeting will help show your support. The more voices and faces that the Supervisors/Planning Commissioners hear, the better for all of us who are concerned about Walt Ranch and all developments that will drain and destroy the natural resources that make Napa Valley our home.

It will be held on Tuesday, March 10 at 9:00 at 2741 Napa Valley Corporate Drive, Building 2. The huge turnout on 11/12 for the Walt Ranch Forum got the attention of the County---let's try to make this another eye-opener for them.

Selling tickets to Napa Wineries

Daniel Mufson - Feb 23, 2015 4:00PM  Share #641

David Hallett sent us this message from Southwest and he wrote: Glad to see that the tours and tastings are remaining secondary to the production of agricultural products in the wineries of Napa:

Southwest Airlines Napa Promo

Get your tickets now for this exclusive offer from Southwest Airlines. I think Sandy so clearly fleshed out this new economic plan in her recent article, Selling tickets, not wine in the Napa Valley.

Sandy Ericson digs into Direct-to-Consumer

Daniel Mufson - Feb 20, 2015 9:32AM  Share #632

Sandy Ericson of St. Helena offers an interesting way to understand what is happening to OUR valley: the sale of tickets for wine tastings and special events.

Selling tickets, not wine in the Napa Valley

More on the upcoming community forum Mar. 10th

Carl Bunch - Feb 16, 2015 9:55AM  Share #624

NVR 2/14/15: Napa County to explore the price of wine success

Gary. That is a wonderful article regarding winery expansion and development on the front page of the Register this morning. The increasing number of local citizens who are voicing their oppostion to the rampant development of Napa County, particularly its so-called "Agriculture" emphasis (stated another way: it's approval of winery/hospitality centers) is starting to get traction with the public as evidenced by the frequent opinion letters to the editor of the newspaper.

I am really pleased and gratified by the effort now being engaged in by you and the Mt. Veeder Stewardship Council which has warranted special mention in the Register's news articles on this subject. You and the Council are to be congratulated for the important work you're doing on behalf of the residents of the entire County.

Marge and I saw the documentary film on the effects of the Russian River devastation caused by declining watersheds, habitat and overdevelpment by the moneyed interests in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. Everyone in Northern California, including the schools and their student populations should see this film. We saw it Thursday in Santa Rosa since we had a schedule conflict on March 4 when the movie is being shown at no charge at the Cameo Theater in St. Helena. Hopefully, as many people as possible will be able to see it. It's culture transforming. At each showing so far, in a number of theaters in the affected counties, the audiences have filled the theaters. I believe reservations to attend are required.

We talked with the film's director/co-producer, Bill Sorensen, and he paid special tribute to Pat Damery, a resident of the Mt. Veeder area as being an importantant voice in the film's effort to ameliorate the rampant overdevelopment of our agricutural land.

Again, Gary, congratulations to you and the Mt. Veeder Stewardship Council for your important work in this regard.

The Notification Issue

Gary Margadant - Feb 16, 2015 9:07AM  Share #621

NVR 2/12/15: Napa County explores requiring signs for proposed projects

To put a little wind in the sails of a few Supervisors and make note of a small slice of public opinion, the attached doc has the comments to a recent article, "Napa County explores requiring signs for proposed projects".

Here are two, the first being mine. I plan to put them into an email to the Supes about Project Sign and Neighborhood Notification. Overall, I would say the response was favorable and engaging.

MtVeederView - February 13, 2015 10:57 am
Rural residents want to know what is going on in their neighborhood, just like our neighbors in the city limits. But we are spread out and notification currently is limited to 1000ft (recently changed from 300ft) from the project property line. That is less than one quarter of a mile, and on a road like Mt Veeder, Dry Creek, Atlas Peak, Soda Canyon, all longer than 12 miles with no cross streets, 90% of the neighborhoods are out of the loop. We want signs, 4ft x 4ft, max size or like the ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) required signs (used by neighbors to sell wine from their grapes). The signs are not clutter in rural areas, they are essential neighbor information, so don't think of them in the context of city blocks and housing tracts, it is not the same. Sadly, some of our supervisors are using city language to decide a rural issue, one that can only assist those who would prefer not to see rural participation in land use matters before Napa County. Gary Margadant

I enthusiastically support adopting a sign notification such as is currently employed by Sonoma County for the following reasons----
1) Legal notifications in the local paper are in fact not read by the majority of the readers, and the subscription base is not a majority of county residents.
2) Letters of notification have had problems reaching the complete list of property owners within the 300 foot project boundary.
3) The notification letters have been written in “legalese” ----a real word translation is missing.
4) Using technology for notification could/would be blocked by spam filters. (There are still people in rural Napa that only have dial-up or no internet).
5) A sign would be temporary---only for the term of the project.
6) Completed projects typically have permanent signs, and they are allowed. So will there actually be more signs in the long run?

All residents in Napa Cities and County vote for Supervisors

A great presentation of the big picture

Bill Hocker - Feb 6, 2015 10:05PM  Share #608

Napa Valley at the crossroads George Caloyannidis

Mr. Caloyannidis dissects the issues facing us with the broad vision necessary for the task and perhaps with a bit of the passion we are all beginning to feel. His basic contention, that EIRs need to cast a wider net in their view of impacts (the impact say that a new resort in Calistoga has on traffic in AmCan, or that the new voters in new projects in AmCan or Napa Pipe will have on the ag preserve) and that we need to be thinking about long term solutions now, is right on the mark. The survival of the specialness of Napa, which I think everyone wants, is dependent on looking far down the road at the cumulative result of the decisions we might make today.

Several editorials have now presented the "big picture" case for a severe restriction on the development impacts that are producing a very real change in the quality of life that is our reason to live in Napa County.

Don't sell out to greed and profit Anne Carr
Enough is enough already on winery development Kelly Wheaton

What do you want Napa to look like in 2050?

Bill Hocker - Feb 2, 2015 4:07AM  Share #591

I was reading the JLDAgFund interview of John Tuteur beginning page 244 here, the current county assessor and county supervisor from 1972 to 1980, and on page 262 this just jumped out:
    JT: So Ginny and I got on the board, and we took office in January [1973], and in February we took the first step towards real management of growth in Napa County, which was increasing the minimum parcel size from one acre.... Probably 65% of the county went from one acre to forty acres in February by an emergency ordinance, because we saw what was about to happen. It was a unanimous vote, including the three other members of the board who didn't come from our background.

    RZ: Did you have to have public hearings for this?

    JT: Not many, because it was an emergency ordinance. We then had to have public hearings afterwards. But the other thing we needed to do was we needed to update the general plan of the county, so that was the first step. The second step was we did a mail?out survey to every resident of the unincorporated area of the county, and we did that probably in late '73 or early '74, and we asked them what they wanted the county to be in 2000.

    They had three choices. The City of Napa did its own mail?out about the same time as Santa Rosa did, and they asked what the population should be in 2000, and the choices were 75,000, 150,000 or 250,000. They got an overwhelming response of 75,000, which is about what the City of Napa population is today in
An emergency zoning ordinance to control growth? That is what we need now - how do we get that done?

But it was the last part of the quote that intrigued me.

At a recent PC meeting Commissioner Pope asked the question to be taken up this year by the County Government: "What will the the county look like in 30 to 50 years?" Often, in interviews with our new supervisor, Alfredo Pedroza, he says he will, in the words of the NVR reporter, " approach such issues as development of wineries, hillside vineyards, traffic and tourism in agricultural areas with the thought of what Napa County will be like in 30 years. He intends to raise a family here, and is thinking about what the county will be like for future generations." He hasn't said yet what he thinks it will look like. I would encourage him to tell us what he wants it to look like.

In fact, one way to approach the process that begins on Mar 20th is to ask everyone involved, community groups, supervisors, commissioners, planning department, stakeholder groups, and perhaps every resident of Napa County what they WANT Napa County to look like in 2050. Perhaps a one sentence statement from each. Or perhaps a multiple choice questionnaire: more, less, enough. People, jobs, homes, vineyards, wineries, traffic, woodlands, factories, schools, roads, restaurants, hotels, tourists, shopping centers, stop lights, parking places. More, less or enough. I have been thinking about such a statement of commitment since first reading Mr. Pedroza's interviews, but I though that proposing such a thing would be ridiculed. And yet it was, in fact, already done 40 years ago just for the same purpose it should be done now - to get everyone thinking beyond just the next project on the agenda. We all need to think about what the county should be like for future generations and now is the time to do it.

What do I want? The same amount of woodlands, more vineyards on brownfield sites and less of everything else (our house would have to stay, of course.) Well, perhaps just enough housing and employment development to accommodate the difference between births and deaths each year in the county (400 people in 2010) with an effort to reduce that number through family planning.

Notes from the Jan 27th BOS meeting

Jim Wilson - Jan 28, 2015 8:36AM  Share #575

Some brief notes for you from yesterday's meeting. Supervisors were talking about what they'd like to see on the agenda.

BOS will continue to meet in S. Napa Campus until May 5 when they return to 3rd St chamber.

Mark - ECP draft EIRs need to go out earlier so applicant can know public concerns earlier, and decide earlier on whether to move forward w project. Need a timeline to pace project thru faster. It's in everyone's interest.

Diane- I foresee Mar 10 PC/BOS joint meeting not to answer Qs but corraling what the issues are

Keith- We need to keep our agenda current and relevant - some older issues dating back to 2012 keep getting moved back... if 3/5 supervisors feel it's current then it doenst fall off and we can plan on staff time.

Brad- I like annual review of a new ordinance or revised ordinance, such as the Landmark Preservation Ordinance. See if it's doing what it's supposed to be doing?

Diane and Keith- ditto, let's agendize this type of review once or twice a year

Alfredo- March 10 will dictate what we'll be talking about.

Keith- Our Legislative Committee can write letters of support to legislative bodies..

Keith - The public's against winery development. A facility mitigation fee or road mitigation fee might be worth considering.

There was also mention of a review of the appeal process....

I had a brief chat w David Morrison during break.... learned he led the CAP [Climate Action Plan] for Yolo Co, He's just hired two senior planners, hopes to put one on CAP starting now in 2Q. He sounded well versed in what other US entities are doing w CAP. He also mentioned China and India carbon pollution in the context of "what can little Napa do" (not his words, my take-away) and it struck me as the same logic the State Dept used in recommending approval of KXL: tar sands are going to get to market anyway so what's the difference if we approve it ... Of course that logic has polluting industry hand in the report of environmental impacts. David also referred to the "hyperbole" used in describing climate disruption. I think we owe it to ourselves to meet with him and the supervisors to press the old cause of thinking global, acting local and let them know they have our support in taking steps to drastically reduce our carbon pollution. At least put down the chain saws while we come to an understanding of our current situation.

Revisiting Supervsor Dillon's notes at the Woolls hearing.

Bill Hocker - Jan 22, 2015 7:00PM  Share #554

At a recent community meeting a neighbor of the Walt property brought up a comment that Supervisor Dillon had made at the appeal of the Woolls Ranch hearing regarding the profitability of agriculture. I went back and looked at the video of the comments that the Supervisor made at the end of the hearing and they are well worth discussing. Her notes are important, not lease because she will be presiding over the Supervisor's major review of development policy this year. I would like to think that I can glean some insight into her thinking, but reading the tea leaves of her comments is not easy.

On Nov 22nd 2014 at the appeal hearing for the Woolls Ranch Winery on Mt. Veeder Rd., Supervisor Dillon in closing remarks spoke about her feelings concerning the protection of agriculture and the WDO. The Hearing Video is here Supervisor Dillon's summation begins at 3:39:30 into the video (sorry I still haven't figured out embed videos or jump in at a particular place)

The specific comment that the neighbor brought up was:
    "We have got to protect agricultural land. That's the question. How do we do it? And If its not profitable folks, we won't be able to protect it. That's the bottom line. It's more profitable to sell this land for housing. How do we protect it for agriculture... We have to be really carful because this land is so much more valuable not for agriculture but for other things and if we stop allowing agriculture as an active, flourishing, sustainable use of the land were sunk."

The statement is a bit contradictory, perhaps reflecting the two attitudes in the room opposing business as usual: Those that don't see agriculture as more important than say oak woodlands or water, and those that don't see tourism as the right way to increased profitability. Even in the vintners wildest fantasies, wine theme parks are not going to be as profitable as housing subdivisions, shopping centers or industrial parks. So it is a question of just how relatively unprofitable can agriculture be and still be a sustainable use of the land.

There are a million issues that she brought up that need discussion: commercial kitchens, hillside vineyards, use-permits for the land or user

The one issue that she brought up, beginning with the intro "To the serious concerns..." was dear to our hearts up on Soda Canyon Road:
    The interpretive guidance that is attached to resolution no 2010-48, the famous change to the Winery Definition Ordinance, or perhaps infamous, says that with regard to appropriate intensity of marketing programs that "the county is going to consider the remoteness of the location and the amount of wine to be produced when reviewing use permit proposals." ...That's the guidance that we've given to the planning commission because these are discretionary permits and we don't have a cookie cutter system - you have 50,000 gals you get to have this many permits. I mean, we are looking at these with some flexibility and I think that Mr. McDowell has been accurate in his comments when he says that we have been moving more in that direction.

Unfortunately, she then rejected the appeal of the Woolls decision, effectively granting permission for an "intense" event center in a remote location. As I said, Supervisor Dillon's tea leaves are difficult to read.

St Helena Star wants more development

Bill Hocker - Jan 16, 2015 3:54AM  Share #548

Winery debate must be based on facts

A lack of facts presented by the editorial board didn't stop them from coming down on the side of further tourism development. The facts they did quote are either not facts or inappropriate to the discussion:

1. "there's no evidence that a winery has used water at the expense of residential supplies". Since we are talking about unbuilt facilities it is also a fact that there is no evidence that new wineries won't use water at residents expense. Neighbors and the government should be very concerned about their water supply in a time of diminishing water availability, and the burden should be on the government to prove that water supplies will not be affected by cumulative increased water use from the projects it approves.

2. "most of the traffic at peak hours is made up of workers."

The traffic facts that we are all probably going to use in the coming months are from this report (courtesy the St Helena Window): NAPA COUNTY TRAVEL BEHAVIOR STUDY

No doubt the statistics in the report are going to be consistently spun to each person's own ends. For example I would point out that of the 181,330 trips/day recorded, 55,000 or 30% go in and out of wineries. Or that the 4 hours of mid-day traffic is always greatmer than the 4 hour commute at the ends of the day (when workers out-number visitors, duh!) , and that mid-day traffic breaks down as 17% worker, 23% visitor. The battles over the traffic statistics will be heated, and the interpretation of the statistics contentious.

3. "Only 1 winery and 1 hotel among the 10 largest employers in Napa county." Is this fact being used to indicate that the wine industry is a small part of the employment picture in Napa county? If so it gives a false impression. This from the Stonebridge 2012 report on The Economic Impact of Napa County's Wine and Grapes: "The Napa wine and grape industry, with related activities, accounts for more than two-thirds of all the full time jobs reported in the county".

4. "Tweaking local wine regs is tampering with the valley's economic lifeblood". There may be facts to support this guess, but they aren't presented. The statement is the same unfactual hyperbole that the editors are decrying in their piece.

5. "The economic viability of wineries is the reason Hwy 29 is lined with vineyards." That is not a fact. Hwy 29 is lined with vineyards because the citizens of Napa county voted to limit other uses of the land. The same developers now crowding Hwy 29 with event-centers would build subdivisions in a heartbeat if they could.

One of the commenters to the Star article proposes offering solutions to go along with complaints. Here are 2 solutions:

Stop building new wineries. 435 wineries are enough. If you're a plutocrat with wine lust buy an existing winery.
Find ways to promote existing wineries that don''t involve tourism; like a Napa Wine Online internet portal. Someone will become the Zappos of wine - let it ba a Nappan.


Dan Mufson writes:

I was just preparing to go on line to comment.
The NC website says that:
The wine and vineyard sector is easily Napa's largest employer. Napa's wine and vineyard sector directly, and indirectly through the services and products they consume or generate, provides nearly 40,000 jobs in Napa, nearly half of the county's total employment.
These jobs generate wages of nearly $1.4 billion.
Sales revenues of Napa appellation wines exceed $2.3 billion. Wine made in the county with grapes from other regions adds many millions in revenue to that figure. (Source: Napa Valley Vintners, Economic Impact of Wine and Vineyards in Napa County, MKF Research, 2005)

Tourism: he tourism industry is an extremely important part of what makes Napa County such a vibrant and economically progressive community. The average visitor to Napa County spends $197 per day with those staying over-night spending $233 per day. The visitors' spending impacts almost every segment of the county's economy in a significant way with almost one billion dollars in direct spending and $1.3 billion in total impact. Over 17,000 jobs are created which provide nearly half a billion dollars in income to residents. (Source: Napa County Economic Impact Study, March 2006)

Thus, 40K + 17K = 57K workers on the roads. It is specious that they cite as fact that wineries aren't the top employers.

Now, as to tourists and water: if 4.5M people visit annually, whose water do they drink? and who is left with their wastewater?


Gary Margadant writes:

The editorial mentioned current facts but no source was offered for these statements. I am always curious about the Register and Star's ability to research facts, so my question? Martini winery uses St Helena Water on a meter, so your research of Martini (located in Napa County, not St Helena City) water consumption relates to which facts? How many other wineries and tasting rooms use St Helena City Water? Broker!! You are complaining about something, so what are your two solutions??


Sandy Ericson writes:

I complained to Sean about the Star's recent editorial on 'winery facts' which was highly biased pro-winery and he didn't see the bias at all -- claimed that it was the Star's Editorial Board opinion, so I asked why it was titled with "winery facts"? -- I have little faith that editorial balance will be the eventual outcome.

The Highest and Best Use

Bill Hocker - Jan 15, 2015 5:44PM  Share #513

Many articles about Napa's Ag Preserve proclaim its intent to set agriculture as the "highest and best use" that land can be put to in Napa county. The expression is not in the current, 2008, Napa County General Plan, or in the WDO, but is used in the county's "right to farm" ordinance and in section 66451.22(2) of the California Government Code:
    "(2) The county has determined that because of the land's
    extraordinary agricultural value as a winegrape production area and
    the fact that the county's tourism industry entrusts its significant
    economic interests to its agricultural and open-space lands, the
    highest and best use for the agricultural land in the Napa Valley is
    for agricultural production.
(Of interest is that the highest and best use of land as agriculture is seen as a tourist attraction!)

In Wikipedia and on the Napa County Assessor's page, "highest and best use" is a legal and real-estate term meaning the best possible use of the land to achieve the highest assessed or most profitable value. "Possible" is the critical word here because external factors define what is possible. Zoning laws may make a more profitable use impossible, and in this definition agriculture may be zoned to be the highest and best use, i.e. most valuable use, allowed. In Napa County, however, since all ag zoned properties may be occupied by residences it is quite possible that in many cases estate homes are the "highest and best use" of the land allowed under the General Plan. Ag zoned lands also allow for the production and marketing of wine, both of which may become the "highest and best use" displacing the crops normally thought of as agriculture. For agriculture to be in reality the "highest and best use", uses other than crop production would have to be prohibited.

It is easy to appropriate "highest and best use" in a philosophical sense to mean, in essence, the most "noble" use of the land. Many would say that preserving wilderness for future generations to know is the "highest and best use" of the land and that all other more profitable uses are an unfortunate and unavoidable accommodation to our necessity for food and shelter. And I tend to agree with the sentiment. But that moral meaning is not really what the expression is intended to mean. For wilderness to be the highest and best use of the land, it would have to be zoned as such, though eminent domain for private land I assume.

Growing things is a very unprofitable way to use land in an urbanized region like the bay area even at the astronomical price of Napa grapes. It was inevitable that developers would seek the highest and best use of the land possible other than growing crops. And they have found it wineries and trophy homes. These uses are allowed on AP and AWOS land and they are often more profitable than the potential crops that they replace. The many winery-event centers now in the pipeline are indicative of that quest for the highest and best use.

It is time to look again at agriculture as the highest and best use of the land in the way it is often seen by proponents of the ag preserve and as it seems intended in the California Code. Not as home sites, not as winery event centers, but as land on which crops are grown. Agriculture is conflated in the zoning designations of the general plan with housing and wine production and marketing which in many situations have now, in fact, become the highest and best use of the land. Without changes to the zoning, to a more restrictive definition of agriculture, the highest and best use will continue to move toward more tourism, more housing estates and to a cascade of further suburban development. It is time to put agriculture as the highest and best use into the General Plan and to mean it.

Open letter to the Planning Commission and the BOS

Bill Hocker - Jan 14, 2015 10:31AM  Share #545

[this letter remained unsent]

Commissioners and Supervisors

On Wed, Jan 21st the Planning Commission will be reviewing 2 more projects in the litany of applications for new wineries and winery expansions that have come before you in the last few years. The two wineries up for review, the new Girard winery and the Larkmead winery expansion, both just outside of Calistoga, will add 54,000 tourist slots/yr and perhaps 80 more cars/day going up and down the valley.

I have argued before that tourism is not agriculture, and that the event-centers that continue to consume the vineyards are leading a cascade of development that will eventually overwhelm the agricultural base of the county. More tourists mean more hotels and resorts, which mean more employees, which mean more housing and shopping centers and even more employees, all of which mean more roads and infrastructure. Those new employees, living perhaps in the huge developments at Napa Pipe or Watson Ranch, as Sean Scully has pointed out, will add to the voters more concerned with urban rather than rural issues, and the ability to protect an agricultural economy will diminish exponentially. Eventually agriculture will be tolerated only to the extent that it is a backdrop to draw in tourists, like Cape Cod lobster pots and fishing shacks. The St Helena Window brought up the Butler Report on Tourist Area Life Cycles a while back to illustrate the point. Already those people looking for an authentic wine producing region are headed to Oregon. and even those that have long supported the ag preserve are saying change is inevitable, why fight it. But it is not too late.

Supervisor Dillon, at a recent BOS meeting, said that if agriculture were not a profitable investment then the wine industry would die. The industry does need a sustainable level of profitability, and many wineries have produced sustainable profits for decades with minimal or no tourism. The desire for tourism profits has come from the glut of inefficient and unnecessary vanity wineries now vieing for a relatively fixed grape crop. As grape and land prices have risen in response, profits must increasingly be found elsewhere to justify the business.

The denial of profitability was at the heart of the creation of the ag preserve. The wine industry exists here not because it is the most profitable use of the land (a parking lot can produce more revenue than vines even at $7000/ton), but because the voters of Napa county decided in 1968 that retaining a rural, small-town, agriculture-based life was worth curtailing individuals' right to maximize their profit. The wine industry exists because it has the respect and protection of residents for the quality of life that is its byproduct. But in the traffic that we now experience, in the event-centers that are springing up next to our homes, in the oak and pine forests that are being cleared for development, that respect is being challenged. The environment that is the byproduct of a more profit oriented industry is no longer so bucolic, no longer so easy to support.

At its Jan 7th meeting, the planning commission heard from neighbors concerned about the Anthem Winery expansion on Dry Creek Road. They are organizing to preserve their residential-agricultural neighborhood, just as we on Soda Canyon Road have done, as have the neighbors of Walt Ranch, and those of Woolls Ranch and of Yountville Hill and of Zinfandel Lane. The effort to preserve small-town life is a major issue in St. Helena, in Angwin and in Calistoga. Residents adjacent to the Syar gravel pits are coming forward to express their concern as they and the Atlas Peak communities seek what some would regard as the real 'highest and best use of the land' - leaving it untouched for future generations to know. While each community has specific concerns, all have the concern that development is threatening their treasured quality of life in Napa County.

Under Planning Director Morrison's leadership, the county is undertaking a thorough review of the impacts that are being created by newly built, approved or proposed projects in the last decade in order to chart a development path for the future. The process begins with a joint hearing of the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors on Mar. 10th. Hopefully further meetings will involve municipal decision makers as well. My wish is that the decision that comes out of those meetings may be that "enough is enough", that we have built a financially successful balance of tourism and agriculture that we need to sustain as is and not try to continually enlarge to satisfy the desire of profiteers. The grapes are finite, the industries and communities that benefit from their presence should be as well. Ever increasing profits through development is detrimental to the agricultural economy we laud and the way of life we cherish.

Regarding the projects currently in the county pipeline: it is time to use the word moratorium - on use-permits and on building permits - until a new vision of Napa's future is crafted in the coming year. No one wants to be the last resident to have to spend their life next to the offspring of an era of bad land use decisions.

More on the upcoming development forum

Bill Hocker - Jan 8, 2015 1:47PM  Share #531

New year will feature new debate on winery development

At the planning commission meeting on Jan 7th, Director Morrison notified the commission of an upcoming joint Planning Commission-BOS workshop to begin the process of looking at development directions in the county going forward. He set the date for March 10th.

It is an initial meeting to begin further discussions this year to address future development issues in the county. When this process was initially proposed some months ago the focus was on the WDO. But, as Mr. Morrison indicated in December, the discussion has been expanded to development issues that go beyond just the WDO. Noting that the county is currently 80% urban and 20% rural, he stressed that the county and the municipalities would have to work together on proposals.

Community activism has been largely responsible for the increased scrutiny of the cumulative impacts that current development practices are having and gong to have on the county. It is up to all of the community groups that have just been born, or operated in isolation for many years to join together to represent the one constituency that has consistently been left out of previous planning decisions - the residents.

The population bomb, part 1

Bill Hocker - Jan 5, 2015 12:31AM  Share #526

Sean Scully, editor of the NVR, has just penned a fact-filled editorial that can only fill us preservationists with dread. As I have mentioned elsewhere on this site, the new housing projects at Napa Pipe and Watson Ranch are likely to contain voters that have other concerns than growing grapes. Sean lays out in chilling detail how long that shift has been occurring, how in fact we have passed a tipping point, with obvious conclusions. The piece is here: Shifting demographics could spell change

The upcoming development forum

Bill Hocker - Jan 3, 2015 7:24PM  Share #524

Berry Eberling in the NVR:
Dillon: Land use, a new jail top county agenda
New year will feature new debate on winery development

Berry Eberling is writing pieces faster than I can link to them and every one of them is connected to the development issues that we need to address if the ag preserve and the rural character of Napa County is to survive. All of his articles are here.

Peter Jensen covered the NVR County beat for 2 years prior to Mr. Eberling. All of his articles are here.


Carl Bunch writes:

I attended the swearing-in ceremony of the BOS yesterday. Diane Dillon, in her acceptance speech, listed as one of her priorities during the four years of her new term, the issue of "land use", for which she received an ovation from the crowd attending the ceremony. Diane will be the next Chair of the BOS. The implications were clear: the proliferation of new wineries and the expansion of existing ones, needs to be dealt with in the framework of the "broader picture" for the Napa Vallley.

Enough is Enough!

Bill Hocker - Dec 27, 2014 2:22PM  Share #515

Sandy Ericson of the St. Helena Window sends this link in her latest email to Kelly Wheaton's significant LTE:
Enough is enough already on winery development

And this supportive response: Challenge the "more and more" mentality
Also read this previous LTE: Don't sell out to greed and profit

A New Year's resolution.

Bill Hocker - Dec 23, 2014 9:47PM  Share #512

In 1968 Napa made history by being the first county in the nation to create an agricultural preserve. The essence of the act was to allow policies that maintained agricultural land in the face of more profitable uses. Agriculture was to be considered the "highest and best use of the land". At the time it was audacious. It denied what was regarded as a fundamental right - to divide and sell one's land for something more profitable than agriculture. And every use was more profitable than agriculture.

For 45 years Napa has managed to retain much of its agricultural land because of the ordinances created. But the profiteers have always been there, like water behind a dam, waiting for the crack that would allow them to force their way through. In 1990 a crack was codified in the Winery Definition Ordinance. The processing of tourists, like the processing of grapes, was defined as agriculture and the tourism wineries began to trickle in, aerial trams arrived along with French and Persian palaces and Tuscan castles. Every manner of architectural ego statement began to fill the open vineyard plots. In 2010, with a wine industry tanking from a lack of financiers willing to buy $100 bottles of wine, a fissure was widened to a breach with a revision to the WDO. As newly wealthy techies replaced the financiers the tourist-winery projects began to fill the valley floor and slosh into the remote areas of the surrounding watersheds. Since then 70 have been approved, most of which have not yet been built, and 40 are waiting in the planning department wings.

Most of the Napa valley and surrounding watersheds still retain a bucolic character. But it is an illusion to think that it will remain so for long unless drastic measures are taken now to prevent further development. In the last 20 years American Canyon has changed beyond recognition from pasture land to suburban sprawl. Already the projects are in hand that will continue the suburban sprawl into the city of Napa. In the next few years the city will lose its identity as something separate from the bay area metropolitan area.

Everyone seems to laud the rural beauty of the valley. Elected officials tout it at almost every meeting. It is an inherent claim in every developer's promotion. And yet they continue to approve and build the projects that will eventually suburbanize and destroy that beauty. Each new left turn lane or traffic signal added, each new parking space, each new business marquee, no matter how tasteful, is a sure harbinger of the death of a rural, agrarian environment.

In the traffic that we confront each day in the valley we get our first taste of an urban future. It is time to look now not for ways to make the traffic more tolerable, but for ways to eliminate the traffic. It is time to plug the leaks in the dam and to begin bailing the development bilge. It is time to make a commitment to a rural preserve that is every bit as audacious and trendsetting as the commitment made in 1968, a commitment to sustainable but modest profits from a rural economy and not an economy based on the maximization of profits through development. The American mantra of ever increasing returns on investment will not allow a rural economy to exist here.

Are development interests too powerful to be stopped at this point? It is up to the citizens of Napa to decide again what the future of the county is to be. If the votes are not here now to protect a rural environment in an urban world, then the wineries, and the hotels and the employee housing and shopping centers, and the parking lots and roads and signals and traffic will just keep coming until anything rural is gone, the vines have been paved over, and "wine country" will only conjure images of Oregon.

According to the Napa Register the growing dissatisfaction of Napa county residents with the expansion of wine-industry development was the #8 story of 2014. Early in 2015, the county planning director, David Morrison, will begin once again the process of seeking consensus on new legislation to guide the future of Napa County. I want to believe that he has created this opportunity because he wants the rural-agricultural vision realized in 1968 to survive another 45 years, and he knows that it will not do so under current law. It is a courageous decision, and not an opportunity that any who make their living in agriculture or cherish their life in a rural, small-town community can afford to waste. Let us resolve that finding a stable and sustainable agricultural economy that doesn't depend on ever expanding development will be the #1 issue of 2015 and another milestone in Napa's history.

Top 10 News Stories of 2014

Bill Hocker - Dec 23, 2014 7:32PM  Share #511

Top 10 stories: How much wine should there be in wine country?

Only Number 8? For all of us concerned about our future and our children's future, let's make the saving of rural Napa from development lust the number 2 story of 2015 (The drought will be number 1).

Citizen summit email chain

Daniel Mufson - Dec 17, 2014 5:04AM  Share #503

I think we have reached a critical mass: Sparks of great conversationalist insight from up and down the county are becoming more frequent and focused. We are all promoting an objective analysis of how to protect our watersheds.

Several of us were at the Planning Commission meeting this morning and heard the commissioners and staff talk in terms of a "new normal" and "given the climate we're in today requires a careful look [at the facts]" which tactically acknowledges our efforts to scrutinize the many projects from many points of view. Morrison is planning to hold a meeting with the Supervisors and Planning Commissions early next year to discuss and then sharpen the rules and regs to allow more objective project approval. He cited two recent examples where there was great outcry about Yountville Hills and the Chrome Rabbit but no clear guidance that allowed staff to reject these.

We need to be ready for those discussions to add our input. Surely the organized wine interests will be there in force with their lobbyists. We need to list and prioritize our interests. I'm attaching a list for your consideration:

    AWOS: how do we make watersheds more important as the best use of the land over ag?
    How do we get a moratorium?
    Viewshed ordinance - should apply to views from public open space
    How do we establish a Mandatory Oak Woodlands Management Program?
    Compliance with existing regs (if 40% of self-audited wineries are out of compliance with their permits what does that portend for all of the wineries?)
From our conversations and emails it is obvious that we all want to meet in January. We will do that. In the mean time, keep those cards and letters flowing. And for a little more motivation, I'm attaching this tragic photo, entitled, "Gravestones for a forest" by Duane Cronk of Angwin along with his message. Those piles are the chipped trees cleared for the vineyard!


Carl Bunch writes:

Let's not forget that while watersheds are critically important issues,and will most certainly attract the attention of the general public, other issues raised by the WALT ranch project (a poster child for avarice and disregard of neighbors' other citizens) and similar projects are also very, very important, singularly or collectively, (the deforestation of the hillsides, traffic and construction noise and other interferences with daily life, wildlife habitat and plant harm, erosion, etc., etc., etc.) and need to be given substantial and current attention so that everyday citizens of the Napa Valley come to realize that the County's decision-makers ie. the Planning Department and Commission and the Board of Supervisors) must give thoughtful consideration to these matters (all of which can reasonably be categorized as critical to the maintenance of the Ag Preserve and our "Napa Valley lifestyle''). This may mean, for these decision-makers, that hard decisions will need to be made and that it will no longer be adequate to simply engage in "business as usual".


Patricia Damery writes:

We were just in with Planning yesterday inquiring about the extensiveness of our neighbor's plans to enlarge a winery (Anthem Winery) and deforest a good bit of our hillside. The planner we met with said that they have a lot to answer for, but if they do, there are no directives to stop this kind of activity. He seemed upset by this, also stating that if they want a commercial winery, why buy land on this hillside because it is beautiful and then proceed to build extensive caves, cut trees, and commercialize what has been an essentially a residential neighborhood. But he also said that currently, if they meet the requirements, it is not his call. This is such a critical time to work ti form larger policy which protects nature, basically, from ignorance and greed.


Charlotte Williams writes:

Spoke with Dan Mufson, David Heitzman, and Lisa at the break in the PC meeting on Wednesday. They suggested it [citizen summit]. David Hallett said by mid January as there are a lot of issues on the county agendas in Feb and March. Sandy Ericson also commented to me in an email that a summit is coming.

Sounds like developing our own agenda would be a good idea. A way for the many groups up and down the valley (and into the hills) to meet, coordinate, find those commonalities that Patrick Porgans said were crucial to moving forward, with environmental protections at the least.

Wine Industry Economics Study Session Presentations, Nov 5th

Bill Hocker - Nov 6, 2014 12:48PM  Share #428

Below are the PowerPoint presentations made by participants at the Nov. 5th, 2014 Study Session hosted by the county planning commision.

A video of the event is here.
The presentation starts at 1:51:13 into the video.

Richard Mendelson, Attorney: The Business of the Napa Valley Wine Business
Craig Underhill, CPA: Economics of a Family Winery
Rob McMillan, SVBank: Shape of the Napa Wine Business (Rob McMillan's Blog)

The point that the speakers seemed to be making in these presentations is that the smaller wineries that continue to be built in the valley need direct-to-consumer (DtC) sales to be profitable and that sitting for tastings and events (i.e. food service) was more profitable than standing. It was a case for continued increase in visitation and food service at existing wineries and continued development of winery event centers, made by beneficiaries of that development.

The commissioners tried to formulate a question about the relationship of this business model and the impacts that visitation is having on the overall development of the Napa Valley. Resident Yeorios Apollas in his comment to the board pointed out that the presentations did not consider the economic costs of the external impacts (infrastructure development, increased employee housing and commercial demand) created by the increased tourism that these small wineries need to survive.

An economic question also not answered in the presentation: what are the revenues generated by small wineries in their tasting room sales as a percentage of the total revenues generated by the wine industry in Napa county? My question to the county: If it is a relatively small portion of the total wine economy in the county, is it worth jeopardizing the existence of an agricultural economy, by encouraging continued building and infrastructure development, to subsidize the revenues of a small percentage of the total revenue stream in the county? If, as I feel, tourism wineries are a threat to the agricultural economy of the valley, by requiring ever increasing development to accommodate tourist and tourism employees, should the county not consider banning the creation of wineries that require such development?

How much should the county and the residents of the county be expected to pay in mitigating the impacts of this model (wineries so small and inefficient at making wine that they need tourists and food service to survive), through development that continues to degrade the intent of the general plan and our quality of life (i.e. our agricultural economy and environment)?

As I have pointed out before, Screaming Eagle Winery has no visitation. A concentration on great wine making and effective publicity might prove a more sustainable economic model for the county's wine industry than food service and tourist experiences.

Wine Industry Economics Study Session

Gary Margadant - Nov 5, 2014 8:02AM  Share #426

Wednesday at the Plan Comm there will be a NVV presentation "WINE INDUSTRY ECONOMICS STUDY SESSION". See attached Agenda Letter.

The three presentations will cover Direct to Consumer Sales. You all need to see this to understand just where the Industry wants to take these sales + the why and wherefores.

You can all see this live on the video during the Meeting or review it at a later date, but you must see the information to understand the strength of the numbers and what it means to the smaller wineries.

The most important presentation by Rob McMillan - Executive Vice President and Founder, Silicon Valley Bank's Wine Division, shows the numbers. These numbers are driving the reality that Goeff has been warning us all about.

It is a great economic model, but where is it taking the Napa Valley and how will it affect the residents, both industry and your neighbors. Then think about the Planning Commission and the Planning Department and their response to the impacts and the management of this trend, especially the visitation numbers.

We need to make this a topic of discussion and action.

WDO History Reading

Gary Margadant - Oct 13, 2014 10:33AM  Share #375

A good bit of WDO history can be found in the book "Oral Histories of Napa County Agricultural Preserve", A project sponsored by the Jack L. Davies Napa Valley Agricultural Land Preservation Fund, by Rue Ziegler, Ph.D. Look to the chapters on Mel Varrelman, Tom May, Ginny Simms and John Tuteur, most is about the Ag preserve, but Mel's is a good primer on the WDO.

The book is available at the Farm Bureau, 811 Jefferson St, Napa, 707 224 5403, $30.00
Chapters of the book are available at the website:

A Open Letter to the Board of Supervisors

Bill Hocker - Oct 2, 2014 10:42PM  Share #370

Tom Vreeland's letter-to-the editor in the Register:

Napa County's resources are not limitless

NVR Editorial on Cumulative Impacts

Bill Hocker - Aug 17, 2014 11:07AM  Share #316

The Editorial Board of the Napa Valley Register has just produced an editorial supporting the measures currently being undertaken by the county in their effort to create a clearer plan for future of Napa County in the face of ever increasing tourism. The editorial is here:

Don't regulate in a vaccum

BOS Meeting regarding the WDO, Tues. Aug 19th 9:00am

Bill Hocker - Aug 15, 2014 12:57PM  Share #314

Staff Report to the BOS concerning a timetable and workplan and presentation of data to begin looking at the cumulative impacts of the current implementation of the WDO. Leading to a community forum in November and finally a committee recommendation some time next year. It is item 10A of the agenda which is here.

The background staff document is here. This is a very important summation, together with a numerical analysis of winery application trends, of the Commission's and of Planning Director Morrison's commitment to have a complete discussion of the impacts that winery tourism is beginning to have on the future of the county.

This meeting may be quite important if the numbers presented are discussed or is may be brief if the Board just schedules another hearing specifically for the task.

Our current wine business model is flawed

Geoff Ellsworth - Aug 5, 2014 9:14PM  Share #301

[from the Weekly Calistogan]

With harvest coming, the cumulative impacts of recent development in Napa County will be even more apparent. Safety issues are obvious as already overburdened roadways will be filled with more visitors, employees, trucks, tour buses, tractors, grape gondolas, emergency vehicles and of course locals.

Whether we are in the industry or not a pertinent question to ask is,

Letter to PC on Winery Definition Status Agenda Item 8/6/2014

Bill Hocker - Aug 4, 2014 11:34AM  Share #296

Supervisors, Planning Commissioners and Planning Directors

My name is Bill Hocker and I reside at 3460 Soda Canyon Road.

I have been heartened by the consideration now being given to the cumulative impacts of tourism wineries that have been proposed in the last few years, and commend Commissioner Phillips for her substantial questions to the planning department. With a tourism winery currently proposed in our neighborhood it is a discussion of timely concern.

May I first take a moment for an apology. Last month I penned a letter-to-the-editor describing the Yountville Hill hearing as "political theater". Written the next day while the unusually charged events of the proceedings were still fresh, I would now describe it as somewhat intemperate (some might even have seen it as scurrilous). I admit, while my intention was to satirize the proceedings, I perhaps crossed the line and satirized individuals. I apologize to Commissioner Pope and to other members of the commission who do, I believe, honestly agonize and deliberate, and occasionally change their minds, over the proper role of tourism in the future of the county.

Indeed, I noted with admiration in a letter to the commission before that hearing Mr.Pope's eloquent posing of its proper role during the May 20th joint meeting: “Do we want to maintain an agricultural economy that benefits from tourism, or do we want to transfer into a tourism economy that capitalizes on agriculture?” It is the same question at the heart of Commissioner Phillips' requests, as it has been in every discussion of the county's future over the last 50 years.

I can sympathize with the desire of commissioners to have more guidance in making their decisions. If it turns out that the answer to Commissioner Phillips' first question, also posed by Supervisor Luce at the May 20th hearing, is that capacity already exceeds the grapes available, then the commission, in approving more projects merely adds to a demand that increases the price of grapes leading to higher prices for Napa wine, making it less competitive in a global market and more reliant on tourism to compensate for falling profits. Tinkering with capacities or visitation numbers in their approvals becomes just a process of deciding how fast to transfer to a tourism economy. To deny the proposals, which might bring a manageable and proportionate stability to both the agricultural and tourism economies is to bring lawsuits on the county by the developers entitled to their projects by the WDO. I can see why there is angst in the response to Mr. Pope's dual question. Everyone wants the former result but all that is offered is the latter.

The strains of development impacts at the heart of ever expanding tourism, the unmitigated impacts recognized at the time the WDO was created, are beginning to show. They are represented in traffic, urban boundary pressure and the consumption of vineyards and water. Each new building project, parking lot, left-turn lane, traffic light, sewer and water hookup added to accommodate the rising number of tourists and the workforce that must cater to them has begun to nibble at the finite amount of land and resources necessary to maintain the agriculture, and each has begun to degrade the rural, small town life that is its byproduct and that is our treasure. In 1990 those unmitigated impacts were considered an acceptable consequence of the value that tourism might bring to an agricultural economy. Now however, as the prospect of a finite agricultural resource is reaching its limit (assuming the 75% rule survives) how will agriculture fare against the influx of a tourist facility taking a bite out of every property larger than10 acres and of the infinite tourist dollars they can bring? That question also needs a metric.

In Napa, in the last 50 years, a successful rural agricultural economy has been built in defiance of an urbanized world. It is a modern miracle. Or so we would think were we not to know of the continuous war fought by preservationists against profiteers to maintain it. In 1990 the preservationists got the 75% rule and the profiteers got the tourists. Both have worked to enable a balanced system (more credit I would say to the 75% rule). In 2010, with everyone scared by the recession, we got only more tourists and commitment to more development. And the system is beginning to wobble.

It is time to stop the tourism-winery projects being proposed. It is time re-think the winery definition ordinance that enables their proposal. As the acreage and water resources at the base of the economy begin to reach their limits, rather than seeking ever increasing profits in non-agricultural development, in tourism, we should work to sustain the stable profitability of the balanced system that already exists. That successful balance is an achievement that you, as the custodians of the ag preserve legacy should be proud of. The most important question to be asked now is how do we preserve our modern miracle for the next 50 years?

Thank you once again for this opportunity to vent my anxiety over the future of my neighborhood and of the county.

Bill Hocker

Planning Commission looks at the WDO Aug 6th

Bill Hocker - Aug 2, 2014 7:17PM  Share #295

Comissioner Heather Phillips has posed a series of questions to the Planning Department to try to give metrics to the cumulative impacts of recent and future winery approvals. Her letter to the planning director is here.

The the PC meeting is on Wednesday. We should try to be there.

The meeting agenda is here.

Email exchange with Bill Dodd

Bill Hocker - Jul 29, 2014 11:21AM  Share #328

On Thursday, July 24, 2014 12:50:09 AM Bill Hocker wrote:

Subject: Impacts of the 2010 WDO changes

Supervisor Dodd,

Regarding your response to Geoff Ellsworth at the BOS meeting yesterday:

After reviewing the articles [linked above] it is true that the discussion of proposed changes in the WDO in 2009-10 didn't seem to broach future winery development as a result of these changes. (Although the "tough economic times" that establish the need for the changes is mentioned). As you correctly remembered, the discussion concentrated on increasing profitability in existing operations.

But what's good for the existing goose is also good for the future gander, and I would think that the changes made in 2010 have been a principal factor driving requests for expansions and new wineries since. (i don't discount a more receptive planning commission as well). The proposals aren't being made to process more grapes - there are few new napa grapes available. And they aren't being made because wine making is becoming more profitable - increased competition for the limited grapes raises their price and that of the land they are grown on, making profits on napa wine increasingly small.

Developers are using the increased visitations as the base for their business plans. Ask them to forgo the marketing events and just build a winery with 200 tasting slots per week and most of the proposals would disappear. The event numbers need to be big for things to pencil out, and hence the size of the visitation requests you have been seeing.

Don't hesitate to tell me I'm wrong.

Bill Hocker

On Jul 27, 2014, at 8:02 PM, Bill Dodd wrote:

Bill [Hocker]

Thanks for your email. I don't agree, I believe all these wineries would be coming back for approvals for their expansions regardless of anything that happened during those hearings in 2009-10

In short,If we never even discussed the issue in 2099-2010, what is happening now would be happening anyway. We simply took no steps that impacted these applications.

Bill [Dodd]

On July 28, 2014 9:56:17 PM, Bill Hocker wrote:

Bill [Dodd],

Many thanks for your response. One of the things that has been enlightening in my first foray into public life over the last 4 months is how approachable the government of Napa is at all levels - that I have a great deal of respect for, thank you.

Your response brings up 2 questions:

1. What was the reason that you re-opened the WDO in 2010, if not to encourage greater tourism in the face of the recession?

2. Regardless of why these current proposals are happening, given that many citizens and some stakeholders are beginning to see the impacts that increased tourism is having, do you think that the proposals currently in the works, perhaps 50 projects approved but not yet built with at least 800,000 tourist slots, and perhaps as many more projects (estimated by Mr. Morrison) working their way toward the planning department, are beneficial to the agricultural future of the county?

I'm not alone in thinking that tourism has already had detrimental impacts both now in the traffic congestion that everyone, even Rob McMillan, is already complaining about, and yet to come in the large tourist facility proposals in the boonies like the one next door to me or Gary Margadant, or those at the heart of the valley like the ones next door to Andy Beckstoffer and Christian Moueix. Shouldn't all of these projects be re-evaluated in consideration of their long term impacts on the environment of the county.

The reality that every property over 10 acres in the AP/AW zone is entitled to a 100,000 gal/year winery with tens of thousands of tourist slots each, if not discussed in 2009, I think should have been. And maybe needs to be discussed now.

Bill Hocker

2010 changes to the WDO

Bill Hocker - Jul 29, 2014 11:04AM  Share #290

Geoff Ellsworth sent a copy of the correspondence leading up the approval of changes to the WDO in 2010. Most of the correspondence is also included in the Planning Commission hearing agenda of April 21, 2010 but also includes some late additions. An archive of the EIR documents for the original 1990 WDO is here.

The interesting thing that comes across in the discussion is that the excuse for the changes are to relieve the beating taken by the winery and tourism industries during the recession, but the real intent was to begin increasing food service at wineries. The event planners and the Winegrowers of Napa Valley (the most free market group of the 4 'stakeholders') proposed the original language of the revision, and were quite unhappy with the final product. That final product was seen as a helpful or restrictive (depending on who was looking) clarification of what marketing events allowed in the 1990 WDO might be. Why then, would it be changed at all if only clarifications were needed. Two significant changes were, in fact, made.

The first was the addition of food service to the allowed tours and tastings. This is a really significant change because the tasting room, open every day, essentially becomes a prix fixe set menu restaurant with reserved tables.
From 1990:
    "Tours and tastings" shall mean tours of the winery and/or tastings of wine, where such tours and tastings are limited to members of the wine trade, persons invited by a winery who have pre-established business or personal relationships with the winery or its owners, and persons who have made unsolicited prior appointmens for tours or tastings.
And from 2010:
    "Tours and tastings" means tours of the winery and/or tastings of wine, where such tours and tastings are limited to persons who have made unsolicited prior appointments for tours or tastings. Tours and tastings may include food and wine pairings, where all such food service is provided without charge except to the extent of cost recovery and is incidental to the tasting of wine. Food service may not involve menu options and meal service such that the winery functions as a café or restaurant.
What exactly is the difference between "food service" and "meal service"? And many restaurants, like Chez Panisse, offer no menu options. The purpose in the change was to allow food service to fall under the definition of tours and tastings, something only allowed under events before. What regulator could make the distinction between "food service" and "meal service"?

And here are the two passages relating to "Marketing of Wine": The differences are as much in emphasis as in substance and probably reflect a new interest on the part of the supervisors in encouraging tourism rather than regulating it. The mention of cultural and social events is in the negative in 1990 and inclusive in 2010 with business events clearly encouraged. "Business Events" in fact have a larger paragraph devoted to them than that devoted to the actual definition of marketing events which probably means they, like weddings, had been seen as an excluded "social activity" before.

From 1990:
    Marketing of Wine shall mean any activity of a winery identified in this paragraph which is conducted at the winery and is limited to members of the wine trade persons who have pre-established business or personal relationships with the winery or its owners, or members of a particular group for which the activity is being conducted on a pre-arranged basis. Marketing of wine is limited to activities for the education and development of the persons or groups listed above with respect to wine which can be sold at the the winery on a retail basis pursuant to Article 4 of this title, and may include food service without charge except to the extent of cost recovery when provided in association with such education and development, but shall not include cultural and social events unrelated to such education and development.

From 2010:
    Marketing of wine" means any activity of a winery which is conducted at the winery on a prearranged basis for the education and development of customers and potential customers with respect to wine which can be sold at the winery on a retail basis pursuant to Chapters 18.16 and 18.20. Marketing of wine may include cultural and social events directly related to the education and development of customers and potential customers provided such events are clearly incidental, related and subordinate to the primary use of the winery. Marketing of wine may include food service, including food and wine pairings, where all such food service is provided without charge except to the extent of cost recovery.

    Business events are similar to cultural and social events, in that they will only be considered as "marketing of wine" if they are directly related to the education and development of customers and potential customers of the winery and are part of a marketing plan approved as part of the winery's use permit. Marketing plans in their totality must remain "clearly incidental, related and subordinate to the primary operation of the winery as a production facility" (subsection (G)(5) of Sections 18.16.030 and subsection (I)(5) of 18.20.030). To be considered directly related to the education and development of customers or potential customers of the winery, business events must be conducted at no charge except to the extent of recovery of variable costs, and any business content unrelated to wine must be limited. Careful consideration shall be given to the intent of the event, the proportion of the business event's non-wine-related content, and the intensity of the overall marketing plan.

It may be that the large increase in tourism now upon us would have happened, as Bill Dodd feels, even if no changes had happened to the WDO in 2010. It may have been a change in attitude of the supervisors and commissioners following the recession that has led to so much capacity and tourist slot expansion. At this point settling the why may be less important than dealing with the current reality.

It is also worth calling out the letter from the City of Calistoga in the correspondence linked above which recognized the specific damages allowing tourism increases in the vineyards would have to the towns, a move in contradiction to Napa County's own general plan.

The newspaper stories of the time give some context:

SH Str 10/10/09: Weddings at Wineries
NBBJ 11/23/09: Groups examine winery event rules
NBBJ 3/1/10: Napa Supervisors to hear arguments on winery event rules
NBBJ 3/8/10: Napa supervisors back some changes to winery ordinance

I have subsequently gone on another rant over the winery-restaurant issue here.

Commissioner Phillips General Plan Evaluation

Carl Bunch - Jul 23, 2014 4:31PM  Share #280

[email exchange with Planning Comissioner Heather Phillips]

Dear Ms. Phillips,

I attended yesterday's Planning Commission meeting at which you set forth your opinion and position respecting the necessity that the County Planning Department needs to review and analyze existing data pertaining to the subject of applications for winery use permits in terms of their cumulative impacts on the lives and lifestyles of the general public in the Napa Valley.

It is now abundantly clear that the proliferation of vineyards, wineries and winery events here in the Valley has had an enormous impact on our roads and highways, the services that our government provides on behalf of these activities and to our fellow citizens as well. Changes to the rules and regulations governing these activities and their impacts should be thoroughly scrutinized and modified where necessary and appropriate. This, it seems to me, must include a review of the current Winery Definition Ordinance and its interpretations and applications.

I should appreciate it very much if you would be kind enough to send me (by email or letter) a copy of the list to which you referred in your public presentation of the subjects which you believe to be appropriate for review, analysis and consideration with respect to the activities relating to, and resulting in, the Planning Department's (and Commission's) determinations regarding applications for winery use permits.

Thank you for your courtesies.

Carl Bunch


From: Heather Phillips
To: Carl Bunch
Sent: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 11:15 AM
Subject: Re: Planning Commission meeting: July 16

Hello Carl,

Thank you for taking the time to come to the last Planning Commission meeting. I am always impressed when members of the public attend. We are there as we accepted the appointment and receive a stipend, and I'm not sure there is sometimes an appreciation of how much it means for members of the public to take time from family, jobs and daily life to do so.

Attached you will find the document I referenced. It wasn't intended to be an "official" document, rather some rough thoughts that I wanted to pass along as I am beginning to grow frustrated with the urgency with which analysis regarding cumulative impacts is being approached.

After you review, please feel free to email me any questions, or perhaps meet for coffee to discuss our mutual concerns.


Heather Phillips

Heather Phillips General Plan evaluation statement, July 2014.pdf

Enough Already!

Daniel Mufson - Jul 21, 2014 11:20AM  Share #272

It seems as though one winery after another is regularly approved along with all sorts of variances. I don’t understand why variances are given when a proposed structure just doesn’t fit on the owner’s plot such as was just done for the Longmeadow property or the Yountville Hill extravaganza.

The 2013 Agricultural Crop Report states that we have over 500 wineries along with nearly 4.5 million tourists annually. Certainly many more of both are being planned for. When do we all say, “Enough!”

How much water do we have to supply all these grapes, visitors and yes, the 25% of Napa County citizens who live in the unincorporated areas and rely upon wells for their existence? The NVR regularly talks about water in terms of the municipalities with their state supplies but there is scant mention of our other citizens. With the lowest rainfall since 1908, what will become of our people and crops when the ground water runs out?

How many citizens and wineries have had to drill deeper wells each year and how deep they need to drill?

This doesn’t have to be a fight over grapes or people but rather how can we all continue to exist as California experiences this “extreme drought.” Surely there is a point when all good people can say, enough. Are we the only county that is not concerned about survival?
Why are increases in the number of visitors to each winery regularly upgraded? Does anyone measure just how long it takes to travel up and down the valley at any time from 6 AM to 6 PM; how long it takes to enter 29 or Silverado Trail from a cross road - especially to make a left turn? The obvious solution to making these turns will be to install traffic lights at each crossroad. Then we will look like the rest of the Bay Area, not an agricultural preserve.

Are there really enough grapes to satisfy the 75% rule - many think not.

These are the key issues on the valley floor. Now there are a host of applications to build on the hills and mountains where the roads are substandard and the water supply questionable. Are we really going to allow wineries to drill 16” wells; build extensive caves and visitor centers and then open their doors to all comers at the top of dead end roads?

I recommend that the Board exhibit leadership and declare a moratorium on any further wineries/visitor centers until we have a transparent report on the cumulative effects of these factors on our health and well-being. We the people deserve this.

Heather Phillips and Diane Dillon revisit the WDO

Bill Hocker - Jul 18, 2014 9:45AM  Share #270

[this comes from the end of Peter Jensen's article on the PC hearing for LMR]

Commissioner Heather Phillips started Wednesday’s meeting by asking Planning Director David Morrison to produce a work plan by the commission’s next meeting on wineries’ permitted gallons of production, visitation, traffic impacts, water and waste water systems, and other topics such as how the county interprets the rules for winery development.

That followed a request from Supervisor Diane Dillon on Tuesday to hold a public hearing on winery development at a Board of Supervisors meeting in August.

Morrison said he and his staff are working on that analysis, and he said the ultimate product will be “sober, serious and fact-based.”

“This is serious business, and we need to take it very seriously,” Morrison said. “Public policy is not an overnight issue. It is not resolved overnight. It’s prolonged. It’s messy. It’s debating. The need to start a process is an urgent one, but action may take some time.”

Meeting with Diane Dillon on Cumulative Impacts

Carl Bunch - Jul 17, 2014 9:36AM  Share #268

At Supervisor Dillon's request, I met with her this morning to discuss primarily the "cumulative impacts" of the County's rather routine approvals of use permits for wineries and the resulting repercussions on the future welfare of the Napa Valley and its citizens. We discussed traffic congestion, tourist increases, wine tasting and other wine events and their proliferation in the Valley, aesthetics and other environmental concerns. Ms. Dillon acknowledged the existence of the general public's interest in, and concerns about, these matters. She also acknowledged that the County knows little or nothing about the historical and current factual data which has prompted the public's concerns. In my opinion, Diane is on top of the problems and issues.

She did state that the County's General Plan, in terms of the future of the wine industry in Napa Valley, is "on track", that is, the considerations prompting the General Plan provisions are consistent with what the County is and has been doing with respect to winery concerns and the industry's positions respecting the economic future of Napa County (manifested by its approvals of many winery applications for use permits). She pointed out that a citizen committee had direct input into the provisions of the General Plan. The General Plan argument will, I believe, prove to be a major element of any public position that may be taken by the County in connection with its responses to the public's interest in the County government's future actions and decisions.

With respect to the Yountville Hill Winery use permit application, which was approved by the Planning Commission, Diane expects that an appeal of that decision to the BOS won't likely be heard until October. She has asked for a meeting with Planning Department staff and the BOS to take place this next month to discuss these matters.

What's Wrong with the WDO

Geoff Ellsworth - Jul 15, 2014 2:19AM  Share #261

below is from a note I just sent off to someone I'm consulting with regarding 2010 WDO changes.
I have a meeting this afternoon with someone who was in the legal profession who may have some guidance, I'm wondering if I can show that if this business model will infringe upon the civil or constitutional rights of the citizens then is it possible for a judge to re-open the WDO before more permits are issued? (I need a clear concise argument on how the citizens civil or constitutional rights are being violated if anyone has some input)
Regarding the changes being the doorway through which this recent development push began: I believe it's as simple as the first change in the 18.08.370 Marketing of Wine section of the WDO where the following language has been eliminated " and is limited to members of the wine trade, persons who have pre-established business or personal relationships with the winery or it's owners, or members of a particular group for which the activity is being conducted"

By eliminating this they open the events up to the public, this allows the scope and scale of a winery to be built on a business plan that factors in those events and makes them necessary.
It's exactly the scenario that was proposed in the Small Winery Ordinance in SH that we were able to catch in time.
We saw it would overwhelm our small town and because it was written into the law with no restrictions there would be no stopping it.
Whether it was intended or not this is like a virus that got installed into legislation, a virus that feeds upon the host (the valley resources) and will burn out those resources.

If the law says they can do events without restriction it's a free-for-all.
There needs to be some regulation written into the law, can't just be at the discretion of the Planning Commission. Maybe there's a crack there to dig into too. In the St. Helena case the Planning Commission wrote the law and wrote themselves in as the sole arbiters of the law, that was the first clue something was not right with the language.
Have to find a legal way to get back into the WDO asap.

Why do locals hate wineries so much?

Bill Hocker - Jun 12, 2014 5:10AM  Share #220

[Response to Rob McMillin's article "Why Do Locals Hate Wineries So Much?"]


My sincere thanks for what is a fairly balanced look at the issues. As NIMBY-in-chief in the article I had better respond. I would suggest one obvious solution to the traffic in your backyard: reduce the tourist numbers. It is the equating of tourism and agriculture in the WDO, instigated and reinforced by development interests, that has led to a tourism industry beginning to engulf the wine industry. Your traffic jams are a sure sign of the decay of an agricultural economy. Everyone is quite right to assume that I am self-interested in wanting to arrest that decay in my backyard. My backyard is agriculture and I am not interested in living next to a tourist attraction. Also the property rights mantra was invoked here. Let's be clear - if property rights advocates had been in charge in 1968 we would not be discussing a wine industry now.

The original intent of the Williamson Act and of the Ag Preserve was to protect small-scale agriculture from the more profitable development of the land for housing, shopping centers and tourist attractions. Our government seems to have lost sight of that initial premise. Development interests, always seeking to maximize profits from a piece of land, have been pressing on the dikes of the Ag Preserve since its inception. A major fissure occurred with the augmented tourism provisions of the 2010 revision to the WDO, and profiteering in the name of saving agriculture has become the norm since. But ask any of the developers of these new projects if they will forgo the tourism and just build a winery - they will refuse. The reality is that new wineries are unnecessary; 100% of Napa grapes will find a happy bottle in an exiting Napa winery forever. All of the 2013 crop of Napa grapes could have been processed in just one existing Napa winery, one building, and still left many of its fermentation tanks empty. But, given our legal lip-service to agriculture, wineries are a necessary accessory if a tourist attraction is to be built. Hence they are proposed.

The wine industry has survived and can survive with minimal tourism, as the Ag Preserve envisioned, if the attitude of maximizing profits is replaced with an attitude of sustainable profits. There are vintners, committed to the quality of their product and the dedication to their craft, that have eschewed tourism and still operate profitably. That is the wine industry you feel is misguided in their attitude toward tourist attractions. From my standpoint, that is the wine industry that our government, through revisions to the WDO should be supporting to move the county back to the agricultural base at the heart of the commitment made 45 years ago.

Time for a moratorium

Bill Hocker - Jun 2, 2014 12:28PM  Share #208

This letter is in response to Peter Jensen's recent article "Debate continues on proposed wine industry moratorium". It was not published.

As the member of a concerned citizen (ie NIMBY) group opposing a tourism facility on our watershed at the top of Soda Canyon Road, I was somewhat taken aback by being the only representatives to be mentioned by name as supporting a moratorium of similar projects now being proposed throughout the county. However, since I know that Mr. Jensen has covered these development-government-neighborhood issues on a daily basis for some time now, his reference to "among others " does carry some weight and that I need not consider ourselves alone.

Indeed, on June 10th the BOS will be hearing the appeal of the Woolls Ranch project on Mt. Veeder road, which, like the project being proposed in my backyard, would represent the onset of tourism in a watershed area of the county. I suspect that a moratorium applied to their project might be as welcome to the Mt Veeder residents as it would be to us.

Likewise, on June 18th the Planning Commission will be hearing the Yountville Hill project proposed to cover the prominent knoll just north of the town, becoming a beacon of tourism along that heavily traveled stretch of Hwy 29. Those opponents, who include vintners as well as NIMBY's, might also appreciate a moratorium as well.

And some residents of Zinfandel Lane, confronting, at short notice, a tourism facility in their backyard might be longing for a moratorium to forestall the pain of appeals and litigation.

I suspect that the issue of a moratorium is more complicated than I, as a complete novice and outsider to the wine industry, can appreciate. Mr. Beckstoffer, who has in the past voiced concerns that the WDO is not being used to adequately protect the interests of growers and by extension the intent of the Ag Preserve, and who now faces another WDO sanctioned winery expansion on his road, still is not ready to use the "m" word. A moratorium would obviously affect the many developers, consultants, and tourism interests who wish to further the conversion of agricultural land into more profitable use. But I don't see how it would hurt the responsible vintners and growers whose interest is in protecting the agricultural base of their industry, the principal upon which the Napa General Plan is founded.

I have now heard two metaphors applied to this complexity: in Mr. Jensen's article former commissioner Davis Graves refers to it as sweater that would disintegrate at the pull of a strand of yarn. And at the joint BOS/Planning Commission meeting of May 20th, Mr. Rob Mondavi compared it to a bus whose wheels might come off should it encounter the speed bump of a moratorium. I would welcome a less oblique explanation.

Mr. Jensen mentions Commissioner Fiddaman's comment that a moratorium is more akin to a butcher knife when a scalpel is required. Had that scalpel been judiciously used in the last 2 years, perhaps a butcher knife might not be needed now. As it is, the patient has been lying on the operating table as the cancer spreads with the County intoning a blessing over each new lesion. Enough metaphors, already!

My personal interest in a moratorium is not, per se, to halt the creation of new wineries in the County, although I do think that the permitted capacity of new wineries each year should bear a direct connection to new vineyard acreage coming online. My interest is specifically to halt the creation of new tourist facilities, including that proposed in my backyard, until the long term affects of increased tourism on the land and water resources of the County can be understood and planned for. Let applications for new wineries go ahead ? as long as a tourism component is not part of the proposal. I suspect that applications might fall off a bit, giving the county planners the time they need to gauge the impacts of already approved, but not yet built, tourism facilities. And some time to determine a tourism strategy for the future that does not jeopardize the agricultural land resource that is the hallmark of this successful 46 year experiment.

Impact of winery developments in outlying areas of Napa County

Dan McFadden - May 26, 2014 8:42AM  Share #195

[letter sent to BOS and Planning Commission Prior to May 20th meeting]

TO: Napa County Planning Commission

    Daniel McFadden, 2362 Soda Canyon Road
    Professor of Economics, UC Berkeley and USC
    Transportation Research Board, National Academy of Sciences
SUBJECT: Impact of winery developments in outlying areas of Napa County

DATE: May 20, 2014

Under its current ordinance allowing wineries to be developed on 10+ acre properties throughout Napa County, the Supervisors and the Planning Commission have put in place guidelines for development that fail to take into account the extraordinary costs that the county is going to incur as a consequence of siting large wineries in remote parts of the county.

First, these wineries are going to generate winery and vineyard truck and employee traffic during construction and operation that will strain capacity and accelerate depreciation of rural roads that were not designed to handle heavy loads. In some cases such as Soda Canyon, steep grades and tight turns make heavy truck traffic quite dangerous.

Second, when these wineries are licensed to operate tasting rooms, bringing in wine tourist traffic and/or tour buses, their operations on rural roads that fail to meet contemporary standards for safety, particularly in combination with industrial truck and employee traffic, is extremely risky. In considering these winery projects, the county would be grossly negligent if it fails to consider the cost to taxpayers to upgrading the public roads servicing these wineries to recommended standards for industrial developments. Further, there is a substantial probability of serious accidents on current sub?standard roads, opening Napa County to adverse publicity and substantial liability for negligence in approving unsafe developments.

I urge the Supervisors and Planning Commission to take full account of the cost to the county and its taxpayers of upgrading rural roads to meet capacity and safety standards for industrial wineries in remote areas, and of the liability risk of approving developments that put wine tourists in harm's way. I believe that failing to take these costs into consideration and scheduling the infrastructure investments required, or scaling down and limiting the scope of winery operations in remote areas to be consistent with existing road infrastructure, would be a grossly negligent dereliction of duty as public officials and public employees.

May 20th joint meeting letter to PC and BOS

Bill Hocker - May 19, 2014 10:15AM  Share #186

[Letter to BOS and Planning Director for Joint Meeting on May 20,2014]

May 19, 2014

County of Napa
Supervisor Bill Dodd, District 4
Deputy Planning Director John McDowell

County Administration Building
1195 Third Street, Suite 310
Napa, CA 94559

Re: Agenda Item 9E, Joint meeting of the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission on May 20, 2014

Dear Supevisor Dodd and Director McDowell,

I am Bill Hocker, and I reside at 3460 Soda Canyon Road in the Rector Creek watershed.

I commend the County for its decision to begin a review of issues that have become quite unexpectedly of concern to me in the last two months. The fact that you are discussing them means, perhaps, that I am not alone in my newfound interest. A winery-tourism project has been proposed in my neighborhood, in my backyard, on the Rector plateau, and I have become one of many concerned citizens (often called NIMBY’s) that face a degradation of the rural lives and environments that are our reasons for living here. Thank you for this opportunity to voice my concerns. Two of the issues to be discussed are of great concern to me:

Noticing on Developmental proposals:

300 feet may be appropriate for urban environments but is rather skimpy when the official minimum parcel size is 160 acres. More importantly, a defined radius of notification doesn’t consider specific circumstances. The tourism-winery proposed for my backyard is 6 miles up a dead end road. It envisions 25,000 visitors (tourists + employees) per year. The project will have major impacts on the several hundred residents that use the road. Yet at most 4 neighbors will receive notices. It should not be up to those residents to do the work of the developer or County in making the impacts known to all who will be affected. County staff visited the project site during the review process - part of their review, acting in the interests of their community, should be to assess the extent to which notification should be required.

Also, 20 days is a very short period to digest and evaluate and prepare a rebuttal for large projects that will affect the future of an entire community. Developers’ consultants have had at least a year (often many years) working in concert with the planning department to massage codes and ordinances full of ambiguities, interpretations and occasional loopholes to produce feasibility reports that are naturally biased toward their clients’ interests. In an ideal world, our County government should be charged with producing those reports by independent consultants so that the interests of the many residents who must live with the impacts of a project are balanced against those of the few wealthy individuals who will profit from it. Lacking this perhaps costly service to the community, then at least the County should provide a less costly service to the community by allowing the same amount of time to impacted residents to prepare their case for public review as the developer has had in making his/her proposal.

Visitation / Marketing / Cumulative Impact Analysis

I again commend the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commissioners for their courage in addressing an issue that has led to so many other irate NIMBY’s like myself to come forward. Collectively, I think, our backyards represent the future environment of the County. Hopefully this meeting is an indication that our complaints about traffic-water-noise-lights-and-the-quality-of-life will warrant more consideration in future hearings. I feel that our concerns may, in fact, coincide with those of some grape growers and vintners who foresee changes in the economic base of the County from agriculture to tourism.

I also commend the Planning Director for the clearest governmental statement yet that there is a downside to the quantity of winery-tourism projects and expansions approved in the last couple of years. I hope that this meeting is the beginning of a process that will see an end to the provisions of the WDO that have left an open door to an economy based on tourism and its attendant impacts, rather than grape growing and wine production.

My understanding is that the Agricultural Preserve was created in 1968 in the knowledge that small-scale agriculture cannot compete profitably with almost any other land use endeavor. The Preserve was set up to drastically limit what uses Napa County land could be used for beyond agriculture. But developers have always been pressing against the dykes trying to find a way to turn Napa land to more profitable use.

The Winery Definition Ordinance of 1990 seemed to be a response to the development pressure. Wine tourism, a commercial activity in any other part of the world, was redefined as a subordinate and accessory part of the agricultural process. In 2010, as a recession took its toll on the wine industry, the tourism restrictions were eased even more, to allow marketing plans that included meetings and events previously forbidden and to allow more extensive service of food with wine. That change was on top of the State‘s ‘Evans Bill’ of 2008 allowing on-site consumption of wine purchased at the winery. As the economy has rebounded the new rules seem to have tipped some profitability scale and development proposals have been coming in at the rate of several per month since.

Reviewing past Planning Commission meeting minutes, in the last year alone proposals amounting to nearly 1,000,000 gal/yr in winery production capacity, 300,000 sf of increased winery area, and 450,000 new visitor allowances have been permitted. Almost one new tourism-winery is being added to the County each month and existing wineries are beefing up marketing plans and infrastructure to tap into this expected new wave of tourism.

Yet each new project has impacts not beneficial, in my mind, to the maintenance of the Ag Preserve. The project proposed in my backyard presents the issue well. It would be the second winery on the Rector plateau. It proposes 100,000 gals/yr in capacity and 18000 tourist visitations per year on 40 acres. The project eliminates at least 4-5 acres of vines to accommodate the parking and picnic areas and other accessory uses for tourism, as well as the other functions to accommodate a large winery on a small site. When asked if the developer would forgo the tourist component the answer was a flat no. It was clear that the tourism component was more important, meaning more profitable, than the vines lost.

But operating profitably without tourism is possible. The first and only winery on the plateau, Antica Napa Valley, has operated since 1987 profitably with essentially no tourism. It is a clear example that given prudent development decisions, agricultural-winery operations can be profitable, and they fulfill the County’s commitment to an agricultural economy and maintain the environment that we mere residents cherish.

The potential loss of vines in my backyard is small, perhaps 10% of the site. But their significance was probably best stated in the “findings of fact” at the beginning of the 1990 WDO:

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

    (f) The cumulative effect of such projects if far greater than the sum of individual projects. The interspersing of non-agricultural structures and activities throughout agricultural areas in excess of what already exists will result in a significant increase in the problems and costs of maintaining vineyards and discourage the continued use of the land for agricultural purposes.

This is exactly what many of these new winery-tourism projects are doing. Nibbling up bits of vineyard property for inefficient wineries, tasting rooms and parking lots. The dangers, articulated over 20 years ago, are now being realized. As long as current tourism incentives are part of the equation, they will drive the development decisions. There is not a paucity of wineries to process Napa grapes. In fact, pressure seems to be increasing against the 75% rule as new winery capacity continues to outpace new vineyard development. Continuing tourism profit incentives for new winery developments will only increase that pressure.

I wish that the County would challenge any of the developers with projects approved in the last two years to renounce their marketing plans and to demonstrate that their decision to build their winery was based on a desire to engage in agriculture and make wine and not on the desire to build a winery as a tourist attraction. I suspect that many would decide not to build. If it is the increased profitability of tourism that is driving this trend then the concept of the Ag Preserve, to protect agriculture in the face of more profitable development, is failing. It is time to review those protections once again.

Thank you again for this opportunity to present my views.

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