9/29/18 Update:It's never over til it's over. A civil lawsuit over the nature of the easement needed by the Woolls over the adjacent Simpson property for access to their winery was decided in favor of the Simpsons throwing the future of the winery project into doubt. The ruling was that the easement was granted for residential and agricultural use and not for commercial use. A summary of the case is here.
10/24/14 Update: The rejection of the appeal to the approval of the use permit on this date, summarized here, may mean that this campaign to protect rural Napa has ended with one more event center headed toward construction, and tourism one step closer to burying the agricultural economy.
This project is emblematic of tourist attractions making their way into the watershed areas and of the impact they will have on watershed aquifers. It is a forerunner of what we are facing in the Mountain Peak Winery.
The proposed Anthem Winery expansion on Dry Creek Road, in the rural area of the western watershed, is currently under review by the planning department. Neighbors are organized and the battle will probably be a long one. I will be covering it here.
Another large (90,000 g/y) event center is planned for 4110 Dry Creek Rd. It is currently listed on the citizen portal here. I will update information as received.
Dir. Morrison gave an update on the current status of the Woolls Ranch Winery project at the Dec 7th BOS meeting: The neighbors, who opposed the project and are the owners of the easement needed to access the Wools property, sued to claim that the easement does not grant access for commercial activities (like a tourism winery). Their claim was upheld in Napa Superior court and the project has been put on hold until an appeal by the Woolls is heard. The process may take a year.
A new event center winery, the 90,000 g/y O'Connell Winery, proposed at 4110 Dry Creek Road plans to disrupt another ag-residential neighborhood surrounding the Napa Valley. It is just one of the 42 new or expanding wineries currently under review by the planning department. Most all are being built to attract more tourists to the county. At the Planning Commission meeting on Oct 7th, in testimony to the threat that these tourist attractions present to the tranquility of rural life residents have long enjoyed, neighbor Freiderike Heidger spoke publicly for the first time in her life:
Hi. I'm Freiderike Heidger from Oak Knoll Avenue. To the planning commissioners and everyone in the room I want to thank you for the amazing service that you are doing for us all by volunteering in such a demanding and also very important decision-making position that determines the future of the Napa Valley. I'm in awe of your commitment and your dedication to the affairs of the county which requires a lot of studying, researching and soul-searching.
I moved to the Napa Valley in 1979 from Germany and found a little house in the vineyards for me and my young family in 1980. I wanted a rural setting because of the closeness to nature and the quiet atmosphere so that my kids could run around and be connected to the land, protected from the hustle and bustle of the big city. They were born and raised here. Now I have two grandchildren who are also born and raised here. Over the last 35 years of living here I put new roots down after having been uprooted from my home country. This is now my home. My children grew up with the sounds and tastes of nature around them and they all have a strong dedication to preserving the environment and living conscientious lives.
I feel the wineries that are proposed in a rural neighborhood are destroying the life styles that the people there have chosen for themselves. If any permit for a small winery is given, I ask it to be given in consideration of respect and protection of those neighborhoods that have been there long before those proposed wineries. I want to ask all of us who live in a quiet country setting how would you feel if you had to suddenly face the possibility of a loud commercial winery with production sites and tasting rooms right next to your property. There would be constant noise form production, beeping, cars and visitors, there would be air pollution, light pollution at night, your well might run dry. Do I need to say more. In short the tranquillity and privacy of your life and home would be gone.
What do we want to leave to our children and our grandchildren? Memories and the possibility of living in the rural setting that Napa still has, close to family; or having traffic commercial activities, more cars and visitors in an already busy valley - a Napa Valley that has become a little LA. After all, why are we living here and not in the densely populated and commercialized bay area? Isn't it the rural setting? Do we need more until the valley is a commercial strip mall of wineries?
I also have a concern about water issues. Our present drought is showing us clearly that we have to be conserving and live sustainably. The more wineries, visitors and influx of population we have the more we put a strain on our limited resources, putting at risk what is already here. If we want to protect the natural setting of the Napa Valley, how about letting those smaller parches be planted with olive trees or lavender. They don't have the water requirements that grape vines do and there would be much less water use in the production olive oil verses wine. We wouldn't have a mono-culture of just grape vines which makes whole valley vulnerable to being wiped out by just one pest or disease. We still have a beautiful valley with plenty of wine and wineries, and we also want to preserve our lives here in this beautiful place.
I’m Harris Nussbaum. I hope you were able to watch 60 minutes special on water problems in California. Then you would realize we do have a problem and something needs to be done. In 2011 Napa Valley Vintners hired a consulting company to study wineries. They found there were 789 bonded wineries in the city and county of Napa. Today that number is 1045 with about 85% having tastings and events. Many bright people, doctors, lawyers, engineers, educators, believe that with current conditions having over 500 wineries in NC and adding more is unsustainable. We are not against wineries, many are winery and vineyard owners. We appreciate their contribution to this Valley, but worry about the future of that industry, the ag preserve and this great Valley.
Times have changed. It is impossible for the Planning Department to handle all that is asked of them. With new liberal rules for approval, few inspections, almost no enforcement, and many, many new requests, the ag preserve itself is at risk. You don’t know if what you are being told by applicants is the truth. Recently 40% of the few inspected had serious permit violations. That was 480% over permitted visitor count.
Some of the issues that you are hearing to deny the Woolls request are water issues including amount, arsenic and boron in the water, water tests done during the wet season, springs drying-up and need to drill deeper, traffic, danger, guidelines not adequate, environmental issues, neighbors wells affected and many more problems. Probably most important is the cumulative impact and this project is not sustainable. You and the applicant know there isn’t 1AF of water under every acre in the Valley and ½ AF in the hills. And why did they truck almost 2 mil. Gal. of potable water up the hill from City fire hydrants to water grapes. Their explanation of pump problems is hard to believe.
The ag preserve was written by a Board that had diverse views about property rights and environmental issues, but they realized that the Valley was at risk and something had to be done. Today we are in another crisis and you also have diverse views. It is now your turn to be the heroes of this Valley and to save the Ag Preserve. If you are leaving, retiring, or hope to stay for a while I urge you to have the courage to fulfill your responsibility for all the citizens of the Valley and not just the large earnings of a few.
What you do now will affect the quality of life for all of us as we move forward. Doing nothing will put one more nail in the coffin of this wonderful valley. Please, please, please, vote no. At least delay any decision to some future time when we know what the real impact will be.
Woolls Ranch Nov 22nd Appeal Hearing Video
Supervisor Dillon's summation begins at 3:39:30 into the video (sorry I still haven't figured out embed videos) Her notes are important, not least because she will be presiding over the Supervisor's major review of development policy this year.
Needless to say the decision at the appeal did not go in a desirable direction, resulting in a normal unanimous decision in favor of the developer. A presentation by Mrs. Simpson's attorney was overwhelmingly convincing about the dangers of the proposed access drive easement and the misuse by the Woolls of its clearly intended use in the deed, as well as the threat that the project posed to the viability of the Simpson's only source of water. And her revelation that the Woolls had actually bought Mrs. Simpson's mortgage with the potential if not actual threat of coercion caused me, and perhaps others in the room to shudder. It was an incredibly persuasive defense of the appeal, and I certainly hope will be the basis of further litigation. The BOS were not, however, in a mood to be persuaded.
Dorian Greenow sent over the powerpoint that he used for his excellent presentation on the water and tourism impacts of the project. I have rendered it as a pdf here.
I was most impressed with Harris Nussbaum's (see above) and Tony McClimans' comments. Please take a look at the video.
Gary Margadant has given his own summary of the proceeding below - he is a true gentleman, giving the Supes a gentler review than was warranted, IMHO.
No one brought up the Woolls $16,400 in campaign contributions to Bill Dodd, half of which given just days before the original date of this hearing. Nothing illegal, I'm sure, but just like the mortgage purchase it just smells bad. Planning Commissioner Heather Phillips recused herself form the Yountville Hill hearing because her vineyard was too close. This potential conflict is several orders of magnitude greater. Supervisor Dodd undoubtedly would have supported the project in any case, and even if he had recused himself the appeal would have been defeated so it is a moot issue. This was Bill Dodd's final decision as Supervisor.
Supervisor Dillon in closing remarks seemed somewhat upset that the citizenry had come out to express their reservations about the project - agriculture must be profitable to survive she admonished us, the implication being that the tourism revenue represented in this project is necessary for the Woolls' business to survive. It is the conflation of tourism and agriculture that I have spent the last nine months trying to separate on this site, because in the long run the development impacts of that tourism threaten agricultural viability. Were it not for the tourism profits, I suspect that this project would not have been proposed, and the water impacts and the quality-of-life impacts that are being imposed on the residents of Mt. Veeder Road would not occur. The traffic impacts and additional development impacts that the tourists coming to the site will bring to the rest of the county would also not occur. The Woolls would continue to make wine from the grapes on the property and to sell it at a profit, though their bottom line might be somewhat lower. (Although considering development costs of a project like this, I suspect that profits would be considerably higher for quite some time should the project not be built.)
I agree with her that growing grapes needs to be a profitable endeavor for the ag preserve to survive. The question is what level of profitability. (Frankly the growing of grapes in Napa county seems currently quite profitable - it is in the building of wineries and the making of wine that ravages the bottom line.) If the industry becomes dominated by individuals for whom a winery-of-ones-own and maximizing profits is the end-all then the tragedy of the commons will prevail and the vines will disappear. We need to re-commit to sustainable and stable profits based on a limited resource and not succumb to the business man's ethos of ever increasing profits.
As Supervisor Dillon correctly pointed out, many of the issues presented by speakers were of a broader concern than just this project, issues which we will shortly have a chance to address. Also the Supervisors probably feel that the Woolls should not be penalized for playing by the rules as they exist and not as they might be in the future. Still, the water depletion and the access dangers presented by Mrs. Simpson are very real probabilities not recognized by the modest mitigations and the unanimity of the decision.
[email sent to Carl and Marge Bunch following the Woolls Ranch Appeal Hearing Nov. 22, 2014]
Carl & Marge
We were surprised by the quality of the crowd and the comments. The BOS received a taste of the issues normally beneath them and experienced the operations of their administration dealing with these discretionary permits. The realization of their understanding was very gratifying.
The board voted 5-0 to deny the appeal, but this was only after requesting and receiving strong mitigation measures put in place, especially for the "what if" scenarios. Like what if the hydrology estimates and the operations of the water extractions detrimentally affect the immediate neighbors and deprive them of water. The BOS would have voted 3-2 to approve the appeal had these strong mitigations not been placed into the permit wording. We consider this to be a major change in the BOS attitudes and directions to the Planning commission and Planning department.
Sadly, they approved the permit as is, without changing the visitation nor the winery size, 50,000 gallons. So we are going to have this large event center in the neighborhood, but they cannot deprive the neighbors of the fair share of the public resources without consequences that would reduce their water consumption; such as reducing the size of the vineyard, winery sizing or visitation. All of the permit perimeters will then be on the table in a report to the Planning commission. This yearly report will include the water monitoring consumption and neighbors water supplies, evaluated by an independent hydrologist selected by the county. The public report to the Planning commission is a great transparent victory for all residents.
If you watch the tape, you will see the deliberations of the BOS and how Diane led the discussion. It is worth the view.
Keith Caldwell was not happy about the hauling of water, especially without one single load going to the neighbors who were starved of water. Diane Dillon asked about perjury penalties for testimony before the Planning Com and the BOS. The Supervisors were not happy with the Woolls version of neighborhood outreach.
So we gotta take our wins in the advocacy department and bemoan the size of the winery and visitation. We have to keep Paul Woolls and his Winery/Vineyard on a short lease. This might be the start of a different type of Winery Audit and verification system within the valley.
The NV Vintners and other industry groups will want to be on the front end of this argument and push to keep the Wineries/Event Centers within their permits and avoid regulation. They are vulnerable and now is the time to press them and collaborate as a partner in the solution. The Water Availability Analysis and the WDO are coming up. Now is the time to press our case.
So we are told that there were some vineyards on the hills in 1890 as if to justify clear cutting our hilltops to plant grapes under the mantra of ag is good. So too are WATERSHEDS. You keep telling us that Napa is ag and ag is the best and highest use of the land-- And that ag is wineries and wineries are visitor centers and that is good. That is the mantra. But when is enough, enough? No one locally seems to want to address that. But wine reporters are sending the message that Napa is not so hot and that visitors ought to go elsewhere. They see the tarnishing of the golden goose
[sent to Supervisor DIane Dillon in response to her final comments at the Woolls Ranch Appeal hearing on Nov 22, 2014]
It is not dignified for you to lecture your constituents while you are voting against them. I think your speech about the importance of your winery patron saints, etc. was both gratuitous and insulting to all of us sitting in the audience. Although you may feel flush with victory having just come off an unopposed election, I can only remind you of the Latin phrase “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi”
This Saturday, Nov. 22th, at 9:00am, the Woolls Ranch winery and event center on Mt. Veeder Road is coming up on appeal to the County Board of Supervisors. This project is emblematic of the tourist attractions making their way into the watershed areas and of the impact they will have on watershed aquifers. It is a forerunner of what we are facing in the Mountain Peak winery: the residents of Redwood and Mt. Veeder Roads will experience traffic impacts similar to the 58 vehicles - tour busses, delivery trucks, cars of tourists and the hospitality workforce - that will be going up our road each day to Mountain Peak.
At the beginning of August the County Planning Department sent out a list of projects currently in process. There were 25 major developments under review, including Mountain Peak, and I have added them to the list of projects under development in the county since 2010. Their review has been suspended while many more pressing issues are being dealt with by the understaffed department. At the Planning Commission meeting on Nov 7th, Director Morrison indicated, if I interpret his comment correctly, that 15 more projects have been submitted since. It is not inconceivable that one, or more, of those new developments might be on our road.
Please join with the residents of Mt. Veeder Road and the Mt Veeder Stewardship Council (site down?) in attending this meeting to show your opposition. While you may voice your support, being there is all that is necessary to show that the members of communities across the county see each of these projects as contributing to a future of Napa county that none of us want to happen.
It was great to see so many people present for David Morrison's public comment session for Walt Ranch. Over 50 people spoke and the issues raised about the EIR were well done. The Woolls hearing before the BOS will be 9:00am Saturday Nov. 22. 2741 Napa Valley Corporate Drive. I urge you all to get as many people there as possible to attend. We need to work together if we want to make changes to old practices by the County.
Here are our 3 letters from our Mt Veeder Group about Woolls
Leslie wrote a great piece of research on the WAA, both the DRAFT and the Final. This is worth the read. She backed it up with research papers that are not in this attachment, but a reading will give you a good idea of the investigations that developed the positions.
This was new to the county and gave them pause. The Letter is here.
Another letter covers a series of topics we often use to review these projects.
I wrote a Sustainability Letter emphasizing the Arsenic and Boron problems and the amount of time between the analysis and the recognition of a problem. The letter is here
Our third letter covering a range of issues with the project is here.
The sustainability and the WAA Review were submitted at the close of comment on Wednesday, 10/15. BUT they did not appear in the documents on the BOS Agenda. Don't know why. The BOS Agenda letter is here
On October 21st the Napa County Board of Supervisors will be reviewing the neighbor's appeal of the Woolls Ranch Winery use permit granted by the Planning Commission in November of 2013 on Mt. Veeder Road. The application is for a 50,000 gal/yr, 17,000 sf winery and event center with commercial kitchen, 15,600 'tours and tasting' visitors/yr and 4600 'marketing event' visitors/yr with operating hours from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. The project is proposed for a site on the Mt. Veeder Road watershed, owned by the Woolls. There are major issues of water shortage in the western watershed and, especially in a time of a drought that may never fully abate, I would urge the Board to uphold the appeal and reject the use permit. But there are other reasons that the project should not be built.
Woolls Ranch is one of 70 or so new wineries or existing winery expansions approved in the last 4 years. An additional 25+ projects are also currently in the planning department. Almost all of the approved projects have yet to be built, and the development needs for their hundreds of employees and contractors and for their hundreds of thousands of tourists have yet to add to the impacts that already threaten our agricultural economy and the rural and small-town character of the county.
The development of these "wineries" is not driven by the need to process Napa grapes into wine. There is currently more permitted winery capacity in the AP/AW zones than is necessary to produce all of the grapes in the county. And there will be into the future as new vineyard development is curtailed by lack of suitable land, community opposition and the disappearance of water, and as existing vineyards are nibbled away to accommodate these projects . In almost every case the new wineries will be using vineyard output that was previously handled by some other Napa winery. In many cases, like Woolls Ranch or Yountville Hill, the developer already has one winery, but rather than efficiently increasing output at the existing facility they are developing a new winery for a new purpose: to profit from tourism and event hosting. Yountville Hill promises visitors a spectacular view of the heart of the valley. Woolls Ranch promises visitors exposure to the undeveloped remoteness of the watershed landscapes. Woolls Ranch, like the Mountain Peak project proposed next to my home below Atlas Peak, is in the vanguard of the process of commercializing the residential-agricultural areas of the watersheds.
To date the Napa wine industry, through the vision of its founding vintners and growers, has created something special, something lauded at almost every Supervisor and Planning Commission meeting: a beautiful rural and small town agrarian community that is economically sustainable in the midst of a suburbanized world. Developers and some vintners cry that the only way to nourish that community it is to bring in more tourists. But there are many responsible vintners in the valley that know from experience that great wines don't need tourists to make a profit. And I think we all know that the attempt by developers to monitize the agrarian character of the county with ever increasing tourism will eventually succeed in destroying it.
Betty and Paul Woolls are responsible Napans who have contributed much to the betterment of our community. Please, make one more contribution. The acres of vines on the Woolls Ranch property will continue to be a considerable source of income whether or not this winery is built. To all of the developers proposing these tourist attractions, in the name of all county residents, now and in the future, whose quality of life will be permanently diminished by the traffic congestion, water depletion, viewshed destruction, noise and light pollution, and the creation of ever more suburban development necessary to accommodate the ever increasing numbers of tourists and employees, please, channel your energies into the modest profits and great renown to be had making great wines, and forgo the marginal profits and devastating impacts that these tourist developments will bring to Napa county.
French and Persian palaces, Tuscan castles and ariel tramways notwithstanding, it is not too late to preserve the character and substance of the rest of our agricultural community. I would urge everyone with a similar concern for the future of the county to email your supervisors (http://www.countyofnapa.org/bos/) and to attend the hearing on October 21st.
Attached are our comments, Mount Veeder Stewardship Council, on two vineyard projects before the county Planning Dept. Both of these projects were only noticed in the paper and via email (a short list), and there will be no hearing.
Our group has made the point of commenting on all Water Matters within the county, including the WAA, WICC, and any project. And they know we want to comment, so there is additional notification channels. We do this as a body of work demonstrating to the county that we not only comment, but we want to be part of the solutions by adding our ideas and pressing our reviews of county procedures. We have developed many contacts within the county and some mutual respect has emerged.
The Planning Dept is changing the way it is approaching their review of such projects, especially those involving water, ground or surface. They are now requiring the applicants to speak to their water sources in the WAA on each project. My recent emails for these projects included the MND, water rights, maps, application, etc. In the Hardin project, the county is requiring the applicant to clean up his water permit with the CA State Water Resources Control Board before the county will allow the project to go forward. Our comments also spotted another problem with the permit.
We covered a bit of ground in the letters, some of which has to do with notification, response and collaboration, besides the water.
[letter sent to Supervisors regarding the Woolls Ranch Project]
Re: Appeal of the November 6, 2013 Decision by the Napa County Planning Commission on
the Woolls Ranch Winery Use Permit No. P13-00187
Hearing Scheduled for May 20, 2014
I would respectfully request that you deny the Use Permit for the Woolls Ranch Winery to be located on Mt. Veeder Road. I do so for two reasons:
First, as is shown by the necessity of trucking water to the site and in the drying up of adjacent wells after water usage was increased on this site, the aquifer does not provide the .5 acre-ft per acre that the County assumes when granting a use permit. Water allowances approved by the County should have been based on actual water conditions determined by independent hydrologists before the use permit was approved rather than relying on an arbitrary and unsubstantiated number.
After years of essentially unregulated replacement of undeveloped watershed by vineyards which draw heavily on the aquifer, we are also entering a period of ever warmer weather which will drain the aquifer even more. If wells are already going dry and water must already be trucked then any proposed additional water usage should be denied and, in fact, developers should be required to come up with plans that reduce rather than increase current water consumption in their proposals.
To permit a winery with its increased water needs is irresponsible in such an area. To permit further water usage for the toilets and drinking water and dishwashers necessary to accomodate 22,000 tourists a year is an obscene use of the resources needed to maintain the agricultural health of the County. If water is in short supply it is incumbent upon the County to make sure that agricultural needs are met before any accessory uses are undertaken, and that means prohibiting those accessory uses.
Second, the argument, advanced at the Planning Commission hearing, that an aggressive tourism plan is necessary for the economic viability of the winery project since it is in such a remote location (or any location) is disturbing. If the project cannot be economically viable without tourism then the Ag Preserve is meaningless. The infrastructure of a tourism economy, for tasting rooms, and winery enlargements and hotels and restaurants and parking lots and upgraded roads all consume the land and water that the Ag Preserve was created to protect. If the county wishes an economy based on tourism, as a more profitable alternative to agriculture, then it should change its General Plan.
Over 1,000,000 gal/yr of winery capacity, 290,000 sf of new winery construction, and 250 winery parking spaces have been presented to the Planning Commission in the last year alone. New "marketing plans" with increased tasting, "wine pairings", "marketing events", on-site consumption and that holy of holies, wine auction participation, are being applied for by many wineries in the valley. All these permits will create pressure for more hotels, restaurants, and even more parking spaces.
Existing and permitted winery capacity in the County has probably already exceeding the ability of county grapegrowers to supply their 75% contribution. Watershed areas are reaching their limits for new vineyard development at the same time the County continues to permit new wineries and winery expansions every month to accommodate increased tourism. It is past time for the Supervisors to consider a moratorium on all winery construction and tourism marketing plans until someone has a chance to look at the cumulative effects that water depletion in a warming climate and that paving over vineyards for tourist attractions will have on the ability of the County to remain an agricultural economy. A good place to start the moratorium is with the tourist facility being planned for the water starved acres of Woolls Ranch.
Resident of Napa County at
3460 Soda Canyon Road
Napa, CA 94558