Walt Ranch

photo: Hardy Wilson

Oct 14, 2014

"God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools."
- John Muir

Since 2014 several groups have been formed to oppose the Walt Ranch vineyard conversion project on the oak woodlands of the Milliken and Capell Creek watersheds, initially to be 350 vineyard acres on a 2,300 acre property that Kathryn and Craig Hall bought for $8mil in 2005 at the eastern end of Foss Valley south of Atlas Peak. Since the issuing of the Walt Ranch Draft EIR in July of 2014, this project has generated active opposition from the Circle Oaks community that it will surround, and from the Montecello Road community that is the access to the project and the Atlas Peak Road community that will also suffer the effects of water depletion on the Milliken Creek watershed. They have been joined in their opposition by environmental organizations and by individuals all over the county concerned about the continuing development of Napa's watersheds and of its woodland areas into vineyard estates. The project was the catalyst for the formation of Napa Vision 2050, an umbrella organization supporting the interests of individual community groups around the county. The concern was enough to generate a watershed initiative limiting watershed development in 2018. Other watershed issues are discussed on our Watershed Issues page.

Update 5/31/23 Epilogue

NVR 5/31/23: Napa Land Trust becomes Walt Ranch owner
NVR 4/9/23: Napa Land Trust receives $7 million for Walt Ranch buy
Napa Land Trust Walt Ranch Donation Page

Update 1/4/23 OMG!!

NVR 1/5/23: Land Trust of Napa County looks to buy Walt Ranch
Press Democrat 1/4/23: Land Trust of Napa County agrees to buy controversial Walt Ranch property from Hall Wines

Update 7/20/20
The progress of the project in the courts and beyond is here

Update 5/6/18
The decision by Judge Warriner has been appealed by the The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club.
NBBJ 5/4/18: Napa Valley vineyard project court ruling appealed

Update 3/12/18
Over two days, attorneys for Circle Oaks and the for the Center for Biological Diversity presented their CEQA case to Judge Warriner in County Superior Court. Participants noted that on the second day the judge seemed somewhat bored by the proceeding and left as quickly as possible after the presentations were made. The hearing lasted just over an hour. A decision affirming the tentative decision to uphold the county and the Halls was signed the next day.

Update 12/07/16
The Board of Supervisors have denied all appeals of the PC approval of the FEIR, 5-0.

Update 11/19/16
Appeals to the BOS by DENW, Living Rivers Council, Circle Oaks, Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club of the FEIR approval. See calendar for dates.

Update 8/1/16
Final Notice of approval for the Walt Ranch ECP Comprising 209 net vineyard acres on 316 gross acres.

Update 6/13/16
The County has issued a Tentative Decision to approve the Reduced Intensity Alternative (RIA) which seems to include a reduction in the total development area from 500 down to 400 acres. (Who will check, one wonders?)

Update 2/29/16
The Final Environmental Impact Report has been issued for the project. The FEIR will be presented at a special hearing on April 4th.
The notice for the hearing is here

Walt Ranch Documents
Final Notice of approval for the Walt Ranch ECP
City of Napa's concerns about the FEIR
Harrington Opposition Letter
Walt Ranch FEIR promotional mailer
Walt Ranch FEIR vol II (2016)
Walt Ranch FEIR vol 1 (2016)
Walt Ranch DEIR (2014)

NVR 1/5/23: Land Trust of Napa County looks to buy Walt Ranch
Press Democrat 1/4/23: Land Trust of Napa County agrees to buy controversial Walt Ranch property from Hall Wines
NVR 5/17/22: Napa County endorses Walt Ranch greenhouse gas plan
NVR 4/19/22: Napa County wants more time on new Walt Ranch GHG plan
WSJ 4/6/22: Napa Valley Has a Problem: It’s Running Out of PrimeRoom for Grapes
NVR 3/3/22: FPPC deciding its role in Napa Supervisor Pedroza matter
SFChronicle 2/27/22: A wealthy family’s plans for a Napa vineyard have exploded into controversy. The outcome could define the valley’s future (text version)
NVR 2/27/22: Walt Ranch mitigations returns to Napa Board of Supervisors on Tuesday
NVR 2/11/22: Napa Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza talks about conflict-of-interest allegation
Winebusiness 2/9/22: Last Minute Glitch Delays Final Approval of Walt Ranch Vineyard Project in Napa Valley
NVR 2/8/22: Napa County delays Walt Ranch hearing amid conflict-of-interest allegations
NVR 12/15/21: Napa County backs Walt Ranch mitigation plan
NVR 10/26/21: Walt Ranch greenhouse gas decision appealed
NVR 9/23/21: Napa County ready to approve Walt Ranch greenhouse gas plan
WineBusiness 9/24/21: Walt Ranch Nears Approval as Halls Submit Greenhouse Gas Emissions Mitigation Plan
NVR 7/20/20: Napa County questions how Walt Ranch vineyards will mitigate greenhouse gases
NVR 10/1/19: Court says Napa County's Walt Ranch vineyard project needs more work
NVR 3/24/18: Napa County's Walt Ranch court win faces possible appeals
Winebusiness.com 3/12/18: Judge Rules Napa County Violated No California Environmental Laws In Approving Walt Ranch
NVR 2/13/18: Tentative court ruling sides with Napa County and Walt Ranch
NVR 4/2/17: Walt Ranch development, Syar quarry expansion proceeding slowly amid legal challenges
NVR 1/21/17: Walt Ranch approvals head to court
NVR 12/20/16: Napa County supervisors complete Walt Ranch approvals
NVR 12/6/16: Napa County supervisors endorse controversial Walt Ranch
NVR 12/5/16: Napa supervisors poised to make Walt Ranch decision
Tamerisk LTE 12/3/16: Walt Ranch's unresolved issues
Damery LTE 12/1/16 version: Walt Ranch needs better environmental evaluation
NVR 11/15/16: Napa's Walt Ranch vineyard controversy goes to supervisors
Heitzman LTE 11/15/16: Is Walt Ranch project really that simple?
Donoviel LTE 8/28/16: Articles highlight the contrast between art and reality on oak woodlands
Hankins LTE 8/16/16: Visiting wild Napa Valley: A traveler's view
NVR 8/16/16: City of Napa, Walt Ranch reach agreement on water quality
Donoviel LTE 7/21/16: Reject Walt Ranch
Cohn LTE 5/31/16: Who is accountable if they're wrong?
Pettigrew LTE 4/16/16: Death by a thousand cuts
NVR 4/4/16: Decision on Walt Ranch expected June 13
NVR 4/2/16: Walt Ranch heads to Monday showdown
NVR 3/16/16: Caltrans seeking fix for collapsed section of Highway 121
NVR 3/13/16: EIR for Walt Ranch addresses water runoff, tree loss
Bissiri LTE 2/2/15: When is enough enough?
Cannon LTE 12/18/14: Walt Ranch should concern everyone
NVR 12/17/14: Napa fears Walt Ranch could hurt city reservoir
Todd LTE 12/15/14: Will Walt Ranch hurt groundwater supply?
NVR 11/29/14: Circle Oaks fills role as Napa niche community
NVR 11/19/14: Walt Ranch opponents deliver petition
Evans LTE 11/18/14: Walt Ranch will destroy natural treasure
Worthington LTE 11/15/14: Walt Ranch would do aesthetic harm
de Werff LTE 11/14/14: Walt Ranch will destroy Circle Oaks
Halterman LTE 11/11/14: Walt Ranch: Not the way to go
Berner LTE 11/11/14: Development affects wildlife habitats
NVR 11/10/14: County to host meeting on Walt Ranch report
Canon LTE 10/31/14: Walt Ranch neighbors want to meet
Pandone LTE 10/31/14: Halt Walt and beyond
Mufson LTE 10/30/14: What Then, is Napa County?
Mead LTE 10/29/14: Walt Ranch: Too Much
NVR 10/23/14: Public sessions planned for controversial Walt Ranch vineyard proposal
Craig Hall LTE 10/18/14: Craig Hall responds to Walt Ranch critics
Camp LTE 10/14/14: Development will affect county's balance of nature
Setty LTE 9/27/14: Reconsider new vineyard on Atlas Peak
SH Star 8/5/14: Hall Wines vineyard project concerns neighbors
Wines & Vines 1/6/09: Major Vineyards Proposed in Napa
Wine Spectator 1/31/05: Kathryn Hall Vineyards Buys 2,300-Acre Napa Ranch


You must log in to add comments | Share this topic

Walt Ranch and the Lands of Pedroza

Bill Hocker - Feb 24, 2024 1:26PM  Share #2245

Update 2/24/24 DOJ investigates Napa
NVR 2/9/24: U.S. Department of Justice seeks Napa County records on airport, Clover Flat landfill, Vinedos (pdf version)

While I was initially following the DOJ investigation as an extension of the Vinedos saga, it appears that this story has expanded beyond just the dodgy land deal. I will be archiving the unfolding permutations on a new post:

DOJ investigates Napa

Update 5/3/23
NVR 5/3/23: Napa County Supervisor Pedroza withdraws from state Senate race

Update 4/22/23
Paul Moser LTE 4/22/23: Recall-o-rama redux
NVR Editorial 4/1/23: Start the Presses: Recall-o-rama

Update 3/29/23
NVR 3/30/23: Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza won't face recall
Patch 3/29/23: Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza To Run For State Senate Seat

Update 1/9/23 FPPC Dawdling
Marie Dolcini LTE 1/4/23: No faith in Fair Political Practices Commission
David Aten LTE 12/27/22: FPPC delays in Pedroza case is justice denied

Update 12/06/22 Sup. Pedroza Recall
Beth Nelson's napacountycash.com website highlights the recall of Sup. Pedroza.

Beth Nelson LTE 12/26/22: Pedroza has lost the public's trust
Mike Thompson LTE: 12/9/22: Wait for investigation to conclude before making decision
Paul Moser LTE 12/6/22: An open letter to Mike Thompson
Douglas Weed LTE 10/15/22: More Pedroza misdirection
Mike Thompson et al LTE 9/20/22: Think before you sign recall petitions
NVR 8/2/22: Alfredo Pedroza foes seek recall vote against Napa County supervisor

I am not a fan of my supervisor, Alfredo Pedroza. His promotion of a "growth" agenda for the county, a normal position for most politicians seeking to increase population, jobs and taxes, is at odds with the commitment of many Napa residents and of the county's own General Plan to protect the open space and to preserve the agricultural land that its economy is based on. That agenda is also at odds with the existential climate crisis we now face. His disdain for his own constituents while promoting two projects in his district by out-of-state developers, the Walt Ranch vineyard estates and the Mountain Peak winery, against the vehement opposition of the impacted District 4 communities, was evident though the 8 years of project hearings and 2 campaigns to oust him at the ballot box. The allegation now that he has been self-dealing in one of the projects only fuels the anger.

That resentment, felt by other activists battling the pro-development majority on the Board, has now produced this recall effort. It is an opportune moment: if the two preservationist candidates for districts 1 and 3, leading in the polls, win in November, replacing Sup. Pedroza would give the board a solid preservationist majority. That majority is needed to confront the forces that have slowed down county action on groundwater sustainability, climate action, deforestation and development in fire-prone areas.

At present the recall is based primarily on the allegation that Sup. Pedroza has violated the county code of ethics in hiding his purchase of the property next of Walt Ranch and over concerns about the financing of the purchase. But those allegations have yet to be confirmed by the FPPC or any other quasi-judicial body. Recalls do not need any legal or moral offense for removal, of course. But removing someone for political disagreement is the purpose of elections. As much as I would like to see Sup. Pedroza replaced, and despite evidence strongly suggestive of unethical behavior (see timeline and documents here) he deserves a semblance of due process to weigh in on his actions before calling for his head.

Update 7/11/22
Paul Moser LTE 7/9/22: Pedroza: PR or probity

Update 4/1/22
Douglas Weed LTE 4/1/22: Nice guys can be in the wrong
NVR 3/28/22: Fair Political Practices Commission decides to investigate Napa County Supervisor Pedroza
Cio Perez LTE 3/28/22: There is nothing toxic about wanting the truth

Apallas brief submitted on behalf of Beth Nelson to the FPPC and State Attorney General
FPPC acknowledgement that an investigation will be undertaken

Update 3/23/22
NVR 3/23/22: Napa County supervisors learn limits on investigation powers

At the 3/22/22 BOS meeting the Supervisors received a briefing from County Counsel as to their options in dealing with Sup. Pedroza's potential conflict of interest. In terms of in-house investigation, subpoena power that might be needed to fully investigate the issue is generally limited to legistative issues rather than personnel investigations. An outside investigation by an independent body would not have that subpoena power. Only the FPPC is an outside investigator that would have the needed subpoena power. They decided to request a memo from the CC to that effect.

During public comments earlier in the day several public commenters brought up concerns relating to a variety of issues including public integrety and Walt Ranch. Some of the comments were substantial and rather than summarizing them I will include the video of the comments here:

Update 3/18/22
George Caloyannidis LTE 3/18/22: Does Pedroza have a conflict of interest?

Update 3/9/22
NVR 3/9/22: Napa County could discuss its investigation powers
Norm Manzar LTE 3/9/22: What happened to integrity?

In public comments at the 2/8/22 BOS meeting, several speakers reiterated the need for the county to begin an independent outside investigation of Sup. Pedroza's conflict-of-interest. Prolonging the investigation by waiting for the FPPC just allows distrust in the county's ability to police itself to fester and impugns the integrity of the entire board. Beth Nelsen said that now is the time for supervisors to speak up; friends of Sup. Pedroza knew about the land deal last year; did any of the supervisors or county officers know?. The truth will eventually come out.

Update 3/7/22
The latest information on the Vinedos AP saga, including links to a video summary of last week's BOS meeting, the latest documents and information on a rally planned before this weeks's meeting, is available on the napacountycash.com website.

Douglas Weed LTE 2/7/22: We only want the truth
Paul Moser LTE 3/6/22: Pedroza's cloud of smoke
Gordon Heuther LTE 2/28/22: In support of Pedroza

Update 3/3/22
NVR 3/3/22: FPPC deciding its role in Napa Supervisor Pedroza matter

It now appears that the FPPC may take months (ave period 141 days) to conduct an investigation. If a conflict of interest is found, the maximum penalty is a $5000 fine, chump change given Sup. Pedroza's obvious financial resources.

During those months, Sup. Pedroza will have remained in office with the obvious documented evidence of his involvement in financing the project and his attempt to hide it from the county, as well as the public, poisoning every decision he has made and will make in office. The County, in not conducting its own independent investigation now, will be seen by many as being complicit in an effort to delay, if not subvert, justice in this matter. Thus far the county has not acknowledged the one thing that it has the power to do right now: to attest that no county official knew of a land deal adjacent to Walt Ranch, involving a supervisor voting on the project, prior to the Feb 8th meeting. The County needs to begin its own impartial investigation to clear its own name if nothing else. And I would think that if Sup. Pedroza feels innocent in this matter that he too would want a full, unbiased airing of the facts as soon as possible.

Update 3/2/22
Protest at the 3/1/22 BOS meeting
NV2050 3/2/22: Is Our County Leadership Eclipsed by Moneyed Power?
SFChronicle 3/1/22: Controversial Walt Ranch development vote delayed in Napa following protests (text version)
NVR 3/1/22: Napa supervisors decide Walt Ranch needs another hearing
NVR 3/1/22: Napa Supervisor Pedroza defended and criticized amid Vinedos matter
Diversity Watch Video and Summation of the 3/1/22 BOS hearing
County Video of 3/1/22 BOS meeting

At the 3/1/22 BOS meeting, a Motion to Reconsider the Appeal by the Center for Biological Diversity of the BOS approval of Director Morrison's GHG Mitigation plan passed 4-0 (Pedroza recused) and will be reheard by the Board on Apr. 19, 2022, without Sup. Pedroza.

No move was made toward an internal or external investigation, but instead the decision seemed to be to await the determination by the FPPC. At the meeting I heard that the FPPC may need 1-2 weeks to decide to conduct a full investigation based on complaints submitted (some 8 so far) and then the investigation begins.

Kimberly Wilkenson LTE 3/1/22: Napa deserves better

Update 2/28/22
2/28/22: George Caloyannidis Letter to the BOS
30 questions that need answers
[Mr. Caloyannidis has sent a correction to his letter: "Dear Napa County Supervisors,
It has come to my attention that is was not Napa County CEO Minh Tran who redacted Supervisor Pedroza’s signature from the Vinedos property tax checks but rather it was County Counsel.
However, my comments still apply to him because I believe that the Counsel’s job is not to conceal from the public and shield the Supervisors from incriminating evidence.
My apologies to Mr. Tran."]

Update 2/27/22
SFChronicle 2/27/22: A wealthy family’s plans for a Napa vineyard have exploded into controversy. The outcome could define the valley’s future (text version)
NVR 2/27/22: Walt Ranch mitigations returns to Napa Board of Supervisors on Tuesday
LTE statement by G/VfRA 2/25/22: A government that works for all of us

At the BOS meeting on Tues, Mar. 1, 2022, at 2:00pm, the Supervisors will entertain a "reconsideration" of their tentative denial of the appeal to the Walt Ranch mitigation plan.

From the agenda:
    "County Counsel recommends reconsideration of the tentative action on the appeal filed by Center for Biological Diversity (Appellant) of a decision by the Director of the Napa County Department of Planning, Building and Environmental Services on October 6, 2021... Staff also recommends setting a new hearing date for the appeal on March 22, 2022"

From the executive summary:
    After the tentative action, and before the adoption of the Resolution, the County became aware of allegations that Supervisor Pedroza, who was Chair of the Board during the appeal process, may have had a disqualifying conflict of interest. Out of an abundance of caution, Supervisor Pedroza recused himself from consideration of the item on February 8, 2022, and the Board continued the matter to allow time for an inquiry into the allegations. While that inquiry is ongoing and no conclusions have been reached, staff believes the most prudent approach to this matter would be to conduct a new prehearing conference and a new public hearing to reconsider the tentative action.

Notably the executative summmary indicates that "Chair invites public comment limited to the Board’s reconsideration." Many people may be wishing to provide public comment, more about Sup. Pedroza's potential conflict of interest, I suspect, than the reconsideration motion. It may mean that open comments at the 9:00 beginning of the meeting may be filled with conflict of interest statements if they are not allowed later.

3/1/22 BOS Agenda and documents (page 7)
Staff Executive Summary of agenda item
A link to the live video will be here on Tues.

Update 2/22/22
Beth Nelson LTE 2/22/22: Pedroza should resign

Beth Nelson's letter contains perhaps the most serious allegation in this questionable affair thus far: that members of the county bureaucracy, in redacting the signature on a tax payment, were complicit in Sup. Pedroza's attempt to conceal his involvement in the Vinedos land deal. It begs the question: what did the County know and when did they know it?

It is hard to believe, given that the county tax assessor received property tax payments for Vinedos AP LLC directly from Sup. Pedroza, that members of the county government were totally unaware of his involvement in a land deal that posed a potential conflict of interest. It would seem that, in addition to an internal investigation to determine why Sup Pedroza did not recuse himself from the original vote on the appeal, an outside and independant investigation of this affair is now mandatory.

Update 2/16/22
NVR 2/15/22: Napa County's next steps on Walt Ranch look hazy

The discussion would seem to be the necessity to redo the tree replacement mitigation plan should the Supes split on the finalization vote. To many, however, this is yet another opportunity to revisit the decision to approve the project in the first place. It is a project that has created bitter divisions in the county for 8 years, divisions over the role of preservation versus development, the existential impacts of global warming, overall county urbanization and now potential political corruption. Numerous rancorous hearings, public protests, a pan-county community organization, an election initiative and a new (but ineffective) ordinance arose directly from the project.

A recent editorial by civic leaders in Napa's municipalities seems timed and aimed specifically at the negative impact that a project like Walt Ranch represents to the long term interests of Napa County. The county should take this opportunity to reconsider this project (and, I must add, similar projects like Mountain Peak), in terms of the benefit it provides to a small number of wealthy investors against the larger deliterious impact it has had, and will continue to have, on the county's future in a drier world.

Dan Mufson LTE 2/19/22: Feeling 'angry, let down and used'
Scott Sedgley et al LTE 2/16/22: Protect our local watershed

Update 2/15/22
Beth Nelson has sent a second letter to the FPPC to add more documentation on tax payments on the 6 properties. She has also produced a website devoted to her research on Sup. Pedroza's financial dealings including a document archive. It is


Also this Letter-to-the-editor by Lisa Seran is an extremely clear statement of the issues surrounding Sup. Pedroza's conflict of interest:

Lisa Seran LTE 2/15/22: Pedroza stands to benefit from Walt Ranch
Iris Barrie LTE 2/14/22: Hold elected officials accountable

Update 2/11/22
NVR 2/11/22: Napa Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza talks about conflict-of-interest allegation

From the article:
Pedroza was asked if his only role in the land deal was using his house as a guarantee for refinancing.

"That was it. Again, there is no financial gain, there is no benefit that (myself and my wife) realize from this," he said.

But, given the controversial nature of the Walt Ranch issues that have gone on for years, why didn't Pedroza seek county counsel's opinion on a conflict-of-interest before the Dec. 14 vote? Pedroza didn't mention the land deal at the time.

"There's no direct benefit," he said

Move along, nothing to see here.

The FPPC has apparently informed Sup. Pedroza informally that based on his presentation of the case to them, ownership of adjacent land by his father-in-law does not constitute a conflict-of-interest. Left out of his presentation were the loans and payments he made personally to secure the purchase of the property and his personal payments to cover property taxes on the parcels. The quick (1-2 day) turnaround in their response, in a case that has a pretty strong odor, makes one wonder how careful their initial vetting was. A complaint filed by Beth Nelson is in process.

The county conducted two investigations, one internal and one external, into Sup. Ramos' spur-of-the-moment Covid jab. Let's see how diligent they are in finding out why they didn't know about Sup. Pedroza's financing of a major land deal next to a project he was voting on. (And maybe, while they are at it, why Poppy Bank would give him a $2.7 mil loan on a $1.3 mil house. Or how members of Sup. Pedroza's family could buy 405 acres of land with 124 acres of entitled vineyard blocks for a mere $2 mil. - also saving themselves years of fees, consultants and litigation.)

Napa County Code of Ethics 2005
Circle S Ranch DEIR 2008

Update 2/8/22
Winebusiness 2/9/22: Last Minute Glitch Delays Final Approval of Walt Ranch Vineyard Project in Napa Valley
NVR 2/8/22: Napa County delays Walt Ranch hearing amid conflict-of-interest allegations

Diversity Watch Video and Summation of the 2/8/22 BOS hearing
County Video of 2/8/22 BOS meeting

As the meeting item began, no doubt after private discussion between the Board and staff, Sup. Pedroza immediately recused himself over concerns about the "property my father-in-law owns" and left the room.

County Counsel recognized that this issue was different from the campaign contribution complaints that the citizenry have always seen as a conflict of interest but that the county (and perhaps all governments) consider business-as-usual. The County Counsel agreed to look into the allegations of conflict of interest and to provide information to the State Fair Political Practices Commisssion (FPPC) that would take the lead in any investigation of conflicts of interest.

In recognition of the rarity of the action, public commenters thanked the County Counsel and the Board for taking the concerns of citizens seriously for a change. Several spoke to the need to look retroactively at the approval process to see if votes needed to be thrown out. Kellie Anderson, after summarizing the case earlier in the morning, expanded on a different concern by envisioning a "gold rush" of land development in the eastern county that might result from the Berryessa resort projects currently being shepherded by the Supes. Is this the insider skulduggery of large scale land speculation often the subject of novels and films?

Sup. Ramos, having endured her own ethics investigation, was the most direct in visioning the process going forward. The appeal finalization must be made within 90 days of decision? If there is a finding of conflict of interest will the entire Walt Ranch approval process need to be redone? Shouldn't an outside counsel be appointed rather than the County Counsel to look into the matter? Shouldn't the County Counsel also bring the matter to the FPPC?

The question no one asked which could have been answered on the spot: given the potential appearance of a conflict of interest, did anyone in the County government (beyond the County Assessor), know about a major land deal, involving a supervisor, adjacent to a project that he was voting to approve? If they did, why wasn't this disclosed at some point in the Walt Ranch appeal process? If not, why would Supervisor Pedroza hide it, except to hide what he knew was a conflict?

The Board voted 4-0 to continue the finalization of the appeal denial to March 1st, 2022, with the County Counsel to assist the FPPC where needed in the conflict of interest allegation. The are many questions needing answers.

Original Post 2/7/22

On Feb. 8, 2022, at 11:00am the Napa County Board of Supervisors will be finalizing the denial of an appeal of the Walt Ranch vineyard conversion project. Public comment related to the issue in this post will be taken at that time.

It has long been known that Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza has a dogged determination to promote development in the face of staunch opposition from residents of the county. With the Walt Ranch development it has always seemed to go beyond just the case of a major donor with a project to be approved, a fairly common occurance in the county. A more direct connection has now been proposed. Elaine de Man and sends along this analysis from Beth Nelson, with documentation, of an apparent connection between Sup. Pedroza and the ownership of properties adjacent to the Walt Ranch development.

As can be seen on the map, the parcels in question, totalling 405 acres, form a link between Walt Ranch and Atlas Peak Road that shortens the distance between some Walt Ranch properties and the Napa Valley, a link that might prove financially benificial to both entities. Shared management of the vineyards might also be financially advantageous. And, of course, the increased property value of adjacent land once Walt Ranch is developed.

We remember that Planning Commissioner Heather Phillips was compelled to recuse herself from deliberation on the Yountville Hill project because her property was seen as being close, though not adjacent, to the project site. Sup. Pedroza would seem to have a much clearer conflict of interest here. Elaine de Man writes:

Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza's support of Walt Ranch was always presumed to be for the benefit of his major donors, Texas billionaires Craig and Kathryn Hall. However, documents recently uncovered reveal that Pedroza's support of Walt Ranch also includes benefits to members of his immediate family, if not himself. This new information may be sufficient to have Pedroza recused from any dialogue or decision regarding Walt Ranch. It may also be sufficient to have Pedroza’s vote to overturn the Center for Biological Diversity’s appeal against Walt Ranch, made last December, disqualified. It could also lead to a successful recall.

Documents on file at the county tax assessor's office, along with the attached Short Report, reveal that six parcels comprising more than 405 acres immediately adjacent to Walt Ranch were sold for $2,000,000 to an entity called Vinedos AP, LLC on May 28, 2021. The sellers were: Circle R Ranch, LLC; Foss Valley Ranch, LLC: and Rocking R Ranch, LLC. All three LLC's are controlled by Peter Read.

The Articles of Organization for Vinedos AP, LLC were filed with the California Secretary of State on January 29, 2021. The Statement of Information (attached) for Vinedos AP, LLC, filed March 17, 2021, lists Esteban Llamas as the manager of the LLC. Esteban Llamas is the father of Brenda Llamas Pedroza, the wife of Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza. As Supervisor Pedroza's father-in-law, Esteban Llamas is a member of Pedroza's immediate family.

The Statement of Information also lists the business address for Vinedos AP as 1241 Adams Street, MP 1022. This is a mailbox at the Adams Street Shipping Center in St. Helena.
However, the Grant Deed (attached) for the sale of the 6 parcels to Vinedos AP, LLC was mailed to the personal residence of Supervisor Pedroza, at 332 Troon Ave. in Napa. It was not mailed to the business address for Vinedos AP. Nor was it mailed to the home or business address of its manager, Esteban Llamas. Additionally, no alternative address was given for the mailing if any tax statements related to the deed other than Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza’s home address.

The Deed of Trust related to the 6 properties adjacent to Walt Ranch, filed May 28, 2021, lists the Trustor as: Vinedos AP, LLC, a California limited liability company whose address is 332 Troon Drive, Napa CA 94558. This is the home of Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza.

The Deed of Trust is signed by Esteban Llamas, Manager of Vinedos AP, LLC. The original mortgage on the Vinedos AP parcels was held by the seller, Circle R Ranch, for $1,700,000.
Six months after the initial purchase, on October 12, 2021, Vinedos AP, LLC refinanced its six parcels adjacent to Walt Ranch, for $2,700,000, as shown in the attached History Report and Deed of Trust Poppy Bank. Presumably, after paying off Circle R Ranch, Vinedos AP came away from this transaction with close to $1,000,000 in cash and is $2,700,000 in debt to Poppy Bank, a debt that is secured by the six parcels adjacent to Walt Ranch.

These records indicate that Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza and/or his father-in-law have a vested interest in the outcome of any Walt Ranch decision. Should Walt Ranch be finally approved, any adjacent properties, including the 6 parcels owned by Vinedos AP, will increase in value and attain certain benefits, including any public or private services brought to the Walt Ranch property. Indeed, the BOS meeting of December 14, 2021, was the last meeting at which Pedroza was the chairman of the Board of Supervisors and set the meeting’s agenda in which he cast the deciding vote in favor of Walt Ranch.

Under the California Political Reform Act (Government Code §§ 81000 - 91014 and §§ 18110 - 18997 of Title 2 of the California Code of Regulations) a public official has a disqualifying conflict of interest in a governmental decision if it is foreseeable that the decision will have a financial impact on his or her personal finances or other financial interests. In such cases, there is a risk of biased decision-making that could sacrifice the public’s interest in favor of the official’s private financial interests. To avoid actual bias or the appearance of possible improprieties, the public official is prohibited from participating in the decision. The federal conflict of interest rules are found at 18 U.S.C. § 208 with implementing regulations at 5 C.F.R. § 2635.402.

Given that Supervisor Pedroza has a disqualifying conflict of interest in Walt Ranch, we are asking:

1) That Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza be prohibited from participating in any further discussion or decision related to Walt Ranch.

2) That the decision to deny the appeal of the Center for Biological Diversity, made December 14, 2021 be rescinded, as the deciding vote was made by a supervisor with a disqualifying conflict of interest.

3) That any further discussion or decision regarding Walt Ranch by the Board of Supervisors be tabled pending further investigation into Supervisor Pedroza’s conflicts of interest.

4) That Supervisor Pedroza be censured by the other members of the Board of Supervisors for not disclosing his disqualifying conflict of interest from his financial interest, and the interest of his father-in-law, Esteban Llamas, in Vinedos AP, LLC and the potential for financial gain.

2/1/22 Placer Deed of Trust with assignments
2/1/22 Placer Subordination Agreement
10/21/21 Troon Dr History Report
9/20/21 Poppy Bank $2.7 mil Deed of Trust
5/28/21 Asssessors Short Report 6 parcels
5/25/21 Placer Grant Deed Property Descriptions
5/20/21 Placer $1.7 mil Deed of Trust
10/12/21 032-160-084-000 History Report
3/17/21 Vinedos AP LLC Statement of Information
1/29/21 Vinedos Articles of Organization
Alfredo Pedroza Campaign Contributions 2016-22
Beth Nelson LTE

OMG! Land Trust buys Walt Ranch!

Bill Hocker - May 31, 2023 1:40PM  Share #2295

Update 5/31/23
NVR 5/31/23: Napa Land Trust becomes Walt Ranch owner
SR Press Democrat 5/31/23: Land Trust of Napa County completes conservation purchase of Walt Ranch, site of disputed development
SF Chronicle 6/1/23: It was the most controversial land-use debate in Napa history. Now, Walt Ranch has been sold

NVR 1/5/23: Land Trust of Napa County looks to buy Walt Ranch
Press Democrat 1/4/23: Land Trust of Napa County agrees to buy controversial Walt Ranch property from Hall Wines

David Heitzman alerts us to the story of the year - so far. The realities of the exorbitant development costs for a 200 acre vineyard and the fear that estate development in high fire areas might now be even more difficult may have prompted the turnabout. The Halls paid $8 mil for the property in 2005. It will be interesting to see how much they are asking from the Land Trust and how much they will be taking in tax write-offs. Despite elation at the outcome, it is somewhat discouraging to think that all this effort over the last so many years was just a process of maximizing the resale price. That process, however, has been instrumental in bringing to the forefront the land use issues that the county must now confront in an age of global warming. And it has brought together a community of activists needed to continue to promote those and other development issues. A win for everyone.

Walt Ranch in Court and Beyond

Bill Hocker - May 17, 2022 10:56AM  Share #1821

Update 5/51/23 The twist ending!
SCR: OMG! The Land Trust Buys Walt Ranch!

Update 7/22/22 Coda
Sue Wagner LTE 7/22/22: Lessons from Walt Ranch project
Patricia Damery LTE 7/17/22: Questions remain about Walt Ranch decision

Update 5/17/22 Walt Ranch Approved
NVR 5/17/22: Napa County endorses Walt Ranch greenhouse gas plan
BOS 5/17/22 hearing video

With Sup. Pedroza recused, by a vote of 4-0, the Board of Supervisors denied the appeal and swept away the last legal obstacle to the bulldozers.

Well, almost. Today's vote needs to be finalized with exact language on 7/12/22. And a conservation easement, made through an organization like the Napa County Land Trust, and an endowment to maintain it, must recorded before any land clearing operations can begin. That may take a year.

It may have just been my imagination, but it seemed that 3 of the 4 supervisors would rather have voted to halt the project. The realization comes many years too late. "If we had known then what we know today..." Sup. Dillon lamented at the last meeting. Of course many people knew then that this project was going to be an environmental black eye for a county nominally committed to preservation, even before fires depleted much of the county's sequestered carbon and the groundwater began to run dry; and they said so at every hearing for the last 8 years. Could the supes or staff have short-circuited the project if there was a will? The Hall's attorney, citing the length of this process and a recent, much more protracted, CEQA decision in Marin, ominously summed up with a quote implying that the 1st District Court now frowns on the use of CEQA as an instrument of oppression and delay, implying, one assumes, that the county will be sued if it prolongs the approval process further.

The notion of future development was brought up again. Sup. Ramos made a last ditch effort to broach parcel mergers as a way to encourage future conservation. Dir. Morrison, always anxious to derail the image of the vineyard estate mansions that will eventually sprout on the very visible hillsides, quickly intoned the disclaimer that "Future development is speculative. Staff would not recommend taking measures regarding that." Future development is, of course, what makes this absurdly costly 200-acre vineyard worth doing.

Update 5/13/22
On 5/17/22 the BOS will again consider the appeal by the Center for Biological Diversity of a mitigation measure for the removal of 14,000 trees from the project area. See item 13D on the agenda.

Since the last hearing a 30' non-development zone (dark blue on the map) has been added to the edges of some of the vineyard blocks to address concerns raised by CBD, raising the number of protected areas in the mitigation from 248 to 267.7 acres. There is a suggestion that somehow the atomized acreage designated for protection (dark green on the map) has been consolidated to provide more continuity of protected areas. While a few of those areas may be large enough to be developed, the many, many small isolated patches, most less than an acre in size, surrounded by areas protected because their slope exceeds 30% (light blue on the map), are not realistically under threat of development. The First District Appellate Court cited in its decision, referencing a precedence in a Cap and Trade case, that "carbon sequestration from permanent conservation constitutes an offset only if the forest conserved was under a significant threat of conversion". These small patches of trees surrounded by un-developable land are not under a significant threat of development and should not be considered as a mitigation. The notes below still apply.

Update 4/19/22
NVR 4/19/22: Napa County wants more time on new Walt Ranch GHG plan

Gary Woodruff LTE 4/19/22: Napa County regulators need to do a better job protecting the land

The continuance was desperate measure in a futile effort to cobble some legitimacy to their decision. But no amount of "consolidation" of the hundreds of micro parcels in the conservation easement will solve the fact that this mitigation, much like the tree planting, will ever compensate for even a quarter of the lost carbon stored in the trees and their roots.

The $960k settlement to the Halls in St. Helena must loom over the Board of Supervisors as this approval is being deliberated. It is quite possible that a majority of the board now thinks that, in a time of climate crisis, and the need to reduce GHGs and to protect water resources in a drying world, that the development of 2300 acres of virgin Napa county woodland for wine grapes (and potential vineyard estates) is no longer something they individually or the county can be proud of. The project was begun in a period in which the county promoted anything that fitted the expansive wine industry definition of "agriculture", even something as audacious and objectionable as Walt Ranch. This decision is being stretched out, IMO, in a desperate search for a late term denial to prevent the bulldozers from moving in. As the St. Helena settlement shows, the Halls will take punitive action to enforce their ambition, and in this case it will be substantially more than $1 mil that county residents and visitors will end up paying in one way or another.

Update 4/18/22
NV2050 Eyes on Napa 4/18/22: Walt Ranch: An Important Vote - Do No Harm!
Iris Barrie LTE 4/17/22: Land use decision of upmost importance when dealing with climate crisis (NVFB LTE)
Sue Wagner LTE 4/16/22: Walt Ranch project bad for the environment
Laurie Claudon (G/VfRA) LTE 4/14/22: Action needs to be taken now to stem further climate change damage

Update 4/13/22
On 4/19/22 the BOS will be reconsidering the appeal of the Walt Ranch GHG mitigation plan preliminarily denied on 12/14/22 but then derailed before a final sign-off by conflict-of-interest allegations against Sup. Pedroza. In the meantime the developer has proposed, and the staff accepted, a change in the mitigation under appeal. While the mitigation proposed on 12/14/22 involved 124 acres in conserved woodland and the planting and maintenance of 16790 seedlings to replace the 27496 tons of GHG's emitted in the destruction of 14000 mature trees, the new mitigation merely sets aside 248 acres of otherwise developable woodland in a conservation easement with no replacement planting.

Incredibly, this mitigation does nothing to compensate for the tons of GHG emissions the project will create. It only insures that a small percentage of the property will not add to that GHG emission in some unspecified and unforeseeable project in future. In looking at the proposed map, it is fairly obvious that the areas identified are simply a computer algorithm designed to fabricate conservation matches rather than an effort to find meaningful areas of conservation that might otherwise be developed. It is also fairly obvious that many of the designated areas, surrounded by un-developable land, are highly unlikely to be developed in any case because they are too fragmented, small or inaccessible to be considered for vineyard blocks (or as winery and estate sites). The white areas on the plan, not defined in the index, are presumably where future development can occur. The conservation areas do little to prevent future GHG emitting development outside the atomized 248 acres. This proposal makes no sense as a replacement for a plan that attempted to offset emissions with new plantings, however deficient that offset would have been.

I am trying to understand the court decision that led to the 12/14/22 BOS appeal. Given the legalese and double negative expressions, the decisions are a bit difficult to follow.

The 1st District Appellate Court, in upholding the GHG part of the appeal and sending it back to the Superior Court seems to downplay the notion that preserving existing trees are a mitigation for the removed trees unless those existing trees are "under a significant threat of conversion":

    "Here, the EIR does not identify the location of the woodland acres that it commits
    to preserve. The property itself is undeveloped, but over 40 percent of the property is not developable under local regulations. As we previously concluded herein, future development on the property is not a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the project. On this record, CBD has demonstrated a lack of substantial evidence supporting the inference that the trees to be permanently conserved would not reasonably have remained on the property. CBD has accordingly satisfied its burden of showing that substantial evidence does not support the EIR’s conclusion that the project would have a less-than-significant GHG emission impact."

Is the designation of conservation areas evidence of a foreseeable threat? My (albeit layman's and biased) interpretation of this conclusion is that, given that future development is not a foreseeable consequence of the project, and that there is no substantial evidence that additional trees in a 'business-as-usual scenario" would be "under a significant threat of conversion", their permanent protection would not be considered a mitigation of the project's GHG emissions. Unless, of course, a foreseeable threat is specified to particular areas that could then be protected as a mitigation. At this point, the designation of 248 acres that can be cleared in a future project if not protected seems little more than a fabricated threat intended to thwart any need for actual GHG mitigation in the current project.

A question still to be answered is why the County proposed an elaborate tree planting program to offset the GHG loss in the 12/14/21 hearing, when the Superior Court judge already suggested the much simpler248 acre solution (that does nothing to offset the loss).

Update 2/2/22
Nancy Tamerisk LTE 2/2/22: 'The stench of corruption is the air'
Phil Burton LTE 2/5/22: Shame on our county supervisors

Update 2/2/22 The Pedroza scandal hits
SCR: Walt Ranch and the lands of Pedroza

Update 12/15/21
NVR 12/15/21: Napa County backs Walt Ranch mitigation plan
Nadean Bissiri LTE 1/20/22: Who do our county supervisors serve?

In a vote by the BOS on 12/14/21 that was perhaps better than anticipated, the supes split their decision on the Walt Ranch mitigation, with the 3 pro-development members of the board backing the mitigation plan, but the 2 preservation members holding firm and voting to turn it down. The fact that those two are not running for re-election in 2022 might have made it a bit easier to vote in the best environmental interest of Napa County and its residents rather than the financial interest of major campaign contributors. Hopefully the split decision will encourage the appellants to return to court for the judge's opinion on the mitigation.

Walt Ranch will be the most expensive 200 acres of vineyard ever developed in Napa County. 15 years of consultant costs, government fees, legal battles, 21 miles of all weather road, a community reservoir and water system delivering water to every one of the 35 properties on its 2300 acres. But, of course, this is not a vineyard project. It is an estate subdivision with the potential to turn over each legal parcel for much more than its value as a vineyard, as the developer has done before. It is, in fact, an end run around Napa's token attempt to promote "agriculture" over urban development by building the infrastructure needed to develop a housing project in the name of agricultural necessity. It is of a piece with the county defining winery tourism as agriculture to insure that the money to made from urban development by both developers and the county can proceed apace under a legal framework that is nominally intended to preserve agriculture in the face of urbanization.

Update 12/10/21 Appeal of PBES decision
On 12/14/21 at 2:00pm the BOS will hear an appeal by the Center for Biological Diversity of the court-mandated revised greenhouse gas mitigation plan that has been approved by PBES for the Walt Ranch project. The agenda and documents for the hearing are on pg. 15 here. The proposed mitigation calls for the planting of 16,790 new trees (to replace the 14,000 mature trees that will cut down for vines), but also allows for a reduction to 124 acres in the permanent conservation easement originally required to be 248 acres. The staff agenda letter is here. The Center for Biological Diversity argues that no detailed plan for the implementation of the new mitigation measures has been prepared, and thus there is no way to evaluate the potential success of the mitigation. They also challenge assumptions made about the success rate for re-plantings.

NV2050 Eyes on Napa about Dec 14th protest rally
Comment letters on the PBES decision
Elaine de Man LTE: Alfredo Pedroza and Walt Ranch
Walt Ranch Documents
PBES greenhouse mitigation decision
NV2050: Sue Wagner on the appeal hearing
NV2050 Walt Ranch page
NV2050 on the appeal hearing
Wagner, Hirayama LTE 11/30/21: To all Napa County residents concerned about climate change
Ross Middlemiss LTE 11/4/21: Supervisors’ final call on Walt Ranch will be lasting
NVR 10/26/21: Walt Ranch greenhouse gas decision appealed
CBD press release 10/25/21: Appeal Challenges Weak Climate Plan for Harmful Napa Vineyard Project

Update 10/5/21 PBES decision
County Decision to approve greenhouse gas mitigation
County Walt Ranch Documents
Public Comments
The decision can be appealed to the BOS.

NVR 9/23/21: Napa County ready to approve Walt Ranch greenhouse gas plan
WineBusiness 9/24/21: Walt Ranch Nears Approval as Halls Submit Greenhouse Gas Emissions Mitigation Plan
NVR 7/20/20: Napa County questions how Walt Ranch vineyards will mitigate greenhouse gases

Update 10/1/19 Court decision
NVR 10/1/19: Court says Napa County's Walt Ranch vineyard project needs more work
The court denied several appeal petitions, but the project was remanded to the County to reconsider how greenhouse gas emissions caused by the project were to be mitigated.

Living Rivers Council et al vs. County of Napa et al (court decision and disposition)
"We affirm the judgments denying the petitions for writ of mandate as to Circle Oaks and LRC. We reverse the judgment denying CBD’s petition for a writ of mandate, and we remand the CBD matter to the trial court to grant the petition as to the following EIR issue: to ensure that the GHG emissions associated with the Project, as mitigated, constitute a less-than-significant impact, as set forth in Section II.F of this opinion. In all other respects, we affirm the judgment as to CBD. The parties shall bear their own costs on appeal."

Update 2/14/18
On Feb. 13th the Circle Oaks County Water District and CO Homeowner's Assoc, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club, and the Living Rivers Council began presenting their CEQA lawsuit against the County for approving the Walt Ranch development. After testimony from attorneys for the Living Rivers Council the Circle Oaks Water District, the hearing was continued to March 1st, 2018. Prior to the hearing, the Judge in the case had already issued a tentative ruling in favor of the County.

Text of Tentative ruling by Judge Warriner prior to the hearing(gone)
NVR 2/13/18: Tentative court ruling sides with Napa County and Walt Ranch
Sue Wagner's notes from the hearing

NVR 1/21/17: Walt Ranch approvals head to court

A View of Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - May 12, 2022 2:31PM  Share #2267

click to enlarge
Geographer Amber Manfree has produced another of her fantastic maps, this one to show how visible the vineyards on Walt Ranch will be from any particular point in the county. Downtown Napa will get a good view, as it does of Sillverado Highlands, another bit of clutter in the county's natural view-shed. It is an incredible example of spatial analysis that geographic databases now bring to our understanding of everything.

Dr. Manfree writes, "I knew that ridge-top vineyards would be visible, but WOW! If built, you will be able to see Walt Ranch from nearly every population center and park in Napa County. There will be no getting away from the visual impact of this project for Napa residents and tourists."

The photos shown below are screen shots taken of the Google Earth Pro app. The app allows you to take flight and traverse the globe as a bird (or satellite) would see it. If you don't already have it, Download the Google Earth Pro App here

The Walt vineyard map file must be downloaded to your computer and then opened (File -> Open...) with the Google Earth app. Click to download Walt vineyards file

Downtown Napa

County Building (after an earthquake)

Skyline Park

Silverado County Club

Milliken Reservoir

Montecello Road

Atlas Peak Road

Walt Ranch decision possible May 17th

Bill Hocker - May 12, 2022 11:08AM  Share #2266

On May 17, 2020 the BOS may dismantle the last legal roadblock that has kept the bulldozers out of Walt Ranch. It is unknown what impact the project will have on dwindling water resources, the habitat and movement of wildlife, or for the promotion of more goodlife development in the county's eastern wildlands. It is a very big piece of Napa County and no environmental impact report will every convince many that its impacts are less-than-significant.

Since 2019, in response to concerns raised by Measure C, Napa County Revised its conservation regulations the amount of woodland land that can be converted into agricultural use from 40% of a propertiy's area to 30%. The remaining 70% of woodland must be left undeveloped. Also a minimum of 40% of scrubland must remain undeveloped.

Geographer Amber Manfree has argued that there is a loophole. The county looks at contiguous individual parcels under the same ownership as one piece of property when assessing the "70/40 rule" during development. Some of those parcels may retain less of the natural landscape as long as the balance for the aggregated property fits within the 70/40 rule. It is thus an advantage to have or to buy adjacent parcels that are not developed, to be able to max out other parcels that are. The loophole is that once the development is approved, there is little oversite on a per-parcel basis as to which particular acerage was to be restricted from conversion. Years later, particular parcels may be resold and their new owners will submit ECP's to convert land that was protected to allow for over-conversion on other parcels. Or the same owner will submit a new plan for a specific parcel having conveniently forgotten that it was supposed to remain undeveloped.

The latest propossed expansion of Stagecoach Vineyards on Soda Canyon Road by its new owner, Gallo, represents the reality. Many of the parcels that make up Stagecoach are developed well beyond 40% allowed in the 1991 Conservation Regulations. But adjacent parcels not developed were no doubt used as an offset in the 1990's to allow the over-development. Now Gallo is planning to develop some of those parcels.

Walt Ranch is another example. The chart below shows that several of the 35 parcels that make up the project have exceeded the 70/40 rule on a per-parcel basis, though below the limits on the total project. Unlike Stagecoach, Walt Ranch, as I think everyone knows in their heart despite denials, is an estate development project, not a vineyard project. That is what the Halls do to make money. Wine is a glamorous side business. Once the parcels are sold off to new owners the opportunity for each of them to develop to the 70/40 limit will be difficult to police.
The chart below shows the breakdown by vegetation type and parcel. It is a bit confusing to figure out. Basically 4 of the 35 parcels exceed the 70/40 limit on development area.

Dr. Manfree has also argued in this report presented during the 2019 Con Reg discussions, that a part of any watershed parcel may already be "undevelopable" because of other con regulations, including setbacks from streams, reservoirs and prohibitions on slopes over 30%. The 70/40 rule should be applied on the "developable area", not to the entire property. She has presented a breakdown of woodland and scrubland for each of the 35 parcels.

To the Supervisors on Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Apr 14, 2022 11:55AM  Share #2258

The Walt Ranch development has divided Napa County since it was publicly announced over eight years ago, pitting residents and environmentalists against developers and much, though not all, of the wine industry. It has engendered countless packed county meetings and protests, fueled two election campaigns, spawned a major watershed initiative and changes to conservation regulations, drawn several court cases, consumed vast quantities of time and money on the parts of opponents, developers and the county alike, generated press far outside the county's boundries, and brought a whif of corruption down upon the government. The increasing recognition in that period that climate change is not an abstraction but has very real impacts on residents and the wine industry alike, has only further highlighted the debate over continuing to convert hundreds of acres of carbon-storing oak woodlands into carbon-emitting vineyards.

The fires and drought we now experience should have made clear this reality: that the continued conversion of watersheds into water-consuming, GHG-generating vineyards and the continued conversion of vineyards into GHG-generating tourist attractions has become less important than the preservation of the environmental resources needed for a current economy to be sustained and even to survive.

The reality is that any individual project, including Walt Ranch, may have little impact on the rate of climate change. But every project that has modified the natural landscape for human use has combined to produce the existential threat we now face. It is up to you to seriously weight the benefit of an individual project against the collective inpact that an economy based on ever-expanding development creates. Here it means asking if the tons of GHG's emitted in creating this vineyard and the ongoing tons GHG's emitted to farm it are worth the additional profits a few more bottles of wine will bring. Perhaps to the Halls, but not to the rest of the world.

Few projects are worth the effort of an elected official to stand up for a long term, perhaps nebulous, benefit to humanity over the near term benefits of tax revenues or jobs. But this project, given the envirnomental issues it illustrates, given the amount of unspoiled Napa woodland it encompasses, given the division it has sewn in the community, and given its high profile beyond the county, is one project that can define how serious Napa County is in doing its part to confront the climate crisis we now face, just as state courts are doing elsewhere in even larger development projects.

The current GHG mitigation proposal that you are voting on, guarding a few trees from some unspecified and unforeseeable project in the far future, will do nothing to offset the thousands of metric tons of GHG's emitted by this project now and in the near future. I urge you to uphold the appeal and deny this proposal.

And I also urge you to find the courage, after this vote is taken, to recognize that eternal economic growth is no longer a viable goal and that the preservation and protection of our existing resources and environment must now become the highest and best use of the land.

Feeling 'angry, let down and used'

Daniel Mufson - Feb 19, 2022 11:12AM  Share #2248

I didn’t inhale. I held my breath. I didn’t own it, but then I did, but now I don’t…

Are you kidding me?! This episode where Pedroza just happens to facilitate the purchase of land adjacent to the Walt Ranch property for his family is too much to bear.

What happened to the concept of public trust by our electees? They are supposed to represent all of us not just their personal interests. I’m feeling so angry, so let-down, so used.

For over six years I have spent hours, if not days, reviewing documents, writing to the Supervisors, meeting with the Supervisors, marching, sign-holding, and then trying to deliver a message in 3 minutes: “Stop the cutting down of 28,000 mature trees on the Walt property in the Atlas Peak/Milliken watershed.”

And all the while the campaign dollars to the supervisors kept rolling in - quite a lot of money for such a small community.

I haven’t been alone on this fight for clean air and watershed open space protections. Rather a sustaining factor has been the comradeship of really smart citizens, now friends, also expending their talents. But while we are all accomplished adults with important messages, those messages have just been disregarded in the face of campaign dollars.

We’re not the only ones who care, but collectively, we haven’t been able to evoke change. We need new candidates with demonstrable support of the environment and support of the concept of the public trust.

All of our efforts to keep the Napa that our predecessors fought to protect when they created the Agricultural Preserve have not been enough to prevent the steady approval of wine visitor centers with restaurants and/or deforestation to add more vineyards.

“We need it to survive” say the big boys.

As citizens, we have not been able to slow this assault, but climate change will. The fabled family vineyards are being swallowed up by alcohol conglomerates.

We need new candidates with demonstrable support of the environment and public benefit. And we certainly don’t want self-serving supervisors running our government. It’s time to resign, Alfredo.

LTE version 2/19/22: Feeling 'angry, let down and used'

Keep big money out of local politics

Elaine de Man - Dec 17, 2021 7:15PM  Share #2243

Pedroza election contributions since 2016
Democracy dies when the voice of the people is drowned out by big money. Unfortunately, that is what is happening here in Napa County.

At the Dec. 14 Board of Supervisors’ meeting, hundreds of concerned citizens showed up to protest Craig and Kathryn Hall’s Walt Ranch, a project that will convert 316 acres of forest and woodland into 209 acres of vines with an estimated loss of 14,000 trees.

Testimony from the Center for Biological Diversity and members of the community, aged 9 to 95, was compelling. No one spoke on behalf of the Hall’s project with the exception of individuals employed by the Hall’s. Nevertheless, and despite the heart-wrenching pleas of the people who will be impacted by this decision, the Hall’s prevailed by a vote of 3-2.

The three supervisors who voted in favor of the Hall’s unpopular project (Supervisors Pedroza, Gregory, and Ramos) are also the recipients of large campaign contributions from Craig & Kathryn Hall and Hall Wines. (Supervisors Diane Dillon and Brad Wagenknecht, the two “no” votes, have not received any contributions from the Halls.)

The Halls have been especially generous with Board Chair Alfredo Pedroza who has received at least $42,300 from them since 2015: $7,300 in 2015, $5,000 in 2016; $5,000 in 2017; $10,000 in 2018; and $15,000 in 2019. (Not to mention invitations to lavish parties and who knows what else.) That makes the Halls the single biggest source of funding for Pedroza’s political aspirations. Is it any wonder that he continues to vote to support their plans despite concerns of independent scientists and community members?

The Halls have also made sizable campaign contributions to Supervisors Ryan Gregory ($10,000) and Belia Ramos (at least $2,000). Added together, this represents an investment of $54,300 that the Hall’s, who reside in Texas, have made in our local decision-makers. (There is also a recent $17,500 donation to our State Senator Bill Dodd.)

And it doesn’t stop there. Looking to the future, the Halls are also the single biggest contributors to St. Helena City Council Member Anna Chouteau’s campaign to replace Diane Dillon as District 3 Supervisor. (Incidentally, Chouteau’s husband, Matt Mumford, is the VP of Acquisitions for Hall Wines.)

An alarming twist in the Walt Ranch proposal was the Hall’s threat to plant half as many trees as mitigation if any challenge is filed against an addendum to their Environmental Impact Report: “…..the applicant is proposing to reduce the number of trees to be planted from 33,580 to 16,790 trees in the event the County’s decision to approve the revised GHG mitigation is appealed or challenged in court.”

Aside from making them look like a bunch of bullies, this poison pill and the County’s acquiescence to exchange responsible environmental mitigation for silence is unconscionable, undemocratic, and quite possibly unlawful.

The obvious need for more rigorous campaign finance reform is a subject for another day. But, given how closely Pedroza’s political ambitions are aligned with the Halls, Pedroza should have recused himself from this discussion and decision. But that didn’t happen. Instead, he disclosed that he had “met” with Hall Wines President Mike Reynolds, (as had all the other supervisors). What transpired at that meeting was not revealed.

As the scientists from the Center for Biological Diversity pointed out, there were many things wrong with the Walt Ranch proposal, and it holds negative consequences for all of us.

Among other things, it deserved more time for scientific studies based on current conditions. For example:

• We are in the midst of an unprecedented drought. Yet the Walt approval relies on water availability data from 2009! It would have been prudent to get more recent data before approving this project.

• We don’t know how many Walt Ranch trees were actually killed by the 2017 and 2020 fires. Let’s not count them as dead, already, when they are in the process of recovering. And we need a science-based analysis of the carbon cost of cutting down those that survived.

• We should be wary of “fake” mitigation. Planting a seedling does not make up for cutting down a mature tree. It will take more than 50 years for any seedlings that survive to meaningfully contribute to the carbon sequestration process. We don’t have that kind of time.

And finally, let’s restore some semblance of local democracy here in Napa County. Alfredo Pedroza should have recused himself from a clear conflict of interest. The voices of hundreds of residents who will have to live with the consequences of this project every day should have held more sway than money from a wealthy couple in Texas.

Until we can get the influence of big money out of local politics, we are doomed to decisions being made on behalf of those with the deepest pockets, and not on behalf of the people they are supposed to represent. That is not how democracy is supposed to work.

Elaine de Man

NVR version 12/19/21: Keep big money out of local politics
Sharon Macklin LTE 12/26/21: Support campaign contribution limits

NV 2050 on Walt Ranch and Mountain Peak

Bill Hocker - Feb 6, 2018 2:16AM  Share #1823

Napa Vision 2050 has just issued a Call to Action regarding the upcoming Feb 13th Walt Ranch court date and the more distant Mountain Peak court hearing.

The email is here.

Walt Ranch Appeals Denied

Bill Hocker - Dec 20, 2016 6:39PM  Share #1340

Moving ever closer
Day 4

NVR 12/20/16: Napa County supervisors complete Walt Ranch approvals

I was pleased to read that the Center for Biological Diversity also had taken up the issue of future development of the Walt properties for housing once a water system and all weather road system are in place. The county again apparently has dismissed such subsequent development potential as pure speculation, implying, as before, that the CEQA requirement to consider the growth inducing impacts of a project don't apply in this case becuse that owners haven't proposed a housing project.

Day 3

NVR 12/6/16: Napa County supervisors endorse controversial Walt Ranch
NVR 12/5/16: Napa supervisors poised to make Walt Ranch decision
Video of the day 3 hearing (12/4/16)

WIth modest discussion, they made their decision: ALL APPEALS DENIED 5-0

Kudos to Sup. Wagenknecht for bringing up the "speculative" possibility of home development on the 35 parcels of Walt Ranch. It is the first time that any public official or staff member has brought up the issue beyond the terse dismissal in the EIR that the developer didn't propose housing so we don't have to discuss it. In fact, once he raised the question about the probability of the vineyard development making the parcels more salable for home development and the impact that might have on water demand, there seemed to be an uncomfortable silence in the chamber as staff and supervisors mentally wrestled with a need to respond to a subject that has been completely taboo during the entire EIR process.

Staff seemed compelled to state that once the EIR was approved there would be no more public review of future home developments on Walt Ranch and that such development could proceed by right requiring only ministerial (non-public) decisions. Sup. Caldwell, pointing to the wide variety of development allowed by the zoning that could occur on the properties (including up to 105 dwelling units), asked for a clarification on the road upgrading that might be required. Dir. Morrison responded that the ministerial review would likely require the improvemment of roads to state mandated requirements but that was just more speculation. And then, after 8 years, this one and only brief governmental interest in the potential conversion of 2300 acres of virgin forested watershed into a housing project was dropped, and the project was approved.

Most interesting was Sup. Luce's impatient and enthusiastic motion to deny the appeals (and his ironic support of the development industry that had just kicked him out of office) as well as Sup. Dillon's "it's vineyards or houses, folks" canard [a pre-Internet post-truth] knowing that Walt Ranch will eventually be a vineyard estate housing development. She also ungraciously accused the appellants, whom she was about to hammer with her decision, of "post-truth" lying.

Day 2
NVR 11/23/16: Proponents of Napa's Walt Ranch make their case (day 2)
Video of day 2 hearing (11/22/16)

Day 1
NVR 11/18/16: Napa's Walt Ranch vineyard hearings open with protest (day 1)
Video of day 1 hearing (11/18/16)
NapaVision2050: Day 1 post-hearing statement with news links
Mark Wolfe summation for Sierra Club at hearing

As stated in my letter to the BOS prior to the hearing, my interest among the many negative impacts that this project promises are the "growth inducing impacts" that the construction of an all-weather road system and a water storage and distribution system to each of the 35 properties in the project which will encourage further development of the properties as estates after the vineyards are in. I was pleased to see several speakers take up that theme in the appelants' presentations and by speakers afterward.

John Rose from the Center of Biological Diversity, in his arguments against the EIR, made the clearest case yet concerning both CEQA's admonition against "piecemealing" of projects and the need to discuss "growth inducing impacts". Their enitire PowerPoint is here. The specific slides of concern to me are here:

In public comments after the appellants' presentations other speakers brought up the issue of reasonably foreseeable future development on the property:

Gordon Evans' statement:

    While outside the current scope of this particular vineyard project, I ask the Board to consider the intended future use of the property.

    On Nov. 6, 2014 at a public meeting hosted by the Halls at the Meritage Resort, Craig Hall, after acknowledging that the ranch consisted of 35 separate parcels, expressed surprise that “there hasn’t been much focus or contention on this” and “we wouldn’t have bought the property had it not already been divided into 35 development parcels.”

    Indeed, when you overlay the proposed vineyard locations on the existing parcels, you will note that they are placed in such a fashion as to provide most parcels with their own dedicated vineyard. I initially pointed this out at the Public Forum conducted by Mr. Morrison on Nov. 12, 2014, and again personally to Chairman Pedroza at a private meeting on Feb. 22 of this year.

    So, in this context, Mr. Lippe’s comments this morning about “economic feasibility” take on a special meaning, because we’re not talking about just a vineyard project here. You only have to look at the Hall Ranches development in the Anderson Valley to see what the ultimate prize here looks like. $269,000 per acre of developed vineyard is a paltry sum compared to the potential value of 35 developed mini-ranches with established vineyards.

    As good as Hall wine is, the economics of this Vineyard Conversion Project defy logic if it’s only intended for wine production. Rather, I submit it is a costly stepping-stone to a vastly more valuable investment.

    I assure you, we haven’t seen the last of this battle.

Former Supervisor Ginny Simms' statement:

    I'm Ginny Simms and I'm rushing toward 90 at breakneck speed. I'm here to talk about the Walt Ranch EIR but I'm here really to talk to you. Because I'm bringing up some things that you all know, that you have all experienced just as a reminder. These 35 parcels I researched and most of them were created from about 1980 and a whole bunch of them in and around 1990. And they remained parcels that were not really sold or developed or anybody showing much interest. There was at that time no proof of water, no access roads to them and as a result they were not really in any sense marketable.

    But something has changed. If [the county has] not looked at the potential for this being a subdivision, that is exactly where it's headed. The EIR did not examine the development - I think this is rich - because it was not proposed by the project applicant. In other words we don't have to look at that because he didn't mention it. I find that kind of odd.

    The EIR regulations clearly state that you must look to the expected results of the decisions you make following the hearing and basically that the EIR needs to cover the obvious and predictible results of the action. And I submit to you that our zoning of AW is a predictible and obvious result. Today if this is approved, a zoning administrator looking at an application for a house on one of these parcels will grant it. He could also grant a small residential care facility, a hunting club, and RV park or camp ground. In short, the process this has gone through by asking only for the nature of this action, what's really happened is that the planning department become judge jury and, in the form of the zoning administrator, the executioner.

    What we see now is that we have water to every parcel, we also have a road to every parcel, an all weather road to every parcel, and the market is obviously going to respond. In addition they don't have yet any right to use this water for irrigation and the 21 miles of exiting roads are available to anyone who wishes to buy a parcel. I want to warn you that you are heading us for the same kind of trouble you have all experienced with the Berryessa badly planned subdivisions.

Former Supervisor Kathryn Winter's statement:

    illustration: Bob Johnson
    I'm Kathryn Winter. I'm giving you a cartoon that was drawn by a friend thirty-five years ago that we laughed at then, and you'll see why it's kind of amusing.

    I'd like to address the limitations of the cumulative impact analysis for the Walt Ranch with its vineyards and 35 pre-existing parcels, each with the capacity to be developed at a future day and induce growth in rural areas. The County's responses to various appeals claim that preperation of the cumulative analysis is consistant with CEQA guidelines, and they did find cumulative impacts, and they suggested mitigations. The county asserts that all of the many CEQA issues have been mitigated to less-than-significant levels. We've all heard the comments about the impacts on wildlife, from construction of roads, impacts to surface and ground water, increased traffic, impacts on endangered and threatened species, fragmentation of habitat, noise and fencing, pesticide drift, water pollution, loss of old growth oak tress and land slippage on unstable slopes. We've heard that all. With a project this size it's unfathomable that all impacts can be mitigated to less-than-significant levels even though additional mitigations added by staff allow them to recommend such a finding. This is what concerns me.

    In 12 years making land use decisions as a town council member, county planning commissioner, and county supervisor, I approved projects whose impacts were theoretically mitigated, yet the county is saddled with ever increasing impacts and their costs. We see the failure of mitigations like huge swaths of clearcut hillsides marching up the valley. We gave up and determined the traffic can not be mitigated. So it takes 60 minutes some days to drive 18 miles from Napa to St. Helena. We have 400 to 600 wineries yet more seek approval. Bit by bit we are eliminating habitat for wildlife, decimating forests and slowly destroying our environment because our elected leaders do not have courage to say "no" to the wine industry when it seeks to impose it's will on the community. Where is the vision to look at the true costs of environmental degredation on our health, roads, loss of species, decreased air quality and compromised quality of rural life. If not you, who else can help citizens when we express fears about over-development. Scientists say we are witnessing the sixth major extinction of species. We don't need to contribute to that in Napa County. We can dot every "i" and cross every "t" of an environmental document and still come away with an unsatisfactory result because we have not addressed the real issue, which is the carrying capacity of Napa County to support unlimited winery and vineyard growth.

Photos from day 1 protest

Walt Ranch post-hearing truth

Bill Hocker - Dec 14, 2016 11:05AM  Share #1358

Dan Mufson of NapaVision2050 sends this fact-filled, "real-truth" letter from the Sierra Club to the BOS outlining disputed nitty gritty of the staff presentation at the Dec 6th Walt Ranch final hearing (where Supervisor Dillon, trying to discredit the concerns of Walt Ranch impacted citizens, accused them of being "post-truthful").
The hearing video and agenda is here (item 9B)
Download pdf of the letter below.
(The referenced AES Dec 2nd memo does not appear to be available of the County's website)

Ignoring key part of the environment

- Dec 1, 2016 11:21PM   Edit  |    Share #1356

Walt Ranch promises “environmental responsibility,” “sustainable stewardship,” and “commitment to the greater Napa Valley ecosystem” if it replaces 209 acres of woodlands and chaparral with more grape vines.

But besides threatened trees and water, the ecosystem includes neighbors unimpressed with its plan.

Why stubbornly develop a vineyard when so many people in the neighborhood object? In any ecosystem, any neighborhood, the measure of success is cooperation (not wealth).

Perhaps the Walt owner has a dream. Or the competitive urge to make the best cabernet.

But those reasons neither build neighborliness nor foster community. It’s difficult to conceive that a project as supposedly solicitous of the environment as Walt Ranch would exclude from its concern a crucial part of the ecosystem: neighbors.

Insouciant remarks like “What else should be done with that land?” or “Well, that’s business,” disrespectfully dismiss the fertile idealism that may be the bane of business but the salvation of Napa County. If economic interests continue to trump aesthetic values, and the countryside vanishes, little time will pass before the great Bay Area awakening that wonders, belatedly: “How could they have let this happen to Napa County?”

NVR version 12/1/16: Ignoring key part of the environment

Deforestation in the time of drought

George Caloyannidis - Nov 21, 2016 3:16PM  Share #1346

[Letter sent to Napa County Board of Supervisors 11/21/16]

Dear Napa County Supervisors:

I am sure you are aware of the November 18, 2016 U.S. Forest Service Report (attached here) regarding the alarming disappearance of trees in the state of California due to the drought. Not only is the number of 102 million trees lost staggering but even more alarming is the accelerated rate by which this is occurring: "62 million in 2016, a more that 100% increase over 2015 with; millions of additional trees weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years".

The Report goes on to state that "With public safety as its most pressing concern, the U.S. Forest Service has committed significant resources to help impacted forests, including reprioritizing $43 million in California in fiscal year 2016 to conduct safety-focused restoration along roads, trails and recreation sites".

This reality brings up once again the issue on which I have alerted you before: The tools by which projects are analyzed and evaluated in Napa county (CEQA / EIR) are inadequate in assessing the true impacts of projects as they are casting a very limited radius of impacts.

The Napa Land Trust, an organization whose mission and work is appreciated by us all, has saved 57,000 trees through land acquisitions and is supported by the voluntary financial contributions of many of our citizens, and the U.S. Forest Service is supported by the taxpaying public. Yet Napa Cities' and County policies are working in the exact opposite direction, having consistently approved or set to approve the clear cutting of some 30,000 trees in the past two years.

As the most egregious examples, the City of Calistoga approved the cutting over 10,000 mature trees (over and above the approx. 2,500 trees cut through a prior THP for roads) and the Walt Ranch project now before you is seeking to cut another 14,000 trees.

It is obvious that the County's policies are working against rather than in accord with state public policy and ignoring a statewide alarm.

It is imperative that Napa County adopt a more responsible and wider reaching radius and network of impacts when considering projects. That the current myopic tools are inadequate can be experienced daily by all of us - including you - in regards to the disastrous cumulative impacts on traffic as a result of the series of what you have been willing to accept as "less than significant impacts" as certified by the limited CECA and EIR findings and alleged mitigations. Impacts such as the rise of cheap commuting labor demand and the rise of CO2 levels due to stop and go traffic have never been addressed by the findings you deemed credible and have resulted to where we are today.

When the alarming loss of trees in California causes the U.S. Forest Service to raise the alarm in terms of public safety, it is irresponsible for the County to keep approving massive deforestation projects such as Walt Ranch with the sole purpose of accommodating the financial interest of a corporate entity. There are no effective mitigation measures for deforestation.


George Caloyannidis

Mark Wolfe's Sierra Club summation 11/18/16

Bill Hocker - Nov 20, 2016 6:06PM  Share #1343

The following is a transcription of Mark Wolfe's summation on behalf of the Sierra Club in their appeal to the BOS in oppostion to Walt Ranch 11/18/16

Good afternoon.

I am Mark Wolfe, a land use lawyer here on behalf of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club, in case you didn't know, is the oldest and largest conservation organization. Next year it celebrates its one hundred and twenty fifth anniversary. It's been around a very, very long time and achieved considerable success by taking the long view. Taking the long view a hundered years ago led to things like the creation of Yosemite National Park which I'm proud to say I can have my kids go and see in a relatively unspoiled state. And it's that same philosophy of the long view that we're asking you to take today. The downside of going last is that other people have stolen your thunder. And in this particular case I have to say that I find the thunder in this room resounding, in its quantity but especially in its quality. I've been doing this for about 20 years and rarely if ever have I seen the degree of technical and legal sophistication brought to bear by such a diverse set of interests. Also pitched on one particular project. And I think it speaks to the magnitude of the issues that you're facing today. So I'm not going to repeat the points that were already made, probably much more succinctly and eloquently than I can make myself. Going last brings benefits, being able to tie things up and that's what I'm going to try to do briefly today. I want to focus on 3 concepts, all of which underscore and I'm going to talk about them ... The concepts are first risk, second doubt and finally accountability.

Risk. What's at stake? What's at stake are the natural resources and the environmental quality that has been talked about at length for the last several hours. We're talking about groundwater; we're talking about the critters, the frogs, the birds, the turtles. We're talking about their habitat. Were talking about the state of the climate, air quality, safe roads and ultimately human habitat as well. What can we say about these resources? Well first, I think its fair to say, they belong to everyone. These are shared public recources. The Halls may own the dirt, they may have a deed that says they have title to this particular piece of land, but the water that is in those creeks, the frogs, birds, the turtles, those belong to the people of the state of california if not the United States of America. Obviously a stable climate belongs to us all. These are shared public resources that belong to your constituents, us and yourselves as well. We can also say about theses resources that they are definitely finite. They are limited. They will not last forever and they are in a state of serious depletion already. You've heard at great length from the people before me the state of risk that faces several of these species, the groundwater resources and the surface water resources and the .. resources as well, So they belong to all of us, they are limited, they are finite and they are in a state of depletion. So who's supposed to be watching, manning the ship, tending the farm? For better or worse, it is you. I don't envy you. You five are the stewards of these resources. You are the guardians of these resources. You have, for better of worse I dare say, a somber responsibility to prevent the further unnecessary or unreasonale depletion of their already finite characteristics for your constituients today and, it almost a cliche to say this at this point, for their children and their children's children for future generations. This is what the Sierra Club, frankly, is all about philosophically. So you are, in effect being asked to make a gamble, take a risk, place a bet. And the stakes are these resources, the people's resources. To belabor the metaphore, you are being asked to make a bet at the casino using you constituients' money. So what are your responsibilities, as public officials, with regard to that risk? Your responsibility is to minimize it to the maximum extent practical, the maximum extent reasonable.

Which brings me to my second concept which is doubt. Risk and doubt are absolutely closely related. If there are doubts about the wisdom of the bet, you shouldn't take the bet. Or if you're going to take the bet, you should minimize what you're putting on the table, the number of chips. You have a duty to calculate this risk and minimize it to the maximum extent practicable before you take any action, before the cards are dealt. Here, I think, the record before you, as illustrated by all the testamony before you so far, should have indicated at the very least that there is abundant doubt about what's going to happen to the resources affected by this project. We would submit that there is virtual certainty that the resources are going to be unacceptibly depleted, degraded further, and there is nothing in the EIR that conclusively or compellingly shows to the contrary. But you'll hear form the applicatnt on Tuesday, and certainly you're going to hear other technical experts, with other evidence and information probably saying all of our concerns are overblown. Regardless of that, at the very least, I think that you have to admit that there is some small doubt. There's doubt about whats going to happen to the water, there doubt about hydrological interaction between the creek and the groundwater, there's doubt about how far away from the streambeds the frogs can travel, there's doubt about what is going to happen to the runoff, there's doubt aobut whether deep ripping is going to increase or decrease permeability. Doubt. Doubt. Doubt. The hallmark, that is, the catchphrase that I've heard from the presentation today: we don't really know what's going to happen. What can you do? Your job, respectfully again, is to work to minimize that doubt to the maximum extent practicable. I underscore the word practicable. We're not asking you to do the impossible, because it's probably impossible to guage with 100% probability what's going to happen. But I think you owe it to your constituients and the resources and the public at large to do more than accept this EIR in its current form. You have a duty to make the staff and the applicant take a closer look, pay careful attention to all of the technical points that were raised so far and come back with a document that truely identifies that actual nature and extent of that risk to these resources before you make the bet on approving the vineyard.

Finally, the question of accountibility. It's really what CEQA is all about. The supreme court has said repeatedly that CEQA EIR's are essentially documents of accountibility. They present to the public and to the decision makers what will happen to the environment should ...this project get approved. Based on that information, the agency, you, get to make that ultimate balancing test, that judgement. Are the benefits of the project worth that cost. are the economic benefits, the employment benefits, tourism benefits of a project like this, - is it worth it? If you make that determination, you do so in what is called a statement of overriding considerations. In this particular EIR, because it did not find any, any significant unmitigated impacts, you actually don't have to adopt a statement of overriding considerations. You can approve the project as it is. I'm aware that there's one in there anyway. That doesn't really count from a strict legal perspective. It only becomes relevant if the EIR finds significant unmitigated impact. Now a flawed EIR, one that does not adequately disclose all potentially significant impacts, makes that whole exercise in accountibility essentially a hollow exercise. It makes it irrelevant. The way that CEQA is written to make sure that doesn't happen is one key touchstone requirement: if you certify this EIR, you have to find that it reflects your independent judgement. You can't point at the staff and say that they said the EIR was OK. You can't point to the applicant and the consultants and say that they say that the EIR is OK. You need to make that decision for yourselves. When you certify, you are saying to your constituients and the the people of the State of Califronia, quite honestly, that you believe the this EIR in its current form has absolutely been put to the task and that it has done all that it can reasonably do to investigate, to disclose and evaluate all the potential i... that this project could bring to bear on affected resources. The Sierra Club would respectifully submit that there is just no way on the current record you could make that finding today. We would join with the other appelants in urging you to require the staff and the applicant to come back with a revised, limited, EIR - it doesn't have to be the entire thing all over again, but those issues that are in controversy today - and come back and make sure that everything is adequately disclosed and mitigated where feasible

Thank you.

Walt Ranch deserves a better fate

Bill Hocker - Nov 17, 2016 5:01PM  Share #1339

[My third Walt Ranch letter - not so different from the second.]

Members of the Board of Supervisors,

Walt Ranch from other side of Monticello Rd
I would like to repeat here my letter of opposition to the approval of the Walt Ranch FEIR. While I too feel there are significant impacts on water resources, on wildlife habitat and on our county's carbon footprint, my concern is also about the suburbanizing trend that this project represents for the remote and natural woodland areas of the county. Supervisor Pedroza has repeatedly said that "once our open space is gone, it's gone". He is right, and I would seriously encourage you to heed his words.

This project is not a vineyard erosion control plan. No real estate developer (as the owners are) would spend 10 years and milions of dollars seeking approval for 21 miles of roadway and a substantial water storage and distribution system on 2300 acres of land only to serve a 209 acre vineyard. The project is, in fact, the preliminary infrastructure development for a 36 unit residential subdivision. The FEIR failed entirely to discuss the reasonably foreseeable future development and growth inducing impacts that the project represents. From the FEIR:

    "As stated above in General Response 4, the purpose of the Proposed Project is to develop vineyards on the Walt Ranch; the EIR does not analyze the development of homes on the parcels because that is not proposed by the project applicant. No other reasonably foreseeable future development would occur on the project site beyond what is described in the EIR. Therefore, it is not appropriate to include the development of single-family homes on the Walt Ranch property in the cumulative analysis for the Proposed Project". (FEIR v1 pg4-39)

This FEIR has completely ignored the discussion required under CEQA guidelines of the reasonably foreseen "growth inducing impacts" that the project represents. The FEIR mistakenly concludes that because a particular use has not been proposed as part of the project that such use is not forseeable. Until such use has been legally prohibited on these properties, that use is eminently forseeable. From the CEQA guidelines:

    CEQA Sec 15126.2(d) (pg155): "Growth-Inducing Impact of the Proposed Project. Discuss the ways in which the proposed project could foster economic or population growth, or the construction of additional housing, either directly or indirectly, in the surrounding environment. Included in this are projects which would remove obstacles to population growth (a major expansion of a waste water treatment plant might, for example, allow for more construction in service areas). Increases in the population may tax existing community service facilities, requiring construction of new facilities that could cause significant environmental effects. Also discuss the characteristic of some projects which may encourage and facilitate other activities that could significantly affect the environment, either individually or cumulatively. It must not be assumed that growth in any area is necessarily beneficial, detrimental, or of little significance to the environment."

It is irresponsible for the FEIR to foresee no other development on the properties as a result of the creation of an all-weather road system and the provision a water system and water lines to each property, by a developer that has a track record of developing vineyard-ready residential subdivisions. [ http://www.hall-ranch.com ]. The FEIR states in General Response 4 (FEIR v1 pg4-5) that "There is no evidence that, elsewhere in the region, vineyard projects are being proposed as a catalyst for future residential development." They weren't looking very hard.

From the Hall Ranch website:

The reason that everyone in the county is now stuck with traffic congestion, unaffordable housing, an agrarian landscape now littered with building projects and more and more in taxes to cover the infrastructure costs of an expanding population is because each project approved never considers the reasonably foreseen future development that the completed projects will necessitate, encourage and make possible.

If the developer is serious about denying the growth inducing impacts of their project they should place non-development conservation easements on the properties or a no-future-development clause into the property deeds. If they are serious about only using the vineyards to supply grapes for Hall wines then let them recombine the properties into one parcel as a show of commitment. These steps need be taken as a condition for the granting of the ECP.

The parcel and vineyard map of Walt Ranch is here. Just look at the vineyard block plan. Would any vintner sensibly create such a convoluted, inaccessible and expensive vineyard just to supply grapes to their winery? Would anyone buy 2300 acres of land for 288 (now 209) acres of grapes? The convoluted vineyard configuration does insure that 34 of the 35 parcels each have some vineyard acreage necessitating road access and water availability required for the sale of vineyard-ready residential property.

The perfunctory discussion regarding growth inducing impacts by claiming this project is only about vineyards in the FEIR can only be seen as an attempt to fudge over real intent of the project and a sidestepping of the intent of CEQA. The CEQA "growth inducing impact" discussion is at the heart of this project.

It is, as well, a discussion that is at the heart of all the projects that that have generated so much opposition in the last three years as the obvious impacts of growth are beginning to destroy everything special about Napa County. Beyond this review, and the infrasturcture that his project will create, there are no land use restraints on the further development of these properties for housing. Walt Ranch, at 2300 acres, is a significant piece of open space and undeveloped natural woodland in the county. It deserves a better fate than just 35 more luxury homes (actually 105 residences when including allowed secondary units and guest cottages). If approved, the urbanization of Napa County, with each project's urbanizing impacts mitigated to a level of insignificance on paper, will go on unabated and, eventually, the open space will be gone.

Thank you for this opportunity to re-emphasize my concerns.

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Rd

Deep Root Speaks

Bill Hocker - Nov 17, 2016 10:33AM  Share #1338

Author James Conaway has tapped into an experienced source willing to talk about the backstory on Napa land development on the eve of the Walt Ranch appeal hearing.

Nose Blog 11/15/16: An insider condemns cutting thousands of oaks

[As of 11/20/16 the article has disappeared, perhaps understandably. The identity of Deep Root would be hard to conceal for any length of time in such a small place. I'll keep a link to the page in case the article returns. The essence of the article was that the Napa vineyard development is no longer about wine - it's about real estate. (The ag preserve succeeded in saving a lot of open space, now available for construction in this new age governed by real estate developers)]

On another blog post, related to the Walt Ranch project, Conaway gives his no-doubt-comming-book excerpt on Planning Director David Morrison:
Nose Blog 11/20/16: Napa's man between the developers and the enviros

Walt Ranch BOS appeal and protest Nov 18th

Jim Wilson - Nov 9, 2016 2:52PM  Share #1336

NVR 11/15/16: Napa's Walt Ranch vineyard controversy goes to supervisors

Napa County citizens will rally in front of the County Administration Building at noon on Friday, November 18th. The appeal of the approval of the Walt Ranch Erosion Control Plan to the Board of Supervisor will begin at 9:00am

This occasion is the first day of hearings on the appeal against the Walt Ranch project. This project has aroused more ardent public protest than any in our county’s recent history.

The county wants to ignore us-- let's make it harder for them to do so. We'll have signs on hand, or bring your own.

A day at Hall Wines

Bill Hocker - Sep 11, 2016 9:58PM  Share #1310

On Sept 10th 2016, many citizens concerned about the proposed removal of 24,000 trees on the 2300 acre Walt Ranch development, and of the many other environmental impacts that the development will create, made their concerns known at the developer's winery, Hall Wines, in St. Helena.

Walt demonstration at Hall Wines Sept 10th

Bill Hocker - Sep 9, 2016 3:13PM  Share #1304

An invitation to show your support for the preservation a significant piece of Napa County native oak woodlands for future generations.

Sept 10th, 2016, from 10:30am to 2:00pm in front of the Hall Winery at 401 St. Helena Hwy

The DENW website issues page discussing the impacts of the project is here

Walt Ranch Erosion Control Plan Appeal
The appeal of the approval of the ECP on Walt Ranch has been filed with the county to be heard by the Board of Supervisors. It is an interesting read, and sets out the many issues not addressed in the final EIR.

There will be three public hearings later this fall-- three opportunities for public commentary. The appeal and all supporting documents may be found on the DENW website, at http://denw.info/appeal-filed-by-circle-oaks-homeowners-and-water-boards/

Walt Ranch Winery?
David Heitzman just sent this Dallas Morning News puff-piece on the Hall's love affair with wine:
Craig and Kathryn Hall pen business love story about winemaking

The journalist has described the Halls previously as a power couple who brought to Napa a Texan sense of excess-in-all-things with the Hall Winery project. In this current article they sound more like Ozzie and Harriet at the kitchen table.

It's the end of the article that piques the interest of the Napa community bearing the brunt of the Hall's love affair:

    'Included in the 4,000 is 2,300 acres zoned for agriculture that the Halls bought in 2005. Some locals are up in arms now that the Halls have shown intentions to build a winery on part of it. The controversy has the couple dumbfounded.

    "Kathy and I think of ourselves as environmentalists. Our Texas friends think of us as crazy, tree-hugging, liberal Democrats," he says.

    "I'm totally OK with that moniker, by the way," she says.

    Craig launches into why the protesters are completely off base.

    Kathryn rolls her eyes. "This is a part that I cut in the book. Who wants to sit through this long story?" '
The building of a winery wasn't mentioned in the EIR for Walt Ranch. Is this a slip of the journalist's pen (conflating vineyards and wineries) - or are the Halls more open with the locals in far off Dallas, Texas than they are with the locals here? Given the concern about the future development of the property, that Napa County has chosen to ignore, it was an interesting, and alarming, note in the story.

As interesting to me, perhaps, was the Texan conception of a tree-hugger, which seemed to point to the relative difference that Texans and Californians might place on the environment. The Hall's are, of course, planning to hug 24,000 trees to death on the Walt property. (It brings to mind those other Texas plutocrats blindly wishing to inflict the din of private helicoptering into our environment.)

The Hall's seem to have been accepted by the Napa power establishment as "one of us", so its a little peevish for regular concerned citizens to call attention to cultural differences. Most all of us are immigrants here. But when an article like this surfaces that looks at a local situation from a foreign perspective one can't help but comment.

Walt Ranch LTE's

Bill Hocker - Jul 23, 2016 9:37AM  Share #1284

Eve Kahn LTE 7/22/16: What is the real plan for Walt Ranch?
Final Notice of approval for the Walt Ranch ECP

Eve raises a most important and obvious issue concerning Walt Ranch: that it is a housing development pretending to be an ECP and the county is just looking the other way. That concern was brought up in numerous comments during the EIR review process including my own letter here and in more extensive comments by Lois Battuello here. Such concerns were dismissed in the EIR with a terse "No other reasonably foreseeable future development would occur on the project site beyond what is described in the EIR". And the county accepted that opinion.

Eve's letter is a response to a previous LTE that I had missed until now, one that is the most articulate summation of the Walt counter-narrative thus far written IMHO. The writer is Stephen J. Donoviel and it is titled simply Reject Walt Ranch

Walt Ranch Protest at Hall July 31st

Geoff Ellsworth - Jul 21, 2016 3:32PM  Share #1289

Once again this Sunday July 31st, 11:30-1:30 will be a sign holding demonstration outside of Hall Winery in St. Helena to protest their Walt Ranch vineyard development. This development proposes to cut and clear 24,000 trees from a sensitive watershed area just east of the city of Napa, this will create serious water quality and availability issues for hundreds of nearby neighbors as well as the city of Napa.

Standing up together we are strong and can protect our communities, resources and environment
401 Hwy 29 St. Helena

Reject Walt Ranch

Stephen J Donoviel - Jul 18, 2016 10:04AM  Share #1479

Reading the article “County approves Walt Ranch" (June 14) immediately brought to mind two comments: one, the response by one of the so-called "Original Ten" vineyard and winery owners during the late 1960s to a question about planting vineyards on the surrounding mountains, to which he replied: "The valley's for farming, the hills are for the deer." The second was a comment I often heard my mother say, "My, oh my, what money can buy!"

David Morrison, director of Planning, Building and Environment, stated in the article that all of the numerous concerns addressed in the EIR analyses for the above project could be mitigated and would not reach the level of "Significant." I disagree.

These concerns involve the entire ecosystem, including soil erosion, draw-down of tens of millions of gallons of water and damage to the water supply affecting local residences as well as necessitating costly improvements to the city of Napa water system; traffic issues, including road damage and increased pressure on recreational and residential mobility; threats to wildlife; geological threats to the adjacent community of Circles Oaks and many other families living in the surrounding area; various forms of noise pollution generated by heavy equipment, increased numbers of vehicles of all types, demolition explosions, etc.; and the potential risks to the health of these citizens (as well as the construction workers needed for the project) by possible exposure to carcinogenic dust being blasted into the atmosphere.

These degradations would result from the domino effects stemming from the extensive alterations to the landscape, and to conclude that all these can be satisfactorily mitigated does not, in my opinion, meet the smell or common sense test -- notwithstanding the numerous analyses and consultants that have been employed.

Central to many of the issues is the cutting of old-growth forest and there is no possible mitigation for time lost, i.e., the many decades to regrow the estimated 24,000 trees and vegetation to be destroyed and the resultant effects on the ecosystem. If we think of the trees as healers of the environment, e.g., removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, stabilizing soil and stream beds, providing cover for fauna, etc., the work provided by 24,000 trees cannot be compensated by the remaining forest regardless of their numbers or ratios.

Planting saplings, while a good idea, will take years and years to equal the healing capacity of what was destroyed. I think it paradoxical that approximately two weeks after indicating that the removal of 24,000 trees did not have a significant environmental impact, Mr. Morrison in a Napa Register article on July 4, concerning Napa's responsibilities to deal with the counties' carbon load, noted that one aspect of the plan could include planting 2,500 trees annually.

Anyone who has driven behind earth/rock-moving trucks (which have relatively tight covers over the load) knows that considerable dust escapes. Four years of construction noise may not seem "significant" when gauged from sound measurement techniques, however the effect undoubtedly would be deemed otherwise by local residents. Unlike the project developers and their staff and those public officials making determinations about the risks of this project, the citizens living nearby will face an estimated four years of daily direct exposure to the noise and air pollution from explosions needed to destroy mountains, cutting trees, constant rumbling of heavy construction equipment, workers vehicles, etc,.

I am puzzled why the owners who, when they opened the Hall Winery in St. Helena, touted it as a "green" enterprise, are now promoting a project that is the antithesis to that concept with the destruction of every conceivable aspect of the environment and all for no apparent good reason -- certainly not to put food on their table, clothes on their backs or grow grapes in an environmentally sound fashion. Looking at the plot maps, this looks more like a plan for multiple ranchettes than a farming operation.

I urge the supervisors to reject the totality of this project and, instead, encourage the owners to deed this bit of earth to future generations, which, as others have pointed out, would prove to be a much greater legacy, a la Warren Buffett, the Zuckerbergs, the Gates, and so on.

If this and other such projects that have negative impacts on the many to financially benefit a few get approved, it seems there are very few options left for us, one of which would be to seek redress through the courts. Obviously such an action would require the resources and clout that an organization such as the Sierra Club has. However they would need our support and I urge everyone who is not currently a member to join the Sierra Club since this project would have lasting negative consequences, in varying degrees, on all of us.

Walt Ranch: who's accountable if they're wrong

Gerald Cohn - Jun 2, 2016 7:46AM  Share #1262

In Mr. Warfield's May 8 article in the Napa Valley Register, "So who is missing the point,” he describes the Halls as very nice and generous people because they follow the rules and give to charities. I wonder what the point of view would be from someone raising a family in Circle Oaks and who will have to put up with four years of construction?

The Walt Ranch is 2,300 acres. Divide that by 640 acres per square mile and the result is 3.4 square miles. In all of that property the only place they could find to develop a vineyard with a strong probability that it could be as large as 500 acres and require up to 30 acre-feet of water is right next to Circle Oaks? Circle Oaks is a middle-class community of about 180 homes that has existed since the 1960s. I wonder if this project would be considered if Circle Oaks was a high-end community like Silverado or St. Helena.

To add insult to injury, the plan is to run heavy equipment right through the center of the community on Circle Oaks Drive.

On April 4, I attended a meeting chaired by David Morrison. It was brought up (with pictures) that the road in question and the land surrounding Circle Oaks is unstable and subject to slippage and the environmental impact report did not address this problem.

This problem was illustrated in an article in the Napa Valley Register on May 2, 2016 that reported the damage to Highway 121 due to slippage could cost up to $5.5 million and take several months to repair. As the meeting on April 4 discussed, these are the similar problems that Circle Oaks Drive exhibited, i.e. ground slippage.

It is also interesting that Mr. Morrison had most of April and all of May, but is waiting until June 11 to disclose his findings, after the election on June 7.

To put things in perspective, a 500-acre vineyard is over ¾ of a square mile and can require to 30 acre-feet of water a year. An acre-foot of water is 325,851 gallons times 30 equals 9.77 million gallons of water a year just for this one development. There are more than 30 individual parcels on the Walt Ranch. What effect the development of all of these parcels would have on water use, drainage, and possible contamination of the Milliken Watershed is unknown.

Water use: To sum this up, the environmental impact report paid for by the Walt Ranch states that the water use will be mitigated by the monitoring of well water levels. Nowhere is there any provision on who is accountable if Circle Oaks runs out of water and what steps should be taken if this happens. It should be noted that the groundwater study conducted by Slade & Associates states that the irrigation demands of the Walt Ranch Vineyard would not affect the ground water levels in offsite wells. This is the same company that said that the water needs of the Carneros Inn and the Carneros residents could be met. Instead, the Carneros Inn and Carneros residents have to track in water purchased from the city of Napa.

Drainage: The environmental impact report for the Walt Ranch also states that the vineyard will not increase sediment and pollutants being washed off the property during storms because of measures taken by the Walt Ranch project. When Joy Eldredge, Napa Water's General Manager, expressed concerns about the vineyard's runoff polluting the Milliken Reservoir and asked if the Walt Ranch would help pay for the $20 million that would be necessary to upgrade the water treatment plant, the Walt Ranch's response was that the request was "disproportional, given that the project's impact will be less than significant"

Trees: The Halls say that only 12.1 percent of the total trees on Wall Ranch will be cut down. What they do not tell us is that 12.1 percent is approximately 28,000 trees. This makes it hard to believe that the Halls are stewards of the land.

The bottom line is the Wall Ranch project will seriously impact Circle Oaks because the environmental impact reports are a sham. They offer no accountability if the mitigations fail. Who is going to be accountable if Circle Oaks Drive fails, if the Circle Oaks community runs out of water, or if the Milliken Reservoir gets polluted?

It is a sad day when the corporate mantra of profit without accountability trumps the right of locals who give to charities and obey the rules to be able to live in harmony with one's environment. Shakespeare said that it is a fool's prerogative to utter truths that no one else will speak.

Jerry Cohn

NVR version 6/1/16: Who is accountable if they're wrong?

Hall, No!

Bill Hocker - Apr 2, 2016 10:53PM  Share #1217

NVR 4/4/16: Decision on Walt Ranch expected June 13

After 3.5 hours of presentation and public testimony and the introduction of 3.5 inches of new documents, Planning Director Morrison has put off until June 13th the decision on the environmental control plan based on the Walt Ranch mitigated Final EIR. There will then be a 30 day period to file an appeal to the BOS on the decision.

And a snippet from the comments to the above article initiated by Rob McMillan:

    Rob McMillan Apr 5, 2016 12:03pm
    As I see it, property owners have rights to develop land and improve it's value within local zoning requirements. There are three things that can happen with this property now: 1) Donate to the Land Trust. 2) Develop a portion with vineyards leaving a healthy amount of natural terrain, 3) develop with homes or ranches.

    I would prefer that the property and all the hills for that matter, be retained as open space because I live in Napa and value the views and nature. I'm an outdoorsman. That said, development of some form will happen unless someone were able to raise money to buy the property and donate it. That hasn't yet happened and there has been time to do that. Asking the owner to do donate isn't realistic as they have voiced their desires plainly and have cooperated and responded to all the requirements.

    If I can't have open space, I'll take this plan as it still leaves the hills without hospital sized homes dotting the hills. While dissenters won't like the likely approval, the process has been exhaustive and everyone with a view has made their point. It's time to make the decision and approve the project. Denial isn't a reasonable outcome and stalling the decision isn't reasonable with all material information now in hand.

    Bill Hocker Apr 5, 2016 4:01pm
    Well in fact you will get homes by approving this vineyard project. The convoluted vineyard plan provides 34 of the 35 parcels with all-year road access and a water supply to each parcel (in addition to a few of acres of vines on each). After this project is done the individual parcels may be sold and each can accommodate 3 dwelling units (one hospital-sized) granted by right and a winery granted by a use permit that virtually cannot be denied. The Halls have already developed a similar housing subdivision in Alexander Valley (http://hall-ranch.com). Craig Hall is a real-estate developer. What does anyone expect? duh!

    Savethechildren Apr 5, 2016 9:59pm
    Bill Hocker, All legal parcels in California are eligible for a single family home. State Law. If not, then the legal existence of your house just might be in jeopardy. If this project goes through, then each parcel will be sold, and each parcel will have a house on it. There is no environmental impact report needed, no public comment, no need to wait 10 years. Deny this project and you will have 35 new neighbors probably overnight. Each of them will submit for their own vineyard (the expensive work is already done for them). Read the EIR and you will see that there are no houses planned. There is no "sub-division" happening here, as that would require a public vote thanks to measure J/P. Continuing to say so is disingenuous at best. This is about vineyards and that's it.

    Bill Hocker Apr 6, 2016 9:17am
    STC - I should have included a link to the parcel plan in the previous post. Without this project, it is quite unlikely that homes would be built. Each buyer would have to provide the costly access road and water source for their property, not to mention the cost of creating the vineyard of their dreams. Normally a subdivision developer would create that infrastructure and sell the properties. You are right that this is not a residential subdivision. So the developer must find another mechanism to create the infrastructure necessary to make the parcels sellable. Guess what mechanism. To get this project approved the Halls have already agreed to cut over 20% of the vineyards initially proposed. Why? Perhaps because this project isn't about vineyards. I would suggest that all developers, and their spokesmen, stop their disingenuous praise of agriculture to achieve their urban development ends.

4/2/16 Sign Holding at Hall Wines

A signholding at Hall Wines to protest the development of 2300 acres of natural landscape into vineyard estate properties by Craig and Kathryn Hall. A public hearing on the final EIR for the project is happening Mon, Apr 4th 9:00am at the County Building.

My second Walt Ranch letter

Bill Hocker - Apr 2, 2016 5:46PM  Share #1199

Brian Bordona, Supervising Planner
Napa County Planning, Building, & Environmental Services Department
Napa, CA

Mr Bordona,

Having lived in the Rector watershed for the last 22 years and having watched the natural landscape disappear to vineyard development, and now being confronted next door with the first tourism-centered winery on the plateau, I would like to add another letter of opposition to the approval of the Walt Ranch FEIR and the suburbanizing trend that the project represents for the remote and natural woodland areas of the county.

I can only admire the amount of effort the Walt Ranch consultants made to address almost each and every opposing comment among the 3800 pages of comments submitted, in addition to finding the common themes of opposition and addressing those concerns at greater length. While the bulk of the opposition seems to revolve around woodland, habitat and water impacts I would like to emphasize, as I did in my first letter, the issue of reasonably foreseeable future development and growth inducing impacts that the project represents. For me, concerned about the obvious future impacts of what I can only see as the infrastructure development for a 35 unit residential subdivision, I was a bit disappointed by the summary dismissal of that as a concern in the FEIR:

    "As stated above in General Response 4, the purpose of the Proposed Project is to develop vineyards on the Walt Ranch; the EIR does not analyze the development of homes on the parcels because that is not proposed by the project applicant. No other reasonably foreseeable future development would occur on the project site beyond what is described in the EIR. Therefore, it is not appropriate to include the development of single-family homes on the Walt Ranch property in the cumulative analysis for the Proposed Project". (FEIR v1 pg4-39)

The FEIR foresees no other development on the properties as a result of the creation of an all-weather road system and the provision of water lines to each property, by a developer that has a track record of developing vineyard-ready residential subdivisions. [ http://www.hall-ranch.com ]. The FEIR states in General Response 4 (FEIR v1 pg4-5) that "There is no evidence that, elsewhere in the region, vineyard projects are being proposed as a catalyst for future residential development." They weren't looking very hard. (Please watch the video on the Hall Ranch site.)

From the Hall Ranch website:

The reason that everyone in the county is now stuck with traffic congestion, unaffordable housing, an agrarian landscape now littered with building projects and more and more in taxes to cover the infrastructure costs of an expanding population is because each project approved never considers the reasonably foreseen future development that the completed projects will necessitate, encourage and make possible. This FEIR has completely ignored the discussion of the reasonably foreseen "growth inducing impacts" that the project presents:

    CEQA Sec 15126.2(d) (pg155): "Growth-Inducing Impact of the Proposed Project. Discuss the ways in which the proposed project could foster economic or population growth, or the construction of additional housing, either directly or indirectly, in the surrounding environment. Included in this are projects which would remove obstacles to population growth (a major expansion of a waste water treatment plant might, for example, allow for more construction in service areas). Increases in the population may tax existing community service facilities, requiring construction of new facilities that could cause significant environmental effects. Also discuss the characteristic of some projects which may encourage and facilitate other activities that could significantly affect the environment, either individually or cumulatively. It must not be assumed that growth in any area is necessarily beneficial, detrimental, or of little significance to the environment."

If the developer is serious about denying the growth inducing impacts of their project perhaps they should place non-development conservation easements on the properties or a no-future-development clause into the property deeds. If they are serious about only using the vineyards to supply grapes for Hall wines then let them recombine the properties into one parcel as a show of commitment. I doubt that any of those steps will happen. The parcel and vineyard map of Walt Ranch is here. Just look at the vineyard block plan. Would any vintner sensibly create such a convoluted, inaccessible and expensive vineyard just to supply grapes to their winery? Would anyone buy 2300 acres of land for 288 acres of grapes? The convoluted vineyard configuration does insure that 34 of the 35 parcels each have some vineyard acreage necessitating road access and water availability required for the sale of vineyard-ready residential property.

The perfunctory discussion regarding growth inducing impacts by claiming this project is only about vineyards in the FEIR can only be seen as an attempt to fudge over real intent of the project and a sidestepping of the intent of CEQA. The CEQA "growth inducing impact" discussion is at the heart of this project.

It is, as well, a discussion that is at the heart of all the projects that that have generated so much opposition in the last two years as the obvious impacts of growth are beginning to destroy everything special about Napa County. Walt Ranch will eventually be a very lovely housing project if this vineyard conversion is allowed to go ahead as is. And the urbanization of Napa County, with each project's urbanizing impacts mitigated to a level of insignificance on paper, will go on unabated.

Thank you for this opportunity to re-emphasize my concerns.

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Road
Napa, CA 94558

Lois Battuello Letters on Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Apr 1, 2016 11:36AM  Share #1216

April 20, 2016

Napa County Planning Commission
1195 Third Street
Napa, CA 94558

Re: Walt Ranch and today's presentation packages

Dear Members of the Commission:

Thank you for always recognizing the Public Comment provision of our Government Code, which permitted me to explain why I believe the Walt Ranch project should be subject to a Use Permit Application and why it is vital to this County, vis a vis SAF-34.

On my point that this is a future home site development, not just a vineyard application, I provided two maps from the Walt Ranch EIR that if super-imposed would show vineyard plans for all but the Capell Watershed parcel at the top of the map. These are Figures 3.3 and 3.4 I noted.

In your packages are other things that point to commercial development intentions:

-- Kathryn Hall told "The Napa Valley Register" on April 4 that her family has worked on the vineyard plans for a decade. At other times, that they've spent millions of dollars of their own money to develop the plans (and go through the process).

In the package you have been given, the last page is a copy of the Deed of Trust recorded in Napa County on August 17, 2012 showing Hall Brambletree Associates, Ltd borrowed $5.7 million for unspecified development expenses for the Walt Ranch properties.

Do the Hall family members live in the Limited Liability Company known as Hall Brambletree, or in some of the Limited Partnerships entitled to draw funds from this loan, such as Search Financial Services, L.P., or Hall Phoenix/Underwood Ltd.? This structure suggests there are other than Hall family members as investors, and that borrowings are the source of funds, not personal funds from the Halls.
-- Craig Hall is a real estate syndicator and syndicators make money by acquiring, developing, and reselling land for a profit for their investors

-- In the package just submitted are two pages from Sonoma County Planning Department records, one dated October 22, 2008. This memo notes Hall Financial Group was the applicant for Hall T - T Ranch Subdivision in Alexander Valley (known now at the Hall Ranch "community plantation development). Here, established vineyards were subdivided with vines in most cases more than 20 years old, the existing vineyards carved up into 10 forty- acre parcels, a neighborhood governed by a Homeowners Association in an agricultural district.

In other words, Craig Hall and Mike Reynolds of Walt Ranch have already developed other vineyard home sites in Alexander Valley.

-- In their Walt Ranch letter dated November 21, 2014, Hall and Reynolds asserted their rights to build 35 homes.

As noted in my March 28, 2016 letter to you, allowing Hall to get away with his scheme will cause the balances of Napa County's agricultural properties to fall to development never intended by Measure J, nor permitted by our General Plan. People will have to answer to charges of Public Corruption should it happen (meaning a repeat pattern of violating land use laws by any public official) for allowing the Walt Ranch scheme to advance.

The second document of interest is an internal memo showing Mike Reynolds, developer of the proposed Walt Ranch, as project manager for this commercial development. While Mike Reynolds now serves as President of Walt Wines, he functions as a developer for Craig and Kathryn Hall - a developer of home sites in rural areas, creating new residential enclaves that are not permitted in Napa, and a developer of their St. Helena Winery.

I believe David Morrison has done an excellent job of giving people a voice, but in a matter that is so limited, that which is before him, a Vineyard Application with the Erosion Control Plan and the EIR, that the other issues presented would be by-passed by the Board of Supervisors.

I believe the foregoing provides enough information to justify requiring a Use Permit application to also put this project on track for SAF-34 review.

Any effort you can lend to this cause would be appreciated by those who have not been given a voice otherwise allowed by the normal process for development schemes.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Lois Ann Battuello
1634 Main Street
St. Helena, CA 94574
Copy to: David Morrison, Director of Planning

To: "David Morrison"
Sent: Saturday, April 2, 2016 9:16:01 AM
Subject: Walt Ranch and Public Safety Questions - Use Permit or Vineyard Development Application?

Hi Dave,

Please see my letter below directed to the Planning Commission March 28. I have not yet requested to be placed on the agenda regarding Walt Ranch, however I have seen enough red flags related to the Walt Ranch project to suggest the appropriate application should be for a Use Permit, not a simple vineyard development, and I hope to address the Planning Commission to place this matter on their agenda, unless that is something you can accomplish?

Please see the last paragraph of page 2 below for a recap of what I do for our Country and our County. And see the top two paragraphs of Page 3. Then please go back to page 1 for a list of projects that included community developments in Napa County after the passage of Measure J -- all rejected or failed. I think you will see that Walt Ranch has the potential of creating a precedent that will bring great harm to our rural areas, stomp out our protective Titles, while I sense from a March 16 feature in "The Napa Valley Register" the developer would not hesitate to bring a lawsuit to attempt to set aside our Agricultural Preserve. Whoa, that's Texas bravado I've heard before.

Importantly, failure by Walt Ranch to apply for a Use Permit put this project outside of normal review by law enforcement, which is described in Napa County's General Plan Safety Element, SAF-34, which reads:

"Policy SAF-34: All new commercial and multi-family development shall be referred to the Sheriff's
Department for review of public safety issues. If the proposed project is adjacent to or
within an incorporated city/town, consultation with their law enforcement agency shall
also be required"

Frankly, I don't know where to begin the discussion, but it isn't just a "conspiracy theory" approach that I am taking, my concerns are based on the fact that Mike Reynolds has asserted there is a right for each of the 35 parcels to have a home, Hall Financial Group (umbrella over Hall Brambletree L.P. and Hall Brambletree LLC) is an investment bank in Dallas, TX that syndicates real estate investments, including investments for foreign nationals, about whom we know nothing. Hall's first purchase of property in Napa County, 1995, also coincides with the Texas-based Richland Interests L.P.'s Soscol Ridge project. When that project was rejected, other Texans with big plans retreated.

I have also had personal experiences with local counsel for Hall and Reynolds where the truth had been distorted and angles used to circumvent county codes, particularly in matters related to Rich Frank and Koerner Rombauer, whose spectacular warehouse fire also destroyed Kathryn Hall's 1997 and 1998 wine releases ... an illegal warehouse project on its face, and a bit of a bootlegging operation until the fire changed their ways and the Frank-Rombauer venture vaporized.

As a resident of this County, I don't want any new precedent set that could cause harm. I was present when the Board of Supervisors literally put the developer in the Lake Luciana project (Pope Valley) under oath because he had lied so much. As it turns out, foreign (Arab) money was involved in that scheme as well as the other majors proposed for Napa County in the past. Simply put, we have no way of controlling what could be a runaway project without the benefit of a Use Permit application that allows ongoing review. If the vineyard plan is approved, there is no way to prevent provision of utilities to the various parcels of Walt Ranch and their sale of parcels, clearly a commercial activity resulting in formation of a new community.

I spent nearly two years with the General Plan Update Committee shepherding SAF-34 through for "Team Napa," a group that cannot identify itself in public, but who are in a position to review projects to assure we are safe ... but only when properly applied for.

I apologize for not having a copy of the Hall's Alexander Valley (Sonoma County) Hall Ranch project's CC&Rs scanned for attachment to the letter, however I will mail the letter below with attachment this week.

Thank you for your time, attention, and guidance.


Lois Ann Battuello

Letter to Planning Commission

March 28, 2016
Napa County Planning Commission (by hand delivery)
Re: Walt Ranch Vineyard Development Application #P11-00205 ECPA Project

Dear Commissioners:

I urge you to reject Walt Ranch's Application to develop vineyards, regardless of findings of the Environmental Impact Report and Erosion Control reports.

The vineyards are appropriately zoned AW (Ag-Watershed) and AWOS (Ag-Watershed-Open Space), and while appropriately zoned for vineyard development as a source of fruit for syndicated Hall Wines, the vineyards are an ancillary use to a "planned community development" for which Walt Ranch is not zoned. Any development in the county for the purpose of building multiple single family homes can only be on properties zoned RS (Residential Single District) per Title 18.52 of Napa County Municipal Code. In the case of Hall Ranch, the vineyards become ancillary uses, providing views to prospective and future homeowners, as well as fruit for Hall Wines. Even sold without spec homes on the parcels, this is a planned community development with hardened roads to each parcel that would have easements recorded for access to each, and commonly-shared roads and entrance - a gated community with vineyard "views, views, views of rolling vineyards," likely with commonly shared farm management.

The Community of Walt Ranch would be governed, as is their Hall Ranch development in Alexander Valley, by Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions that would be recorded immediately upon any approval of this vineyard plan, just as they were recorded in Sonoma County for Hall Ranch in Alexander Valley (Geyserville), evidenced by the attached cover sheet for the CC&R filing. Like Hall Ranch, Walt Ranch will advertise the estimated monthly HOA dues (Homeowner's Association Dues), as soon as the project is developed for what Sotheby's terms a "community plantation development." We do not permit new urban communities on land designated AG, AW, OS, or any combination of special zones, save RS noted above.

The County has no financial incentives to approve this project. "Bloomberg News" just reported that the French are on a buying spree in Napa County, and dozens of established winery properties are turning over, increasing our tax base considerably. Remember when the French rejected Robert Mondavi's vineyard plans there because they didn't want a forest harvested, despite their passion for vines and wines?
Four of the Alexander Valley Hall Ranch's ten parcels have sold, two to individuals and two to investment companies which intend to flip the properties a second time, likely after developing homes on the sites. There is a more limited market for "build your own" than thoughtfully developed homes ready for occupancy that the investment companies could provide.

In the past, the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors have rejected similar developments in Napa County since Measure J was passed in 1990:

    Soscol Ridge (Richland Interests of Houston, TX). Location: Napa
    A referendum by the developer was rejected by 84% of the county's voters

    Juliana Vineyards (Bill Harlan's Pacific Development Corp's project for Reunion Industries in 1996 on former Buttes Gas & Oil properties of Houston, TX). Location: Pope Valley

    Lake Luciana LLC (developers Criswell & Radovan for Four Seasons Resorts/Hotels on property owned by Triad Communities/Fred Grimm and Dallas Police & Fire's TBD Realty of TX) which was tied in common ownership of the developer to historic Aetna Springs in 2009. Location: Pope Valley

    Eco Village fell apart when Lake Luciana was rejected; the project shared common ownership
    (Triad Communities) with the rejected Lake Luciana, and collapsed financially. Location: Angwin

    Carneros Inn was on land zoned commercial and was a mobile home and RV conversion; Calistoga Ranch replaced an existing RV park.

Walt Ranch's Application is disengenuous, a way to incrementally develop the property - vines first, homes later under different building permits. Developer Craig Hall is a real estate syndication expert. By his admissions to "Dallas Morning News" (March 24, 2014), his Hall Financial Group has more than 500 investors and is moving to 600, who, among other assets, own Hall Wines. Both Hall Ranch and Walt Ranch appear to be syndications.

We have never approved any project in this county for a real estate syndication, the purpose of which is to purchase, develop, and resell property for a profit for shareholders by Hall's admission at http://www. hallfinancial.com. That's a non-permitted commercial activity on its face.

In our County, vineyards have never been intended as "spec developments" to make profits for real estate flippers/investors, rather core enterprises of family and partner- owned farms producing fruit for wineries, or core assets owned by wineries to meet production needs without home developments. You will never find Beckstoffer, Mondavi, Beringer, Charles Krug, or any of our large vineyard owners building a home on every parcel they own, and then flipping the parcels, or flipping parcels for home development by investment companies incident to the vineyards. You won't find hardened roads throughout their vineyard parcels, only around the perimeters of the collective parcels or paved county roads to access them. Other roads through vineyard blocks are cultivated each year and re-established by farm activities, never hardened for all season use.

Hall Wines (one of the businesses owned by Hall Financial Group for which Craig Hall serves as an investor and CEO per "Dallas Morning News's" D Magazine), has a use permit issued by the County for 1.26 million gallons (roughly 500,000 cases) of wine, and intends to expand current production to that limit and beyond, through projects similar to Walt Ranch. If you approve this, he's likely to buy the former Juliana Vineyards/Lake Luciana project area's vineyards and parcels, currently owned by Dallas Police & Fire's Pension Fund, as is Aetna Springs, or purchase the failed Soscol Ridge site, or create something similar from any existing ranch he can find with multiple parcels that he'll flip, while contracting fruit for ever-expanding Hall Wines. Craig Hall will do this over and over to satisfy the thirst of his real estate investment syndicate, and then will head to Planning, Building and Environmental Services Department with an application to modify his Hall Wines Use Permit to meet the demand of his 8,500 and growing wine club membership, and his 600 investor/owners who receive both cash dividends and cases of wine.

Craig Hall is a "moneyman" who has had two big crashes in 1986 and 2008-2010, likely busting out some investors. He lives on OPM (other people's money), as well as his own. The film "Wall Street" has a great line: "They (moneymen) never die, they just grow back in different forms." As noted in the foregoing "Dallas Morning News," "Tapped out at the time (after the 2008 debacle), Craig came up with an investment plan to finish the (Hall Wines' winery) project that's similar to a private placement of preferred stock.

You may think of Craig Hall as the comeback kid, but I've not been able to find a proper registration for his business activity of real estate syndication filed with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission incident to his issuance of preferred stock. With some 600 investors, he is supposed to develop a prospectus and file as a broker with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission to approach 25 people or more by any form of solicitation -- mailers, newspapers, pep rallies (aka "dog and pony shows"), robocalls, or "big tent" events.

Because there is no disclosure of his investors, who come from around the world, I have no way of knowing whether or not his investors include Saudi financiers of terrorism who were involved in other projects noted earlier, as well as Carneors Inn and Montalcino Resort at one time. I am one of our Country's experts in tracing terrorist financiers' funds globally, and getting documents to our Governor (having served two of them), the White House (having served three Presidents), the U.S. Senate (recruited me in 1994), and the Southern District of NY (FBI and JTTF) who head the 9/11 criminal investigation.

Terrorist financiers were also involved in the City of Napa with "Starwood Westin Verasa Napa" and "St. Regis" at Stanly Ranch where the ownership has been changed. In the City of Calistoga, they were involved in the Diamond Hills and Silver Rose projects, but this has also been changed. It is only through
Discovery in a lawsuit brought by the County that we can depose Craig Hall and issue Subpoena Deuces Tecums to learn the identity of his investors to know whether or not we are safe. To date, I have kept us safe, as has President Bush with the rejection of the Montalcino Resort project that had avoided review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (aka CFIUS, U.S. Treasury and FBI, among others).

I found out years after the rejection of Soscol Ridge that one of the financiers of terrorism was behind that project, so you made the right decision then, as did voters who have had enough of new vineyard developments at the sacrifice of our forests.

With Craig Hall's Hall Financial Group located in Dallas, TX, and the Dallas Police & Fire Pension located in Dallas, I wouldn't be surprised if Craig Hall is looking to purchase, through syndication, the Lake Luciana and Aetna Springs assets to help his local firemen. He would once again be Dallas's hero. Approval of this project would set a PRECEDENT for the foregoing scenario of community plantation developments, while Dallas Police & Fire have other alternatives and are moving against parties responsible for the failed projects (attorneys and cpa's). Nonetheless, Hall could help bail out the pension funds loaded with $8 billion in debts and only $3 billion in assets, with resurrection of the Pope Valley projects.

If you approve this vineyard development Application, Walt Ranch will flip the new vineyard properties. Walt Ranch's total investment before vineyard development is $10 million. The syndicate would recover the cost of the 2005 purchase likely from the sale of only 3 parcels after vineyards are developed, at prices close to $5 million per parcel in Napa County. The balance of parcel sales would be gravy, flowing to Craig and Kathryn Hall and their preferred shareholders, additionally providing seed capital to do this over and again in Napa County.

Keep in mind that moneymen have to keep buying, selling, buying again, selling again to satisfy commitments to preferred shareholders.

I grew up on a family farm in the county, picking prunes, grapes, walnuts, suckering, tying vines, budding, and assisting during harvests in many ways. I love vineyards, but not at the sacrifice of 28,000 trees on this cattle ranch, and the dangerous precedent. I would think a cattle ranch is something a Texan would take pride in owning.
Keep those trees, help the county meet its state-mandated goals to reduce our carbon footprint by leaving those trees alone! I have no idea how many tons of carbon dioxide are processed by them, but any loss has negative consequences.

I urge you to reject this precedent- setting Walt Ranch vineyard development application.
Thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration.
Lois Ann Battuello

Bill Hocker - Jul 23, 2016 9:47AM

[letter to Dan Mufson]
From: loisbatt@comcast.net
Subject: To Dan Mufson
Date: April 2, 2016 at 5:41:18 PM PDT
To: napavision2050@gmail.com

It was nice to meet you Friday a.m. at my planned hand-off of Hall Ranch CCRs to Bill.

I enjoyed reading today's paper about your very successful forum.

As to your expert and transit issues, are you aware of the development in American Canyon of the logistics center past the Napa Airport that will add more than 1,500 vehicles/day to the area, using the newly widened Hwy. 12 through Jamison Canyon? There's an example of "once you widen it, it just fills up" coming to the Valley. Evidently warehouses are filling up in Tracy, and Fairfield, and a developer noted the American Canyon location is on rail with access to cargo aircraft at the Napa Airport and came up with a formula for success. Trucks will move from Oakland ports along I-80 to Hwy. 12 through Jamison Canyon, to Green Island Road, across Hwy. 29 to the logistics center where the first phase is near completion. It appears Caltrans is readying the area to put up another signal on Hwy. 29 for a controlled crossing at Green Island Road.

I sent my letter crafted for the Planning Commission (though they haven't jurisdiction over Walt Ranch) as a way to strike up a conversation, where I hope to appear or have someone appear at open mic to request Walt Ranch be put on the agenda. Similarly, I sent a copy to David Morrison, all of this just to rattle cages. And it is quite true, Soda Canyon, Circle Oaks, Capell and other residents have been slammed out by a "moneyman" whose job it is to buy, develop (in any form) and resell properties for his investors. It's the nature of the beast.

Among all of the projects I've listed and investigated since Soscol Ridge for UNVA to help them craft their challenge ("Go Back to Texas"), I've been able to find Saudi involvement, including Montalcino Resort. In this project, the layers are so opaque, only law enforcement has the capacity to properly investigate to determine if we are safe.

I mentioned SAF-34. I'll send the language in my next e-mail. This review process didn't kick in with the Hall Bramletree project because there was no proper application for a Use Permit. This is one of Craig Hall's "creative developments." So all I can do is try to shake some cages on this one. Were I a member of the Planning Commission, knowing how upset residents are, I'd be willing to hold a hearing just to listen to the issue to make a determination on that basis, put things before a probative commission about the 35 homes that could be developed and why all the hardened roads. They shouldn't be by-passed, and sending an EIR to the Board of Supervisors doesn't allow for the time and attention for residents to put materials on record, and often the speakers are limited to 3 minutes each. Otherwise, transcripts from Planning hearings go to Supervisors who can study the issues before making decisions.

Let's see if this gets anyone's attention from the Planning Commission back to David Morrison. I simply feel powerless, otherwise, to assist, when there's been a circumvention of procedures that have been a winning formula for the county. I don't expect any radicals would attack Napa ... what they look for are rural settings with high-end accommodations for their highest level cyber terrorists and plotters and planners for schemes, as well as acquisition of assets that are strategic that can be brought down ... office towers, venues on Treasure Island re Bay Bridge, waterfront properties, tidy little airports to smuggle in personnel and explosives, and land planes for frightening uses.

I was quite impressed that former DIA Director George Tenet (to July 2004) and Jose Gonzales both revealed last December there were major plots for west coast cities. This the first time I've had oral confirmation plots existed then ... yet they continue to exist today. The feature was "The Spymasters: CIA in the Crosshairs" and may be available for download at amazon.com (TV-Movies option) if you are wired in. It is a feature produced by ShowTime.

Thank you so much for introducing me to Diane Shepp. She'll be terrific. I managed to send a small contribution today, wish her well, and perhaps can generate more out of district financial support.

My global cases will be breaking news in and over the next few years ... HSBC is the 'mothership' of the 19 banks ... I am taking one month, June, to rest, enjoy time, before the frenzy of commitments I have with writers begins, "The Wall Street Journal," "The New York Times," and our national writers on the blood diamond and illegal arms trades, so I am sneaking a bit of time now and then to keep and eye on Walt Ranch, but cannot even participate in NapaVision2050 at this time in my life. I know you will understand, if you've had a chance to read the letter I sent to my professor in Italy. Huge, global issues.


Lois Ann Battuello

A letter from the Halls

Bill Hocker - Mar 15, 2016 9:34PM  Share #1205

The Napa County planning department public presentation of the Walt Ranch Final EIR is scheduled to happen on April 4th 2016.

This week in the mail I received a promotional packet for the project from the developers with a prepaid mail-in survey card. It is an impressive public relations effort. The owners, Kathryn and Craig Hall, probably have a large circle of friends, so no doubt a lot of postcards will be sent in with the "I support the Walt Ranch vineyard proposal" box checked. One wonders how many of the "I oppose the Walt Ranch vineyard proposal" boxes will be checked. I give them credit for asking both questions.

The flier, as one might expect, is rosy about the issues of "water conservation", "erosion control" and "tree preservation" not dwelling on the 69 million gallons of water that must be pumped out of the aquifer each year, the amount of earth moving needed for 500 acres of clearing and grading including 21 miles of roads or the removal of 28,600 trees over 5" dia. to make way for the vines. As usual in every EIR, all environmental impacts have been mitigated by the developer's numbercrunchers to "less-than-significant levels". Unfortunately, residents must also spend enormous amounts of money to have their own equally qualified numbercrunchers come to different conclusions.

The one issue that is most important to me (and it seems to be only my interest) is almost unmentioned in the flier: "For most of the year, vehicles entering or leaving Walt Ranch will be almost unnoticeable, as there will not be a winery on-site or the ability for tourists or the public to access the site." They overlook the 4 years of construction activity, of course. Also they imply that this is one site with the potential for "a" winery. Walt Ranch is in fact 35 already subdivided sites with the potential for 35 wineries plus 105 dwelling units under current county zoning. Are the Halls willing to prohibit further development with binding non-development conservation easements on the properties to insure that future development "would not result in cumulative impacts to transportation and circulation in the area"? As I have tried to make the case here, to treat this project as just a vineyard conversion without considering "growth inducing impacts" that development of the site will have is a travesty of appropriate governmental oversight. This project is simply the infrastructure development for a 35 parcel housing subdivision, no different from other properties developed by that Halls and the county should be treating it as such.

1000' noticing at the BOS Dec 9th

Jim Wilson - Dec 7, 2014 4:07AM  Share #491

Hi All,

We'd like to have a good turnout and show support as Mr. Morrison's proposes important CEQA procedure changes for Napa.

It's an 1100 agenda item at next week's BOS MEETING TUESDAY 12/9/14. (The agenda won't be uploaded until Friday.)

DESCRIPTION: Director of Planning, Building and Environmental Services requests the Commission recommend to the Board adoption of a County-sponsored resolution. The proposed resolution will: 1) amend the County's local procedures for implementing CEQA to eliminate the option of allowing applicants to contract directly with environmental consultants for preparation of CEQA documents including Environmental Impact Reports; 2) expand the radius of public notice provided regarding CEQA documents from 300 feet to 1,000 feet from the project parcel; and 3) other non-substantive clerical corrections.

Gary Margadant wrote:

Hi Jim

I just looked at the BOS Agenda for 12/9 and the CEQA changes for that date are only the noticing (see Agenda Letter 9F): "Direction was given to expand noticing from 300 ft. to 1,000 ft. from project sites, and to provide a courtesy notice within a short period after an application is submitted to the County". The huge part of this change is the last bit, notification when the applications are submitted, so if you are on the distribution list, forewarning is in the works.

Note the noticing requirements on page 4. This will not change, so the notification upon application is huge. 10, 20 and 30 days notice is in favor of the applicant and county as it limits time to gather research, resources and effectively comment.

NOTE: CEQA changes as to the Planning Dept having more say over the hiring and direction of consultants has been rescheduled back to the Planning Commission on Dec 17 with a BOS review and action in January 2015. This is the major change in the County Code for processing EIR's.

I will be there to comment on these changes. With only 3 minutes to comment, I need to have others share the comment subjects. Normally, we only try to coordinate within our group, but we are open to suggestions.

Policy Manual Resolution: The attached resolution would add a new policy to the Planning Division's administrative procedures obligating staff to send out a courtesy notice to all property owners within the 1,000 ft. radius and along a shared private drive shortly after a new project is submitted to the department for review. This notice would generally occur within two weeks of project submittal and be distributed concurrent with the request for comments sent to referral agencies and departments. This "notice of pending project" would be in addition to the formal legal notice required by State Law. The intent behind this early notice is to inform interested property owners as close as possible to the commencement of the County's review of the request.

After reading the Agenda Letter for Item 9F and supporting document A , proposed ordinance Redline, I NOTE a huge problem, On this document, see See Section 1, 2.88.010 Definitions, Items F 1&2 (pages 2 & 3). Then note Section 2, items B 1 a&b (page 4).

The county is retaining a 300 ft notification radius for some projects, so the 1000 ft is not applicable to all projects. Erosion Control Plan Notification will be retained @ 300 ft. THIS is HUGE and should not be allowed, since ECPs affect a much larger area of the valley than the 300 ft.

Now I know why the Correspondence Letter from the NC Farm Bureau, NV Vintners, GrapeGrowers and WineGrowers are all in favor of these changes.

We have to do a coordinated opposition to this failure to include all projects within the 1000 ft radius of notification.

About Circle Oaks by Barry Eberling

Bill Hocker - Nov 30, 2014 9:12AM  Share #483

NVR 11/29/14: Circle Oaks fills role as Napa niche community

And this article sanctioned by the Napa Valley Grapegrowers:
Napa Valley vineyards: From mountaintop to valley floor
While not specifically mentioning Walt Ranch, this article does seem a highbrow defense of vineyard development in even the most rugged hills and the timing can't be coincidental. This means that the Farm Bureau and the Grapegrowers are now publicly in support (or at least not opposing) the project. They should also make clear their stance on the development of residential compounds and wineries on the 35 parcels.

The City of Napa responds to Walt Ranch

Daniel Mufson - Nov 24, 2014 8:18PM  Share #476

Here is the City of Napa’s response to the Walt Ranch dEIR. As you can see they have several serious concerns including sediment, pesticides and the potential for home development on the property. I’d say this is a most significant response as it puts the city into play against the county. Thanks are due to Chris Malan, Bob Wallin and Carl Bunch for pursuing this with the city.

WaltRanch DEIR Comments-CityNapaWater-11-21-14.pdf

Note this from the letter:
    "If the County of Napa were to approve the proposed project, it should impose a condition of approval prohibiting any future development of one or more single-family dwellings, small residential care facilities, recreational vehicle parks or campgrounds. To protect the public water supply [of] Milliken Reservoir, ..the Water Division opposes the future establishment of the aforementioned uses in the Milliken Reservoir watershed."

[Tourism wineries are OK? - BH]

Formal Response Letters to Walt Ranch

Daniel Mufson - Nov 23, 2014 8:11PM  Share #466

I'm attaching a submission by the legal team hired by the Circle Oaks Water Board and Home Owners Association. The letter has been prepared by Rachel Mansfiels-Howlett of Provencher & Flatt, LLP, Santa Rosa:

11-21 Walt Ranch Comment final RMH.pdf

Report by Patrick Higgins for the Living Rivers Council concerning Walt Ranch:


Thomas Lippe, Attorney writitng on behalf of the Living Rivers Council Letter:

C007a DEIR comment 4.pdf

Chris Malan of Living Rivers Council letter in opposition:

Walt Ranch ECPA LRC comments 11.21.2014.doc

Letters to Planning Department RE: Walt Ranch

Lisa Hirayama - Nov 23, 2014 7:55PM  Share #469

November 19, 2014

Kelli Cahill, Planner III
Napa County Planning, Building and Environmental Services Dept
1195 Third Street, 2nd Floor
Napa, CA 94558
RE: Draft Environmental Impact Report Walt Ranch Expansion Project #P11-002005-ECPA

Dear Ms. Cahill,

I have concerns regarding the above named Walt Ranch project that aren't referred to in the DEIR, but I believe are relevant to this proposal. I believe these issues need to be considered in the decision process of whether or not to approve this development.

It has come to my attention that Hall Financial of Frisco, TX is selling a 421-acre property in Geyserville on which they are awaiting approval to subdivide into 10 parcels. Once approved, they will be selling the parcels as estates, each with vineyard acreage. Interestingly enough, those vineyard blocks appear similar to how Hall Brambletree will be planting their 356 acres of vineyards on 35 parcels for Walt Ranch. Will the County specifically prevent the splitting of Walt Ranch into estates, if in fact, that is the end goal of Hall Brambletree? I have attached to this letter the informational flyers on this property. I would like to understand if a corporation can receive a development permit under the Napa Ag Preserve and then years later, possibly subdivide the property and sell it as estate parcels? How would this be the "highest and best use" of agricultural land? Once the County allows Walt Ranch to move forward, will Hall Brambletree be required to file an EIR again if they want to sell off each parcel as an estate? Or does it mean that once they are allowed to develop Walt Ranch as vineyards, later on they can do as they wish to the property without any restrictions? Will the impact on the neighbors and the environment have no validity?

A neighbor in passing commented to me that Circle Oaks is similar to Foss Valley which is due west of us up Soda Canyon Road. She said it has suffered no ill effects from vineyard development. I would beg to differ for many reasons. Our soil is of a completely different quality because we are more prone to slides and subsidence. For example, on January 1, 2006, there was a massive mudslide between Circle Oaks and Napa that closed Hwy 121 for a week. There are also always pockets of mudslides in our neighborhood that occur when heavy rains fall. Foss Valley's "hillsides are steep and well drained with volcanic soils of red dirt, loads of rock and tuffa." The soils there are not deep and it has a high water table. There is a surprisingly broad valley floor "with all of the area's water flowing into it from sources such as Rector and Milliken Creeks." Foss Valley is relatively close to the Walt Ranch project, but no comparison can be made between the two since the areas are dissimilar in soil quality, stability, water sources and current residential population. There is no moderately dense housing in that area. Circle Oaks operates a closed water system for its residents with no access to any other public water sources. Circle Oaks is truly unique and believed to be the only such type of this community in the State of California.

I have learned that the Hall's own the property at 3438 Atlas Peak Road under a different company name. One would think this should have been disclosed in the DEIR if there exists another access point to Walt Ranch other than Circle Oaks Drive, their dirt road 1/4 mile east past the CO entrance and Circle S, but I don't recall seeing anything about it. Shouldn't Napa County know all information if it pertains to Walt Ranch? Why would Hall Brambletree not mention it even if it is under a different named company owned by the Hall's? This goes to the transparency of this project--what else is possibly being concealed?

On November 16, 2014, "60 Minutes" aired a segment about the depletion of groundwater in California, especially in the Central Valley, to sustain agricultural crops. Wells are now being dug 1200' down to reach water and the ground has dropped 6' in some areas of the Valley because so much groundwater has been pumped out. One test well dropped 5' in one month and that same well has dropped 200' in the last few years. Water levels are at historic lows in the Central Valley. Is this what it will take for Napa County to realize that projects like Walt Ranch are devastating and unsustainable? By that time, the damage will be irreversible. Napa County should be considering the future cumulative impacts of allowing so much groundwater to be removed if Walt Ranch is allowed to proceed.

This past August, the Groundwater Resources Advisory Committee, formed in 2008 to study, monitor and make recommendations about Napa County's groundwater supplies, delivered its final report to the Board of Supervisors. "It focused on the valley floor because it contains the greatest amount of groundwater and the hillsides' complex geology would take too long to tackle. Gauging groundwater health in the hillsides would have to be done on a property-by-property basis." The committee declined to comment on how one property owner's water usage would impact another neighbor's well. "It's all very site-specific", so developing rules for usage can't be applied universally. If that is the case, then how can Hall Brambletree conclude that just by testing Walt Ranch wells, the Gale Well and the Circle-S wells, there is more than enough water in the aquifer to support Walt Ranch, Circle Oaks and all neighboring properties. They did not even know where the COCWD wells and possible spring were located, much less test them. I learned from a neighbor who relies on well water that testing for water volume should be done in the month of September. Walt Ranch testing was done in June 2009 before peak summer usage and before the drought. I would conclude that the Walt Ranch aquifer testing appears to be woefully inadequate and, at a minimum, needs to be retested for the current year.

Climate change is a reality. One just has to watch the news everyday to see the incredible rainfall and flooding that occurred this past summer back east, in the midwest, the south and the southwest, but California got nothing. Now all those areas are in a deep freeze with record snowfalls for this time of year, and California is still below average in rainfall for this time of year. Water monitoring needs to be mandatory for any new vineyard development or expansion. We can't extrapolate future water availability based on past water availability because climate change has made those records obsolete. The water issue is one of the most important aspects of any expansion or development in Napa Valley and the hills surrounding the valley. Water is life and it needs to be protected. I believe that Napa County needs to be the steward of the land and protect the well being of its residents. It needs to stop issuing use permits for new vineyards without considering the cumulative impact on the environment, watersheds, and residents. Now is the time for Napa County to make the difficult decisions that can one day be looked upon as the turning point that preserved Napa Valley for future generations. The residents are the heart and soul of Napa Valley, not the corporate vineyards.

Thank you for your consideration.


Lisa Hirayama


November 21, 2014

Kelli Cahill, Planner III
Napa County Planning, Building and Environmental Services Dept
1195 Third Street, 2nd Floor
Napa, CA 94558
RE: Draft Environmental Impact Report Walt Ranch Expansion Project #P11-002005-ECPA

Dear Ms. Cahill,

I have lived in Circle Oaks for 14 years and am deeply concerned about the above named project. As a lay person, I have done my best to understand this immense document. As such, I believe there are innumerable troubling issues in the DEIR, some of which I list below, and therefore, it should be rejected in its current form.

Section 3.4.3, pg 3.28
Walt Ranch proposes to use 213.5 acre feet of water annually or approximately 69.6 million gallons of water. The proposed project would rely solely on groundwater (Appendix--Vol I, pg 3-41). Circle Oaks used 19.5 million gallons of water in 2013, down from 23 million gallons in 2012. As of 11/19/14, Circle Oaks water usage for this year is down nearly 10% from last year at this time. Circle Oaks is doing their part to conserve water, so why would Napa County allow a vineyard to use 3.5 times the amount of water for grapes that a residential community uses to sustain lives? The state is in its third year of drought, now categorized as an exceptional drought, so how does Napa County justify allowing a project to massively dewater the aquifer? There is no way of knowing when or if this drought will end. California residents have done their share of conserving water: overall state usage is down 11.5%, but the Bay Area has decreased usage by 15%. Why then would Napa County give all that water savings to a vineyard for their grapes? Will Napa County guarantee that Circle Oaks, Atlas Peak, Monticello Road or any Walt Ranch neighbors not run out of water? If this project is approved, it is very possible that it could take a few years for water issues to arise. Will Napa County guarantee to pay for the water that will have to be trucked in to sustain households? Property owners on Mt. Veeder are experiencing dry springs/wells after the 32-acre Woolls Ranch vineyard was planted. How can I NOT be concerned about a 356-acre vineyard and the effect it will have on the water table. The California Water Code section 106 states, "It is hereby declared to be the established policy of this State that the use of water for domestic purposes is the highest use of water and that the next highest use is for irrigation." Given this statement, how can Napa County justify allowing agriculture to take priority over human consumption of water?

Section 4.6.1-3, pg 4.6-15
When groundwater is depleted, the concentration of minerals and solids increases. The DEIR states that "the primary constituents of concern are high total dissolved solids (TDS), nitrate, boron and organic compounds." A table on the following page lists arsenic, iron, manganese, and silica from groundwater samples taken at wells in June 2009 and May 2007. Why weren't samples taken recently to see if concentrations have increased after three years of drought? It appears that all the information we have encountered in the DEIR was taken in 2009 which is pre-drought. If the mineral concentrations increase years down the road and the water is unsafe to drink, will Napa County pay for water to be trucked in for all affected residents? Who will guarantee that our water will remain safe to drink when the ground water is depleted? Mt. Veeder is now experiencing high concentrations of boron and arsenic in a pond well since the Woolls Ranch vineyard was planted in 2010. Those levels are too high for grape irrigation and human consumption. In July 2013, Woolls Ranch began hauling water to irrigate their vines. Between 7/10/13 and 9/30/13, a time period of 82 days, Woolls Ranch hauled 1,748,000 gallons of water for their vineyard. In a time period of just 3 years, boron and arsenic levels have increased to unsafe levels and nearly 2 million gallons of water is being trucked in. Is this the fate Walt Ranch neighbors will have to endure in a few years if this project is approved? What will it take for Napa County to protect domestic water usage which is deemed by the California Water Code section 1254 to be "the highest use of water"?

Section 4.6.1-4, pgs 4.6-18 and 19
The DEIR states, "The COCWD may also have two wells and a spring water source located along the southern Walt Ranch property boundary; numerous attempts to contact the COCWD to participate in the groundwater study went unanswered." It would seem logical that if the hydrologist is trying to determine how Walt Ranch water usage will affect existing the water supply, he should know exactly where all wells and springs are located, not state "COCWD may also have.....property boundary". How can he determine how much water is available in the aquifer if he doesn't even know how many locations are tapping into that aquifer? He refers to five wells that are representative of the local groundwater conditions, but he doesn't verify that there could be more in the area? That analysis sounds extremely incomplete. It is also difficult to believe that Hall Brambletree (HB)was unable to make contact with anyone from COCWD. The ranch entrance is 150 feet from the COCWD office where someone staffs it Monday through Friday from 9am to noon. COCWD has an answering machine for off-hours, and there is an emergency number HB could have used if they were truly unable to make contact any other way. COCWD has no record that they were ever contacted by HB. This statement makes me wonder how much other information contained in the DEIR is suspect and dubious.

The DEIR states, "Due to the highly fractured nature of the Sonoma Volcanics and subsequent folding of the geology, it can be difficult to predict the influences of groundwater pumping over long distances in these rocks. Groundwater is found within the fractures, fissures and joints of the rocks." It states that the recharging of the Sonoma Volcanic rocks would be expected to occur due to direct rainfall on various types of surfaces that would filter down to the Volcanics. As I stated previously, California is currently in an exceptional drought, and no one knows when, or even if, it will end. With climate change, this region might never again have the normal rainfall we once experienced. How is the aquifer suppose to recharge if there is no rainfall? In January 2014, Governor Brown asked CA citizens to conserve water and they did. Again, how can Napa County justify allowing a vineyard development that will use 69.6 million gallons of water when there is an ongoing statewide conservation of water? California residents are not conserving water just so that it can be given to a corporation to grow grapes.

Also, because the Sonoma Volcanics are highly fractured, it can be more susceptible to earthquakes. A tributary creek that runs through Circle Oaks is normally dry during the summer. After the 8/24 earthquake, it started flowing and is still flowing strong. Creeks in Vallejo, Green Valley and Sonoma, normally dry at this time of year, have been flowing again due to the earthquake. Some people believe that this proves there is extra water in the aquifer, while I believe that the groundwater has been pushed to the surface which means there will be less water in the aquifer. Unfortunately, all that water flowing in the creek is not being saved for any use. How can anyone really know how much groundwater there is? After the September 2000 earthquake, one of the springs used by COCWD increased its flow. And just as easily as an earthquake can increase water flow, it can also cause creeks to dry up. I understand that acts of nature cannot be predicted. However, when one is willing to allow vineyard water usage priority over human lives, then something is seriously wrong. The aquifer has been productive in sustaining Circle Oaks and it's neighbors, but increasing its water demand 3.5 times over current human consumption just for grapes seems to defy common sense. Is Napa County going to monitor the water usage if Walt Ranch is allowed to be developed? Highly doubtful, so will Walt Ranch be monitoring their own wells for the sake of Circle Oaks? That's like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.

The groundwater analysis looked at the proposed pumping with annual precipitation and the average drought year. The flaw in that statement is that there is no average drought year anymore due to climate change. The DEIR makes the following partial statements, "A typical and conservative estimate of specific yield; based on available data; based on these calculations; volume that can potentially be extracted." Does this mean that there was no actual testing done to determine the true volume of groundwater? It sounds like it's all calculations based on information that might no longer be relevant or accurate. What happens if Walt Ranch is permitted and then it's proven that their numbers were inaccurate? There will be no reversing the damage that will have been done. Will Napa County just say "too bad"? Will Napa County take responsibility for their error in allowing this project to be developed? The analysis found that there is sufficient groundwater available in the Sonoma Volcanics to support the proposed project for a long period of time, even during drought years and even when demand might exceed recharge. Again, who is guaranteeing that statement to be true? Hall Brambletree? Napa County? As I stated before, who knows when and if the current drought will end. Global warming is throwing a monkey wrench into all previous climate records. These tests were done in June 2009 before the drought began. Why were measurements not taken more recently? And I've been told that to get an accurate reading of well water volumes, it should be measured in September, not in June before the peak summer usage.

Walt Ranch is proposing to build four new open reservoirs for the groundwater storage. Based on typical evaporation rates in the region, the DEIR estimates that 207 acre feet, or 6,745,116 gallons will be lost to evaporation. That translates to a third of the water consumed by Circle Oaks in one year, and this will happen every year. Why would Napa County allow that type of water waste? The DEIR states that average annual rainfall is 35" and will directly add 27.4 acre feet (or 8,928,317 gallons) into the reservoirs annually, so that amount will offset any evaporative losses from the storage reservoirs. In this time of drought, why would anyone think 6.7 million gallons evaporating annually is acceptable? If covered water storage tanks were used, then it would be an 8.9 million gallon water gain every year for the aquifer. However, the problem with the whole situation is that it is working off the assumption that every year will have 35" of rainfall. What happens when there isn't that much rainfall for extended years? What if there is never that much rainfall ever again?

Appendix--Volume I: Section 3, pg 3-8, d,e)
Hall Brambletree (HB) intends to manage the vineyards with sustainable agricultural practices. Does that mean poisonous pesticides? They state that it's not expected "to expose sensitive receptors to substantial pollutant concentrations or create objectionable odors affecting a substantial number of people." Since "this impact is considered less than significant , the EIR will not discuss or analyze these issues." Shouldn't ONE person be considered significant? If I'm that ONE person, why am I not important enough to consider? If my health or my children's health are affected by HB's poisons, why am I not considered signficant enough? We currently breathe unpolluted air. Is Napa County going to guarantee that the air I breathe will not become poisonous from pesticide usage on Walt Ranch? The prevailing winds blow directly onto my house from where the proposed vineyards will be developed. Will I no longer be able to enjoy the breeze in the late afternoon and evenings because I will have to worry about the poisons that might be carried by the wind? Will I no longer be able to open my windows because it will be dangerous to have any dust settle into my house possibly contaminated with pesticides? Why should my right to breathe clean air be considered less important than vineyard development?

Appendices Vol. I, Appendix D, pg 11
When a well is drilled, it is sealed to prevent contaminants from entering into the groundwater from the surface. For agricultural purposes, wells are sealed down 25 feet. For domestic usage, wells are sealed down 50 feet. The wells that have been drilled on Walt Ranch are sealed 50 feet down. If the property is to be developed under the Ag Preserve, why would Hall Brambletree need to seal 50 feet down? After learning of the Geyserville property for sale that I reference in my November 19, 2014 letter, this just reinforces suspicions that Walt Ranch will be subdivided in the future and sold as estate parcels. It would appear that Hall Brambletree is trying to develop the area under the guise of agriculture, but that is not what the end result will be. Why would the County not take possible future developments into consideration when granting approval under the Ag Preserve? If this permit is allowed because of the Ag Preserve, then how can houses be considered agricultural?

The Napa County Planning Department, the Planning Commission and the County Board of Supervisors need to listen to their citizens. Our county government has the responsibility to the hundreds, if not thousands, of residents who will be impacted by the Walt Ranch project. It is a massive and aggressive proposal that threatens to cause chronic dewatering problems and put entire communities and the environment at risk. Approval of this project would send the wrong message to the wine industry and to the people who live in rural Napa County. One of Napa County's roles in government is to be the steward of the land and protect it for current and future generations. Please remember that when making your decision on Walt Ranch.

Thank you for your consideration.


Lisa Hirayama

Walt Ranch Opposition Letter

Diane Shepp - Nov 21, 2014 3:56PM  Share #465

November 21, 2014

County of Napa
Planning, Building and Environmental Services Department
Attn: Kelli Cahill, Project Planner
1195 Third Street-Suite 210
Napa, CA 94559

I am opposed to the proposed Walt Ranch project for several reasons. The project mitigation measures are inadequate. The findings and conclusions are not supported by the evidence. The Walt Ranch EIR, although voluminous is inadequate, insufficient and makes erroneous conclusions.

The EIR fails to fully evaluate the immitigable, irreversible impacts of the project on neighboring properties, Milliken dam siltation, degradation of the Capell Creek watershed, depletion of the areas aquifer/ground water, degradation of one of the few pristine natural woodland areas left in Napa County, long term effects of clear-cutting over 28,000 mature trees, loss of wildlife, the increase in traffic through a quiet residential neighborhood, to name a few.

The EIR makes conclusions contrary to know facts (or lack thereof) including the rain fall necessary to fill reservoirs. Napa and the State of California are in a severe drought, from which it will take many years to recover. Once ground water is depleted it takes even more years if not centuries to restore aquifers and in the interim the ground itself sinks into the spaces left where underground water once was and the soil either compacts or erodes.

The State of California and the County of Napa do not have current or substantiated data as to the actual ground water in the hills surrounding the Napa Valley. Therefore the County of Napa does not have substantiated evidence on which to base a knowledgeable decision about current existing ground water levels. The rubber stamping of vineyard and winery applications by the Napa County Planning Department has been a dangerous guessing game. However it is known that in the contiguous area just south of the proposed Walt project, the MST ground water has already been depleted.

The Napa County Assessor

'Napa NIMBY Army' recognized

Bill Hocker - Nov 19, 2014 10:10PM  Share #463

NVR 11/19/14: Walt Ranch opponents deliver petition

In the comments to this Barry Eberling article the expression 'NIMBY Army' is used, as usual as a pejorative. To those of us NIMBY's who have accepted the title as a badge of honor, as the shock troops in the battle against the development interests threatening to destroy the small-town rural character of Napa county, it's heartening to see that our increasing numbers have now been recognized.

Walt Ranch Letters due on friday

Daniel Mufson - Nov 18, 2014 8:39AM  Share #458

The deadline for comments to the Walt Ranch is this Friday at 4PM. I’m attaching a template to make it a bit easier for you to send in your comments. It is important to send a message which hopefully will identify a fatal flaw. Even if you comments are not fatal, it is important that the Supervisors see how much opposition there is to this project. They do count votes--although they sure do count their contributions too! Those of you who spoke at the public forum can send in your message. Halt Walt Now! You won’t have another chance.

Walt opposition letter template (MSword doc)

CEQA Oak Woodland Conservation

Bill Hocker - Nov 17, 2014 11:42AM  Share #456

In going though the CEQA guidelines looking for something else I saw that there is a section specifically devoted to Oak Woodlands. It is §21083.4 on page 31 in this version of the guidelines.

Understanding CEQA guidelines is beyond me, but perhaps someone can clarify why these provisions would or would not apply to the Walt project. The fact that Oak woodlands in particular are called out (while, for example, redwood forests are not) make me think that the drafters of the document felt that oak woodlands were of particular concern in the state.

Hall Ranch: The future of Walt Ranch

Sandy Ericson - Nov 16, 2014 7:49PM  Share #451

A big wine guy just sent me this map -- no words, just the map. And he's never contacted me before. I tracked it down through the Sotheby's label and found that they are apparently already marketing for sale the 10 subdivisions of the 421 acre Hall Ranch in the Alexander Valley. The map is of the 10 sub-divisions. This is a big head's up of what the next move will be for the Walt Ranch if the pattern holds -- except there will be 65 divisions and more. Scroll down to see the listing.

Sotheby's Listing
($24,000,000 for the whole thing?)
Hall Ranch Website


Jim Wilson writes:

Well, news:

This property is in Geyserville on Wilson Road. It does not currently have a street address. See the map link here. Look familiar?


I spoke to the Sonoma County Assessor's Office and learned that this is Parcel 21. It is at or near 2437 Wilson Road. This is unclear to the person I spoke to. It is currently being split into ten parcels. Those parcel numbers are:

131-250-001, 131-250-002, etc thru parcel no. 131-250-010

The owner is Hall T-T LLC. The mailing address is given:

Attn: Legal Department
6801 Gaylord Parkway, Suite 100
Frisco, TX 75034

This needs to be included in our DEIR comments. It's a reasonably foreseeable build out for WALT but the DEIR ignores its impacts by impermissibly limiting the scope of the project.

Walt Ranch: Nov12th DEIR public comments audio and article

Bill Hocker - Nov 13, 2014 10:48AM  Share #448

The audio (but not video) of the Nov 12th 2014 meeting convened by Planning Director David Morrison to take public comments regarding the Walt Ranch Erosion Control Plan and Draft EIR is already! up on the county website.
The audio is here

Barry Eberling's NVR article on the meeting is here:
Walt Ranch opponents use signs to make a point

My own take from attending the meeting: Thank goodness that such a large, articulate, organized and passionate group is in the maw of this development monster (see Carolyn Chute's plan left). And thank goodness for a planning director that seems committed to the airing of the impacts of development projects going on in the county.

Much comment was rightly given to the issues of water depletion and woodland conservation. Both are significant issues for the county as a whole, and both have been completely neglected in the development of ever more watershed vineyards. The drought is now forcing the county to look at the water issue, and that issue deserves serious scrutiny on this project. Also let's hope that the the Walt development and the Circle S development adjacent to it, which together amount to 3900 acres of unspoiled county woodland, will begin a discussion of the benefits of adding marginal amounts of vineyard to the Napa grape resource versus a legacy of undeveloped natural habitat to be enjoyed by future generations.

IMHO the Walt Ranch project is not a vineyard conversion. On its face it is a proposal to develop 365 acres (now 288 perhaps) of woodland into vineyards. The tortured vineyard plan (see above) shows just how difficult the development of these acres will be. Major woodland clearing, blasting, major rock removal and road reconstruction. This is a rugged piece of property, and the development costs will far exceed a typical vineyard development. The process has taken 7 years so far, 500 investors are involved; this is not about the yearly return on a 365/288 acre grape harvest. (The fact that the Halls are willing to reduce the number of acres to appease neighbors shows how unimportant the vineyard revenues are). This "erosion control plan'" is really about the development of the infrastructure to serve the 35 properties of a high-end residential-commercial subdivision.

Until now, the county planning department has had a no-questions-asked policy on vineyard conversions as long as an erosion control plan follows county guidelines. All vineyards are seen as having no negative impacts on future county development. That has led to a vast expansion of watershed vineyard property in the county over the last 20 years, in most cases to the county's agricultural benefit. But it is also the path of least resistance to build the roads and water systems necessary for subdivision development: The property is subdivided. Vineyard development insures that infrastructure for the subdivision has no planning hurdles. The subdivision plots are sold. No further planning department involvement is necessary in building 35 residential complexes with their 35 guest houses. Only when the new owners wish to to build tourist-wineries does the planning department again become involved, long after vast areas of the county have been converted from rural to suburban use.

I may be wrong, of course. The ultimate intention of the Halls may be a vineyard and not a housing project. If so, as a gesture of commitment to agriculture, perhaps they might consider removing further development rights from the property deeds as a condition of approval. Barring that, the EIR for this 2300 acre property should also discuss the impacts of the potential development of those 35 parcels to the future of the county. In the words of CEQA, further physical change in the environment "is a reasonably foreseeable impact which may be caused by the project". 15064(d)(3)

Two presentations stood our for me at the hearing:

The first was made by Greg Gale, a resident of Atlas Peak Road just south of the Walt Ranch. One of his graphics shows the boundaries of Circle S and Walt properties together on the same map. It is an area about the size of St. Helena. It is about 4 miles wide. This is not an insignificant chunk of the county, and it is being developed into homesites with little input from the planning department and no consideration about the impact of such suburbanization on the agricultural future of the county.

The second was made by Jim Lincoln of the Napa County Farm Bureau. It was a big disappointment from the "stakeholder" we are depending on to save Napa's ag preserve from suburban sprawl. They argued that this unprecedented hearing is an unnecessary intrusion of public scrutiny into the administrative review of erosion control plans, a process that the Farm Bureau had no doubt worked hard to implement. To me it was clearly an apt example of not being able to see the forest for the trees. They seemed institutionally unwilling to make a distinction between trojan vineyards used to garnish housing estates and real ones designed to expand our agricultural resource. It may be a tough call in many circumstances (i.e. Circle S) but with Walt it is not. And they should have used the opportunity explore the distinction between the two.

I am in great hopes that Director Morrison, as evidenced in this hearing and in opening the upcoming review of the WDO, has seen the trajectory of development of the last 15 years, knows that it is leading away from the preservation of an agricultural economy, and is beginning to push on the behemoth of planning policy to shift course - before it is too late.

Age and wisdom on Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Nov 11, 2014 9:41PM  Share #444

Really long-time Napa resident Harold Halterman reminds us in this LTE why we're here and what it's all about:

Walt Ranch: Not the way to go

Also one from Murray Berner:

Development affects wildlife habitats

Join Us!

Sandy Ericson - Nov 10, 2014 11:36AM  Share #437

Here's a quick How-To if you would like to comment publicly on the Walt Ranch project and have your comments included in the final documents that support the decision-making process. See previous email for time & place of the meeting tomorrow.

Written comments may be submitted to the project planner either at the public hearing or prior to close of the public comment period on November 21, 2014 as follows:

Kelli Cahill, Project Planner
Napa County Planning, Building, & Environmental Services Department
1195 Third Street, Suite 210, Napa, CA 94559
Email: kelli.cahill@countyofnapa.org
Telephone: (707) 265-2325 Fax: (707) 299-4271


Here is the Napa County General Plan. You must remind Supervisors why they should deny or adopt by giving them references to "findings" in the General Plan and advocating for why certain "findings" should have priority in this instance or time. The General Plan was done in 2009; therefore, many goals, policies and implementing actions are not current with subsequent climate change, drought and tourism realities. Many commercial enterprises understand this and take advantage of it.

Here is just one section of the General Plan, the Natural Resources section of the Conservation Element. Use it and other sections in the General Plan to support your positions. Submit your comments in writing also. Several people may sign a comment.


Join Us!

Geoff Ellsworth - Nov 10, 2014 9:16AM  Share #435

28,000 TREES proposed to be cut and burned in
Napa County clearcut.
Walt Ranch vineyard conversion hearing, 1pm Wednesday, November 12,
2741 Napa Valley Corporate Drive, Building 2

This is a project by a Texas corporation affiliated with Hall Winery, a large event center just south of St. Helena city limits.
This is a vineyard conversion project that proposes to clearcut 28,000 trees in the watersheds just east of Napa city and will most certainly have major impacts on our area and residents.

The hearing is at 1pm on Wednesday, November 12, at the new County Offices in South Napa. 2741 Napa Valley Corporate Drive, Building 2
Down by Southern Crossing between DMV and Meritage Hotel.
I'll be there with my mother, holding signs, standing with other concerned residents, homeowners and citizen stakeholders of Napa County. Please feel free forward this message or to attend and stand with us if moved to do so.

The view from Atlas Peak

Bill Hocker - Nov 9, 2014 10:40PM  Share #434

Kelli Cahill, Project Planner
Napa County Planning, Building, & Environmental Services Department
1195 Third Street, Suite 210, Napa, CA 94559

Ms. Cahill,

Above is a view southeast from Atlas Peak along the main ridge of the Howell Mountain Range. To the left is the Lake Berryessa watershed flowing toward the delta. To the right is the Napa River watershed flowing to the bay. The Walt Ranch project, now under your consideration, is further down the ridge, behind the hillside in this photo (perhaps just appearing on the left flank of this hill). The dense oak forest covering its slopes is similar to that seen here. As you no doubt know, it is a heartbreakingly beautiful expanse of native California landscape. The views from this ridge, as can be seen from the photo, are breathtaking .

As you also know, perhaps 15% of the Walt Ranch property will be cleared of its woodlands, blasted in places, to create areas for the vineyard blocks. It is a tortued vinevard plan, a recognition of the ruggedness of the terrain. Many of the blocks are less than two acres in size. Access to the property is along a hair-raising stretch of Hwy 121, 20 minutes from the Napa Valley, and through the residential community of Circle Oaks. The inappropriateness of the terrain for vineyard development and the difficulty of access for equipment and labor make one wonder why such a property was chosen for its intended agricultural use.

The intention may not be simply to increase Napa's agricultural resource. (In this regard, through no fault of the developer, it does a poor job: in the 8 years it has taken to get this far, as many acres of vines have been lost to the nibbling of winery projects and expansions - 4-5 acres on the Mountain Peak project proposed next to me for example - as this development will add. The county bears the impacts of both types of developments with no increase in the resource.)

As unlikely as this rocky ridge is for vines, the proposal represents the "right to farm" of all property owners in the county. In Napa county however, that right also includes the right to an extensive residential compound, guest house and commercial winery that also serves as a tourist event center. Although those uses are not mentioned in the DEIR, given the great effort and expense necessary to develop this convoluted vineyard, one might reasonably ask if the intended use of the 35 parcels on the property might entail further development beyond the proposal before you.

If there is such an intention, it should be made clear by the developer now. If further development is probable, then what we are seeing here is just the first phase of a very high-end residential-commercial subdivision, not merely a vineyard conversion. The planning department, in its mandate to guide the future development of the county, should be considering those impacts now and the EIR should be amended to reflect them. If, however, the intention is that no further development is to take place in the future, then the county should insure that the conditions of approval incorporate that prohibition and be codified into the deeds of the properties.

Hopefully, Napa's long term future will be a part of the WDO discussions coming up next year. Vineyard conversions are just the first step in a long process of suburbanization of Napa land. The effects of that suburbanization in traffic jams, housing projects, stop lights, and the clamor for a Costco are already upon us. If the county is serious about the maintenance of a sustainable agricultural economy in the next 50 years, then that process of suburban development must be broken. A place to begin a commitment to that future is on the spectacular, oak-covered ridge south of Atlas Peak now known as Walt Ranch.

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Road
Napa, CA 94558

John Harrington's letter to the planning commission

Bill Hocker - Nov 9, 2014 8:44PM  Share #433

Dan Mufson has sent a copy of this letter from Atlas Peak resident John Harrington to county planner Kelli Cahill. Punches are not pulled.

RE: Walt Ranch: Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR)

Walt Ranch letters-to-the-editor

Bill Hocker - Oct 30, 2014 5:03PM  Share #423

Long time Atlas peak family member Jane Mead voices her opposition to Walt Ranch:
Walt Ranch: Too Much
Be sure to read the mountain of comments

This follows on 2 other editorials from long time Atlas Peak families:
Development will affect county's balance of nature
Reconsider new vineyard on Atlas Peak

And Daniel Musfson weights in on the hypocrisy of Arbor Day with
What Then, is Napa County? which also echoes this previous post

And Richard Cannon writes:
Walt Ranch neighbors want to meet

And Marc Padrone and the Napa Sierra Club join the fray:
Halt Walt and beyond

Walt Ranch threatens rural way of life
Walt Ranch poses unacceptable risks

Public sessions planned for controversial Walt Ranch vineyard proposal

Daniel Mufson - Oct 24, 2014 9:00AM  Share #411

We are making progress in challenging this mega vineyard, Walt Ranch, that the Halls want to build on top of Atlas Peak. They intend to cut and burn over 28,000 trees; build several reservoirs; grade the land and pump up at least 69,000,000 gallons of water annually.

The ranch is within the Milliken Creek watershed which feeds the City of Napa’s water supply and the groundwater deficient area called the MST. The system is such that projects like this get approved unless there some tremendous pushback. We have been organizing neighbors on both sides of the mountain, on Atlas Peak Road and in the Circle Oaks Community. The latter will be especially hard hit as the construction trucks will use their inadequate road to gain access to the ranch"and their water wells are right on the property line of this project.

We would appreciate your support by attending at least one of the two upcoming meetings: The Halls are running a show-and-tell meeting on Nov 6th to try to cajole residents (see calendar) and the county is opening an unprecedented public hearing on Nov 12th. (see calendar).

Barry Eberling on the Oct 21st BOS hearing in the NVR:
Public sessions planned for controversial Walt Ranch vineyard proposal

Walt Ranch Update October 15, 2014

Diane Shepp - Oct 14, 2014 10:01PM  Share #382

Watersheds Alliance for Atlas Peak (WAAP)

We are 5 weeks from the date (November 21) to file comments on the draft EIR for the Walt Ranch Project. The legal and expert teams are at work.

It is time for you to consider writing a letter to the county planning staff about your concerns to make them part of the public record and to be considered by the county in its evaluation of the project. I’ve been told that it is good to frame your concerns in the form of a question that the county staff will have to answer during their review. I’m sending you a copy of the email that Phil Brody just sent as a short, sweet, to the point critique with a question at the end.

Letters to the Editor are still good to keep the project in the public’s mind. Our friends in Circle Oaks are planning to inform the public by setting up in Bel Aire Plaza to get people to sign a petition against the project. It is hoped that gathering thousands of signatures will impress the Supervisors with political reality. Would you like to join this activity? Would you like to attend a planning meeting tomorrow at Circle Oaks at 6PM? Let me know.

Opposition to Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Sep 28, 2014 2:46PM  Share #363

Long time Atlas Peak Setty Family opposes the Walt Ranch Vineyrard project in NVR Letter to editor:

Reconsider new vineyard on Atlas Peak (and be sure to read the comments: OMG! - ceogal notes that Bill Dodd has accepted more than $10,000 in campaign contributions from Craig and Katherine Hall!)

Sierra Club Donation Appeal against Walt Ranch.

Bill Hocker - Sep 1, 2014 3:19PM  Share #341

From: Sierra Club - Napa County Group <napavalleysierraclub@gmail.com>
Date: August 28, 2014 at 9:29:42 PM PDT
Subject: Napa Sierra Club vs. Walt Ranch!
Reply-To: Sierra Club - Napa County Group <napavalleysierraclub@gmail.com>

We've been expecting this fight for years, and it is big. It is a fight over habitat, groundwater, and climate change.

Its name is Walt Ranch, and it will be expensive. So, for the first time in several years, Napa Sierra Club is making a fundraising appeal.

The Walt proposal, by a 500+ member Texas-based investment group, is to clear cut over 300 acres of oak woodland for vineyard development on Atlas Peak.
More than 28,000 "significant" trees will be cut down, eliminating wildland habitat, wiping out carbon stores which counter greenhouse gases, and destabilizing the land.

Project-generated erosion and landslides could threaten house foundations, roads, and water delivery infrastructure.
The project proposes to annually pump over 69 million gallons of water from two sensitive watersheds: Milliken Creek, which supplies the City of Napa and the water-
deficient MST basin, and Capell Creek, which supplies the seven hundred residents of Circle Oaks. Another 300 or so homes on Atlas Peak also rely on wells.

We believe that the Walt Ranch Environmental Impact Report is deeply flawed. To effectively challenge it we must hire an attorney and experts in hydrology and biology. Our estimated initial expenses are in the range of $15,000 - 20,000, about 7 times our annual income.

Can you help us?
Please donate by writing a check to Sierra Club Foundation, stating "Napa Group" in the memo line.
Mail to Napa Sierra Club, PO Box 644, Napa, CA 94559.

To adjust your Sierra Club email preferences, please reply to this email with a description of your wishes. Thank you.

Sierra Club 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105


NVR Article on the Circle Oaks fight over walt ranch

The Price of Deforestation at Walt Ranch

Jim Wilson - Aug 22, 2014 10:32AM  Share #326

The Halls propose to increase their vineyard holdings by bulldozing, blasting, and grading approximately 500 acres of mostly forested hillsides to net approximately 350 acres of vineyards. This is an enormous industrial development by any standard in Napa but unheard of in our quiet neighborhood. Deforestation on this scale would destroy a fragile ecosystem and diminish its beauty for those who call it home.

Napa County and its public agencies, as science-driven organizations, need to pay close attention to the warnings issued by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Its report released this year concludes that GHG emissions are at risk of warming the world by as much as 7 deg F by the end of the century if we do not take action now. Also released this year is the Federal Climate Assessment which states unequivocally that the threat to nature and our well-being is not something in the distant future. It's happening now.

In California, our state's new carbon market is studying ways to achieve carbon credits for forest management. The County of Napa, like all nine counties in the BAAQMD, can and should have a Climate Action Plan requiring carbon pollution reductions. Curbing deforestation and forest degradation is a critical component of a CAP because of the carbon sequestration forests provide. We need our local government to value our standing forests and to take action to preserve them. Our leaders must implement policies at all levels to reduce GHG pollution. And it's time for consumers and investors to hold businesses accountable for their role in wrecking the climate. Deforest wine must become conflict wine.

My neighbors and I are committed to raising awareness about how nature matters in our lives. Saying no to deforestation is about saying no to big corporations having too much power over us and our government. The untrammeled forest on Walt Ranch is home to countless living creatures. That is hands-down the noblest and highest-value use of the land. We need our Board of Supervisors' help to preserve it. The forest is Napa's lungs, the planet's lungs. Its continued destruction impoverishes our place in the world.

Walt Ranch Vineyard Project Concerns

Bill Hocker - Aug 4, 2014 1:48PM  Share #298

A major vineyard project on the southern slope of Atlas Peak has been making its way through the county for several years now. A draft EIR has just been issued beginning a period of public comment. An extension of the public comment period will be raised at the planning commission on Aug 6th.

Napa Register: Circle Oaks residents uneasy with 356-acre Hall Wines vineyard project
The Walt Ranch planning documents are available on the county website here
The Circle Oaks Community Water District (COCWD) page on the Walt Ranch

Walt Ranch EIR

Gary Margadant - Jul 23, 2014 5:44PM  Share #282

The Walt Ranch Draft EIR has been published and is open for comment until Aug 25. This is a very large vineyard development of approximately 356 net acres of new vineyard within 507 gross acres of disturbance on a 2,300 acre property. I understand that they plan 3 reservoirs of 40 acre-feet each (120af total or 39,000,000 gallons). Water is going to be a big issue, but comment is over before the new WAA is out from the Public Works Dept.

I am participating in a team for comment on the EIR.
Let me know if you are interested in commenting.

Here is the County's Walt Ranch Draft EIR page.

Regards, Gary

Share this topic