Subscribe to the Napa Valley Register Please note that this site relies heavily on the reporting and the letters-to-the-editor in the Napa Valley Register. I would encourage you to subscribe here if you really wish to follow what is going on in Napa County - and to make sense of my blog. The cost is nominal compared to the major dailies, and, unlike them, the Register contains news and views that are simply unavailable elsewhere. (Also note this is not an ad: I'm sure the NVR could care less about sodacanyonroad.org)
Update 3/10/16In the rarest of examples, the project was turned down by a 2-2 vote of the Planning Commission in Oct of 2015. The project was brought to the Board of Supervisors on appeal in March of 2016 and the appeal was sustained meaning the project was approved after all.
Original post 12/1/14Another large winery has cleared the county planning department and is coming up before the planning commission on December 17th (now Aug 19th, 2015). It is the Girard Winery, 200,000 gal/yr, 30,000 visitors/yr on Dunaweal Lane just east of Calistoga. It raises most of the regular issues: The 250 acres of grapes it will process are already being processed in other valley wineries so where is the need? What is the impact of another 50 cars going up and down the valley each day or of 90 - 200 arriving and leaving evening events. Where will the 200 cars park? How does the county keep justifying the permanent removal of vineyard land from the valley to accommodate these projects. (Note the opening WDO quotes here.). And, perhaps more mournfully, why despoil such a beautiful rectangle of prime agricultural land with another warehouse pretending to be a castle? It breaks the heart.
Clos Pegase across the lane belongs to the same owner, which might explain the unusual lack of food service requested in the proposal. It is not hard to envision all of the Clos Pegase production moving to the new building and its famous architectural nonsense becoming the food center for the two brands. It is a relief not to see the innocent "which may include food paring" tucked into this tours and tastings request. (My food service rant is here.) Why not let the tourists continue to come to the monument. Put the 200,000 gal/yr down at the airport.
The owner is Vintage Wine Estates with a collection of 9 "family" wineries in their portfolio. The actual families are probably gone. It seems that "family winery" has become a marketing term, just as the art of winemaking has been replaced by marketing hype (and marketing events). I know - very cynical. We want the industry to be what it was, where the rewards are in the pleasure and pride of the craft and modest profits follow. But the allure of the good life promoted in the valley attracts those used to making money with their money, used to competing, and for whom ever increasing profits are a basis of self esteem. In a letter-to-the-editor I questioned the need to make tourism profits, with the attendant impacts on the rest of us, on top of the profits to be made from grapes and wine. In America, the developer responded, there is not a cap on money to be made.
And there is indeed a great deal of money to be made from the open space and foregone profits of these last 45 years in Napa county. Now comes the cashing-in. A pro-development Board of Supervisors for more than a decade has greased the skids of a development industry now realizing large resorts in the north and small cities in the south and wineries filling up the valley floor. The most remote corners of the watersheds are now being proposed as housing estates and wine-tourism attractions. While the traffic generated from previous development is now a constant irritation, we are just at the beginning of this new development cycle, and its traffic has yet to arrive.
The Girard Winery is one of 40 or so winery projects now being reviewed by the county. Since 2010 roughly 70 new wineries or winery enlargements have already been approved, most with the intent to increase profits through tourist traffic. Few so far have been built, so their visual impact has yet to be seen and the traffic impacts from their hundreds of employees and thousands of tourist slots yet to be felt. More proposals will follow. The valley is changing so fast into a vineyard theme-park that many, more cynical than I, have already given up on the idea of maintaining a rural, agricultural community. You can't stop the inevitable says one of my neighbors. The best we can hope for are vines around the parking lots. He may be right. But the county as it exists now still has a quality-of-life that sets it apart from Bay Area sprawl. It is worth fighting to preserve it, an obligation really for those of us who cherish it, even if the odds seem long.
The Planning Commission has split 2 yes - 2 no, (Commissioner Gill didn't feel rehabilitated and recused) and the use permit application has thus been denied. The denial was based principally by Commissioners Cottrell and Phillips on the unknown impact of a to-be-shared water and wastewater system and a concept that parcel development should be self sustaining.
Is this the tipping point - or the untipping point - we've been discussing for the last year and a half? This is the first denial the commission has made since the over-the-top 14-winery Flynnville project in 2013 which was the only denial since 2010. (Yountville Hill was infamously close to denial, again with 4 commissioners, and the approval was rescinded prior to the appeal.)
Girard will go on to the BOS for an appeal. It is too early to read anything into the decision. The denial was based on very technical issues and solving those issues will no doubt be the subject of the appeal.
The real issue here is the continued urban development of ag land. If this perfect rectangle of prime agricultural land in the Napa Valley can't be saved from buildings and parking lots, with an owner that already has a winery/event center just across the street and a couple of other in-county wineries to process his Napa grapes, then no piece of property can be saved. Let's hope that this is the first decision we can point to as reflecting a changed attitude ("the new normal") toward agricultural protection in Napa County.
[For the Planning Commission hearing October 21, 2015]
These are additional comments to my ones dated August 10, 2015.
I will limit them on the various County Policies, Use Permit Standards, CEQA Mandatory Findings and Case Law which this use permit, if approved and following a variety of previous ones which this Commission and the County Supervisors have been consistently ignoring when approving projects which specifically increase traffic:
A . GENERAL PLAN POLICY CIR - 116:
"The County will seek to maintain arterial Level of Service "D" or better on all county roadways".
B. ORDINANCE CHAPTER 18.04.010 - FINDINGS:
F. "Further, this Board deems it necessary, for the purpose of promoting the health, safety and general welfare of the county, to revise the existing ordinance...in accordance with the General Plan and the following objectives:
1. To lessen congestion on roads and highways.
4. To promote health, safety and general welfare".
C. CASE LAW ON USE PERMIT REQUIREMENTS:
Upton v. Gray, 1969: "The proposed use is in the best interest of public convenience and necessity and will not be contrary to the public health, morals or welfare"
And O'Hagen v. Board of Zoning Appeals, 1971: "That such use would be essential or desirable to the public convenience or welfare or be detrimental to the public health, safety, morals or welfare".
D. CEQA REQUIREMENTS:
"Does this project have impacts that are individually limited, but cumulative considerable? ('Cumulative considerable' means that the incremental effects of a project are considerable when viewed in connection with the effects of past projects, the effects of other current projects and the effects of probable future projects)".
E. THIS PROJECT AS IT RELATES TO THE ABOVE:
The W-Trans traffic study is tailored to fit the project, conveniently ignoring its own findings on the Silver Rose on the Silverado Trail and Calistoga Hills resort on Hwy 29, both within 1 and 2 miles to the north, a CEQA mandatory finding. Together W-Trans had projected that they will generate 2,900 daily vehicle trips (dvt).
The intersection at Hwy 29 and Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga, only one mile away, has such a dismal level of service, that the City's Final EIR projected that the 930 of the 1,400 additional dvt generated by the Calistoga Hills resort is impossible to mitigate. Master Response #4 of that FEIR recommended that the City accept an in lieu fee of $ 267,795.00 because the impact is "beyond the developer's ability to mitigate". The City had to invoke "Overriding Considerations" before it was legally able to accept such a fee.
While the City of Calistoga was able to justify this unmitigatable condition by citing the imminent threat of bankruptcy, this avenue is not available to the County.
Today, even before either of these resorts have come on line, that intersection is at level "E" and "F" during several hours of the day; a far cry from the General Plan level "D". The congestion on Hwy 29, stretches from Dunaweal Lane all the way to Petrified Forest Road.
On Friday, October 16 at 4:15 pm I drove that stretch of the Hwy, covering its 2 miles in an unacceptable 22 minutes. No one can argue that this is in the interest of the public convenience and welfare. As this travel time becomes worse, drivers will opt to use Dunaweal Lane to Silverado Trail and back to Tubs Lane (something many do already) so as to circumvent that bottle neck.
Neither the 2,900 vdt of the two resorts, nor the ones you consider adding through this application have come on line and considered in the traffic report as required by CEQA Mandatory Findings.
F. TRANSPORTATION DEMAND PROGRAM:
At this point in time, this program is anything but credible. Visitations between 10:00 am and 6:00 pm can no longer claim to account for any mitigation as traffic congestion throughout the valley begins as early as 5:30 am, a time when the tens of thousands of wine business and hospitality industry low-paid commuters form a continuous chain entering the valley from Solano county.
Adding any more low paying jobs at these industries as far north as Calistoga, impacts traffic congestion as far south as American Canyon.
G. SEE ATTACHED TRAFFIC LOG ON ROADS AROUND THE VALLEY:
They show that traffic conditions have already entered the brink of a collapse. They do not in any way conform with the requirements under A, B, C, and D.
H. THE DECEPTIVE CULTURE OF "LESS THAN SIGNIFICANT IMPACTS" PILED ON TOP OF EACH OTHER:
Assessing traffic impacts of individual projects by casting a limited radius around them, ignores serious and quantifiable impacts on the general traffic patterns in the Napa Valley. This practice is deceptive and makes all of us suffer by degrading public convenience and welfare as the County's General Plan, its Ordinances, CEQA and the established legal precedent all Use Permits are required to honor and respect.
The continued actions by this Commission and the Board of Supervisors which consciously contribute to the increase of congestion well beyond Level Service "D" on our roads from Calistoga to American Canyon, is subject to challenge unless it stops.
[sent to Planning Commissioners, Directors McDowell and Morrison]
Commissioners and Directors,
I've already submitted a couple of letters on this project. My apologies for yet another.
Girard Draft Finding #10:
"The project complies with the requirements of the Winery Definition Ordinance (Ord. No. 947, 1990)"
Ord. No. 947,1990 Finding of Fact #1e:
"Napa County is one of the smallest counties in California and within the County areas suitable for quality vineyards are limited and irreplaceable. Any project that directly or indirectly results in the removal of existing or potential vineyard land from use depletes the inventory of such land forever. "
Given the surfeit of wine processing capacity in the county, and given development-driven traffic congestion that all find onerous already, and given the amount of up-valley development already in the works but not yet built, and given a history of use permit violations in which this developer has engaged (until recently?), if Napa County can't find the will and the means to protect this one pristine rectangle of arable valley land then the cause of protecting the totality of agriculture in the county is doomed. Development projects built to cater to an ever expanding tourist economy will just keep coming until the entire valley floor is a tourism business park, and the increasing clout of tourism entrepreneurs will move the WDO and the General Plan toward ever more expansion into the vineyards until they are little more than garnish around the parking lots.
This developer already has a facility to process the grapes from this parcel (one with few county impacts). This developer already has a facility to process tourists, adjacent to this parcel (one with an excess of county impacts). It is time for the planning commission to take a meaningful stand on agricultural protection and use its discretion to uphold the original intent of the agricultural preserve (and the real definition of agriculture) by denying this project.
I would also ask that you consider a moratorium on the review of all such projects to provide the time needed for the county and the municipalities to explore the long term impacts of tourism development, particularly in view of the county's intention, in the words of its General Plan, "to preserve the economic viability of agriculture and ensure that tourism and other industries do not compete with agriculture".
Thank you again for this opportunity to voice my concerns.
[email sent to Asst. Planning Director John McDowell]
Dear Mr. McDowell:
Last week I was driving from St. Helena to my home in Calistoga around 4:30 pm on Highway 29. Traffic came to a stop south of Dunaweal Lane, backed up from the stop sign at Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga. After 10 minutes, I was about half way to the stop sign, so I made a u-turn, went back to Dunaweal, and turned left to go to the Silverado Trail. Dunaweal was busier than I have ever seen it. There were 6 or 7 cars waiting to turn left onto the Trail which took a few more minutes to clear. Turning left was difficult and dangerous, as traffic was heavy on the Trail in both directions.
The traffic added over 15 minutes to my drive time.
Those of us who live in Calistoga have to contend with noticeable added traffic due to the expansion of Indian Springs. Parking is nearly impossible at all times of day. Two new resorts, Calistoga Hills and Silver Rose will add nearly 3000 additional vehicle trips per day, further congesting Highway 29, Dunaweal Lane, and the Silverado Trail. Like it or not, that traffic is coming.
Now Girard wants to build a huge new facility on Dunaweal Lane. Sir, this is insanity. These roads cannot handle the current traffic load much less the already approved increases. Girard could result in a massive grid lock.
I have watched as the Calistoga City Council has approved project after project, denying that there will be any significant impact on traffic. They obviously have an unstated agenda, which is not the betterment of Calistoga for its residents. Of course the projects will cause severe traffic problems.
Now, you might ask yourself, "Who is this person writing to me, and what does he know about traffic problems?" I would like to state that I have a Master of Science degree in Transportation Management from the UCLA School of Business, with a specialty in Urban Transportation. I know what I am talking about. But anybody who drives a car on Highway 29 will not need a degree to see the negative impact of the Girard project. When you are stopped for up to a half hour in gridlock just south of Calistoga, everybody is an expert.
We have reached and probably surpassed a breaking point. This new facility for Girard cannot be allowed to happen. You cannot inconvenience thousands of people per day, both residents and visitors, for the benefit of one business. You represent all the people in the Valley. It is time to protect us.
Girard Winery comes up before the Planning Commission on Aug. 19th 2015. A new 200,000 gal/year winery on vineyard land across from the co-owned Clos Pegase winery in Calistoga. There will be 30,500 yearly visitor slots.
I know this will seem like I'm just wasting everyone's time, and I agree with Supervisor Dillon that the big picture issues aren't going to be resolved through individual projects, and I know that I have no standing in the Girard project. But since I learned last March of a project proposed in my backyard I lie awake at night, every night, thinking about these issues. Writing these letters helps.
"Napa County is one of the smallest counties in California and within the County areas suitable for quality vineyards are limited and irreplaceable. Any project that directly or indirectly results in the removal of existing or potential vineyard land from use depletes the inventory of such land forever."
- From the 1990 WDO
I ask your indulgence for a moment to please take a look at the Girard Vineyard on Google maps by clicking here:
Given the propitious placement of the ponds, the vineyard is a perfect rectangle. It is almost an archetypal piece of agricultural land. But now imagine the Girard Winery, about the size of the Clos Pegase winery development area, located right in the middle of it.
Now zoom out a bit on the map and imagine a similar winery in the middle of every vineyard plot in the vicinity, including perhaps those nice rectangles on Larkmead Lane, another area of concern this week. Continue to mouse down through the entire length of the valley and imagine a winery on every empty vineyard you see. And then roam around the splotches of deforestation throughout the hills and imagine a similar winery on every splotch.
Is this the best way to protect agriculture? Is this what you want the Napa Valley to become?
The owner of the Girard vineyard has other properties already occupied by winery buildings, including the one across the street. Other developers are also coming before you seeking their 2nd or 3rd winery. Let them expand their existing wineries to increase capacity. I mean, what reason is there to build a winery other than to provide winemaking capacity? It would be a much more efficient use of the limited and irreplaceable land than the development of new facilities on undeveloped land. Please, begin here and let this plot, and all other plots in the county that have yet to be compromised by development, remain devoted purely to agriculture (in its pre-WDO definition) . If the intentions that led to the creation of the ag preserve cannot protect this virgin field from development then the ag preserve is meaningless.
Wonderful article in today's NV Register on the Girard Winery project! The Planning Commission seems to be getting the message: the "new norm", as it were, ie. read the documents purporting to support winery projects and question their correctness - and demonstrate that any decisions made are in the best interests of all of the County's citizens. Don't let up on the good work!
Thanx for your encouraging communications. Yes, I think we are reaching the tipping point in a wave of concerns about the issue of individual developers of one kind or another vs. the Napa County General Plan - representing our long range goals on behalf of the common good.
Another large winery has cleared the county planning department and is coming up before the planning commission on Wed, Dec 17th. It is the Girard Winery, 200,000 gal/yr, 30,500 visitors/yr on Dunaweal Lane just east of Calistoga. It raises most of the regular issues: The 250 acres of grapes it will process are already being processed in other valley wineries so where is the need? What is the impact of another 50 cars going up and down the valley each day or of 90 - 200 arriving and leaving evening events. Where will the 200 cars park? How does the county keep justifying the permanent removal of vineyard land from the valley to accommodate these projects. (Note the opening WDO quote here.). And, perhaps more wistfully, why despoil such a beautiful rectangle of prime agricultural land in the Napa valley with another warehouse pretending to be a castle? It breaks the heart.
The Girard Winery is one of 40 or so winery projects now being reviewed by the county. Since 2010 roughly 70 new wineries or winery enlargements have already been approved, most with the intent to increase profits through tourist traffic. Few so far have been built, so their visual impact has yet to be seen and the traffic impacts from their hundreds of employees and thousands of tourist slots yet to be felt. More proposals will follow.
The appeal of the Yountville Hill winery will be heard by the Board of Supervisors the day before at the Planning Commission, Tues, Dec 16th. Yountville Hill is the poster child for the county's shift from an agricultural to a tourism economy: 57,000 visitors/yr on a prominent, tight and steep 11 acre site. It will set the worst possible precedent for hillside development, and a well known part of the valley's rural landscape will be forever disfigured. The traffic created by its inadequate parking and the adjacency of Mustards Gril will cause havoc on that small stretch of 29. The county will probably have to install a signal on Hwy 29, yet one more sure harbinger of the death of agriculture.
A pro-development attitude for more than a decade has greased the skids of a development industry now realizing large resorts in the north and small cities in the south and these wineries filling up the valley floor. The most remote corners of the watersheds are now being proposed as housing estates and wine-tourism attractions. While the traffic generated from previous development is now a constant irritation, we are just at the beginning of this new development cycle, and its traffic has yet to arrive.
The valley is changing so fast into a suburban vineyard theme-park that many, more cynical than I, have already given up on the idea of maintaining a rural, agricultural community. You can't stop the inevitable says one of my neighbors. The best we can hope for are vines around the parking lots. He may be right. But the county as it exists now still has a quality-of-life that sets it apart from Bay Area sprawl. It is worth fighting to preserve it, an obligation really for those of us who cherish it, even if the odds seem long.
If you wish for a future even close to the Napa of today, the time is now to voice your concerns, write a letter, attend a hearing. We all share the same backyard, and it is about to be developed.
The Girard Winery, a new 200,000 gal/year winery on vineyard land across from the Clos Pegase winery in Calistoga, less than a mile form the Calistoga Hills Resort. There will be 30,500 yearly visitor slots. The Planning Department seems to be up to their same old policies: the email notification for this project was sent out barely 20 days prior to the hearing, and right during the holiday chaos! The fix is in!