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Jul 28, 2015
The landscape of a growth economy
"I feel that enactment of this ordinance reflects the wishes of the people of Napa County. I believe that these people wish to create for themselves the environment in which they wish to live and for future generations."
- Jack L. Ferguson, Napa Supervisor in approving the Ag Preserve, 1968
Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell"
- Edward Abbey, The Journey Home 1977
I would like to see the Ag Preserve last....[but] the future of the Napa Valley can be as good as the people of Napa County want it to be - and no better. If Napa can't be saved, no place can.
- Former Planning Director James Hickey, 1980's(?)
(e) Napa County is one of the smallest counties in California and within the County areas suitable for quality vineyards are limited and irreplaceable. Any project that directly or indirectly results in the removal of existing or potential vineyard land from use depletes the inventory of such land forever.
(f) The cumulative effect of such projects if far greater than the sum of individual projects. The interspersing of non-agricultural structures and activities throughout agricultural areas in excess of what already exists will result in a significant increase in the problems and costs of maintaining vineyards and discourage the continued use of the land for agricultural purposes.
- From the findings of the Winery Definition Ordinance, 1990
Uncontrolled urban encroachment into agricultural and watershed areas will impair agriculture and threaten the public health, safety and welfare by causing increased traffic congestion, associated air pollution and potentially serious water problems, such as pollution, depletion and sedimentation of available water resources. Such urban encroachment, or 'leap-frog development,' would eventually result in both the unnecessary, expensive extension of public services and facilities and inevitable conflicts between urban and agricultural uses.
- From the findings of Measure J, Agricultural Lands Preservation Initiative, 1990
While other Bay Area counties have experienced unprecedented development and urban infrastructure expansion over the last four decades, Napa County's citizens have conscientiously preserved the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure.
- From the vision statement of the Napa General Plan 2013
"Never in the history of mankind has agriculture withstood urban growth long-term, but here we have the best chance."
- Grapegrower Andy Beckstoffer, 2015
"Once our open space is gone, it's gone."
- Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, 2016
... "a key element of more sustainable future policies is the evolution of global financial and economic systems to build a global sustainable economy, steering away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth."
-IPBES (UN) Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, 2019
"We are at the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and the fairy tale of eternal economic growth."
- Greta Thunberg at the United Nations conference on Climate Change, 2019
As this last year and a half [now over 6 years] has progressed, I originally thought that the winery being proposed next door to us on Soda Canyon Road had to do with wineries. I soon began to feel that the problem that brought it to my doorstep was tourism. As other communities have joined the rebellion against projects going on in their neighborhoods it is more and more apparent that while tourism is the growth industry and hence the most obvious source of many problems, the real problem is the continued urbanization of the bay area and city and county governments that are controlled, as they always have been, by real estate, construction and financial interests. "Growth" in Napa county really means just turning open space into buildings and pavement. And, because of the land use policies of the past 45 years, there is a lot of open space in Napa County to grow into.
As I write, there is a lot of development going on in the county. 70 new or expanded wineries have been approved but not yet built and 50 are in the planning department awaiting review (updated winery numbers here), 730 hotel or resort accommodations have been approved in Calistoga, St. Helena and Napa. 1576 new housing units have been approved in Napa and St. Helena with 1250 additional units being considered for American Canyon, (see here) and perhaps 3,000,000 sf of commercial/industrial space plus a Costco have been approved. (updated development numbers here.)
Do the citizens and governmental officials of Napa County wish this place to continue to be urbanized into the rest of the Bay Area in the next 50 years? If not, is there a way to stop it?
Two very small books might give insight. The first is Better not Bigger by Eben Fodor, the Oregon based community development consultant. The second is the No-Growth Imperative by Gabor Zavanyi, professor of Urban and Regional planning.
The Fodor book, written in 1999 pushes a step beyond the "smart growth" or "sustainable growth" paradigm of the 1970's and 80's that promoted urban containment and led to the Urban-Rural-Limits that surround the Napa municipalities and have successfully prevented them from expanding into the vineyards. The book is a recognition through statistical analysis that development, even smart development , doesn't pay for itself. It doesn't pay for itself immediately in residential development that requires the additional road improvements, schools, police and fire services, water supply infrastructure, waste-water treatment facilities and government bureaucracy necessary for an increased population. And it doesn't pay for itself in commercial development, even with hefty sales taxes and fees (and in the case of a tourist economy, transient taxes), when the new employees create a demand for new budget consuming housing or highway improvements to commute to work. New commercial development may result in short term gains for a town, selling points at the planning commission stage, but in the long run will always end up costing existing residents money to deal with the impacts. Ask yourself, are utility costs and service fees higher in small towns or cities? Will your government spend more money maintaining the infrastructure necessary for a 5 acre vineyard or a 5 acre Costco?
The No-Growth Imperative was written in 2013, and makes the same arguments but with the added knowledge, courtesy of the effects of global warming increasingly more evident around us, that continued population growth is not sustainable. And that it is time to end the growth-is-progress mentality that continues to consume resources and exude wastes as if there is no downside.
Both advocate community efforts to limit local urban development. Both recognize that continued growth is unsustainable and that it is time to find a way to create a stable economy that creates stable environments. Maintaining such a community won't solve the problems of world population growth, and the pressure of the increasing world population to migrate to those places that have been more successful in curbing their population or with more space to populate. That is a problem of world wide family planning which would be possible, just as preventing smallpox or polio has been, were it not for the intransigence of religious dogma. (The catastrophic effects of religious dogma are much in the news these days.)
Much of this site is dedicated to the proposition that urban development in Napa County is not compatible with the desire of the county general plan to retain agriculture as the engine of the county's economy or with the county residents' desire to retain a rural, small-town quality of life. The growth includes new urban development, mostly tourism related, in the municipalities as well as the unincorporated areas as well as the infrastructure and accommodation development necessary to deal with the increasing tourist, resident and workforce population that results.
Not everyone in Napa county would look to Andy Beckstoffer as a touchstone, but his quote above, more succinctly than anything I have read, states why Napa should be a place where a no-growth movement can bud and set a precedent for other communities, just as it did for the agricultural preserve movement. Napa produces a unique world-respected product based on a low impact, renewable resource. It has the potential to continue producing that product for centuries, as french vintners have done, if a decision is made to protect the resource and to stop the urban development that threatens it. An economy that depends on ever increasing profits or a never ending number of participants will build itself beyond what the resource can support, the resource will become incidental to the economy and more profitable development will take its place.
It may be difficult to see amid the green vine rows at present but it is already happening in the Napa Valley. Each new tourism oriented winery and parking lot plopped down in a vineyard moves the county toward a suburban future that will survive on tourist events and accommodations. The desire to profit off wine tourism and "Napa" located wineries, beyond what the Napa grape crop can supply, will mean an ever greater reliance on other grape sources, further reducing the importance of retaining Napa ag land and hastening its conversion to more profitable use.
The never ending cycle of urban development requiring ever more development to pay for its impacts will not be stopped unless the will and means are found to allow and defend a stable, and livable no-growth economy limited by the water and land resources available.
Readers who may have missed Thomas D. Elias’ July 19, 2022 Commentary: “Facts don't matter to Sacramento's Democrats” would benefit by reading it because it explains in good detail our state’s various laws, which effectively end the single family R-1 zoning allowing it to be split into two lots by right and add a second housing unit.
Other mandates such as locating housing development along transportation corridors are just as troubling. In addition, Elias points out the questionable statistics provided by the state -- claiming housing shortages of 3.5 million, later revised to 1.8 million, and now upped again to 2.5 million in AB 2011 -- to justify these laws.
Looking into the future, Elias writes that legislators are making an “effort to make California at least as dense as New York state.”
Adding to the shoddy statistics there are two more troubling effects that point out how lackadaisical the legislation’s approach has been in crafting these laws.
The first is that a large part of local planning authority is overridden by state law, which over time will strip away the individual character of counties and municipalities. We who live in Napa County treasure the individuality of its cities and its Ag Preserve and so do the millions who visit it to enjoy just that. The transformation of Calistoga, St. Helena etc. will be a slow process, slow enough as not to be obvious, little by little. The economic burden and upheaval, immeasurable and shoved under the table.
It is common knowledge that growth collapses when one of its vital structural components collapses, and as we have become aware, the most obvious one right now is water. Space limitation does not allow me to dwell on the many others that are just as important but less obvious such as traffic congestion, CO2 emissions (counteracting climate change policies at that!), police and EMS services, the power grid and general infrastructure and many more.
We all experienced restrictions on water use, as well as the crippling increase of water rates. While several areas in the San Joaquin Valley have subsided by as much as 30 feet, much of its fertile land is lying fallow with thousands of uprooted fruit trees lying down in tree cemeteries, current mitigation debates at local agencies are proposing a moratorium on new well drilling, metering existing ones, enacting all kinds of financial burdens on water use, such as parcel taxes, well and regulatory fees, all focused on conservation. But curtailing usage at the local level while increasing demand by mandating the construction of millions of new housing units at the opposite end is a losing proposition any 10-year-old can figure out but not our legislators. And it is already turning ugly.
American Canyon has filed a lawsuit against the city of Vallejo which allegedly has reneged on its contractual obligation to deliver water to its 35-lot Canyon Estates development. The city of Vallejo on the other hand justifies its action on the fact that California State Water Resources Control Board has curtailed its own water allocations to Vallejo from waters in Solano County. This is the very state of California! The one which mandates more housing, not facilitating the construction of a mere 35 homes! How about water for the rest of the homes the state has mandated for American Canyon or any locality up and down the state?
The predictable water wars have begun! The one between American Canyon and Vallejo is between municipalities, but how about the state involvement itself which enacts laws without looking a few yards ahead? And specifically in wine country, how about looming wars between agriculture (the largest users) and urban dwellers who will have to subsidize it with higher rates lest the economy collapses? How about the future of agriculture as the largest holder of lands, much of it along transportation corridors? The future of the Ag Preserve?
The mandate for new housing must be examined holistically, considering and safeguarding the precious diversity of the state’s localities with its implications on the health of the environment, and its effect on each local specific economy, history, culture and resources.
State laws cannot be overridden by local initiatives. We expect our local senators to pick up the ball and get into action in the legislation. That failing, only a statewide ballot measure will do the job. We cannot allow California’s local cityscapes ?" indeed their diverse local economies ?" to be upended and fall victim to myopic state housing-zealot legislators who have a duty to get this right but refuse to do the arduous job.
I would add the following conditions to 18.104.440:
"H. The residential development envelop shall meet the following setback requirements:
1. parcels contiguous to any state highway, Silverado Trail, or any arterial county road. six hundred feet from the center-line of the roadway.
2. parcels contiguous to any other public road or private road(s) used by the public: three hundred feet from the center-line of the road."
"I. On parcels of four acres or more, the combined area of the residential development envelopment and any other development areas on the property shall not exceed twenty-five percent of the existing parcel or fifteen acres, whichever is less."
Update 11/9/21 In the Register recently I now notice the prominently displayed articles, like this and this, about the kind of luxury estates available in Napa if you have more than $10 million to spend on a home. These may or may not be the kind of land-hogging compounds that the Residential Development Ordinance seeks to contain, but by glorifying the McMansion good life to be found here already, they are, of course, encouraging more such projects to be built, some of which will pave over the vines on the valley floor. No doubt the Register is simply promoting the interests of the realtors that provide advertising to keep it in business. But the disconnect between newspaper's continued promotion of estate homes and the Supervisors efforts to contain the impacts of that promotion is an interesting dynamic.
Much was said in the workshop by the Supes about the sanctity of vineyard land and the concern over the loss (laid out by staff) of 3.2 acres of AP zoned land per year over the last 2+ decades to home construction. What was not mentioned was the loss of 3 or so acres of that same land every time a new winery is approved in the county.
A director of the NVGG was proud to claim that no acre of ag-zoned land has been lost since the Ag Preserve was created. That has been achieved, of course, by allowing the building of industrial and commercial uses on ag-zoned lands. The reality that hundreds of acres of vineyard land have been lost to tasting rooms and parking lots and outdoor serving areas for winery tourism, not to mention the unnecessary wineries themselves only built to serve as tourist attractions and ego statements.
Since 2010 about 80 new wineries have been approved, the majority within the AP (valley floor) zone. As mentioned below and pictured above, this loss of vineyard land to tourism uses is worse than the much smaller amount lost to McMansions, because an increasing tourism population creates additional development pressures that will ultimately eat away the open fields within town boundaries and make annexations of ag lands all but inevitable. As noted in the original entry in this post, I approve of limitations on home development in the county and commend the Supes for the effort. (I want them to go further with setbacks comparable to the wineries.) But there seems to be a bit of hypocrisy in their attitude toward ag land when considering homes versus the much greater impact to ag land from wineries. (Note that despite all of the new hillside vineyards planted in the last decade, actual producing acreage has hardly budged. The producing acreage is being lost somewhere.)
A sampling of the 80 winery projects approved and the loss of existing or potential vineyard land that each represents:
The proposed ordinance is a step in the right direction to limit the ongoing development of mega-mansions by the wealthy who want a piece of this most desirable tourist destination. But like most new ordinances proposed to slow the county's urbanization it is far too late. The mansions already cap the ridges of the valley and fill in the most desirable farmland on the valley floor. Just 1 year ago the county approved a mega-mansion that will decimate one of the few iconic forested knolls at the center of the valley. The requests for view-shed exemptions are approved by the Zoning Administrator almost every month.
One of the examples presented by the county (above) does show that, while mansions are an issue, the real development hog on agricultural land is the accommodation of tourism at wineries. This particular example (with a troubled history) illustrates just how much land can be taken up by the parking lot, tasting room, and presentation landscaping for a tourist facility, well above the 1 acre proposed for residential development. (This one may even exceed the 25% of the property allowed under the WDO.) And unlike the residence, the tourist facility creates a much greater need for additional urban development to accommodate the numbers of people that will use it. There is even the doubt that the winery would have been built at all, with the loss of the vineyard land of its entire development area, were it not for its tourism potential.
In a county that wishes to preserve its agricultural land, McMansion development should be regulated. (It should also follow the same setbacks from public roads that wineries must follow). But let's not forget that the real consumption of vineyard land is being done to accommodate a tourism-based economy with unnecessary winery development. Until a return to an agriculture-based economy occurs, mansion development on vineyard land will remain a subordinate cause of vineyard loss.
"Director of Planning, Building, and Environmental Services requests discussion and direction regarding commencing potential zoning ordinance changes to the View-shed Protection Program and limiting total development area for residential development within agricultural zoning districts."
It has always seemed a paradox to me that an enormous number of zoning restrictions are placed on wineries, including development area allowed, setbacks from roads, need to "convey their permanence and attractiveness", and above all a highly public approval process to insure that wineries are in harmony with maintaining a beautiful and agrarian landscape. Houses on the other hand, seem exempt from those considerations - except for a view-shed ordinance that doesn't seem to have prevented the county's most prominent ridge-lines from being encrusted with buildings. It is as if, because houses are a "by-right" use, that their negative impacts on the environment are also granted by-right.
The photo shows a house currently being constructed in a very obvious location on the Trail near the Soda Canyon junction. The setback is about 200' rather than the 600' required for a winery. The building's design, of very un-"napaesque" boxes, screens off the farmlands and ridges from view and a bit more of the county's rural landscape has been urbanized. A public vetting of the design, and an ordinance intended to moderate the visual impact of a residence in the landscape and its occupation of Napa's precious arable land would definitely be a welcome addition to the County's land use arsenal.
Farm Bureau President Peter Nissen is correct in his assessment in a recent letter-to-the-editor that “the current climate we find ourselves in does not bode well for the future of agriculture in Napa County...”
Indeed, the current, changing climate is one of increasing heat, fire, continued drought and concerns for water security. We are hotter and drier. Unless we change our ways, and possibly even if we do, agriculture in Napa County is going to be severely impacted.
However, Nissen and the Farm Bureau appear oblivious to the fact that we are deep in a climate emergency and what that means for growers and farmers. Instead, Nissen bemoans that applicants wanting to develop vineyards fear “unjustified attacks,” presumably by those concerned about the larger environment and the changing conditions brought on by exponentially increasing heating. He appears to believe that the “extremely thorough regulatory process” is doing its job to protect our environment.
He is wrong. Our regulatory processes are woefully outdated. After 13 years, we have yet to have a County Climate Action Plan. We are in a time of great transition and changes are needed. Campaign donations appear to have turned our local decision makers into a puppet government for the prevailing industries: wine and tourism. All the while, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued it’s most dire warnings and sounded the alarm that we must lower the emissions of greenhouse gases, and soon, if life on earth will be sustainable.
Yet, Napa County’s General Plan that guides critical land-use decisions, relies on old, historical conditions, not those presented in our new normal, nonlinear heating. And, citing one case, one needs to only study the facts surrounding the shoddy way our county avoided a required EIR for Mountain Peak Winery, incorrectly relying only on the California Natural Diversity Data Base Management Data for the presence of endangered species.
Only when informed citizens who sued, again and again, did the Courts agree an EIR would be required. This lengthy process could have been avoided had the state regulations been followed.
When properly enforced, many of our county regulations work to protect agriculture, our community, and the environment. Sadly, enforcement continues to be an issue. Too often our county will mitigate anything, bypassing regulations and scientific facts. It has become the burden of concerned citizens to address these problems. These are not people wanting all agriculture shut down. Many are growers and vintners themselves. This is public scrutiny to protect agriculture and the environment. Only in a healthy environment can agriculture thrive.
Has the Farm Bureau become only an advocate for those who believe development interests trump the needs of the environment and more generally, the common good?
Since the Valley Ag Preserve has been mostly planted out, as Director David Morrison has stated, now applicants look to the hillsides and the Ag Watershed lands. Very few of these applicants are farmers but investors or individuals “living their dreams” of a vineyard. However, their dreams involve converting land integral to the county’s water security and global climate stabilization efforts. The native vegetation of these hillsides sequesters far more carbon than the vines applicants seek to replace it with, a critical issue and one our current General Plan addresses.
These investors and “dreamers” want to call their dreams agriculture, but unfortunately, their acts commercialize Ag lands and degrade the environment at a time we need to get smarter about managing our wildlands. When you buy land in the Ag Watershed, you are buying watershed. It’s time our county considers this.
My husband and I have been members of the Farm Bureau for years. However, this is not the Farm Bureau that Donald and I knew even ten years ago. This Farm Bureau appears to be controlled by political agendas which threaten to destroy the very environment that could mitigate our survival into the future.
Update 4/7/22As I have mentioned elsewhere, the term "NIMBY" is a weaponized slur used by developers to sell the canard that defending one's community and environment against development is less socially worthy than their desire to consume it for profit. In a recent letter protesting the proposed Napa City General Plan update designation of the Ghisetta Ranch for housing and commercial uses, a member of the community organization Keep Napa Gateways Green gave a more nuanced reading of the importance of Nimbyism in the dialog about land use. It is worth repeating.
I have heard repeatedly the term NIMBY tossed about in various formats with regard to our group's opposition to the current and proposed Land Use Plan for the SW area of Napa; specifically, the properties known as Horseman’s Association and Ghisletta. The term NIMBY, "not in my back yard", has long been used to criticize people who oppose intensified and sprawling development in their communities. Invariably it is used pejoratively and depicts its residents as those who care only for their properties, as hypocrites who want the benefits of a diverse, thriving community without wanting to share their space with others. This couldn't be further from the truth.
There is nothing wrong with standing up for our own communities and standing with our fellow citizens who want to preserve their quality of life. Not everything about development and growth is worth embracing. We have the right to protect and defend the things we care about. As a matter of fact, it is defeatist not to. This is part of the political process and we proudly stand together to defend this beautiful area of Napa and all areas of Napa that deserve that protection and defense. Of course we are aware of undesirable development in our back yard, just as every neighborhood group is more keenly aware of problems because we are the eyes and ears of this part of Napa. We know this area, we live in this area and we treasure the Horseman's and Ghisletta properties and want to protect them. There is no room for condescension when people are working together to be part of something as important as this is.
Most so-called NIMBY arguments are actually more about the community as a whole, rather than one singular neighborhood. They are about preserving beauty, and promoting safety and the integrity of communities.
They are about solving problems (like climate change) without creating serious new ones (such as traffic congestion, pollution, wildfire dangers and costly infrastructure costs to struggling cities) . They are about finding solutions that enrich our lives, support our health, and increase our prosperity.
As is the case in many of the community battles with developers over the last 4 years, Pat Clay invokes "NIMBY" in the editorial. Whenever community members, in their self-interest, attempt to protect the quality of their lives in the face of development projects in their neighborhoods (and often in Napa County they are developments that want to exploit that quality of life for profit) they are labeled as NIMBY's.
Finally I had to look up the etymology. The first printed use of "NIMBY" was made, it seems, in quoting Joe Lieberman in 1979 regarding the opposition to nuclear waste disposal sites holding up development of nuclear power. (This was said one month before the Three Mile Island meltdown.)
In 1980 another author noted is use more broadly in opposition to waste disposal sites:
"People are now thoroughly alert to the dangers of hazardous chemical wastes. The very thought of having even a secure landfill anywhere near them is anathema to most Americans today. It's an attitude referred to in the trade as NIMBY -- "not in my backyard."
"The trade" was a reference to the waste disposal industry but might also be seen as any development industry. "NIMBY" is, as I have always assumed, a term invented by developers to pejoratively label those trying to preserve the quality of their lives in the face of a less desirable future. There is no similar pejorative for those wishing to make money by diminishing that quality. Other than "developer".
The intent of a pejorative label, raised to an art form by our current [now past] developer president, is to ridicule the target and divide them from the support of their otherwise similar peers. Who wants to be associated with someone who is "crooked" or "crazy". It is the prime weapon of every 10 year old schoolyard bully.
While the term "NIMBY" is usually invoked by developers against those impacted by the project to discount their opposition, it is also commonly invoked by non-impacted residents who support, in principle, the concept of “property rights” or else of urban development as a sign of prosperity from which they may benefit. That is, until a project is proposed in their back yard.
Black gold has an expanded meaning: you can use it for signing bonuses. The fact that it would be offered here is an admission that the hundreds of workers being hired for Napa's accelerating resort industry (500 more are proposed to be added to Stanly Ranch just up the road) still cannot afford to live here - and gas will be expected to eat a big chunk of their salary.
A Glenn Schreuder forwards this article commenting that "It would appear that our county's tourism-based economy is coming under significant economic stress and any new development only further exacerbates the fundamental problem.
It has continued to baffle me why the supervisors have been so (myopically)
interested in supporting new winery development projects when they needed to
be encouraging significant diversification of the local economy away from a
This article follows by a day another Wine-searcher article with a similar concern about Napa's current worker woes, coming from a Measure C angle.
Wine-searcher 4/6/19: Napa's Problem is Cars, Not Drought
Update 12/1/18Just on heels of his insights on the meaning of the opening of The Prisoner Winery, the Register's food and wine writer Tim Carl has done a deep dive, with statistics, into Napa's labor shortage.
A main argument propounded on this site is that the hundreds of construction projects being approved in the county will create more commuting employees, requiring more urban infrastructure and services and place greater pressure for housing development in a never ending cycle of urbanization that will leave Napa county looking like the rest of the Bay Area in the next generation.
Based on the above article, I may have been wrong. Given the jobs boom occurring everywhere at present, the hassle of commuting to Napa Valley to work is apparently not worth it. And as I've said before, affordable housing in Napa is a pipe dream.
This lack of desire on the part of employees to work in Napa may presage another trend that has also been mentioned before: the incredible expansion of tourism venues now approved and scheduled to be built in the next decade may suffer the same reluctance by visitors who also don't want the hassle of gridlocked traffic and overpriced digs.
Napa County, thinking the attractive charm of a rural agricultural community can be visited by the world without the charm being destroyed, is rapidly building itself into a box. It appears we are headed for the worst possible outcome - turning a rural environment and way of life that has proven economically viable into an urban environment that can't support itself.
It is perhaps an indictment of the friction between democracy and capitalism that the courts are now routinely required to sort out public interest from private greed because government entities, and the public servants that comprise them, are consistantly more beholden to development money than to the common well being of society.
The conclusion in the ruling is that building projects can have regional impacts and those must be clearly spelled out in EIR documets before the projects are approved. The Court, following comments by the US Supreme Court in another case, claimed Lake Tahoe as a "national treasure" and that more care needs to be taken in assesing the threats of individual developemnts to that regional character. The Court held that overall traffic, water availability, water quality and fire danger impacts were inadequately considered.
George broaches the concept of designating the Napa Valley as a "national treasure":
Now that I read [the Court's decision], what seems to have made a significant overall impact on the Court’s decision is the fact that the County’s EIR failed to take into account and view its findings through the prism of the prior Supreme Court’s decision which had identified the Lake Tahoe Basin as "uniquely beautiful"and a "national treasure".
Accordingly, the Court wrote that, "special emphasis should be placed on environmental resources that are rare and unique to that region and would be affected by the project". The County EIR failed to do so. The same can be argued about the Napa Valley, though I am not aware that it has been officially recognized as a national treasure.
But therein lies the problem. The intention of labeling Napa a "national treasure" is to protect it against the kind urbanizing growth, represented in winery attractions, housing development, infrastructure upgrades, estate development and industrial development that Senator Dodd has championed since he was elected Supervisor in 2000, and that his replacement, Supervisor Pedroza, continues to support. A designation that would add an extra layer of review on to the approval of development projects is anathema to the wine, warehouse, and tourism industries that are their principal constituents. Whatever steps might be taken to officially recognize the unique historical importance of an "agricultural preserve" in an urban region would no doubt be fought tooth and nail by our government and industry representatives at the county and state level.
The concept has been discussed (and acted upon) before, in the context of supporting th Napa County Open Space District. Together with the Land Trust, enormous good has been done in protecting great swathes of Napa County. But in the valley at present those protections are a patchwork of properties that may endure as parks while building projects continue to fill the agricultural land and open space in between. The panoramic character of the agricultural eden that the valley presents will be gone. Unfortunately, some think it already is, and considering the hundreds of building projects approved and in the pipeline, soon to litter the hillsides and valley floor, so do I.
From the Court decision:
"The project's impacts to community evacuation routes, however, must be analysed in the EIR.".
"The County concluded the impacts to existing evacuation plans would be less than significant. The evidence supporting this conclusion are composed primarily of opinions from traffic engineers and fire and law enforcement personel. Those opinions were not based on any identifiable facts."
"The conclusion reached by the County as it relates to emergency evacuation plans is based on unsubstantiated expert opinion. The evidence is legally insufficient to qualify as
substantial evidence under CEQA."
It is tempting to view this ruling in relation to our situation with the Mountain Peak Winery on Soda Canyon Road. Both involve the potential to add more people to the logjam of residents attempting to escape a major fire on constricted access routes. There is, of course, a difference is of scale. 4000 added people fleeing the Guenoc valley is a lot more than 200 extra people fleeing down Soda Canyon Road. (Of course our long one-way road is a much stricter constraint than the multiple directions Guenoc valley residents might take).
But the real difference lies in the Judge's recognition that the approval was "not based on identifiable fact". Both were approved by county governments obviously more interested in the real promise of economic benefit than the hypothetical of community safety. Both relied on theoretical "mitigations" to claim the danger posed by wildfires would be "less-than-significant". Both relied on "opinions from traffic engineers and fire and law enforcement personel". The difference here is that the decision in Mountain Peak was made in spite of identifiable facts that contradicted the expert opinion: namely that residents were trapped by a fallen tree at a critical moment, and that residents had to be evacuated by helicopter from the end of the road. Another 200 workers and visitors wanting out would have greatly endangered the lives of the several dozen residents that endured the harrowing evacuations on that fiercely windy night.
Considering the two month turnaround between the Draft EIR presentation and the FEIR approval, given the massive scale of a project that will change the character of both southern Lake County and northern Napa County forever, this looks like a brazen example of a wealthy international investor squeezing a small county government to quickly rubber stamp a major project with the lubricant and promise of big, easy money.
Some 4400 vehicle trips a day will be added to Napa Valley's traffic by the project, all passing thorugh Napa CIty and many probably passing through Angwin (rather than the longer route through Calistoga and Tubbs Lane), and yet Napa county governments or their affected citizens seem to have no real influence beyond letters of concern. As the FEIR states, "It should be noted that no project components or related improvements would occur within Napa County." Butt out.
16,000 acre development
850 hotel and resort rental units
1400 residential vineyard estates
500 worker SRO's on site
50 unit workforce houses off site
865,395 sf commercial/retail
spa, entertainment, equestrian, camping facilities
850,000 gal/yr wineries
14783 trips/day generated 4434 trips/day through the Napa Valley, the only access from the Bay Area
Up valley building projects in the Ag Preserve since 1993
"Once our open space is gone, it's gone." -- Sup. Alfredo Pedroza
Geographer Amber Manfree has given us a birds-eye look• at land in the "Ag Preserve" lost to building development since 1993, some 793 acres. It represents a 60% increase in urbanized land in the AP from that date. This map shows the entire urbanized area of the Ag Preserve.
Since 2010 alone about 80 new wineries have been approved, the majority within the AR (valley floor) zone. A sampling of the projects and the loss of existing or potential vineyard land that each represents:
Despite a stated desire at almost every opportunity by county officials to laud their committment to the sanctity of agriculture as the highest and best use of land, protected under the Agricultural Preserve Ordinance since 1968, the reality is that those officials approve, month after month, building projects that pave over that land forever. While many, including this website, have pointed to the acreage of vines removed to accommodate the buildings and parking lots needed for ever more tourist attractions over the last few years (like the 3.5 acres on Girard or the 10 acres on Benjamin Ranch, as examples), it is only when the pattern of vineyard loss becomes visible on a map that we can see the impact of urbanization in action.
The map that Amber has assembled shows development since 1993, a point when the wine industry was already successful and capable of maintaining its position as a world leader in wine as long as the forces of urbanization that threaten its agricultural resource could be held at bay. The mass-market tourism industry, however, was just was beginning its development, and most of these projects were the response.
The yellow areas show actual building sites, the land permanently removed from potential agricultural use, not the total properties they are on. The map doesn't show the dozens of projects that have been approved but not yet constructed. Nor does it show the dozens that are currently in the planning department awaiting review.
The photos shown here 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 satelite) would see it. If you don't already have it, Download the Google Earth Pro App here
The map consists of two files*, one for building sites and another for the ag preserve boundaries, which must be downloaded to your computer and then both must be opened (File -> Open...) with the Google Earth app.
Call me touristically naive, but I had never heard the word "glamping" until viewing an episode of "Escape to the Chateau" a few months ago. Now I see it everywhere, especially in Napa County. Following the Aetna Springs developer's glamping proposal in Pope Valley, we now have the Lake Berryessa proposal to become a glamping mecca.
While I'm not keen that Napa tourism will be expanded by another 680 overnight groups and ever more day trippers, it is a relief that Lake Berryessa may not yet be headed toward a wine county version of South Lake Tahoe. I hope.
A developer has apparently been cozying up to former General Manager of the Napa Open Space District for several years with a proposal to develop up to 80 "glamping" units in partnership with the NOSD, promising big tax returns on investment and more land into conservation easements for NOSD use.
The project was pitched before the NOSD board on 9/13/21. The staff, in their wording of the staff report to introduce the project to the board, seemed less than enthusiastic in their task. They probably saw that a proposal for a profit-driven high-end open-air luxury hotel, would be a fairly radical departure from the down-market cabins and mission of the District to provide publicly available parklands and campsites.
Beyond this, the developer, David Wickline of Aetna Springs Resorts LLC, is proposing to build housing units for 60 "staff" adjacent to the glamping site, rebuild the Aetna Springs Resort with another 80 hotel units and golf course and develop a 15-parcel luxury estate project.
The total project, on 3 separate sites in the Pope Valley, would be on the route to the Guenoc Valley mega development in Lake County and would undoubtedly induce further development along the corridor, exposing much more of the county to urbanization. The tidal wave of good-life development lust already having consumed the rural character of Napa Valley is now moving outward. How soon will Las Vegas hotels come to Lake Berryessa one wonders? Or to our own Soda Springs Resort now for sale and ripe for significant redevelopment?
The long saga of the Mountain Peak application for a new 100,000-gallon winery with 14,500 annual visitors including mega events at the end of the densely forested, 6.5-mile-long, dead end Soda Canyon Road, a non-conforming Napa County Standards Road, was approved on May 18, 2021.
It was a second review of one previously approved by the Supervisors just before the 2017 Atlas Peak fire. This review ordered by the Napa Superior Court asked the Supervisors to consider the effects of these fires which destroyed 134 of the 163 homes in the immediate area and claimed lives.
In granting their second approval, the Supervisors determined that the fires provided no data compelling them to change their minds in spite of testimony after testimony by residents who could not escape because the single, flame-engulfed escape route was blocked by fallen trees while many more were airlifted by helicopters because they were trapped. If this were not enough, they disregarded the 1-mile-long limit Napa County standard for a cull-de-sac six times over!
The Supervisors were willing to ignore scientific data adopted by the National Academy of Science which show that 84% of all fires are caused by human activity. Common sense would dictate that the more people are introduced in our fire-prone areas, the higher the likelihood of fire. But it didn’t.
A few months ago, these same Supervisors approved the Anthem Winery expansion on Redwood Road, including more visitors and events. They were undeterred by its 8 wells which successively kept running dry as were those of the neighboring residents. If this were not enough, they also granted 16 variances to the long driveway, trumping all Napa County standards for driveways.
By any evidentiary standard, these decisions by the Board, endanger public safety. And while residents are facing mandatory water conservation orders, the BoS increases visitors by the tens of thousands, increases demand for low-wage industry earners for housing by enacting policies which increase water usage and deplete resident’s wells, an indication that our water table is being impaired.
None of these hair-raising actions by the Board make common sense which poses the question: Why do these well-educated people make these kinds of decisions?
Many increasingly angry citizens accuse them of being in the pockets of the “industry”, others have even accused them of being immoral. I refuse to ascribe sinister motives to these people for actions which by all reasonable standards endanger the wellbeing of the public. My explanation is that they are acting under the duress of mounting costs to services and infrastructure which they are compelled to fund through more and more development fees.
Here is why this model puts us deeper and deeper into long term deficits to our infrastructure of water, sewer, emergency services, fire protection, roads, power grid, workforce housing, schools, new personnel, pensions etc.
Eight years ago, I sponsored a public forum on growth. Three experts - two of them university professors - on tourism, traffic and resort development determined that what used to be an agricultural economy has morphed (thanks to our Supervisors) into a tourist economy. As the panel showed (Eben Fodor: The Cost of Growth in Oregon, 1998), each new home or resort unit leaves an uncollected long-term deficit of $ 26,500 -- at least double that today multiplied by the hundreds of new hotel rooms and workforce housing units -- in terms of long-term infrastructure costs.
The development fees collected by the County are means to keep County finances afloat in the short-term while the long-term costs keep mounting exponentially. If we need proof, it is the fact that we keep approving funding propositions for schools and roads one after the other. And they are a drop in the bucket.
Some may characterize the ever-increasing reliance on development fees as; “the Supervisors being in the pockets of the industry”. Who can blame them when they see the Supervisors at first turning a blind eye on violators of their own well-intentioned winery use permit rules, then “bringing them into compliance” by simply legalizing them, when they approve wineries in fire-prone areas where they should not be, when they grant variances on set-backs, road and cul-de-sac standards, allow increased water uses in the face of water shortages and unconscionably disregarding the need for safe evacuation routes, when they see the culture of watering down standards -- even ethical ones - becoming ever more permissive.
On the other hand, just as the starving man who steels a slice of pizza, what else can these five people do once they have boarded the train they built over the past 20 years from which they cannot get off (taking us with them) until it eventually crashes?
Worse, getting off it becomes increasingly difficult by the continuous actions they keep taking.
It has been almost 7 years since the letter-of-doom showed up in our mailboxes at the top of Soda Canyon Road. Someone wants to build a tourist attraction at the center of our remote, rural paradise. The letter began a crash course in Napa's land use polices, past, present and future. And in the byzantine workings of the county government. And of CEQA law and of lawyers and consultants and the meanings of "less than significant" and "mitigation" and the county's bizarre definition of "agriculture".
We are still at it on our particular project. Depending on court rulings our battle may be over soon, or it may drag on for another couple of years. But the attempt, in the many battles over the last 7 years chronicled in this blog, to keep Napa from becoming the Las Vegas of wine has probably failed. For the concerned citizens that have shown up at Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings, and have funded and presented costly project appeals, and have protested and signed petitions and written letters and worked to elect officials and pass initiatives all aimed at slowing ongoing urbanization in a county nominally committed to rural preservation, it is too little too late. It has been like filling sandbags to protect against a tsunami of development lust washing into the County wanting to fill up the open space and cash in on the rural heritage left by 50 years of preservation policy.
In that 7 years, the visual changes have been noticeable but not overwhelming. A few more wineries occupying the vineyards, more buildings poking out of ridgelines. A few more bare patches in the forested hillsides for vineyard estates. More noticeable are the warehouses taking over the southern wetlands and acres of vineyards taking over the southern rolling oak woodlands; the urban areas beginning to fill up with apartment buildings and shopping centers; downtowns increasingly ceded to a transient population; the increasing loss of affordable housing and local businesses when the tourist dollar sets the price of everything; and, of course, the traffic.
But for all that has been built up in the last 7 years, the real end of Napa as a rural place is in the projects approved, or in the pipeline, yet to be realized. Perhaps 100 new winery-event centers. 3000 hotel rooms. 4000 housing units. 4 million sf of commercial space. Coming soon.
At one point in the history of Napa County, the interests of residents and the "wine industry" coincided; the growers and wine makers that built the industry were also residents with a committment to the place they wanted to live. In approving the Ag Preserve Ordinance of 1968 a supervisor stated that the ordinance reflected the wish of the people "to create the environment in which they wish to live, and for future generations."
But as the industry has become an economic powerhouse it has moved to corporate and plutocratic ownership with less interest in a preservation ethic that stands in the way of economic expansion and increased profits. As perhaps with every other local government on earth, Napa County now protects the economic interests of developers over the quality-of-life interests of its residents. Residents now look in vain to the hollow rhetoric of the Napa County General Plan enacted by that previous generation to preserve "the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure." The concept of the Ag Preserve, as becomes more apparent with each new building project approved by the Planning Commission, is history.
On Sep 23, 2020 Napa County gave an administrative review and approval to the despoiling of another of the valley's remaining isolated wooded knolls, this one between Yountville hills and the Trail. The hearing lasted 20 minutes.
The project involves the removal of 52 mature trees, flattening the knoll and topping it with a 13,685 sf house, 1000 sf guest house and 4 water tanks. A driveway will be cut in the face of the hill. The approval requires adminsitrative review, and a chance for public comment, because its exceptional visibility from the Trail and Highwy 29 requires compliance with the county's Viewshed Protection Program, enacted to protect the Napa Valley's iconic landscape from exactly the deleterious effects of this kind of development. As anyone casting an eye around the Valley's encrusted hillsides will see, it is an ordinance without teeth. Show a couple of trees in front of the building on the plan and a prominent piece of the valley's natural landscape is forever disfigured by human detritus which no amount of planting will ever really mitigate. Mother nature has been forever fouled.
All things are relative, I suppose. This disfigurement is only a bit less egregious than the gross deforestation for the estate atop Oak Knoll just down the Trail, as well as the homes sprouting again on the once-beautiful craggy ridgeline at Stag's Leap. Viewshed protection, just like agricultrural preservation, should mean something when it comes to land use policy, and if the policies can't protect the virtue of the isolated wooded knolls and open vineyard vistas at the visual center of what people think of as "The Napa Valley" from being ravaged by a few wealthy egos, the effort at regulation and due diligence would seem just a fig leaf to deny responsibility as "the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure" are slowly developed out of existance.
Staff contact was Sean Kennings, Contract Planner, (415) 533-2111, or firstname.lastname@example.org (A private contractor to oversee the public interest?)
Another chunk of the wetlands that form the greenbelt between Napa and the rest of the Bay area suburban sprawl is to be put up for subdivision at the Planning Commission on 7/15/20. The rural character that used to define the entrance to the Napa Valley leading to the Soscol split and the Grape Cursher monument is being urbanized with the worst kind of industrial detritus. The really gross Chevron Station built a few years ago signaled the death knell of the expansive view of the wetlands on leaving the valley. This project will complete the destruction of the view and add greatly to the entry to Napa County as an alley of warehouses.
The 5/19/20 meeting of the Napa County Board of Supervsors will include a joint session with the Napa County Planning Commission to discuss planning issues and priorities coming up in the near future. Item 9H here.
The session was added at the last minute in the midst of public-participation Covid constrictions. The input of residents impacted by continuing urbanization will no doubt be muted. The last joint meeting, in 2015, drew hundreds of citizens to the process, and a lengthly, though ultimately unfruitful, airing of concern over the pace of development in the county.
How tourism and the wine industry will rebound from the Covid crisis is still unknown, but the people packing bars in Wisconsin and the pro-tourism legislation in Napa passed after the 2008 downturn indicate that tourism impacts will probably be a bigger issue after the virus than before. The direction toward more urban development projects -- hotels and winery tourism venues, housing, road and warehouse construction, deforestation for vineyard estates -- has solidified in the last years, and the battle to limit that development seems, unfortunately, to be more and more a lost cause.
The emphasis in the Staff letter to the Supervisors for this session seems to be on the next ABAG RHNA affordable housing requirement for 2023 to 2031. The previous requirement for the 2015-2022 cycle was 180 uints which were accomodated after incredibly convoluted negotiations within the Napa Pipe project. In fact the County's desire to develop Napa Pipe was based on the affordable housing it would provide to meet ABAG requirements. Ultimately it will be a counter productive effort. In addition to 180 affordable units the project will have 750 market-rate units, 200,000sf of industrial/commercial space, a hotel, nursing home and a Costco. The number of added employees in the county created by the project and needing affordable housing will no doubt be greater than the affordable units added. Building the project will exaserbate the housing shortage, not reduce it. Probably another developer is currently in the wings with another massive urban project on county land promising to accomodate the 2023-31 allotment.
The only site currently identified as a potential for affordible housing in the unincorporated county is one owned by Pacific Union College in Angwin. Napa's oldest commmunity pushback organization, Save Rural Angwin, challenged the potential use of Angwin sites to meet the 2015-22 RHNA allotment in the 2014 General Plan update. The organization is still quite active in opposing development in Angwin.
PBS has just re-aired the 2011 documentary, Saving the Bay. It covers the history of the bay and the more recent efforts to restore its wetland ecology. But it is the political effort to preserve the bay from landfill development in the 1960's (clips 24 and 25 here) that had the most resonance in the current effort to preserve Napa County from the wave of housing, tourism, industrial and good-life development brought on by the Bay Area tech boom. While the significance of saving the agricultrural and rural character of Napa County perhaps doesn't rise to the same level of importance as preventing the San Francisco Bay from being paved over in the post war development boom, it is inspiring to see an example of a grassroots effort that thwarted the never ending ambitions of developers to fill up open space with buildings.
At a previous BOS meeting Planning Director made a brief list of appeal projects that would be coming up before the Supes, those outlined in Barry Eberling's article, and mentioned that there would probably be more.
It has been 6 years since the Walt Ranch Project and Mountain Peak projects became known to their neighbors. The two projects, along with the Yountville Hill Winery, ignited a broader realization among county residents that the development trajectory in the county was beginning to impact residents feeling of well being living in a rural oasis in the greater Bay Area. It has corresponded with an effort following the 2008 recession to encourage more tourism into the county to support a movement of the wine industry from distributer sales to direct to consumer sales through increased winery visitation. The increasing number of project appeals and the pursuit of litigation beyond the appeals are the result. Thus far, unfortunately, there is little evidence that community pushback has done much more than slow down the conversion of the landscape into building sites and the ultimate suburbanization of Napa County.
Update 1/24/20Sorry for this rant, but, alas, it appears that the county's Current Projects Page is now going to be replaced by the Current Projects Dashboard. A note on the Anthem project page now indicates that "this page is no longer maintained. For the latest project-related information and documents, please visit our new Current Projects Explorer application here". I assume that all projects will eventually be migrated to the Dashboard.
On the dashboard a small link at the bottom takes one to the documents for the project. Unfortunately this collection of documents is stored on a different database than the documents linked on the previous current project pages. To my knowledge this is the second time since the county has been fumbling its way into the digital age that it has changed the location of its document server.
Links between separate bits of information on the web are the heart of the web's success. To break those links by changing the web addresses of the individual bits of information does an incredible disservice to all who gain knowledge by "connecting the dots" of a particular subject. You would think that governments, who have a legal obligation to archive, protect and make data available, would be especially attuned to the need to keep links intact. Losing the links in one county document (say a past meeting agenda) that reference other documents is no different than losing a statistic in a table, or a finding in a use permit.
There are, no doubt, ways of permanently insuring that old links are redirected to new ones but, alas, these two addresses of the same Anthem document in the two databases are very different, with the newer link actually downloading the document to the user's device. There is no obvious way to provide an external link to view a document on the county's website as there was in the old system: Old docuemnt location New Location
I would hope that the IT professionals that manage that county's data and website would show a little more concern for the historic accessibility of documents than they have in the past and seem to be doing now.
12/26/19The county has added a new page to their website to provide a more comprehensive look at the amount of development going in the county:
This coordination between development projects and a map of the county has already been available for several years on SCR here and here. I am counting on the county to do a better job than I have done. As they note, it is hard to keep all of the data accurate and up-to-date.
Hopefully they will add a link between the projects on the map and the current project page for each project with associated documents. It would also be nice to have links to the videos and agendas of meetings related to the project. Although I have feebly tried to make these connections on my pages, the county should be able to do a much better job.
Surprise note: The county separates current projects on the map into "current" (blue dots) and "major" (red dots). The red dots are few and include contentious projects like Walt Ranch, Napa Pipe, and Syar that are still, after years, making their way through the county meat grinder. I am very pleased to see that the Mountain Peak winery is considered a "major" project.
Update 5/24/18Dan Mufson sends along this link from the community group Voices of Vallejo fighting the Orem cement factory proposed at the mouth of the Napa River into San Pablo Bay: False Assurances Threaten the Napa River
I have perhaps risen to the bait of the provocative title of this LTE, but a look at the location of the plant does give one pause in considering the addition of a new heavy industry operation in the San Francisco Bay, even though down stream (a pretty flat stream at this point) from Napa. Fish must swim past the factory to reach the Napa Valley, and the breezes that cool the Valley first pick up the factory's emissions.
Napa wine marketer Tom Wark is joining the exodus to Oregon. After residing in Wine Country for the last 25 years Mr. Wark has decided that he can't afford to live here anymore.
Of course he bears some responsibility for the high cost of housing. As one of many people promoting Napa wines and wineries as good-life status symbols for the wealthy of the world, and the Valley as a good-life destination for masses of travelers wishing they were wealthy, the rise in housing prices is the direct result his efforts. I assume that he is going to Oregon in the hope that, with his help, it too will be unaffordable in a few years. But he will already have his house. One wonders why he didn't buy a house before the boutique winery, vineyard and tourism explosion that he has encouraged sent property prices soaring.
It's a reasonable move for someone in his profession. As the exodus attests, Napa is beyond its peak. It has lost its authenticity, a victim of the efforts of good-life promoters and developers who, along with residents feeling the impacts of their work, now want as yet unspoiled locales to call home. While I don't really want Oregon to suffer the fate of Napafication, I do hope that more marketers follow Mr. Wark's lead and leave Napa County.
When we first looked at our future home at the very remote end of Soda Canyon Road in 1992, the residents there said that they were moving to Oregon. The nearest house was a half mile away. All you could see was chaparral below the forested ridgeline beyond the gorge at the edge of the house. There are just too many people here, they said.
Last year, one resident on Soda Canyon Road, active in our first year of community organizing, abruptly sold her 250 acres and moved to Oregon. Two years ago Sandy Ericsson, the editor of the St Helena Window (archived here) and daughter of a previous St Helena mayor, moved to Oregon. A year before, a writer for the NY Times recognized that Oregon represents what Napa used to be - a place with some authenticity and a connection to the rural life of an agricultural community. She advised wine tourists to go there instead.
It isn't just Oregon, of course, that is beginning to receive the diaspora of Napa's disenchantment. The photographer Charles O'Rear commented publicly on his decision to leave in Goodbye, Napa Valley. And Jason Hammett has more recently added an eloquent lament. For each of those that we know about, there are no doubt many more who have decided that the character that attracted them to Napa is disappearing as the place is being refashioned by a new generation more interested in the profit to be made from the image of a rural place than in actually living in one.
Juliana Inman's departure is a bigger story than just the decampment of a politician mid-term. Napa is losing its connection to a rural, small-town way of life increasingly rare in the Bay Area. In a period of rampant tourism development in Napa it is significant that she seeks move to a place where there is still the hope of preservation. It is a difficult story for those who remain behind making the effort to retain that character, against all odds at this point, a battle that seems more hopeless with each new event center or hotel or housing project approved.
Update 10/17/18In the first example of applying his expertise as a developer to the affairs of the Planning Commission, Comm. Mazotti created a bit of a surprise. At the end of the 10/17/18 Planning Commission meeting the discussion turned to a recent article in the Register, which described a winery able to serve meals because of a "loophole" in the WDO. That, of course, led the commissioners to wade in again to the issue of "food" service versus "meal" service at wineries and whether the serving of food at wineries was causing the recently reported demise of numerous in-town restaurants.
At the BOS meeting the previous day, in which the same issue came up, wine industry lobbyist Debra Dommen, claiming inside knowledge, assured the Supes that the reason for some closures was not due to winery competition as reported. But Comm. Mazotti gave a fairly definitive and contrary answer to the Planning Commission: from the urban development community's standpoint, the creation of new restaurants is a "net zero" condition - for each new winery restaurant the loss of one in-town restaurant might be expected.
I have been quick to pigeonhole those officials coming from a development background (Sup. Gregory included) as being supportive of continued urban development of the county in which tourism wineries play a significant part. I still feel that way, but this is a small indication that the reality may a little more nuanced.
At the Oct 3, 2018 County Planning Commission meeting it was a bit of a shock at the end of the meeting to hear Commissioners begin to laud Commissioner Scott's service to the county over these last 19 years. The news that he would be leaving was news indeed to this avid follower of Planning Commission affairs, as it apparently was to Sup. Wagenkenecht as well. Despite being on the email list for BPES announcements this was a total surprise. Maybe I just missed some announcement of potential vacancy in a previous hearing. The actual happenings in the Planning Commission and BOS meetings are often buried in obscure asides during previous meetings. Acting CEO Minh Tran's avowal that established procedures had been followed in the appointment leads one to believe that established procedures are a bit opaque from a community oversight perspective.
Commissioner Scott, in keeping with his position as the longest serving commissioner, was the most courtly of members, appearing to be genuinely anguished over the residents concerns as their neighborhoods were commercialized by his decisions. While at one time I saw him as a truly independent thinker on the commission, and commended his courageous decision to deny Yountville Hill amid enormous pressure to approve, ever since his service under Supervisor Pedroza he has been a reliable vote for every development up before the Commission. He expressed a true love for the job, even, I think, making it worth the anguish to follow the wishes of his Supervisor when he might have made another choice.
With the selection of Mr. Mazotti to replace Comm. Scott, Sup. Pedroza has obviously chosen someone who shares his vision for the future of Napa County. Mr. Mazotti's direct financial stake in the continued urban development of the county is unique in the recent history of the commission. There was always concern that Comm. Basayne's connection to a limo company meant that each approval he made had the potential to increase the business of his company. Comm. Hansen, until recently a reliable pro-development vote, heads an organization that promotes the adoption of green principles in development projects and as such has a real connection to the development community. Other Commissioners, like Mr. Scott, have had less direct connections to business interests that wish to profit off of more building development.
Mr. Mazotti will now have a very direct role in the development of more tourism 'experiences" in the County. The continued development of winery venues for tourism and the increase in visitation slots are at the base of the Napa's ongoing urban development, creating the need for ever more hotel and tourist-serving commercial development, and increasing the demand for housing and commercial development needed for the in-town and winery workforce. It is a legitimate question to ask if it is appropriate to have a developer on the Commission or, as one activist put it, a wolf guarding the hen house. Developers have lawyers and consultants and fixers and county staff who work together on a daily basis in order to massage their projects and prepare them for presentation at the Commission. Having one of their own on the Commission really seems like a leg up too far and raises the question of a conflict of loyalties in making objective decisions.
Comm. Mazotti will also be at the forefront of any agreements between the municipalities and the county regarding annexation agreements (think Napa Pipe) that aim to give up county land for urban projects. While the County in the past has been loth to surrender its land, based on its 50 year role as protector of the rural heritage and economy of the county, the winds of change, first set in motion by Bill Dodd's tenure as Supervisor and now no doubt pushed by Sup. Pedroza, are now becoming apparent. In a little noticed action at the Sep 25, 2018 BOS meeting, the Supes considered a change to county policies to establish "a prudent and responsible fiscal approach to annexation agreements". The intent: to insure that the county gets an appropriate cut of all taxes that come from development on the annexations into the future. The county will now have a more realistic financial stake in the urban development of county land than it has had in the past.
Placing a developer on the Planning Commission may change little in the short term. Comm. Scott has been a pretty consistent pro-development vote. But it is a clear statement from Sup. Pedroza where his interests lie. And the protections of the rural character that many residents treasure in the county have become a bit more tenuous.
As just pointed out in the news post related to the resurrection of the Stanly Ranch resort and its 500 hospitality employees that will need affordable housing, this NapaStat reinforces what the current tourism boom portends for the problems of traffic and housing that already plague the quality of life in the County. 700 new hospitality workers this year. How many affordable housing units were brought online in the same period? The number of proposed or approved facilities in the County, with employees yet to be added to the EDD database, is vast. Over 150 new or expanded wineries and a few thousand hotel rooms not yet realized will add thousands to the hospitality workforce. In addition are millions of square feet of commercial and industrial facilities. And a Costco. As outlined here, providing affordable housing for this workforce will be excruciatingly difficult. The wisdom of continuing to approve new hospitality and commercial development, with no strategy to provide the thousands of affordable housing units for the workforce required, is irresponsible urban planning.
Coincidentally this same subject was reprised on the PBS Newshour today, the challenge of finding affordable housing for workers in Anaheim, California's most touristed place: PBS 3/27/18: Why Anaheim
Update 7/11/18On July 17, 2019 the County Planning Commission will take up the expanding development of the Carneros Inn, combining the creation of a Napa municipal water connection to the well-water-starved resort (undertaken by the new Carners Inn Mutual Water Company) along with a passel of changes necessary to get the entry off Hwy 12 and other amenity upgrades. All was outlined out in a a proposal for a development agreement presented to the BOS let year.
A proposal for a development agreement between the County and the Carneros Resort will be presented the Board of Supervisors on Oct 30, 2018. The Notice of Public Hearing is here.
The agreement would allow for the extension of Napa municipal water from the currently serviced Congress Valley water system to service the Carneros Resort site. In addition the agreement calls for an enlarged access to the Carneros Resort from Old Sonoma Hwy and an expansion of the parking lot, and a relocation of a County fire station to facilitate the new entry. This meeting is intended to give staff direction on the conditions of the agreement prior to the proposal being presented to the Planning Commission for formal review.
How does urban development begin even within a regulatory regimen specifically tailored to inhibit that development? A connected developer manipulates a government to push through an inappropriate project, then moves on (in this case to Napa Pipe) leaving the owners to deal with the negative impacts foreseen from the beginning. The owner then pleads with government to solve the problems lest he goes bankrupt. Urbanization, like some cancers, may begin in an isolated location and then grow just slowly enough to hide its inexorable spread until its too late to be stopped.
Note that a 2015 state law shepherded by Bill Dodd, whose election as Supervisor in 2000 shifted the board in a more development-oriented direction, allows cities to extend infrastructure to county parcels without requiring city annexation of the properties. A growth inducing bill if ever there was one.
The appropriate solution in the case of the Carneros Resort is not to aid urban expansion with growth inducing infrastructure. Cut out the tumor. Or at least cut down the size of the project to match the amount of water available from its wells. A County committed to maintaining a healthy agricultural environment shouldn't be encouraging urban tumors to survive and grow.
The LAFCO infrastructure expansion area for the Carneros Inn (and properties in the neighborhood) is the green dogleg on the bottom.
A neighbor sends this listing in the window of a real estate office in St. Helena. In one horribly ironic line of sales hype a real estate agent has summarized what all of the battles are about, on Soda Canyon Road and the whole of Napa County:
"41 acres of rare, unspoiled Napa Valley just waiting to be developed."
The view of the property from the road. Is that the realtor's No-on-C sign?
The intention of Measure C was to prevent the conversion of wooded hillsides, like this one, from being clear cut for vines. Now, with its defeat, the fate of Napa's woodlands remains in the hands of developers.
The EPA apparently thinks so. Residents who are experiencing the impacts of booming tourism and industrial development currently happening in the county aren't so sure.
It is worth noting that the EPA doesn't see the construction of Napa Pipe or Watson Ranch happening in the next 50 years. Let's hope they know something we don't. Of course they also don't anticipate the construction of the Meritage Resort, Napa Valley Commons or the airport industrial area (definitely suburban rather than ex-urban uses). In fact, there is almost not a single change shown for Napa in the next 50 years. Either development ceases entirely after 2020 - and in some cases reverts! - or Napa
5/29/17 America as one big holeJames Conaway, in a recent blog post and now in a Register letter, has called attention again to the dangers of life in an age dominated by developers (and now ruled by our first developer-in-chief) to those who would seek to preserve some of their cultural and natural heritage for future generations, not to mention its enjoyment in the here and now.
50 years ago Napa's agricultural preserve was created as a dam to hold back the floodwaters of development lust that was drowning the rest of Bay Area agriculture in building projects. The issue in Napa then was housing development, and it seemed for a while that the minimum-parcel-size zoning and the popular-vote-required re-zoning protections put in place to stop housing subdivisions have worked. An industry based on an agricultural product has survived and prospered and the housing projects have been held at bay.
But development lust is not so easily suppressed. Within the tight constraints of the Agricultural Preserve, the General Plan and Measure J, the formulae had to be jiggled just enough so that a new generation of development interests could begin pumping money into Napa real estate ventures. The magic component: tourism and the hyping of a good-life destination. Define those as "agriculture" and the flood gates open.
It is often said that Napa has become a victim of its own success. It's success was created by careful legislative crafting by politicians and citizens concerned about the preservation of its agricultural heritage. But the victimization is wholly attributable to development lust of a few seeking ways to exploit and cash in (or out) on that success. Wine makers are bought out by good-life entrepreneurs, vineyard real estate is promoted as building sites for every plutocrat's fantasy of a winery-of-one's-own. And the buildings and parking lots and commuting tourists and employees continue to come. The urbanization of ag land in the rest of the county will not be as swift as the development of Watson Ranch, but in the long run it will be just as sure.
James Conaway has been a perceptive student of the cultural and physical transformation of the County for 25 years. The upcoming third book in his series on the Napa Valley will no doubt reflect on the change that has come to the county in that time. Its proposed name, unfortunately, is a bit depressing for those of us who have hoped the fight to save this place was not hopeless: Napa at Last Light.
[Letter to Supervisors regarding Dec 20th 2017 Planning Commission referral of 2018 PC Bylaws governing applicant and protestant speaking times at public hearings (Agenda item 8B here and Register articles here and here)]
I am dismayed at the proposed "streamlining" process the Planning Commission has put in front of you for your approval.
The basic question which needs to be answered before any changes to the process are made is what is the purpose of the process in the first place. it seems to me that the primary purpose of the process is to seek ways to make the outcome of decisions better. No one has yet to make the case that a faster process is one which delivers a better outcome.
Limiting the time applicants and their consultants have to present a complex application to 15 minutes is not serious when one considers that entire EIRs involving traffic, safety, impacts on resources etc. need to be presented. One can make the argument that all that information - often consisting of over 1,000 pages - are on file for any citizen to inform themselves but you must concede this to be unrealistic. At least it is available to the Commissioners whose jobs it is to do just that. But the public doesn't stand a realistic chance under the current system.
I am a fairly well educated person. Whenever I designed a plan after hours of considering every angle I can think of, I used to think that there was nothing to be added. Until that is, I presented it to public scrutiny. I learned that there is nothing more valuable than the wisdom of the crowd.
The entire premise of the "streamlining" proposal before you is that citizen input is of no value and needs to be curtailed. As a matter of fact one cannot avoid feeling the Commissioners' utter disdain for it and that were it not for the law, they would prefer to eliminate it altogether. Having sat through appeals before you, I must say that you yourselves are not immune from this charge.
I venture to say that except for applicants whose projects are approved, the public who cares to participate with a lot of sacrifice in the process is not satisfied with the results most of the time feeling that it was not "heard". This means that there are fundamental improvement which need to be instituted beginning with ways to encourage wider public participation! However, when the public perceives that its input is ineffective as it has been, you are disinviting it rather than inviting it.
Complex staff reports ought to be available to the public for at least 10 working days prior to a hearing if the P.C. were really interested in valuable public input. Applicants make a presentation, the Commission asks questions, the applicant replies. The public speaks, the applicant addresses its points but the public has no way of rebutting the applicant's explanations. Nor does the public have the opportunity to address points the Commissioners make among themselves. The process itself is wanting in basic structure not just in terms of expediency.
If you really aspire to a system which delivers a better product, you need to assemble a study group which involves business interests as well as the public. Expediting, "streamlining" the process should be way down the line of considerations.
The pushback against projects coming before county boards is the natural result of an industry beginning to degrade the quality of county life that residents treasure in its search for more profits to be made by more development. But the proposal to formalize the parameters of public feedback at hearings seems little more than a codification of the existing pattern. The Chairs of the planning commission and the board this past year have been quite ready to hammer opponents on the 3 minute rule, not allowing one speaker additional time to speak on behalf another, and not allowing community rebuttal to applicant's statements. Applicants are kindly limited to 15 minute presentations (after some jovial bonding between industry reps and commissioners).
The interesting part is that a codification to the bylaws is deemed necessary now. Perhaps it is an attempt to cut a cause for litigation of the current bylaws. It definitely reflects the hardened anti-resident attitude that has taken place in county government (and the wine industry) since APAC and the election of a developer-majority board.
Allowing community input has always been an act of due diligence on the part of government, a legal necessity, with little intent to change minds. Rarely is there a clear instance of a commissioner making up his/her mind based on community input at the hearing. (Although Comm. Pope did seem to do so at the first Yountville Hill hearing only to be corrected durning a comfort break and eventually booted out of his position for his lapse in judgment.) Continuances do result from community input and it is clear that the industry and some commissioners see this as gumming up the development pipeline.
It is optimistic to think that community opposition in 3 (or 2) minute speeches at a public hearing will change the outcome of decisions months and many thousands of dollars in the making. The real problem is that the County restricts community participation in the process until the last few days before the approval is to be made. Residents do need to approach the planning department and individual commissioners at private meetings earlier in the process to make their concerns known and their mitigations accepted. And they need knowledgeable advocates for their positions to help with an unfamiliar process. That means that the real changes that need to be made in planning Commission Bylaws involve creating a process that involves impacted citizens throughout the design process and gives them real tools to counter the self-interested conclusions of paid consultants who are always able to massage the numbers to prove that a project will have less-than-significant impacts on residents, their community and the county at large. Unfortunately no one is talking about that kind of bylaw reform.
I have confirmed with the COB's office that one or more supervisors has already requested that this item be pulled from consent for discussion so you do not need to submit a request. Also, the rules have not been approved or adopted by the Commission yet. They recommended adoption of the revisions but the Board must approve the bylaws and the Board may wish to make changes or provide further direction.
When Senators and House members run for reelection, they invoke the number of successful bills they have sponsored. Such bills, for better or for worse shape the future of our country and our lives. If you think about it, why would anyone run for office if it were not for this privilege?
Update 6/28/17James Conaway, following the Alastair Bland article, (which he subtitles "the Rape of Napa") has weighed in on his own disillusionment with the demise of the great Napa experiment in rural protection, lamenting that the place has "lost its Edenic quality ... and all vestiges of innocence":
6/16/17Alastair Bland, who recently authored this piece on the vineyard deforestation of the Napa watersheds, has now taken a look at the collaboration of the wine industry and their government regarding compliance and the pushback from residents impacted by that interaction.
While the essence of this article is to demonstrate how the county is failing to protect its rural heritage, I was struck by the quote from Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards. He has in the past inaccurately described dissenters at hearings as a vocal minority out to kill the wine industry. But here he asks the right questions, ones that need a public workshop to explore. From the article:
Wagner says he is sometimes perplexed by the arguments from industry critics. The two opposing sides, he says, actually want the "the same endpoint."
"Preserving agriculture, reducing traffic and air pollution, conserving water, maintaining our bucolic ambiance, and reducing danger of fire are all shared concerns," Wagner says. "Where do we become separated? What is the problem in a nutshell?"
In a nutshell, the problem is the tourism business model now being adopted by the wine industry. The wine industry has always been, as one might assume, a staunch of protector of Napa's rural heritage. But as the "wine" industry has morphed from grape processing into tourist processing, and as the resident-vintners that built the industry have been superseded by growth-centric corporations and by plutocrats wishing to be good-life entrepreneurs, the maintenance of that rural character, now exploited to increase profits, is increasingly put at risk. With the wine industry, and its government, failing to support those shared concerns by encouraging more development and ignoring existing protections, residents have begun to make their discontent heard.
Unfortunately the wine industry, and in particular its founders, like Mr. Wagner, who have fought development interests throughout their careers to protect their agricultural resource, are now unwilling to see the construction of tourism venues in the vineyards, the expansion of wineries solely to accommodate more tourism and the deforestation of the watersheds for resorts and housing estates as the urban development that it is. It is an urbanization that is slower perhaps than housing projects but in the long run just as lethal to agriculture. In a desire to expand their businesses and increase profits they rationalize and define such development as a protection of agriculture. Yet the jobs and the people and the buildings and the cars generated by these projects, and the further infrastructure and construction they precipitate, continue to urbanize the county. Residents, not blinded by the money to be made, see these impacts for what they are: harbingers of the end of this rural enclave in the urban Bay Area.
Napa county is a small place. There is a finite level of wine production and tourism that the county can bear and still allow agriculture, the natural environment and a rural, small town way of life to be successfully sustained. Some might see the Napa of today as striking or only slightly beyond that balance. No one denies its current success. Yet there are over one hundred new or expanded wineries and thousands of hotel rooms and resort lodgings in the pipeline. And the wine industry continues to push for even more.
As is seen in the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings, and as is obvious in the article, residents have little leverage against such a dominant industry. They are routinely ignored in governmental decisions, no matter the efforts they make. Until the more influential members of the wine industry, such as Mr. Wagner, are able to see that in this small place there are limits to business growth and the amount of money to be made from wine and tourism without destroying its rural, agricultural substance and character (a realization at the heart of the original Ag Preserve and the zoning protections that followed), there is little hope that the urbanization will end, or that the complaints of residents, seeing their paradise lost, will be stilled.
I don't want to talk about any one development, but to express a concern for the future of this great community.
The Board of Supervisors, City Council, and Planning Commissions are our friends and we look to them to protect us and Napa. I'm not against all development and appreciate the contributions the wine industry and other businesses have made, but I am concerned about the unlimited pace at which development is happening.
Our economy is already overheated and finding workers is becoming a problem. Even with normal business cycles recession will come again, what will happen then or with an over-inflated economy?
1) I appreciate and enjoy many of the events that are taking place downtown and not saying we shouldn't have them, but the day before BottleRock it took me two hours to return home from Sonoma. Traffic can be a nightmare in and out of Napa a great deal of the time, and in all directions, not just for special events.
2) There is no way to build enough affordable housing to solve the problem and they aren't affordable to most of our residents. Locals are being forced to move away and local businesses are closing.
3) I hope everyone is aware of the impact this is having on our schools? Enrollment is going down because people with families can't afford to live here. Schools are being closed, programs are cancelled, support services are being reduced and over a hundred teachers are being laid off this year alone. This will continue into the future. The future education of our youth will be at risk.
4) It sometimes seems that houses are being converted to vacation rentals faster than they are being built and I question if they can be adequately supervised.
5) The problem isn't just with the city or county -- it is both. Somehow we need to find a way to work together and to help bring people with different views together. The problem is all of ours. I think we all have something to lose if we don't.
6) There are hotels and other projects proposed, being built or on the way: Town Center, 90-room Cambria Hotel, a five-story hotel at the Wine Train, Meritage
While there are at least 2400 hotel rooms in the planning pipeline in Napa county, the urban growth issues go beyond just hotels and resorts. There are some 3700 dwelling units approved or under review, almost 4 million sf of commercial/industrial development, some 150 new and expanded wineries, and a 2300 acre vineyard estate project. And, of course, a quarry expansion to pave it all.
All of that will probably happen, and the golden goose is probably already a dead goose walking. But doing nothing in the face of such a loss is not an option. Signing the petition is one small first step.
The county's rural, small town character, open spaces and agriculture-based economy are the legacy of a previous generation of citizens and elected officials with a clear vision of the value of a rural place in an urban world. Beyond St. Helena, already at gridlock stage, current elected officials have shown little inclination to rein in the urbanization of Napa County happening under their watch. They are, in fact, enthusiastic promoters, beholden to the tourism, real estate and other development interests currently on a rampage to fill up the open space with their building projects in the guise of "protecting agriculture". We need a new generation of elected officials and level of citizen commitment if the destruction already happening is to be contained to a level that will allow this place to retain some of its rural character 40 years hence.
8A Flora Springs Winery Major Mod
26900 more vis/yr, 11 more employees, water and sewer upgrades to accommodate more people and more food.
8B Truchard Winery New Use Permit
100,000 g/y, 17900 vis/yr, 6-10 employees, setback variance
8C Beautiful Day Winery New Use Permit
30,000 g/y, 21300 vis/yr, 10 employees
8D Poetry Inn driveway road exception
"This existing road serves an Inn, an un-built approved winery, an existing residence and a replacement residence with its proposed second unit and guesthouse." How much urban development is possible on agriculture-watershed land? What will Napa look like when all 4500 parcels are so developed? How many exceptions and variances will be made to make it possible?
This upcoming planning commission meeting is a good window into the future of Napa County. The three winery projects being reviewed and the one that will become feasible with the road exception represent:
at least 66,100 new visitor slots to be filled meaning perhaps 22,000 more visitors/yr to be accommodated by county infrastructure and services
28-36 more employees driving to work each day and needing affordable housing
142,000 gal/yr of unnecessary processing capacity to make wine already being made elsewhere in the county.
Just one day's work for the Planning Commission.
If all are approved it will be a notable but not extraordinary addition of urban building projects in the ag zones. After preservationists' defeat at APAC and the election of development oriented Supervisors last year, the county has been on a push to draw down the large backlog of building use permits and modifications being requested. Can they do it faster than new projects are being submitted? Prior to this hearing, the Planning Commission has approved 7 new wineries and 9 major winery modifications this year, more, as the planning director seemed to boast at a recent hearing, than in all of 2016. They represent about:
85,000 more visitor slots, meaning perhaps 28,000 more visitors to the county each year
150-160 more employees on the roads and looking for affordable housing.
270,000 gal/yr of additional unnecessary capacity to make wine already being made elsewhere in the county
Dan Mufson got up at the Supervisors strategic retreat on Apr 24 th with a simple recommendation to begin to address the affordable housing issues (and the traffic issues) that everyone, even the Supes, now sees as the lamentable future of the county: stop building wineries. The same amount of Napa wine will be sold each year whether these projects are built or not. And some of the County's service costs to deal with the ever increasing tourism population will be curbed. It should be a no-brainier.
The Poetry Inn road exception request was an unexpected addition to he agenda. It shows the limits that the county may be willing to go to insure that all 4500 10+ acre parcels of land in the county's ag preserve and ag watershed zones can be maximized to their urban development potential. Vineyards may survive in the county, as vanity statements of the good life, but the price to be paid will be 3 houses and a showpiece winery on each parcel to cater to a burgeoning tourist population. Most will require setback variances and road exceptions to be feasible.
As with the Caves at Soda Canyon this would appear to be a totally inappropriate site for an industrial facility, up a road with substandard curves and in this case with a slope exceeding 22%.
And 'A determination was made that the winery use permit was "used" on April 15, 2017.' - 2 weeks before this hearing? Normally there is a 2 year sunset period on use permits if they are not "used". What's going on here?
And the Poetry Inn, a hotel, apparently built on ag land in the mid 2000's based on a b&b that may have been created in the 1990's? The 1983 General Plan allows only agricultural processing (and accessory activities) and farm labor housing. "No other use or development of a parcel located in an agricultural area shall be permitted unless it is needed for the agricultural use of the parcel." What is the story with this developer and why is none of this history at least mentioned in the agenda letter?
This meeting should be about more than just road exceptions.
Update 3/7/17: The Standard Conditions of Approval for wineries were approved by the Supervisors with only one change required by Richard Mendenhall, lawyer for the Napa Valley Vintners: deleting the word "original" from the expression
"At least 75% of the grapes used to make the winery
The Planning Department is revamping the Conditions of Approval (COA) and the subject will return to the Planning Commission in October. First Blush was 8/3/16, second meeting scheduled for 9/7/16 but this will be pushed into October. A notice to stakeholders will be out very soon.
Funny, but the main comments have come from NVV and NVGG. Stakeholders - Architects, Engineers, planners, etc. have yet to offer feedback.
The COA, if helpful with direction to the owner and Stakeholders and should include references to County Code and other directives that help the reader interpret and act on the Conditions of their USE Permits. Especially for the employees of the Planning Dept (including enforcement): Their efficiency, clarity and time is our money and their reputation.
Ease of communication and enforcement should be the guiding goals of the new COA, something supported by the Industry Groups, see the attached letter.
Date: Wed, Aug 31, 2016 at 5:03 PM
Subject: Napa County Development Process - Standard Conditions of Approval Update for Discretionary Projects (Status Update)
From: "Gallina, Charlene"
Cc: "McDowell, John" , "Morrison, David"
Hello Regular Customers of Napa County Planning, Building and Environmental Services,
On August 3, 2016, the proposed Standard Conditions of Approval Update for Discretionary Projects were presented to the Planning Commission for their recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. Based upon public testimony received, the proposed new outline for organization of Standard Conditions, and direction by the Planning Commission, staff recommended at this meeting that this item return to the Commission on September 7th. To date, staff is still working on revisions to the standard conditions and has been meeting with stakeholders to address issues associated with this revision and will not have this item ready for the September 7th meeting. To accommodate this work effort, it is likely that staff will be returning to the Planning Commission sometime in October. Once I have a designated meeting date, I will sent out notification.
If you have any question, please contact me or John McDowell.
The Greenbelt Alliance has done their periodic checkup on the trajectory of urban development in the Bay Area and in Napa County. The county has received a few dings. The specific callout on winery development and other tourism development is noteworthy, a case strenuously made for the last 4 years by numerous community groups. Three other projects of specific concern were also called out, Napa Oaks II, Watson Ranch and Syar.
The Report seems to have generated a discussion about the pace of development in the county, with Director Morrison at pains to stress that winery development is within development parameters laid out in the 2008 Napa County General Plan.
The General Plan, at least in those areas of interest to the wine industry, were heavily influenced by the industry's perspective, a notion substantiated during the APAC hearings when wine industry members on the committee would preface their comments with "When we were working on the General Plan update..." As is evident from the equation of marketing to processing in the AG/LU-2 definition of agriculture in the Plan, that interest was already shifting from a need for new processing capacity to accommodate increasing vineyard acreage, to a need for more tourism d-t-c sales to increase profitability in the face of a leveling grape supply. Despite Dir. Morrison's statistic that 4315 acres have been developed since 2006, the net increase in producing vineyard acreage up to 2015 ( from crop reports) hovers around 1000 acres. Using 2008 as the datum the net increase hovers closer to 100 acres.
As is pointed out, while the raw numbers of new wineries being developed hewed to predictions made in the EIR for the General Plan update, the impacts of wineries as tourism generators was lightly discussed if at all. Many winery expansions are now being done strictly to increase visitation, encouraged under loosened marketing restrictions made in 2010 to the Winery Definition Ordinance. Net vineyard increase, and the need for new processing capacity, has leveled out since 2006, while approved visitation slots have increased by 2.4 million, with some 400,000 slot requests still under review. In the NVR article on wine country growth, the Vintner's Rex Stults restates the canard that this doesn't represent an increase in vistors, but that it just divvies up the 3.3 million tourists already here among ever more wineries. He didn't mention which wineries were going to give up their visitors to the newcomers.
This renewed long term look at the development trend in the county is hopefully the beginning of the combined effort by the County and municipalities to look at urbanization here. The concern was touted as the "big picture" in the May 20th 2014 joint BOS/Planning Commission meeting that led to APAC, is hopefully being reconsidered. (Interestingly Sup. Dillon just referred to the "Big-picture thinking" in this 3/8/17 article on LAFCO. Sup Gregory talked about promoting high rise buildings in Napa City.)
The Ahwahnee Principles
This renewed concern is also possibly responsible for the raising of the Ahwahnee Principals, a set of urban growth restraining principles originally proposed in 1991 as part of the slow growth movement that gave rise to the Greenbelt Alliance in the 80's. Director Morrison has combed the General Plan to find the correspondences between the Principles and GP policies. The Board of Supervisors will probably take some action on a resolution to formally adopt those principles at their meeting on Mar 7th 2017. Let's hope this is the beginning of a closer look at the urban development impacts we are all beginning to feel here, and not just chest thumping in response to the Alliance callout.
One of the "Whereas's" in the resolution caught my eye because it speaks to the urbanization of the county as it pursues the development of a tourism economy to replace its agricultural economy:
Whereas, cities and counties face major challenges with the existing patterns of urban and suburban community development they create: congestion and air pollution resulting from our increased dependence on automobiles, the loss of precious open space, the need for costly improvements to roads and public services, the inequitable distribution of economic resources, and the loss of a sense of community;
The current d-t-c marketing strategy of the wine industry is in fact based on bringing ever more visitors and hospitality employees into the county resulting in "congestion and air pollution resulting from our increased dependence on automobiles". The industry has survived quite well as an export industry and the vast majority of Napa wine is still trucked with relative efficiency out of the county, one truck handling several thousand bottles. In the new economic model one car is used to haul a few bottles out of the county on a two-way trip. In addition, the County's encouragement of more winery development in the watersheds insures that that there will be a lot of car traffic within the county once the cars cross the county line. This hardly fits the Ahwahnee principle on automobile use.
The importation of this transient community also requires the construction of hospitality facilities and infrastructure needed for visitors and employees, most of whom are also commuters, requiring "the need for costly improvements to roads and public services".
The d-t-c model is also encouraging the development of ever more wineries being built not to process grapes (all of Napa's grapes are already being processed into wine) but to process tourists, consuming agricultural land with unnecessary buildings and parking lots and hence exacerbating "the loss of precious open space".
And the development of a tourism economy is beginning to have a severe impact on the "sense of community" in towns which lose affordable housing and local businesses, and in rural areas which transition from residential-agricultural communities to commercial-agricultural zones.
And what of "inequitable distribution of economic resources"? I'm not quite sure what the intent is here, but it could mean, as one resident at the Palmaz hearing said, that this is becoming a place "of, by and for the 1%er's", a result, I might argue, of the glitzy promotion of this as a world-class tourism and good-life destination. It is the fact that a handful of plutocrats and corporations are destroying the sense of community and consuming the precious open space and creating the need for ever more taxpayer-funded infrastructure, all adversely impacting the environment and quality of life for the rest of us, that has driven the community resistance to Yountville Hill, Wools Ranch, Calistoga Hills, Walt Ranch, Napa Oaks, Syar, Angwin PUC, Mountain Peak and Palmaz. Even in a high-median-income place like Napa, the impacts of an inequitable distribution of economic resources are keenly felt in this new age of plutocrats.
Update 3/7/17: At the hearing on this issue Eve Kahn brought up the number of references in the Ahwahnee Principles to "watersheds" and noted that none of the "whereas" statements of the resolution mention watersheds.
black: existing wineries & left turn lanes red: proposed or approved
The Silverado Trail, along the east side of the Napa Valley, is still a great ride (for cars and bicycles) at times other than the afternoon rush hour. Well banked curves and maintained surface allow a meditative, almost zen-like, cruise through the rolling landscape of vine rows and valley vistas. It is the ride that defines the Napa Valley as an Eden, a paradise on earth, for visitors and residents alike. It is a last local vestige of America's great passion for the open road. And it is about to disappear.
A major modification to the Reynolds Winery, the last of several wineries being proposed or expanded on the small stretch of the Trail around the Soda Canyon Road junction comes up before the Planning Commission on July 19th 2017. Already in the last few months 3 new wineries, Sam Jasper, Beau Vigne and Grassi, have been approved, adding to the 2 large unbuilt wineries, Corona and Krupp that were approved in previous years. Also the approved Mountain Peak winery at the top of Soda Canyon Road will be adding to the traffic. In all about 350 trips/day will be added to the intersection. The approvals call attention once again to the issue of continued development on this most iconic of Napa's highways.
This particular section of the Trail is becoming quite impacted by proposed wineries. It is a harbinger of the development sprawl happening along the Trail and throughout the county. (As we use every opportunity to point out, there are currently some 100 new or expanding wineries approved, most not yet built. There are some 60 more in the planning department awaiting review (18 more added in 2016). As we have seen lately, the department and commissioners seem invigorated since the election to begin moving as many projects as possible through the pipeline, as they must in their failing attempt to keep up.
Above is a map of the Soda Canyon intersection. There are now at least 8 existing or proposed left turn lumps on the Trail in the 2 minute drive between Hardman Drive and Black Stallion Winery. Little will remain of the 2-lane Trail. It will now be a section fraught with the driving angst of merging traffic. Will all of these turnouts make it safer? Maybe for those forced to become familiar with the concept of middle lane refuges. For most drivers there will still be the heart attack (and involuntary swerve), as a car dashes out from the left straight at their car and at the last second turns into the refuge lane.
The number of vehicle trips generated by the proposed wineries is adding up. Counting the Mountain Peak project, up Soda Canyon Road next to me, there are now almost 360 more trips/day planned of this bit of the Trail. That's only 3% of the 11,000 daily vehicles that use the Trail at this point. Is the increase significant? Soda Canyon Road is already rated at Level of Service (LOS) F on weekday and Saturday afternoons and traffic signals are already warranted on weekday afternoons. They will shortly be needed on Saturdays as well. It is harrowing to make the left turn into the continuous stream of 55 mph traffic at rush hour. The traffic backs up behind the Soda Canyon stop sign waiting for one's rendezvous with fate. Perhaps all the left turn bumps and merging traffic will slow things enough to make the turn less dangerous? I doubt it.
The Soda Canyon intersection, like many intersections along the Trail and Hwy 29 already requires signalization for safe operation. The cost of those signals are contributed to by mitigations fees added to the use permits. The signals don't get put in, I think, not just because that mitigation fees aren't enough to cover the costs (and the money is needed elsewhere), but because everyone knows what signalization means - a rural place is becoming a suburb. It is the death of the open road.
This map begins to give a sense of the winery strip mall that the rest of the Trail will become in the future. There are still 3 or 4 parcels in this stretch available for wineries . Given the present trajectory, projects will be proposed soon. (The property just north of the Reynolds Winery has recently sold to be developed into the Ellman Estate Vineyards with no doubt a future winery) It is logical that the lower part of the Trail will reach winery buildout the earliest. Looking up into the valley from Skyline Park, one can sense the urban landscape oozing north. The widening of the Trail, now being done one left turn bulge at a time, reflects that flow.
Is it too late to save the Silverado Trail? The openness of the landscape along its route defines Napa County to the rest of the world. As the area around Soda Canyon Road shows, that iconic image will become screened and diminished by development if more protections are not put in place. It is past time to realize that the Trail is more important to Napa than just an access route to ever more wineries or just traffic relief from Hwy 29. The expansive views from the road are the mental images that everyone retains of this place.
If the present development trend continues, the enjoyment of the Trail as the meditative cruise needed to be at one with the rolling majesty of the valley and its bounty, a single experience more important than all the winery "experiences" combined in maintaining Napa's image as a premier wine making region, will soon be gone.
[Email sent to Dep Planding Director John McDowell regarding this]
Sorry for this rambling note - I know you are busy.
I wanted to thank you for going out on a limb to voice your concerns yesterday about the potential for art advertising to become a big issue in the future and the need to get on top of it now. You know better than everyone else, the policy seems to come only after irreparable damage has been done. Director Morrison's disinterest in confronting the issue was disappointing. It is obvious that with the branding success of the rabbit, every vanity vintner in the county will want to put their personal artistic stink on the Napa landscape to drag in tourists.
This relates to a concern that has been brought up by the Reynolds Winery. I will probably be sending in this screed in some modified form to commissioners when the time comes. As usual not too much about the specific project, more about the trend that the project is contributing to. The area around the Soda Canyon junction is beginning to reach buildout levels
My question - is it too late to save the Silverado Trail? - is one that needs to be asked of the planning department. I would argue that the openness of the landscape along the Trail defines Napa County to the rest of the world. As the area around Soda Canyon Road shows, (and the Titus winery showed) that iconic image is becoming screened and diminished by development. And now we have billboards masquerading as art to worry about. The Trail is not on the state's list of eligible scenic highways. (Incredibly, only the most urbanized roads in the county are eligible). Has anyone at the county proposed the Trail as a scenic highway? What is necessary to get that process started? I hope that the visual importance of the Trail to the identity of the Napa Valley is discussed in the revision of the circulation element.
The art as signage issue also brought up another concern that has always bothered me. I assume that the 600' setbacks were initially put in place to protect the agricultural character of the county - buildings set in an agricultural landscape. (Any documents that you know of that explain the thinking behind the setback ordinance?) Yet houses, outbuildings, parking lots or signs (particularly billboard sized pieces of sculpture) have just as great an impact in obstructing the agricultural landscape as a winery building. Why can't the ordinance be expanded, particularly along the Trail, to exclude all urbanization within the setback? (Just as housing is now being proposed to be included in allowable building development area?)
I took up David Heitzman's request to google "Napafication'. It seems to be synonymous, whether in positive or negative articles on wine around the world, with wine regions becoming tourist traps. I think I have been very naive in thinking we can protect a place from a fate that has already occurred.
The two urban areas of the county are in for some big development in the coming year, an appropriate trend in the era of Trump. To me the most heartbreaking part of the plans is the return of parking meters to downtown. Since coming to Napa 22 years ago, one of the true signs that I was now part of a rural community was the free parking at its urban core. Downtown Berkeley (we still reside most of the week there) has become a shopping dead zone because of the enormous amount of building over the last decade (and more to come). That development has of course made parking spots unavailable, causing the city in its wisdom to raise meter fees (now up to $3.75/hr) in an attempt to increase turnover and, and of course, pricing out shoppers who now head for other parts of the city to shop (particularly 4th street with its free parking).
Unfortunately for those who envision a more ecological (perhaps
The title is perfect (or not). At the heart of all of the resident-industry battles over the last 3 years - Woolls Ranch, Yountville Hill, Callistoga Hills, Raymond, Girard, Palmaz, APAC, Walt Ranch, Syar, and many others - is the truth that many residents of the county no longer support the wine industry becuse the industry no longer respects their interest in a desirable place to live. The "wine industry" has become an excuse, a cover, for an exploding tourism industry invading residential communities both urban and rural, and for a real estate industry profiting off a surge in clearcut estate properties and winery venues, and a development industry eager to build it all.
The successful rural economy of Napa county was created by resident-vintners concerned about the quality of their communities as well as the health of their industry. But as is often pointed out, the wine industry has changed. It is now about corporations concerned with the expansion of their brand portfolio and empresarios concerned with the expansion of their entertainment empires and plutocrats concerned with expressions of their wealth, all hoping to squeeze out extra profits from resident-impacting visitation. The opposition of residents will, I suspect, continue until the industry begins to seek increased profits in ways other than dragging hudreds of thousands of tourists into the county - or until the residents, already diminishing in the upper municipalities and the valley floor, are gone.
At the final Planning Commission Meeting of 2016, Director Morrison gave a recap of the projects reviewed by the Commission during the year. The list included 32 projects. Among them: Reynolds, Frog's Leap, Stag's Leap, Summers, Dakota Shy, SMR, Bouchaine, Caymus, APAC, American Glass, Canard, Opus One, Feather Horse, Mahoney, Sodhani, Mountain Peak, Napa Vault, Taylor, Yountville Hill, Kenzo, Definition of Agriculture, Sleeping Giant, Beau Vigne, Chanticleer, Jessel Prime, Palmaz, Yountville Washington, Sleeping Lady, and Etude.
"Did we do all that?", Chair Basayne remarked voicing the satisfied surprise of Comms. Scott and Gill as well. Prior to this expression of satisfaction in surmounting a heavy workload, Chair Basaye had previously noted the work yet to be done and that the Commission would be "stepping up the pace" in the coming year. There are currently some 60 projects on the Planning Commission's docket, with Mountain Peak scheduled to be the first project of 2017.
Most of the projects the Commission took on this year were wineries. All were approved, save a few, like Mountain Peak, continued for a decision this next year. The approvals included, by my count, 273,000 new tourist slots, somewhat over the average/yr for the last few years based on the planning department's breakdowns here. Looking at the planning department's breakdown shows that after the changes in the WDO in 2010 the rate of visitation requests rises dramatically from previous averages. (The 2007 number is grossly inflated by one approval: 444,000 vis/yr for the Castello di Amorosa, now the face of Napa's alcoholic Disneyland. In fact, Domaine Carneros and the Castello di Amorosa have set the glitz standard for plutocrat fantasies and corporate profit boosting, and the demand for projects with ever more impactful visitation may have been upon us with or without changes to the WDO.)
From the standpoint of those of us who see continued building construction as an inevitable loss to the rural character that we treasure in Napa County, the exortation to "step up the pace" of approvals after this surprizingly productive year was not very satisfying at all. Although we often cite a "tipping point" in talking about projects about to be approved, the point at which the vineyards will eventually be replaced by building projects has probably already occurred. If it did not happen during the 2008 changes to the general plan which lumped the marketing of wine (tourism) into the same definition of agriculture as the growing of grapes and the production of wine, if it was not the 2010 revision to the WDO that allowed wineries to become defacto restaurants and event centers, if it was not the lack of support in 2016 for any meaningful restraint in tourism development by the Supervisors in their evisceration of the APAC proposals, if it was not the Supervisors rejection in 2016 of three major attempts to reign in urban growth in the county (the woodland initiative, Walt Ranch, and Syar), if it was not the election in 2016 of three supervisors committed to a "pro-growth" agenda, then surely the tipping point is just the inescapable momentum of a society in which buliding developers have become the rulers of our environment, our hopes, our lives and our future.
Pacific Union College seems to never stop roiling the peace and serenity of the community that has settled around it. Like all educational institutions, I suppose, in a nation that seems to be losing interest in an educated citizenry, they need money. But they have a lot of land. Ergo, much of the rural character that the college has provided for the residents of Angwin over the last century is now for sale, to be converted to something less rural. Angwin residents have battled for years over the prospect of new housing projects in their midst. Sometimes with success. Sometimes not, as in the 2012 measure U. The housing issue is scheduled come up again in the near future. But this time it's a few big homes homes and a lot of forest clear cutting for vines, on $10 million properties destined for 5 plutocrats of the world needing a wine label of their own.
Save Rural Angwin is probably the oldest neighborhood group in the county, dedicated, like all those that have come since, to protecting the rural character of their communities against the development interests perpetually attempting to convert the natural and agrarian landscape to more profitable use.
The Napa Sanitation sewer system undoubtedly needs upgrading. A lot of development has happened over the last 50 years in Napa county putting a strain on the wastewater infrastructure. And the county undoubtedly needs a new jail. As the general population increases so does the criminal population.
Both tax hikes are needed because of the increasing urban development of the county. Unfortunately, as Volker Eiseley emphasized in his battle to preserve the Napa valley, and as every city budget on earth testifies to, development doesn't pay for itself. It doesn't. Residents now need to make up for the unfunded costs that developers didn't have to pay while building and profiting from their projects over this last half century leaving taxpayers to pick up the infrastructure costs. Like roads and sewers and schools and fire stations and jails. 10 or 20 years from now residents will again be asked to pay for the impacts of projects that are currently in the development pipeline that are not paying for the infrastructure impacts they create. 135 winery projects are currently approved or in the planning department seeking 1.5 million additional visitor slots/yr.. 3500 new housing units, 2000 hotel rooms, 3,800,000 sf of commercial/industrial space are all in the pipeline in Napa county. Each will pay impact fees intended for infrastructure development that are woefully under the actual cost of mitigating the impacts they create.
That is the price of continuing "growth": developers make a profit, and the residents of the communities that absorb the urbanization are left with urban ills and higher taxes. It is the lack of recognition that the projects we approve today under the guise of "economic development" benefit a few - at the cost of the quality of life of current residents now and of increased taxes on all residents in the future.
Why is it so difficult for governments to recognize that they can better serve their citizens by attempting to limit development, so that the issues of traffic and affordable housing and sanitation can be managed without the pressure of ever increasing demand coming down the pike? Do we need to answer that question? Developers provide the funding to elect government leaders. Developers help craft the laws that make development easier. Government leaders are absorbed into the development process claiming that "growth" generates taxes to better serve residents. It sounds good at the planning commission or in stump speeches. But if "growth" did actually pay for itself, the residents in large cities would pay lower taxes than the residents of small rural communities. New York should be tax-free by now. It is not the case.
When will we wake up and vote for leaders committed to stopping the urbanization of their communities and solving the development problems we already have? Everything that you don't want to happen to the place you live will happen as long as you continue to vote for "growth".
Occasionally there are candidates that recognize the fallacy of the "growth is good" dogma. Seek them out. Vote for them.
Everyone claims that this is a bad sign. More people means more tax money coming in. What's unrecognized is that a population consumes more tax money that they put in, and as the population grows, the quest for more tax revenue becomes ever more frantic.
To me low population growth is a very good thing: Population growth is the most egregious threat to the survival of the agricultural economy, a concept that most Napa politicians pretend to extoll and that residents actually do support. A low population growth means that the infrastructure costs of an increasing population, new roads, schools, emergency services, a new jail, sanitation facilities and water supply are easier to deal with.
Of course the population increase number doesn't include the transient population. At 3.3 million visitors/yr that would add 9000 people (6%) to the population. According to Visit Napa Valley, the number of visitors coming to napa has been increasing at the rate of 6-7%/yr.
It obviously costs a lot to live in Napa County, and building new housing is a devilish business here, thank goodness. Still, there are currently some 3600 housing units proposed or approved in the county, most condos or apartments. Don't expect many to be affordable. The county and the municipalities have worked for years to bring more affordable housing to the county with only a smattering of units built. One suspects most of the housing units in the pipeline are meant for the upscale techies, retirees or the tourist trade rather than the ever increasing workforce.
And the workforce is increasing considerably.While the population hasn't increased, the 6-7% yearly increase in the tourist population also means a similar increase in the hospitality workforce.n increased population is only one of two urbanization measures that threaten the continued survival of agriculture - the other is (non agricultural) jobs.
The numbers from the Calif State Demographic Research Unit that this data comes from are here.
The Napa statistics:
Tot Population 141,625
Increase in population 2014-15: 905 souls
Ave tot increase since 2010: 1050/yr
Ave Rate of increase per year: 0.76%/yr
Ave natural increase (births - deaths) since 2010: 340/yr (i.e. immigration =710/yr)
The beginning of any attempt to control the urbanization of the county is a decision to base all development decisions on maintaining a desirable growth curve, and to limit the amount of development through zoning or other regulatory measures to that curve.
One such measure was instituted in 1980 when the voters approved Measure A which limited the annual growth of housing units in the county to 1%/yr. This measure has been incorporated into a growth management system on page AG/LU-73 of the General Plan Policy AG/LU-119. The rise in households has held at the 1% growth rate with an average of 406 new households each year for the last 30 years. (demographics here) There are currently about 3400 housing units in the planning stages in the county representing about 8.5 years of growth.
If we were to take the same measure on grapes, starting in 1980 with 80000 tons and 138800 tons in 2010 the rate of grape expansion has been 1.85% per year.
There were about 80 wineries in Napa in 1980 after the big boom in the 70's. In 2010 there were 400 wineries in the ag preserve about 5.5% per year. In the last 5 years 40 new wineries have been approved, about 2% per year.
The amount of other development, hotels, restaurants, commercial space, industrial space (which has exploded in the last 30 years) is a bit harder to establish. But just using the labor force statistics Napa county had 55000 people in the labor force in 1990 and 75000 in 2010 a 1.5% increase per year.
The concept of buildout should be the basis for all planning decisions and for the construction of the general plan. It is not in Napa county. A desired buildout answers the question "what do we want this place to look like in the future".
The one such metric that exists in the General Plan, a current 115 unit per year cap on new home building permits (Policy AG/LU-119 here), has in fact been held to, and developers are spending their money instead on tourism projects (some of which are labeled wineries) and on industrial development neither of which have credible caps.
There is agricultural and industrial zoning, yet if each achieve the buildout allowed under current regulations, this will be a place that no one will want to call home. While it is probably true that complete buildout is unlikely to happen, our planning department needs to assume that it will happen in making their planning decisions just as they would for 100 year floods.
In the agricultural zones each of the 5000 parcels in the county above 10 acres can be developed with a tourist event center, with undefined amount of visitation. Up to 25% of the land on parcels less that 60 acres (perhaps 3500 parcels) and 15 acres/parcel on those larger can be covered with structures and paving. Each of those parcels can also have a home and a guest home, (subject to the 115/yr restriction).
There probably was an analysis of buildout when the industrial zoning of south Napa was enacted. Unfortunately, we are already beginning to see major impacts to the traffic infrastructure with only about half of the industrial zoned lands of Napa and American Canyon occupied. It is unlikely that road construction will be able to keep up with industrial building. The widening of Jameson Canyon has, in fact, increased the traffic into and through the industrial area, no doubt increasing the rate of development of the industrial zone, while creating enormous gridlock already at times of the day. (More proof that road widening never relieves congestion, it merely encourages more development and more traffic.)
As if they haven't enough already on their plate, the county planning department needs to take Mr. Rodriguez's words to heart and tell us, based on current zoning what this county would look like if all properties are developed to their potential under the General Plan. And then we can ask ourselves, is that what we want our future to look like?
The conclusion after crunching all the numbers? The same conclusion that has been found in almost every study done on the true costs of development: The cost of the unfunded impacts that development creates outweigh the revenue generated by the development. Governments and their taxpayers end up subsidizing the cost of the development, whether in affordable housing, transportation improvements, schools, infrastructure improvements, and increased government services.
Eben Fodor in his book Better not Bigger argues for government policy to have developers pay for all of the impacts created by their projects to encourage more sustainable growth decisions.
Gabor Zavanyi, in the No-Growth Imperative, pushes a step further and recognizes that "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron, that the resource and labor exploitation that makes capital development profitable for a few will eventually, or may have already, become practically or morally unacceptable. It is time to begin looking at sustainable stability not sustainable growth.
In several recent editorials in the Napa Valley Register, here and here and here, a line of argument has been advanced that the residents that show up at planning commission meetings and APAC meetings in an effort to protect our communities from development are against the wine industry and opposed to agriculture. And that if tourism at wineries is not supported that the wine industry will die and housing projects will ensue. In fact, the arguments are simply scare tactics used by those who profit from tourism in the county.
The Napa wine industry is healthy because there is a world wide respect for the quality of its wines and hence a world wide market for their sale. The reputation was initially established by a tasting abroad. The reputation continues to be upheld by tastings around the world. Despite the mega-amounts of tourism now coming into the valley, promoted by Visit Napa Valley and hundreds of tourist attractions, the vast majority of Napa wine drinkers around the world will probably not travel here; and if they do it will probably be because they already know the quality, not because they need to be sold on it.
It is natural that the home of a product of such renown would be a place of pilgrimage for afficianodos and the Napa Valley has always welcomed appreciative visitors. Tourism is the valley's second largest business. But let's not confuse the two industries. The tourism industry did not establish the reputation of Napa wines, nor build their market. That was done by previous generations of vintners and entrepreneurs willing to do the legwork necessary to establish the brand on the world stage. The tourism industry exploits their effort.
It is also worth noting that some of the most respected wines in the valley, e.g. Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Dominus, allow no tourism whatsoever. The notion that the wine industry would not exist without the tourism industry is simply a tourism industry invention. In fact, it is quite possible that by associating Napa wines with gigantic chrome rabbits, cable cars and tuscan castles and french and persian palaces, and by turning this mythical eden into one big traffic jam, that the negative reputation of this place as a tourist trap may be diminishing the respect accorded the wines.
By conflating tourism and the wine industry, the fear mongers intend to divert attention from the obvious erosion of our rural environment and small town life caused by ever increasing building development, rising housing costs, conversion of housing to short term rentals, and traffic. All of these negative impacts, exacerbated if not wholly created by an expanding tourism industry, are the price to be paid for no housing projects, the fear mongers argue. But the reality is just the opposite. As the tourism industry has expanded and more people visit and more workers are required to tend to them, and the commute traffic has increased, the pressure to develop more housing has only increased. Traffic mitigation and affordable housing are now at the top of the NVV solution list to deal with the fallout from their embrace of tourism; more development to try to ease the impacts of previous development.
Let's be clear about what the residents are now arguing for at these public meetings. This battle is not about what the Valley is now. Its not an attempt to diminish the current profits of the tourism industry or the wine industry, an economy which has created a place treasured by all. (although we do wish for wineries to live with their use permits.) It is a battle about the future of this place. Part of that future has already happened, though it isn't visible yet: more than 70 new or expanded winery projects have been approved by the planning commission but have yet to be built - their visitors, (900,000/yr), and their employees have yet to arrive. (Enormous amounts of non-winery development, like Napa Pipe, are on their way as well.) And part of that future that is about to happen: more than 40 new or expanded wineries are currently in the planning department awaiting their day before the planing commission with a known 200,000 visitors/yr and more to come. (Enormous amounts of non-winery development, like Watson Ranch, are also in the planning stages.) But there is a third future to be fought for beyond those - the projects that haven't yet arrived at the planning departments. It is this future that all the effort at APAC and that the visitation discussions at the Planning Commission are all about. The skirmishing over projects currently being proposed and use permits being abused are at the fringes of the effort to protect the future character of the county.
The residents that show up in the meetings are there because we feel this to be a unique and wonderful place to live - and we see with an objectivity unclouded by profit motives a direction that is beginning to damage all that is beautiful here. Slowing the development clock has been tried in the various slow growth initiatives currently in place to limit development, but the development continues to come. We need to think now about how development may be stopped so that the impacts that we already feel can be worked on. The goal is that the future character of the county remain somewhat the same as it is today. The alternative is that it will be something different. A better place to live? Unlikely.
The wine industry and the tourism industry have managed thus far to allow a relatively rural economy in an urban world. But the impacts of urbanization, like those of global warming, are already upon us, and corrective action is needed now. The American ideal of an ever growing economy frankly doesn't work when the goal is to protect a rural place. A growth economy is about more people and more jobs and more development to generate ever increasing profits. If the rural character and crop based economy are to survive we must begin to develop a stable economy that doesn't see continued growth as its measure of success, an economy that seeks sustainable profits from its finite renewable resources to support a stable population. Without such an attitude, inevitably the fear mongers will be right in their predictions, though wrong in their causality, and the housing tracts along with all the other development will continue to make their way up the valley. We need to act now.
The Napa Valley Vintners, in a campaign previewed in the last 2 APAC meetings, have taken the offensive in promoting a pig picture look at the development problems that have been the focus of community concern at planning commission and Board of Supervisor meetings over the last year and a half. That broad look, which needs to involve planning for the future in the municipalities as well as the county, dubbed One Napa or Growth Summit elsewhere, was proposed by the Board of Supervisors at their joint PC/BOS meeting on Mar. 10th, 2015. With the Napa Pipe stand-off out of the way, Napa City may now be willing to make the summit possible.
We are one Napa Valley. We share a wonderful quality of life, a sense of community and concerns for the future of this beautiful place. We depend on each other for the wellbeing of our citizens and our community. There are valid concerns that our collective success has created challenges in the areas of transportation, winery compliance and development, water and affordable housing. The wine community cares about these issues, and we are committed to helping develop innovative solutions.
The Napa Valley community must work together toward a shared vision to protect our quality of life and this special place we call home. In addition to our continued work on the substantive and timely issues we face, we want to celebrate everything that makes Napa Valley what it is. This month, the Napa Valley Vintners is launching an initiative to honor our shared sense of community called In Our Napa Valley. You will begin seeing this phrase around town with examples of what makes Napa Valley distinctive.
Visit our website to learn about this initiative as well as our work on important community issues. And, please share your own photos celebrating the events, experiences, landmarks, activities, people and scenery that contribute to the quality of life we all care so deeply about by posting on social media using #OurNapa.
The Vintners have itemized the problems: "transportation, winery compliance and development, water, and affordable housing". As usual, unspoken is the word "tourism", the county's prodigious growth industry that is driving the development that creates the problems. Tourism has been embraced by the wine industry and county governments as a means to augment profits and budgets beyond those that an agriculture based economy, even one as storied as Napa's high end wines, can provide. Perhaps they can't be blamed: this is America one developer said at a hearing, and "growth" is what we're all about. It is a convenient philosophy for the barons that profit from growth and a public imbued with the democratic dream that they too can become a baron.
The "Our" in the vintners campaign is no doubt intended to include the residents of the county that have been complaining of late. Their complaints led to the Mar 10th BOS meeting and to the creation of APAC. Napa residents, long supportive of the wine industry because of the beautiful landscape and rural, small town quality of life that it has provided, are now becoming less enchanted as the traffic backs up, as neighborhoods empty and affordable housing vanishes to accommodate short term rentals, as event centers begin their next door partying, as forest hillsides are clear cut for ever more resorts and wineries and baronial estates, All in the name of economic growth built on tourism.
The inability to talk about tourism while trying to solve the problems that are impacting residents does not bode well for actually solving the problems. At APAC, the Vintners stepped back from their earlier support of winery limitations that might have actually reduced the amount of tourism that new wineries and winery expansions currently wish to bring into the county. They are right to think that a focus on wineries will not in itself solve the urban problems they contribute to. But the solution has to start somewhere and wineries are at the base of the tourism food chain.
Instead they focused on the symptoms of traffic congestion and a lack of affordable housing that contributes to it. By concentrating on the symptoms, the Vintners beg the question of whether they are interested in reducing the problem or merely mitigating it with more roadwork and more housing, i.e. more development, to blunt the criticism, a palliative that spreads the disease rather than cures it.
Don't get me wrong. Tourism needs to be a part of the county economy. Napa is a beautiful place with a quaint handcraft industry that people want to see. But the tourism industry needs to be an incidental and subordinate part of life here if it is not to overwhelm, and eventually bury, the current reality that Napa represents and is something other than a tourist destination. At 3.3 million visitors a year, with the impacts already objectionable to those who live here, already diminishing the character of a rural environment and a quality of life that is worth preserving, the level of a sustainable tourist presence may have already been surpassed. It's not too early to say enough tourism, let's seek business models that bolster the wine industry without population impacts.
The growth summit needs to look at what can be done not just to slow growth, but (herasy to the American dream) to stop growth; to envision a community (perhaps as Carmel has done) that recognizes that continued growth will damage and ultimately destroy the unique character that brings residents and visitors alike to this special place. Do we need global warming to know that the growth ethic has limits? Is it not enough just to be stuck in a traffic jam every day?
Napa is unfortunately awash in the barons that know only wealth through growth. More come after every Auction. Governments, nominally protectors of the people against power, are inevitably bent to the will of wealth. Yet there is a long tradition in the county, of residents and the wine industry communing together to preserve this place to the advantage of both. The ag preserve, a landmark land use policy, represented an implicit bargain: the wine industry creates a beautiful and pleasant place for residents to live, and the residents vote for ordinances to allow the industry to survive by curtailing the profits to be made by selling their land. Thwarting the growth engine that has consumed most of the bay area was necessary so that this small rural place could survive into 2015. But the barons of growth never let up.
The residents and the wine industry need to come together now, and to find a new compact that will keep this place beautiful and small for the next 50 years. But it needs to start with a recognition from the Vintners that continued development of tourism venues to encourage an ever increasing tourist population, and the urban development and workforce population that it requires, are not in the long term interest of preserving this as a "special place".
Most wineries exist in this county with little tourist activity. Some of the best, though small, have no visitation. Given a world renowned reputation built by the previous generation of vintners, it is a business model that is sustainable here. The vintners most vehemently pushing for more direct-to-consumer marketing are the new entrants to a business already saturated with production capacity, and with investments that can't be returned by merely siphoning sales from other wineries. To be sure the large older wineries account for the lions' share of the winery tourism that exists now. But it is the new entrants that are driving the increase of tourist activities and numbers into the future, promoting DTC marketing as a necessary trend in the wine industry, when in fact it is really an opportunistic trend in the tourism industry.
The 45,000 acres of Napa grapes will not go unsold and the vineyards will not be paved into suburbia if no additional tourists come to the county. The wine made from them will still find happy connoisseurs, just as it does today. The wine industry will still prosper at the level that it now prospers.
Finding a "stable" economy based on the increasingly finite agricultural resources of the county, rather than continuing an unsustainable "growth" economy, needs to be the priority of any "growth" summit. The emphasis needs to be on stopping growth, not on how to slow it or mitigate it. If done with courage and vision, the balance between residents and the wine industry that has allowed this rural, small-town, special place to survive thus far can allow it to survive for the next 50 years.
There are some 80,000 jobs in Napa County, which has a population of 140,000. More than half of these jobs serving 3,000,000 visitors are in the low-paying wine/ tourism/retail and waste management sectors.
According to the California Center for Community Economic Development, 27 percent of the county
I really like Sean Scully's editorial in today's Register. While his focus started a few weeks back on the population shift his comments about the cumulative effects across the valley are exactly the kind of issues we need to build on. GGG years ago raised this issue but it kind of fell on deaf ears because each city/town wanted their piece of the TOT pie and no one was willing to really discuss the broader picture. Same issues exist - we just add water to the discussion.
I agree with Eve about Sean's columns and the provocative thoughts posed. I did have one question about his figures for the 4% population decline in upvalley and unincorporated areas. It does not make alot of sense to me so I had some questions about the derivation of these numbers, so help me out , especially the Census records. Did homes #'s go up or down, same for businesses? # or households up or down? Are people and households not counted if the napa home is a 2nd residence and the real domicile elsewhere? I really think this is very pertinent as the housing stock ownership changes. I do not think loss of businesses destroy or abandon housing stock, in an area of housing shortages.
Eve Kahn writes:
The number of homes hasn't really declined (although there have been a few isolated incidents of this). The population has declined as more and more homes upvalley are purchased as 2nd/vacation homes. St. Helena for instance has approx 23% vacancy factor (meaning 23% of existing homes are not owned by St. Helena residents). This trend has some serious implications for those upvalley communities. But for Sean's article his refernce is more applicable to % of voter populations moving to Napa and American Canyon.
FYI, St. Helena has little/no interest in building more homes and Calistoga has had water/sewer infrastructure issues which has resulted in building moratoriums.
Gary Margadant writes:
Eve, thanks for following up. It is wonderful to have an answer from one who has a better command of the voter/census figures.
You make a good point about Sean's figures and its applicability to voter movement, but I cannot see how he deduced those figures from the available census and voter data. 23% in St Helena is a huge change in the voter rolls and makes it easier to believe that a very large portion of the up valley voter loss is attributable to the 2nd home ownership, with new residents moving into AmCan.
This brings up another point about these 2nd home owners. How are they reacting to the impact changes from the increased visitation to the valley? Who will they contact or support if they actively want to change the impacts? Industry, industry advocates, our groups?
Sandy Ericson writes:
Bill , I read your comments on Sean Scully's article and wanted to advance an alternative approach. It is a good thing that the Register is focusing on growth issues -- really good -- but (maybe only to me) there is a huge problem with what role they are beginning to play. By the paper hosting a 'summit meeting' of all the County mayors plus the BOS Chair, they are becoming the main pipeline for consensus here, a real power base for their Editorial Board. That kind of meeting should be held by the BOS for the public and it should be part of a General Plan Update process following the General Plan Guidelines for the State which dictate public outreach and involvement.
If this consensus by all the political leaders happens in the private offices of a private company (based in the midwest besides) and the agenda is that of the Editorial Board then that board is inserting their self-interest. That Board consists of 3 who work for the Register, 2 who are on the Napa Chamber of Commerce (pro-development), one who is head of a tax payer assoc. (wants TOT) and one who does PR for the County (wants tourism dollars too, hence Clay Gregory). So where do the people fit in? They don't because this is how Napa County does business -- behind the scenes. When the report of the meeting is written up, it will reflect what the paper wants and what the individual Mayors want. No one will know what professional planners, sociologists, economists, etc. would have contributed for real substance to solve the problem because they are not at the meeting either.
We need to call for open, legal public process and professional knowledge to address growth and the BOS should get out in front of the power camps and editorials by initiating that process and not waiting for all the decisions and deals to be made privately and then stamp them approved.
Bill Hocker writes
The Register, through its active reporting by Peter Jensen and now Barry Eberling has been a real catalyst in beginning to address the developmental problems that the county now faces. Sean's editorials are now bringing a big picture focus and clarity to the individual tales of woe that they have covered over the past year. Thank you.
I would like to insert a difference of opinion on only one point: Increasing housing in south Napa doesn't relieve pressure on the rest of the county but exaserbates it. By bringing more people into the county seeking more jobs and requiring more infrastructure and commercial development, the inhibitions of access, limited clientele and workforce for upvalley business are lessened and they will expand. Good for developers, bad for agriculture. The bay area metropolitan area will steadily move northward.
I should have added as an example: highway construction is almost always presented as a way to ease congestion, when in fact its effect (and often its hidden intent) is to ease further developement. The congestion shortly gets worse.