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Sep 10, 2015
Just adjacent to the Calistoga Hills Resort, on Diamond Mountain Road, is the Reverie Winery, now at the epicenter of the "enforcement" debate in the valley by asking the county to "recognize and allow" its unpermitted construction and visitation. The county did so, and, in fact, the Planning Commission actually increased the allowed visitation numbers from those that the planning department determined were the current being hosted. This property is in the process of being bought by the Calistoga Hills developer, making the "allowance" of its illegality a necessity.
This was a modest victory for Mr. Caloyannidis and for us all. Visitation was reduced, after some horse trading by the Supervisors, from 10,200 down to 5640 visitors per year, or from 3900 down to 2200 cars passing through American Canyon and St. Helena each year. Of course 2200 is still 1800 more cars than their original use permit allowed.
The issue of cars versus other forms of transport came up. Supervisor Luce started pushing an idea that was first heard during the discussion on the CEQA small winery definition at APAC and the planning commission. The definition doesn't specify any numbers for visitation but establishes a 40 vehicle trips/dayr limit for all vehicles entering the winery, visitors, employees, deliveries, etc. The commissioners passed the small winery definition on to the Supervisors with the proviso that it also include a 15 visitor/day limitation on visitation. Under the county formula 15 visitors would represent about 6 cars, or 12 vehicle trips out of the 40. Without the visitor limit, those same 6 vehicles could be 50-passenger buses, representing 300 visitors/day.
It was in this context that Sup. Luce's comments at the hearing struck me as a little ominous. Supervisor Luce was the lone wolf on the Board this time. The other supervisors favored Option 2 from the Jun 3rd agenda letter: keep the illegal improvements in place but deny visitor entry to the caves and deny any increase in the visitation from the legal use permit maximums of 20 vis/day and (oddly) 20 vis/wk. (Sup. Dillon wanted even stronger sanctions.) Sup. Luce felt that the original decision of the Planning Commission should stand.
But he also brought up the issue of a different metric for winery visitation that might be used going forward: vehicles rather tourists. He made it clear in his "dissent" that he felt increased visitation was a sign of economic health and should be encouraged, but that it was traffic that needed to be mitigated. He implied that encouraging buses rather cars would allow equal visitation with less traffic. It would, of course, also allow increased visitation with the same traffic.
And as Mr. Caloyannidis pointed out later, such a solution at Reverie would actually increase traffic in the valley because all the cars would still come, perhaps as far as the Calistoga Hills resort, and then another fleet of limos or buses would be required to move them around. The only realistic approach would be to corral the visitor cars (and employee cars) at the entrance to the valley and have shuttle bus or light rail transport from there. The approach of limiting cars in favor of limo transport to the wineries would, of course be a huge boone to the limo companies, a business already beginning to control access to the hundreds of small wineries around the county.
In March, Sup. Luce dismissed traffic as a good problem representing a robust economy, so it seems here that he is seeking a solution to that good problem that doesn't inhibit its cause. I am still trying to square, however, this enthusiastic support of tourism with his previous call to eliminate future wineries in the AP zone. I'm not sure I can.
On last thing. Ginna Beharry made a final statement on behalf of the public speakers that should be repeated in essence at the end of every public comment period of every project going forward. She said:
I just wanted to briefly point out, if you listen to the comments that have been made up to this point, most if not all of the comments in support of Reverie have been made by people who have a financial interest. And that will be also true of the attorneys who speak to you shortly. They are drivers who bring people to the winery, they are people who worked at the winery, they are fellow vintners who have financial interests in seeing their business succeed. While on the other hand those that are speaking in support of the appeal have spent their own time without compensation and have actually spent a lot of their own money to ask you to do the right thing. We have to understand what our biases are here and I think if you look at the people who are supporting the appeal it's a much more difficult and much less self-interested thing to be doing. It's not fun, it's not cheap. but we're still here.
Another winery operating beyond the boundaries of their use-permit wants both recognition of illegal improvements and setback encroachments as well as increases in allowable capacity (80%) and visitation (900%). The project is near Calistoga, just behind the Calistoga Hills resort. It will come up before the planning commission on June 3rd.