Eternal vigilance is the price of preserving the Napa Valley.
 - Former Planning Dir. Jim Hickey 2008.

This website was intended to create an online resource for the residents of Soda Canyon Road located in Napa County, California, born out of the threat of a large tourism-winery project proposed at the top of our remote and winding road. It has evolved into an obsessive archive and blog about the many development projects that, cumulatively, threaten the rural character and the agricultural economy of Napa County that county governments nominally claim to protect but, in fact, further jeopardize with each new building, infrastructure or deforestation plan approved...
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Latest Posts


Below are the latest posts made to any of the pages of this site with a link to the page in the upper right corner.

Benjamin Ranch Winery returns on: Benjamin Ranch Winery


Bill Hocker - Jun 4,24  expand...  Share

revised development area
The County has sent out a resubmittal notice, meaning that the project has changed enough in scope and ownership to require a change n permit application number. Following an appeal by neighbors of the original PC approval, the project had been remanded by the Supes to the Planning Commission in 2021 for further review. Have the modifications been enough to win over the neighbors?

The documents for the new project are here.

The new specs are:
300,000 gal/yr
61,361 sf of building area
37,000 visitors/yr
30 employees
99 parking spaces
still 9± acres of Rutherford Dust lost

Full Benjamin Ranch page here

Cappel Valley School Rezoning on: Tourism Issues


Bill Hocker - May 12,24  expand...  Share

Update 5/15/24
The PC recommended rezoning approval to the BOS [4-0, Mazzotti absent] with little discussion and much praise of the General Plan working as it was intended.
Video of the meeting

5/12/24
Whoa! Another piece of ag-zoned land being converted into a hotel. What's going on here?

The Planning Commission hearing to discuss the required zoning change is on Wed. May 15, 2024. (agenda and documents here)

From the Staff Agenda Letter

    "While the site has limited potential as a viable agricultural site, the proposed lodging facility is an opportunity to support tourism in Napa, much of which relates to wineries, which are considered agriculture."

Sounds a lot like an attempt to lump in lodging as an agricultural use, something predicted as the county transitions from a wine economy to a tourism economy. Every piece of property in the county that can now claim to be somehow exempt from the requirements of the AWOS or AP zoning requirements seems to be proposed as a hotel. The Wine Train/Krug Hotel, the Oak Knoll Hotel, the Hall Winery Hotel, The Inn at the Abby, and the Farmstead Hotel are all on properties nominally subject to ag zoning but because of prior use are being utilized as hotels. The are gobbling up a fair amount of land that chould be used for agriculture.

This project makes me a bit sad. Selling a school to become a hotel highlights the loss of an authentic community to the very inauthentic world of a tourism destination. Some may consider tourism just as authentic an income source as, say, farming, ranching or even wine making. But to me, as the community's worth becomes measured in TOT dollars, and everyone's job is to make visitors believe they're seeing a vision of a real place, like employees at Disneyland, the reality of the place disappears.

From the General Plan Consistancy Analysis

    "The project site is located within a former "rural residential bubble" from the 1983-2007 General Plan. In December 2008, the general plan designation of the subject property and surrounding area were changed from RR to AWOS as part of the Proposed Land Use Map Amendment (PLUMA) (Resolution No. 08-178). The prior RR designation would have been compatible with CN zoning, potentially allowing additional commercial uses in the area.

My reading would be that the rezoning in 2008 was done specifically to prevent such sites from becoming commercially zoned. While the bubble containing this site was specifically exempted in 2008 from the Measure J requirement for voter approved rezoning, it does not exempt the County from considering the reason the zoning was changed in 2008 in reviewing this project. Apparently staff wishes to treat those bubbles as if their pre-measureJ zoning designations still apply. Yet the obvious intent of the 2008 General Plan was to specifcally move this from Rural Residential to AWOS zoning. The question whether a CN (or RR) is appropriate or even legal needs to be more thoroughly discussed. Is it the intention of the County to find any possible ambiguity to convert ag land to commercial use going forward?

Use permit denials in Napa Valley on: Tourism Issues


George Caloyannidis - May 11,24  expand...  Share

I feel compelled to address misguided statements made at public hearings and in the press by owners whose new winery applications were recently disapproved by the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission.

Applicants have been arguing that in spite of having been through an admittedly arduous and expensive process, “followed all the rules and checked all the boxes,” and even received a favorable staff recommendation, their applications were not ultimately approved. Such denials, they say, spell the demise of agriculture in the Napa Valley. The logical conclusion of this reasoning is that public input, hearings and the role of these government bodies is meaningless. What they fail to realize is that Use Permits are discretionary and for good reason.

The primary responsibility of those government bodies is to safeguard the health and welfare of its citizens. It is impossible to codify in boxes the tremendous complexity of what this entails. This is why we rely on the judgment of these bodies and the experiences and wisdom of the citizens to assess the cumulative benefits and risks of applications beyond what is in the “boxes.”

There is an inherent risk to all development applications and not exclusively to wineries as the industry portrays it. I have been on this side of the equation on large housing projects in Southern California. You win some and you lose some. Still, wineries and housing continue to be developed. And just because applicants provide “expert” studies and testimony, does not necessarily mean that they are right.

I can cite many cases where they have been wrong to the detriment of the public. One which comes to mind is the “sustainable” Carneros Resort, when in 2001 its water experts checked the box of its wells producing enough water to support its operation. The neighbors had provided evidence that many of their wells were running dry during summer months, but they were dismissed. We know what happened. In 2018, the city of Napa agreed to supply the resort with 11 to 14 million gallons of its own citizens’ water annually to help keep the resort open.

I recall then-Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht saying, “Maybe in the future, we ought to listen more carefully to what neighbors are saying rather than blindly relying on experts.” It takes the collective input of many experiences and points of view to get it right.

Fascinating read: James Surowiecki, "The Wisdom of Crowds," 2021

NVR Version 5/11/24: Use permit denials in Napa Valley

Napa County Land Trust on: Watershed Issues


Bill Hocker - May 3,24  expand...  Share


Land Trust properties adjacent to Mead Ranch (along with private Soda Springs property)


Napa Land Trust Map
Update 5/3/24
NVR 5/3/24: Napa Land Trust gains 1,300-acre Mead Ranch on Atlas Peak

Update 10/28/20
NVR 10/28/20: Land Trust of Napa County acquires over 1,200 acres in Pope Valley

NVR 7/8/20: Land Trust of Napa County acquires 320 undeveloped acres above Calistoga

Calistogan 6/18/20: Land Trust acquires easement on 5,384-acre property near Lake Berryessa

Update 11/14/19
NVR 12/14/19: Land conservation around Lake Berryessa grows by 680 acres

Update 11/13/19
NVR 11/13/19: McCormick Ranch overlooking Napa Valley to be preserved as public open space

Two other major properties are currently up for sale in the county, one on Soda Canyon Road. They are profiled (unfortunately as business opportunities) here:

SFChronicle 11/9/19: Wine Country rarity: Vast southern Napa properties go on sale
(more photos are available on the interactive Chronicle article here.)

The Green Valley property is already protected with a conservation easement shown on the Land Trust map. The map in the Chronicle shows 2 internal development zones. The property very sig isnificant given its connection to the Tuteur Ranch conservation easement and the potential for a connection to Skyline Wilderness Park and the proposed Bay Area Ridge Trail.

The Soda Springs property is significant because of its historical heritage ruins and because it touches the large Meade Ranch conservation area shown on the Land Trust map. It is also significant because, given its legacy use, it can still be developed as a resort, dooming our Soda Canyon Road community to life as a tourist attraction. Also at NVR 11/14/19: Historic Soda Springs resort property for sale northeast of Napa

Such major undeveloped properties still remaining in the County should not be allowed to pass into developers' hands without some significant consideration to their value as protected natural heritage for future generations. Hopefully, the Land Trust has their eyes on these properties as well.

Update 9/26/19
NVR 9/26/19: Land Trust of Napa County buys undeveloped 1,000-acre site near Chiles Valley

Update 1/31/19
Calistogan 1/29/19: Easement creates more than 100 acres of protected land in Calistoga

Update 8/27/18
SH Star 8/27/18: Land Trust of Napa County acquires 1,910-acre preserve near Lake Berryessa

Update 6/15/18
NVR 6/15/18: Napa Land Trust protects more Lake Berryessa land from development

Update 2/7/18
NVR 2/7/18: Conservation easement made on historic property outside Yountville

Update 12/16/17
NVR 12/15/17: Napa Land Trust announces large Lake Berryessa ranch preservation

Kudos to vintners willing to protect rather than exploit the remaining natural environment of Napa County! (Location guess for Montecello Ranch is circled on map)

Update 8/1/17
NVR 8/1/17: Napa's Circle R ranch to be permanent part of wildlife corridor

Sometimes a map helps with these things: As you can see on the map, Circle R Ranch and Walt Ranch together form a massive potential barrier to wildlife, (and possibly hikers) along the spine of the Vaca mountains that form the eastern edge of the Napa Valley. This granting of a conservation easement for such movement is a huge act of civic responsibility and environmental consciousness. One can only hope that the Halls on the Walt property might become similarly concerned about a legacy of environmental stewardship of Napa's wild lands, in contrast to their urban development potential, and recombine the 35 developable parcels into a single property with appropriate conservation easements. Their proposed vineyards would still be a source of produce for their wines (or of profit for resale) as was their stated intention in the EIR.


Update 1/20/17
NVR 1/20/17: Large swath of Napa County land near Calistoga protected

9/4/16
NVR 9/4/16: Effort underway to protect 856-acre forest in Angwin

Land Trust CEO Doug Parker is quoted as saying "We're interested in building a corridor of contiguous, protected land across the ridge on the east side of Napa Valley." On the map above it would appear that the stretch from RLS State Park to Lake Hennessy is looking quite promising. From Lake Hennessy to Skyline Park it seems like a much more difficult proposition. A trail down the ridge just below the huge Atlas Peak Sutro Ranch Preserve is blocked by two private estate developments, Circle R and Walt Ranch. The Circle R development has discussed the possibility of a 500+ acre conservation easement. Would that include a public trail? The Walt Ranch developers have yet to weigh in on a conservation easement.

Land Trust of Napa County Website
Greeninfo.org Napa County Land Trust Map
NVR 11/28/15: Land Trust receives 110-acre donation near Chiles Valley
NVR 6/18/14: Land Trust acquires 1,380 acres on Atlas Peak

Vida Valiente Winery on: The Winery Glut


Bill Hocker - May 1,24  expand...  Share

Update 5/1/24
NVR 5/1/24: Napa County planners deny controversial Vida Valiente winery application
Video of 5/1/24 Planning Commission Meeting

Following the supervisors denial of the Le Colline Vineyard project, the denial of this project will again have the business community up in arms: an entrepreneur has spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars doing everything the county required to get a an approval and yet it was still denied.

It has been 10 years since Walt Ranch and Mountain Peak jarred some Napa residents into realizing that the continued economic growth of Napa county's wine industry, through tourism urbanization and woodland deforestation, was beginning to have negative impacts on the county's quality of life and the health of its environment. The continual stream of new projects in the development pipeline since has brought the realization home to ever more people that the future that is permitted under the current general plan is not the future that many residents want to happen. That disconnect is being reflected in the changing composition of the Board of Supervisors and is being reflected in decisions in the hear and now.

It is not fair to the developers, of course, and these two decisions will probably be appealed or litigated and the rejections may be overturned. But the importance of these rejections now is that they signal to potential developers (and county staff) that the county's attitude toward continued development of existing vineyards and wildlands is changing. The bar for approval in the future will be higher.

Update 4/19/24
Vida Valiente will again be before the Planning Commission on 5/1/24. The revised conditions of approval don't seem to have changed much beyond closure on red flag days. I don't think the road access conditions have changed.

Update 12/7/23
NVR 12/7/23: Napa County has lively debate over Vida Valiente winery
Video of 12/6/23 PC meeting

The project was continued to a date uncertain. With Comm. Heather Phillips recused, the potential vote was stuck at 2-2 (meaning denial) with Comms. Dameron and Brunzell opposed due to the fire dangers presented by sub-standard Crystal Springs Road access, and Comms. Whitmer and Mazotti willing to forego those concerns with assurances from the Napa Fire Marshall, acknowledging that the applicant had complied with all the rules that county had laid down in a 5 year process. The applicant, upset with what he viewed as a capricious use of discretion to deny the project, asked for a continuance which the Commissioners unanimously agreed to.

I have some sympathy for developers who have relied on a county bureaucracy to weave through (and sometimes warp) the letter of complex land use law only to find, what with fires, drought, global warming and resident opposition to the endless stream of deforestation projects and tourist attractions, the politicians who make these discretionary decisions are beginning to chart a different path forward, one that gives less importance to development and more to conservation. Staff should probably be more proactive when working with applicants to encourage that upcoming vision. Unfortunately the fact that county staff continues to insist that sub-standard roads do not need to be improved to provide access to new development in fire zones, contrary to the clear intention of the State's Minimum Fire Safe Regulations (see pg. 6 here), acknowledges their development-will-not-be-hindered-by-our-dangerous-roads bias.

I hadn't looked at the graphics before. The project would be quite an eyesore in its remote neighborhood. Lots of glass walls to flood the night with light pollution. Modernist forms and a green-roof dome aspirationally screaming "I am architcture!" Nothing "napaesque" here. A modest capacity production facility that should be housed in one building is spread over the entire width of the property in three outsized buildings two of which, along with a swooping bridge and extensive strolling garden with amphitheater and stage are all devoted to tourism. The applicant's rep, Donna Oldford, seemed embarrassed by the rendering, saying that what it shows would not be built, and asking people to look at the plans instead. The plans, though, show the same large windows, self-conscious architecture, unnecessary bridge and stage-centered garden all sprawling across the site.



12/1/23
Another new wine-themed tourist attraction is being proposed in a remote location in the eastern watershed somewhat north of the road to Angwin. It will be coming up before the Planning Commission on Dec 6, 2023.

The Vida Valiente Winery will produce up to 30,000 gal/yr in a new 17722 sf winery building with an additional 13,675 sf of caves. The initial proposal is for 10 parking spaces, 7 employees, and 7246 vis/yr, marketing events until 10pm. The project is laid out in the Staff Agenda Letter here.

As with our revoked Mountain Peak project, there are many concerns from neighbors facing the sacrifice of a prized rural isolation to one more person's dream of becoming a wine impresario. Those concerns have been articulately enumerated by neighbor Larry Vermeulen in this neighbor's letter to the Planning Commission.

Also like Mountain Peak, the site presents a real fire danger to residents and tourists alike inherent in its constrained access in a very high fire severity zone. Everything on the road burned in 2020. The project is on a loop off the Silverado Trail. Coming from the south by way of Deer Park Rd, the route is a 2 mile stretch that that varies in width from 12 to 18 feet in width. The 1+ mile of the road coming from the north is 16 to 24 feet in width. Both it seems do not meet the County's Road and Street Standards. The applicant has made the argument that the longer access from the north will be promoted as the proper way to get to the winery. Google Maps disagrees. (see map).

George Caloyannidis, who has property in the area, has presented the case that access to the site does not meet Napa County Road and Street Standards (or the State Fire Safe Regulations.) He presents his case in these letters to the Planning Commission

The project again raises the question of whether it is wise to continue to approve the urban development of the watersheds with unnecessary vanity winery projects that increase fire danger, increase deforestation and water consumption, generate GHG-producing vehicle trips (bicycle racks won't help) and induce further GHG-producing population growth in direct opposition to the county's more pressing desire to do what it can to ease Napa's contribution to global warming.

Project Documents

DOJ Investigates Napa on: Campaign 2024


Bill Hocker - Apr 24,24  expand...  Share

Update 4/24/24
NVR 4/24/24: Former Napa County Farm Bureau chief reported documents stolen days prior to issuance of federal subpoena

Update 4/8/24 world-shaking story!
Daily Mail: 4/6/24: How a secretive FBI probe and mysterious suicide exposed toxic Napa Valley turf war - as 'eco-mob extremists' tell owners of America's world-famous wineries they want their vineyards to BURN

A story salacious enough for the British Tabloid Press! Of course they had to gin up the plot with some complete gaslighting about evil eco-terrorists. The pictures are great though.

Update 4/3/24
NVR 4/3/24: Napa County supervisors reveal their financial interests

Kellie Anderson points to an obvious issue in Sup. Pedroza's financial statements: in addition to being a supervisor, he has a side consulting business that includes Meritage, Farm Bureau and Pacaso (see here) among his clients and also has (even more) loans from George Altamura for business properties. (Meritage and Altamura are listed in the DOJ subpoena to the County. The Farm Bureau has received it's own subpoena). What service could he offer to these players in Napa's development landscape? Perhaps how to insure that their development plans and interests have as little resistance from county government as possible. Is it a conflict of interest? In appearance at the very least.

Update 3/5/24
NVR 3/5/24: Details on FBI search on Alfredo Pedroza's home

Update 3/4/24
NVR 3/4/24: FBI agents visited Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza's home in December
SR Press Democrat 3/4/24: FBI raided Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza’s Silverado Country Club home, records show (text version)

Update 3/3/24
SR Press Democrat 3/3/24: Tangled web of connections in DOJ’s investigation in Napa (text version)

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat has begun to speculate on the connections to Sup. Alfredo Pedroza that have only been hinted thus far, tying together all three of the supboenas sent to the county.

In fairness to Sup. Pedroza it must be noted that it is his job to be at the center of these development issues in the county. And as the scion of the Bill Dodd development machine, and the alpha male on the Board, it is to be expected that he would be very hands on in making them happen. And also, given the American form of political graft that is legalized as a "campaign contribution", it is to be expected that the people and organizations that hope to benefit financially from the supervisors' decisions would be heavy contributors to those politicians most likely to support their goals. Thus far, it is still the unethical, and maybe illegal, action of not disclosing his connection to Vinedos and of not recusing himself in consequence on the Walt Ranch votes that is the most incontrovertible evidence of wrongdoing. But the reach of the DOJ involvement is Sup. Pedrozas affairs does point to something more substantial.

Update 2/23/24
NVR 2/23/24: Major funders of Farm Bureau's PAC named in federal subpoenas
SF Chronicle 2/23/24: How a Napa farming nonprofit became a political power broker" and got caught up in a federal investigation (text version)

This story has just become worthy of national attention. And the pieces are beginning to fit together. Pedroza's (and Gregory's) decision to drop out of politics. The large number of seemingly unrelated names on the subpoena list. Ryan Klobas' suicide.

It is still unclear what criminality the DOJ is looking for. Did the PAC coordinate illegally with candidates? If so would they be so overt about it? With so many subpoenas yet to see the light of day there are, no doubt, many revelations yet to come. What's interesting is that this is coming out right in the middle of voting for Supervisors, and the appearance is that two of candidates running have taken funds from a PAC under investigation.

Both of the other subpoenas for county records, about the airport grand jury report and the Clover Flat landfill antitrust issues involve negotiations with the supervisors over the expansion of the facilities with money to be made by new developers and operators. How might these projects fit into a campaign finance inquiry? And will there be a Minh Tran connection? (Aparently not).

Update 2/21/24
NVR 2/21/24: Federal subpoena issued to Napa County Farm Bureau's political action committee
SR Press Democrat 2/21/24: DOJ targeted info about Napa County Farm Bureau’s PAC in investigation; others subpoenaed were donors

As noted below, the "subpoena with 40 names" sent to the county may have been just one of 160 subpoenas sent out in the same investigation. The subpoena sent to the Farm Bureau could be another. According to the Press Democrat, some of the "40 names" are big donors to the Farm Bureau's PAC, the Fund to Protect Napa Valley Agriculture. The suicide of the Farm Bureau's president Ryan Klobas in late January may, or may not, be a piece in this unfolding puzzle. He was hired in 2017 by the Farm Bureau to head its political operations as community opposition to deforestation of the watersheds for vineyards eroded support for the wine industry, and environmentalists began to challenge the industry on individual projects, in the Measure C initiative and in political campaigns. The Farm Bureau is currently supporting businessman Pete Mott in his campaign against environmentalist Amber Manfree in the race for County Supervisor.

Update 2/13/24
NVR 2/13/24: Napa County subpoenas raise plenty of questions

It is interesting, as Barry Eberling points out based on the USAO No., "2021R00859-160", that the investigation leading to this grand jury may have begun in 2021, before Napa citizens petitioned the California Fair Practices Commission! And as I have been told by an informed source, the 160 in the number might indicate this to be the 160th subpoena in this investigation, meaning a substantial investigation beyond just the county's involvement..

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

Press Democrat 2/9/24: Subpoenas show feds probing controversial Napa County land deal, airport redevelopment (pdf version)

PDF of Subpoena (with list of entities)

The California Fair Political Practices Comission hasn't been heard from since they agreed to look into Sup. Pedroza's potential conflict of interest in voting to approve Walt Ranch while buying the land next door and then hiding that fact from the public and the board. But someone has obviously spread the word, and the US Justice Dept thinks it worth looking into. The list of 40 entities that the county must provide documents for is extensive and may imply that they are seeking info on several issues. It does seem significant that Sup. Pedroza is not named, even though all of the other characters involved in the Vinedos Project are. It is a devilish fascination googling the names on the list and speculating what, if anything, links them.

The Subpoenea was sent out on Dec 14, 2023 so the county has had two months to dig up the massive number of documents requested (due Feb 14th). They have also been involved in other legal issues in the meantime, like preparation for the county's defense in the Hoopes assault on county policies. Despite my complaints about about the way the county planning staff often acts as part of the development team in confronting community opposition, they have also seemed sincere in striking a balance in the web of business-biased policies, development pressure and community pushback. I think they deserve more appreciation than they seem to be getting.

St Helena continues to convert vineyards to housing on: St. Helena


Bill Hocker - Apr 24,24  expand...  Share

Update 4/24/24
NVR 4/24/24: St. Helena goes ahead with vineyard rezoning
Sigh.

4/3/24
SH Star 4/3/24: Neighbors object to rezoning of St. Helena vineyard

The Spring St vineyard follows on the designations of the Hunter Subdivision and the Adams Street vineyard as suitable properties to convert to urban use in the city of St. Helena. These housing developments are a subset of the loss of vineyards all over the county to winery event centers up valley and industrial warehouses in the south, all of which will eventually threaten the viability of an agriculture-based economy.

The need for new housing development in St Helena (or indeed Napa County) is somewhat ironic: the city lost 800 residents between 2010 and 2024. (Napa county has lost 3200 residents in that time.) The ABAG mandates that led to this rezoning are part of the State's (and perhaps the building industry's) efforts to induce home construction in the hope that more homes mean lower prices. There is, of course, a need for more affordable housing in the state, but as many analysts agree, lowering the price of housing is a much more difficult equation and unlikely to lower home prices any time soon. Affordable housing currently costs some $800,000/unit to build (see here). That same amount, given to a family as a $1000/month supplement for an existing market-rate rental, would last 66 years (not counting interest).

Unfortunately, in a grossly disproportionate attempt to lower housing costs for a handful of lucky tenants, the county is continuing to sacrifice the agricultural heritage prized by most everyone who lives here.

Duckhorn Winery Expansion on: The Winery Glut


Bill Hocker - Apr 10,24  expand...  Share

Ag Land paved over for the project
Update 4/10/24
SF Chronicle 4/10/24: How a small rural California road became the latest wine battleground in Napa Valley (text version)

We can only hope that there will be enough residents impacted by the barrage of projects like this and The Inn at the Abbey who demand that the county stop permitting tourism buildings on land zoned for agriculture and vote as such. Tourism is not agriculture. The policies that conflate the two need to be reversed.

Update 11/6/23
The Duckhorn Winery Appeal due to be heard on 11/7/23 has been continued to a date uncertain - a change in scope of the project is being considered by the applicant.
Agenda Letter

Update 9/13/23
Sculatti LTE 9/13/23: Duckhorn project threatens the viability of the Ag Preserve

Update 9/1/23
An Appeal of the Planning Commission approval has been made by neighbors and Water Audit California and has been scheduled by the BOS for Nov 7, 2023.
Appeal notice and continuance

John Murphy LTE 9/1/23: The siege of Lodi Lane

5/4/23

Adding to the AP urbanization
Video of 5/3/23 PC meeting
Staff Agenda Letter for 5/3/23 presentation
NVR 5/4/23: Big Duckhorn winery growth plans win Napa County approval

140,000 more gal/yr, 51,014 more vis/yr, new 58,000 sf production and storage building, doubling the size of the visitor center, 28 more parking spaces, home demolition, 3.55 acres of vines removed. 44 trees removed, road exception, adding to road setback encroachments, 4 large water tanks, waste water line under the Napa River!
Staff Letter (a long read)
Neighbor Comments

This was the first decision of the post election Planning Commission, and frankly I was stunned. And disappointed. The vote among the three participating commissioners, Dave Whitmer, Megan Dameron and returning Commissioner Heather Phillips was 3-0 to approve with almost no discussion and no interest in reducing the scale of such a behemoth (for Napa Valley) and intrusive project. It seemed like unblinking aquiescense to the power of the corporate conglomerates that have taken over the wine production and wine entertainment industries in the county. This decision bodes ill for Treasury's re-submission of the Benjamin Ranch winery proposal when/if it comes. A new era of mega-wineries dawns as corporations seek to turn the county into the Las Vegas of Wine.

Particularly galling is the paving over of prime agricultural land for a new production building, parking lots and roadways. The urbanization of the ag preserve didn't seem to be on the radar of this Planning Commission in this project, which dispels a lot of the hope I had for a new direction in the maintenance of the county's natural resources in the age of global warming and of a balance between the concerns of residents to maintain their rural heritage and corporate interests to exploit that character into oblivion.

Where to begin on a project that pushes so many negative butttons. The first is that major 58,000sf wine processing and storage facility is being proposed to be built from scratch on an area in the center of the Ag Preserve that is currently planted to vines. With the creation of the new combined parcel, the massive production building and expanded visitor center are 24.8% of the 25% allowable development area under the WDO. Looking at the plot plan of the impermeable surface, it actually apprears that more than 25% of the property is covered. And it should be noted that a part of the 75% is the un-developable bank of the Napa river, so the amount of developable land being covered is well above 25%. The processing facility which will, no doubt, serve the numerous corporate brands well beyond this site should have been built in the airport industrial area. But then, of course, the visitor center wouldn't have been allowed to double in size. And tourism is now the heart of wine industry growth.

As is common now with projects, maintaining existing water usage while expanding production and visitation is achieved by sewage treatment plants and gargantuan water tanks, and by replacing water consumptive vineyards with less water-consumptive buildings. (Note that reducing water consumption by eliminating vines is not a good strategy for maintaining an agricultural economy, yet it is now done in almost every winery project.) But the existing usage is already 50% higher than is allowed under county standards. The project should have been required to reduce water usage to that standard. The intuitive question, however, is can you really process 140,000 more gallons of wine and 51,000 more visitors and not increase water use? Consultants can massage the numbers for an approval, but no one monitors the reality over time which is why more water than allowed is being used now.

Oxbow Tourist Trap on: The Hotel Binge


Bill Hocker - Apr 1,24  expand...  Share

Update 4/5/24
NVR 4/4/24: More rooms: Napa City Council approves updated designs for Oxbow hotel

Update 4/1/24 A bad decision made worse
NVR 4/1/124: Updated Oxbow hotel plan to go before Napa City Council
Staff Agenda Letter and Documents
Comments by Napa Housing Coalition , Etc.

Following the City Planning Commission's Feb. 1 approval of the reconfiguration of the hotel to be more salable to a mass-market hotel chain, the project goes before the City Council on Apr 2nd 2024. A project that was an eyesore barrier between downtown and the Oxbow Market becomes an even greater barrier with the elimination of any public serving facilities for two blocks on 1st Street. It is a change made solely to accommodate the bottom-line calculation of a mass-market hotel chain (that may even sell the project to an even lower grade owner, if history is a guide) with no regard to the public service aspect that any building project permitted in the city's commercial center should serve. The planning commission was very unwise to approve this building in the first place and doubly unwise to approve the revision. The city has failed miserably in creating the guidelines for the integration of the Oxbow District with the rest of the town.

Again look at the rendering. Together with the Black Elk Hotel approved in 2017, a wall has been created between the town and the District. It hides both the District and the closest of Napa's few hillides visible from the center of town. Both of these hotels have not been built. It is not too late to rectify very bad planning decisions. City Council, tear down this wall!

Update 1/30/24
NVR 1/30/24: Napa city Planning Commission to review new permits for Oxbow district hotel
At the Napa City Planning Commission on 2/1/24. The agenda is here.

These developers have a lousy track record on their previous developments: Cambria hotels in Napa, Sonoma counties lost in $80 million foreclosure Why should anyone respect or approve their numbers this time.

NVR 3/6/23: New developer of Napa Oxbow hotel asks for more rooms

Update 3/8/22
Friends of the Napa River LTE 3/8/22: Protect Oxbow District's 'unique character'

The previous branding effort of the Oxbow District in 2018 (see below) already had one aproved blot on its unique character: the 5-story tenament-house-like Black Oak hotel. There are now two approved hotels, which, as can be seen from the rendering immediately below (that tries to fade-out the impact of the Black Oak) completely block any view of the district and the hills beyond from downtown and any sense of a downtown from the Oxbow District. Unless the proposal by the Friends of the Napa River includes a revocation of these two permits, and an effort to defeat the monumental 5-story Wine Train Hotel, there is no hope of achieving the goals of "building small and retaining the Oxbow District's unique character." The damage to the character of the district is already entitled.

Update 11/20/20 Foxbow Hotel
NVR 11/20/20: Napa council narrowly approves 4-story hotel for Oxbow District

The rendering shows as clearly as possible the results noted in the discussion of the Black Elk Hotel below: that the development being approved by the city for the Oxbow tourism district is in fact creating an inhospitable barrier between the district and downtown. The walk between the two, perhaps the most heavily touristed route in the city, is already a dispiriting gauntlet of traffic and narrow sidewalks. Now the walker will be confronted by a wall of buildings before reaching the destination.

The lack of overall city planning and the relegation of the future development of the city to the avarice of building developers wishing to maximise their envelopes is just one more example of the failure the governments of Napa County to maintain the rural, small town, agricultural character that made this an enjoyable place to live and a memorable place to visit.


NVR 7/17/20: Napa's Planning Commission declines to recommend Oxbow hotel project
NVR 7/11/20: City to evaluate Napa hotel straddling Wine Train line; two historic homes to be moved

NVR 3/2/18: Napa planners ask is Foxbow too much hotel for the neighborhood
NVR 2/28/18: Napa city planners to take up Foxbow hotel plan in Oxbow District

Oh No! Another over-scaled, over-wrought hotel crammed onto First Street.
This one is more apartment-looking than the previous version, an advantage if the tourism market crashes at the end of this hotel bubble.

Preliminary review at the Napa City Planning Commission Thursday, Mar 1st, 2018 at 5:30pm. Staff report is here.


1/16/19 Oxbow Branding Study
NVR 1/16/19: Study supports branding Napa's Oxbow district, showcasing river

2018 ULI Oxbow Branding study

A well done study, but one that has as its purpose the development and marketing of yet another tourist attraction to further urbanize the Napa Valley, adding to the many impacts that are degrading what was until recently a prized rural, small-town quality of life.

It has come at least one building approval too late. From the article: "city leaders can ...consider zoning that would prevent new construction from blocking views of the river and Napa Valley edges". It was obvious that the Black Elk hotel was a bad idea from an urban planning standpoint when it was proposed (see update 7/14/17 here) and yet it was approved anyway. Coming a year after the Black Elk approval, It could be that this study was a result of that unfortunate event. (Or perhaps it was in reaction to the massive Wine Train Hotel proposed next door. Or the Foxbow Hotel just kitty corner. Or maybe it was simply a reaction to the already built, noisy and tacky "The Studio", the true definition of a tourist trap venue.)

Why do government leaders always take action after the fact - waiting for problems to become insoluble before trying to solve them?



Update 1/6/18 Wine Train Hotel
NVR 1/6/18: Napa planners comment on Wine Train's future hotel, rail depot on McKinstry Street
The Staff report on the project is here. (large file)
NVR 12/23/17: Top 10 of 2017, No. 7: Hotels, tourism continue Napa boom

7/14/17 Black Elk Hotel
NVR 8/18/17: Napa planners approve 5-story Black Elk hotel in Oxbow district
NVR 7/4/17: Proposed four-story Oxbow hotel to receive Napa planners' scrutiny

The Black Elk Hotel had a preliminary review by the Napa City Planning Commission on July 6th 2017. The Staff Report and Documents are here. It is a very innappropriate building for the location, out of scale, a visual barrier to the Oxbow district, of "barnish" shape and materials out of place in its urban setting, a box of a building trying to squeeze as many hotel rooms as possible on the small site, which brought to mind a 19th century tenement house.

What became very apparent here, and in all of the hotel projects in the news recently, is that the city has no master plan for the development of the city, no commitment to integrate housing and real people and businesses into the tourism economy, and no design guidelines to regulate what the character of the place will become. As with the rural areas of the county, the future of Napa City is being irrevocably altered in this developer boom period, and the Planning Commission decisions about Napa's future are being made on an ad hoc basis, one isolated project at a time, without looking at the long term result. Which, of course, will be a hodgepodge of developers' schemes, some with good taste and some without, trying to maximize the money to be made from the tourist trade on every square inch of the city, while the residents are forced out.

Amber for District 4 Supervisor on: Campaign 2024


Bill Hocker - Mar 19,24  expand...  Share

Supes past, present and... : Sam Chapman, Joelle Gallagher, Amber, Kathryn Winter, Brad Wagenknecht
Update 3/26/24
NVR 3/26/24: Napa County supervisor wins for Manfree, Alessio, Ramos nearly official as vote counting nears end

Update 3/19/24 Amber wins!
With only 110 ballots not yet processed as of 3/19/24, Amber Manfree leads Pete Mott by 515 votes, 3900 to 3385. Athough she is waiting until every vote is counted, I am willing to call Amber Manfree as Supervisor Elect for Napa County District 4 in 2024. Her win cements a historic all-woman Board, and hopefully an era of reasoned consensus about the future of Napa County. The numbers are here.

Update 3/15/24
NVR 3/15/24: Napa County will have a history-making Board of Supervisors

Update 3/13/24
Latest talley: Manfree 3725, Mott 3209. 53% to 47%, 516 vote difference.

Update 3/5/24 Preliminary Election Results
NVR 3/5/24: Election 2024 update: Alessio, Manfree, Ramos react to early Napa County election results

Napa County Unofficial Election Results page

The count of mail-in ballots received before 3/1/24 has Amber Manfree leading Pete Mott 1581 to 1420. While that 161 vote difference was enough for local television coverage to declare her the "projected winner", Amber was more cautious: "We're not going to declare an outcome until we see every vote." Unfortunately, for reasons I don't quite understand, it takes more than 9 days of counting to count every vote. We await the Friday update.

Update 2/3/24
Ten years ago, while still in college, Amber Manfree stepped into the world of Napa politics as a resident concerned about a winery project being proposed in her remote county home. At the first meeting of about 30 neighbors, she organized the group with a flip board and marker, moderating the discussion to itemize our concerns. It may have been the first time her expertise and leadership would be of direct service to the residents of Napa County. It would not be the last.

Since then, as an environmental scientist working in geography, ecology, hydology and now transportation, she has become as well versed as anyone on the issues of land use policy that have enabled Napa to survive as a predominantly rural place while the rest of the bay area has urbanized. She has become an advocate and scientific resource for residents and the environment impacted by those policies, at the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission, in position papers and in court.

Napa governance is under increasing pressure as the wine industry has transformed from resident owners to large corporations, as the tourism industry seeks to become the dominant economic force in the county, as the pressure of population growth is induced by tourism and industrial development, and as climate change brings additional stress to the county's environment and resources. As the Napa County General plan is revised in the near future, the Board will be critical in ensuring that "preserving the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure" (in the words of the current General Plan) can continue for the next 50 years. Amber has the analytic skills of a scientist and the committed heart of a long-time rural resident needed to craft that plan.

Amber's list of endorsements is substantial, with five former or current supervisors and two sitting mayors. These endorsements, as well as those by local organizations and other elected officials, are an important indication of her ability to collaborate and to marshall the reservoir of experience needed to solve problems and improve the policies that have made Napa such very unique place. Please vote for Amber Manfree for District 4 Supervisor in 2024.

Amber for Supervisor website

LTE's
Richard Tippett 3/2/24: Look at the signs
Chuch Del'Ario 3/2/24: Manfree deserves your vote
Suzanne von Rosenberg 3/2/24: Amber Manfree is the supervisor Napa County needs
Sam Chapman 3/2/24: Manfree will keep Napa County special
Sue Wagner 3/2/24: Manfree is the best choice
Sharon Macklin 3/2/24: Manfree will protect Napa
Ron Rhyno 3/2/24: Manfree will make decisions in Napa's best interest
Bill Hocker 2/18/24: Amber has what it takes
Beth Weber Novak 2/18/24: I support Amber Manfree
Marie Henderson 2/18/24: Manfree honest, capable
Ree Whitford 2/16/24: Vote for Manfree
Greg Clark 2/16/24: Manfree understands agriculture
Deborah Fortune Walton 2/16/24: Manfree the most capable person for the job
Bill Chadwick 2/15/24: Amber Manfree will bring fact-based decisions to supervisor role
Shelle Wolfe 2/3/24: Bringing balance to the Board of Supervisors
Sierra Club 2/3/24: Sierra Club endorses Amber Manfree for Napa County Board of Supervisors
PWNV 2/3/24: Progressive Women endorse Manfree
George Caloyannidis 2/3/24: Why Amber Manfree is uniquely qualified for Napa County Board of Supervisors
Mike Hackett 1/21/24: Manfree will look after our land
Luisa Heymann 1/21/24: Manfree understands fire danger
Ester Akersloot 1/21/24: Manfree will get the job done
Susan Elizabeth Crosby 1/20/24: The most qualified candidate
Ken Stanton 1/20/24: Why I'm supporting Amber Manfree
Eve Kahn 1/19/24: Amber Manfree the best choice for Napa County
Mel Varrelman LTE 12/28/23: Manfree is the best choice
Sharon Macklin LTE 12/19/23: Ethics commission needed in Napa
Julia Orr LTE 12/8/23: Amber Manfree is the best choice
Iris Barrie LTE 12/7/23: Amber Manfree for supervisor
Randy Dunn LTE 11/17/23: Environmentalists understand agriculture
Jose Hernandez LTE 11/15/23: Vote for Amber Manfree
Lori Stelling LTE 11/7/23: Manfree the best choice for supervisor
Jean Royce Barstow LTE: Amber Manfree for Napa County Supervisor
Laurie Claudon LTE: Vote for Amber Manfree

Amber Fliers
 




Amber Videos from 2020
In 2020 Amber, in her first ever run for elected office, managed to come quite close (45.5% of the vote) to a well-funded incumbernt, Afredo Pedroza. The editorial board of the Napa Valley Register at the time praised her as refreshingly authentic and as a rising star, even though it gave its endorsment, almost reluctantly, to her more experienced opponent.

The campaign videos done for that campaign are no less relevant to her message now in the 2024 campaign and should be watched.




Vote for Amber



Amber Manfree for Supervisor: Putting Locals First



Kathryn Winter Endorses Amber Manfree



Environmental Forum For Napa County



Amber Manfree springs into action



Amber at the Arty Party Hour
Great interview!



Amber Manfree reflects on the 2017 Atlas Fires



Vote for Amber!



Vote for Amber!



Still time to vote!



The Winery Hotel on: The Hotel Binge


Bill Hocker - Mar 14,24  expand...  Share

3/14/24
NVR 3/114/24: Developers want St. Helena voters to determine fate of Wine Train/Charles Krug hotel

The developers have obviously made the calculation that it's much easier to bamboozle a majority of the small number voters in St. Helena with campaign ads, than to comply with public ordinances and state environmental review. The price of deciding the future of a place by the amount of TOT promised is that the town will eventually be owned by the tourism industry, while residents that just want to live in a real community will be priced out or will sell out.

Every major tourism project has impacts to traffic, water resources, workforce infrastructure and overall quality of life that affects more than just the residents of one town, and those residents should also have a forum to voice their concerns and have them weighed. The desire of the few to hasten their return on investment should not be a priority in urbanization projects that will change the lives of the many forever. A thorough public planning review process insures that every impact is vetted.

If the initiative is successful it will set an obvious precedent for every other project in the pipeline at both the city and county level, to circumvent the regulations that for the last 50 years have hindered the urbanization of the county into a Las Vegas of wine.

10/12/23
NVR 10/12/23: St. Helena hotel proposal at Charles Krug Winery to be revealed Oct. 25

As we have seen in the last several years, the first proposals are now being realized for the development of hotels designed to extend the hospitality functions, and brand associations, of wineries into lodging. The propossed Hall Winery Hotel, Inn at the Abby, and The Farmstead Hotel are each being developed by wine corporations on properties adjacent to their wineries. We now have the corporation that owns the wine train partnering with Charles Krug in this next phase of the complete absorption of Napa's agricultural economy into the umbrella of its tourism economy.

As wineries have continued to morph into restaurants (after changes to the Winery Definition Ordinance in 2010), lodging is the next logical step in what can only be envisoned as a transition to a Las Vegas of Wine. As noted in our article here, tourism revenues in Las Vegas rose above gambling revenues in 1999 and the ratio has steadly increased since. In 2023, gambling revenues were at $8 billion. Tourism revenues were at $44 billion. Right now the ratio of tourism to wine sales in Napa County are at parity, much like Las vegas in 1999: $2.2b billion in tourism and $2.3 billion in wine. It is obvious why the corporate wine industry wants to get into hotels. There's much more money yet to be made from the Napa brand than the limited acreage of Napa grapes can possibly generate.

All of the corporations proposing winery hotels at this point are well known major players with the capital, caché and political muscle to put into hotel development. And all of the hotel properties, though adjacent to agriculturally zoned winery buildings, are not on agriculturally zoned lands, and hence can be developed under existing zoning. But it's just a matter of time before the 500-1000 other wineries now in the county feel they are being dissed by being denied the source of the new money to be made here from full-on agritourism. Already the county has given budding, but less plutocratic, entrepreneurs a small-winery ordinance and a micro-winery ordinance to boost their dreams of tapping into the wine-tourism economy. Demands for winery B&B's are sure to follow.

The County General Plan is coming up for amendment in the next year. There will undoubtedly be pressure once again to modify the definition of agriculture to allow ever increasing types of tourism to fit within the ag zoning designations so that politicians and entrepreneurs can proudly claim that they support agriculture as they turn what's left of the bucolic Napa Valley into an un-charming, high-rise, congested, urban money machine.

So long, vineyards, so long, wetlands on: South Napa County


Bill Hocker - Mar 6,24  expand...  Share

Update 3/6/24
NVR 3/6/24: American Canyon passes warehouse approval measure

The politics in American Canyon seems like a holdover from some other place or time: Good-old-boy, chamber-of-commerce, back-room-deal politics where the developers call all of the shots. (Not that the rest of the county is any better.) How did one guy end up owning 80% of AmCan's industrially zoned land?

Update 2/12/24
NVR 2/12/24: American Canyon looks at warehouse ballot measure

The warehouses aren't consuming American Canyon's natural environment fast enough, apparently. Developers are asking voters to approve fast-tracking of warehouse approvals, as if the current ineffective safeguards in place to protect the environment were somehow slowing down the massive building projects that we see paving over the wetlands each year. Will AmCan's residents readily allow their community to continue to be turned into a warehouse wasteland? The initiative process was instituted to give California residents a check the coercive power corporations to shape government policy. It is obviously a double-edged sword.

Update 10/17/22
Hugh Davies LTE 10/16/22: Protect farmland, vote no on Measure J

The County Measure J page

The LTE above comes from the board of the Jack L. Davies Agricultural Land Preservation Fund. It makes the point that allowing urban development on ag land just because the land is not suitable for grapes is a dangerous precedent. The loss of any agricultural land is a threat to all agricultural land in the county. It is a sentiment I totally agree with.

I'm not sure if the JLD Ag Fund has weighed in on specific projects before. I wish they would take the same public stance when it comes to the use of ag land for tourist attractions like wineries and resorts. They also should have have been more concerned about the loss of the Hess property just to the east and the loss of the Ghisletta property to city annexation. Napa farm land is being urbanized almost every week at the county's planning comissions and governing boards, and it is only a matter of time before Napa farmland as a whole is seen as less desirable than the residential, commercial and industrial uses that Napa's burgeoning urban "growth" economy requires.

Update 8/19/22 Green Island Vineyard
SF Chronicle 8/19/22: Why one ordinary vineyard may threaten the future of Napa’s wine industry

NVR 6/9/22: Proposal to turn Napa vineyard into industrial land generates dispute
NV2050 6/2/22: Death Spiral of a Vineyard

A vineyard in the county wetlands just north of American Canyon is generating a lot of angst about the conversion of ag land to urban development. It should. But I'm a bit mystified by the concentration of interest, from the county, wine industry "stakeholders", LAFCO and activists alike, in the loss of what, given rising sea levels, has become marginal land for grapes. At the same time much less concern is voiced about the loss of prime vineyard land in the ag preserve to tourism development (see here) and the loss of a still larger, more inland and much more visible vineyard to warehouses a mile to the east on the Hess-Laird property. (see below).

Update 5/22/21 Hess-Laird vineyard conversion at the BOS
Prime warehouse land?


NVR 6/21/21: Napa County to consider bigger industrial area, Highway 29 reliever
7/22/21 BOS meeting video (Hess conversion presentation starts at 1:47:20 into video).

The BOS decided unanimously to have PBES begin the process needed to change the zoning of the property. It will take some time. The 3-person development wing of the board felt that the new road would be a boon to ease traffic congestion on Hwy 29 and wondered how the project could be accelerated. The Supes made no mention about how much traffic the new development will add to the congestion. Sup. Dillon wondered where staff was going to get all the time to work on the project. Sup. Wagenknecht wondered what the real benefits were, and would not guarantee that he would vote to approve the project later. Sup. Pedroza, as usual, lauded the sanctity of agriculture before he approved the conversion of another 281 acres of it into warehouses. This decision is not about agriculture he said, but about how our communities are growing.

Open space activist Barry Christian, in public comment (beginning at 1:57:30 into the video), most clearly defined what was at stake: the traffic was not going to relieved by adding a new mega development; replacing agriculture with more profitable uses is not a good direction in county policy, and the loss of one more vista in the approach to the Napa Valley is not a benefit to visitors or residents whose joy in being here is the beauty of the county's open spaces

Update 5/20/21 Hess-Laird vineyard conversion
A site plan for the conversion of the Hess vineyard just north of American Canyon into industrial parcels has been submitted to the County. It requires a change in zoning from AWOS to Industrial in order to proceed. The request will be taken up by the Board of Supervisors at their June 22, 2021 meeting (Agenda and Documents). The 281 acre property spans from the northern edge of American Canyon to the Napa Flea Market. It may be the largest single rezoning from agriculture to industrial use in the county's history. (Not counting the creation of American Canyon, of course). By comparison, Napa Pipe is 154 acres. It is also the largest area of producing vines removed for urban development.

Prior to the 2008 General Plan, the property was zoned industrial, but was rezoned AWOS in the General Plan update, with the provision that it "shall be considered for re-designation to an Industrial designation if Flosden/Newell Road is ever extended north of Green Island Road, through the property." The cause of that interesting inversion of the normal rezoning pattern needs a little research.

The rezoning will require a modification to the General Plan. It is unclear why this property, unlike the few square feet of terrace at Don Giovanni's in 1994, doesn't require a vote of the people under Measure J/P. [Update: The Hess property is not subject to Measure J per County-supplied excerpts from Genreal Plan]

Watson Ranch, the massive housing project that extends Newell Drive along its eastern edge, was approved in late 2018. Some of the Hess vineyards have been left fallow since, with more vines pulled out after the 2020 harvest. There is still an extension from Watson Ranch to the Hess property, crossing a railway line, that needs to happen. Although it is unclear when, or if ever, the Newell Road extension will be finished, developers are chomping at the bit to buy more industrial land in Napa. And the recent removal of the vineyards would seem to imply that development interests and the property owners know the outcome of the Supervisors meeting on Jun 22nd and the swift passage of the project through the County meat grinder.

The property will provide direct access via S. Kelly Rd to the Jameson Canyon freeway (Lincoln Hwy) without having to use Hwy 29 and its 29/Airport Rd bottleneck. It will, of course, create a new bottleneck at the Lincoln Hwy/S Kelly Rd intersection. The significance of the widening of the Jameson Canyon highway, championed by Sup. Bill Dodd, to the urban development of Napa County can't be overstated. It has made possible the development of an industrial hub that gives the central valley wine industry a link to the Napa name, and it eases the use of commuting workers and contractors from outside the county allowing continued growth of the tourism industry. It also lays the groundwork for a Highway 12 freeway connecting the central valley to Sonoma county, and the opportunity for massive tourism projects along its route. (See the Hudson and Reata wineries.)

The project is one more building block in the urbanization of the space between Napa and the rest of the Bay Area and another addition to the alley of warehouses that will define the entry to the Napa Valley. It is one more indication of the difficulty in maintaining Napa as an agricultural enclave in the expanding megalopolis for the next 50 years. Napa wines have already been priced out of the world marketplace because of the urban-level land and labor prices, and now are desperately trying to survive as a tourist good. The Napa wine industry's survival, embodied by the warehouses that will bury the Hess vineyards, seems to be moving toward the claim of being the cellaring and bottling capital of California's wine industry, a mark of status on the back of the bottle if not the front.

7/9/17 Napa Logistics Park
NVR 7/9/17: Hello IKEA. So long, vineyards?
NVR 6/23/17: Developers lament short supply of industrial land in Napa County

As was the intention, no doubt, the title of Noel Brinkerhoff's article, less the question mark, could be the epitath on the Ag Preserve's tombstone.

The scale of the Napa Logistics Park development is more visible when you realize that IKEA's northern California distribution center would fit iinto just one of its four buildings. Napa Logistics Park is only a part of the un-built industrial development in the AmCan Industrial area and the Napa Airport industrial area just to the north. Who would have thought that Napa would eventually be known more as a light industrial center, a blue-collar Silicone Valley, rather than a bucolic agricultural Eden. Yet that will be the overwhelming reality of the "Napa Experience" as visitors are stuck in the traffic jam at Bottleneck Junction with an alley of tilt-up warehouses as their only view of Wine Country. And no 600 foot setbacks here.

The fact that real estate interests are bemoaning the scarcity of industrial property and that the county is suggesting that vineyard land with less expensive grapes might fill the bill shows where things are headed. All that is needed now is a definition for "less expensive" to be codified in the next update of the general plan. Under $10,000/ton, perhaps?

The 2024 Campaign on: Campaign 2024


Bill Hocker - Mar 5,24  expand...  Share

Update 3/5/24 Preliminary Election Results
NVR 3/5/24: Election 2024 update: Alessio, Manfree, Ramos react to early Napa County election results

Full Napa County Election results are here

Update 2/20/24 KQED Podcast on election issues
Kelli Anderson sends along a link to the KQED Forum podcast on "The future of wine centers on Napa county supervisors election" (1 hr).

The moderator of the podcast, Guy Marzorati, in his questions, seemed to be very knowledgable on the issues at play, but the rambling answers by the panelists tended to obscure those issues. The Register editor, Dan Evans, seemed exceptionally off topic. Mr. Mazorati referenced this Wine-searcher article in one question and it is probably worth reading before listening to the podcast.

The lack of clarity in the participants answers is understandable: every side in Napa's land-use debate wants Napa to remain a rural county that can sustain, both economically and environmentally, the financial benefits desired by businesses (and the county) and the quality of life benefits desired by residents. But how is that achieved?

The business community wants policies that encourage growth, in vineyard acreage, in tourism in more housing and transport projects that induce growth, along with less restrictive and clearer regulation. Residents see the rural, small-town character of the county being eroded by that bottom-line approach and want to see government policies that seek sustainability rather than growth. While sometimes supportive of housing and transport solutions to solve existing problems, they are more concerned about conservation and preservation of the undeveloped environment, more restrictions on future growth in the wine and tourism industries, more attention to the environmental impacts of climate change.

Politics in Napa County has always been a contest between development and conservation interests. Napa is Napa because the conservationists have more often succeeded. But since 2000 the Board of Supervisors has had a development majority and the policies of the 2008 General Plan and subsequent ordinances have reflected that. The 2022 election brought two conservationists on to the board and the majority began to shift. The Le Colline vineyard project, referenced several times in the podcast, represented the first, though perhaps premature, reflection of that shift. The project was turned down on conservation grounds. Premature, because the county is still under the policies of the 2008 general plan and the applicants (and the county staff) felt they had done everything the law required.

That conservationist majority will probably be cemented in this coming election. And they will get to oversee the update to the Napa General Plan. It is for that reason that the pundits see this as such a generational shift and why the wine industry is so nervous. They needn't be. No one wants the wine industry to die.

Update 2/12/24
Press Democrat 2/11/24: Sam Chapman Opinion: Mapping a future for Napa Valley
NVR Sam Chapman LTE 1/16/24: Is Napa County experiencing strategic drift?

Former Supervisor Sam Chapman gives a clear-eyed and comprehensive assessment of the issues at stake for Napa's future as the economy drifts away from wine production and toward good-life tourism and more urban development. Is this the future Napa' s citizens, long protectors of Napa's agrarian heritage, wish for themselves. If not, now is the time to challenge that shifting reality.

11/29/23
NVR 11/29/23: Napa County Supervisor Ryan Gregory won't seek third term in 2024

With the departure of Sup. Gregory from the race, it is assured that a minimum of 4 Supervisors beginning in 2025 will be women. And Amber Manfree running in District 4, after a strong showing against Sup. Pedroza in her first ever election in 2020 ("a potential rising star" in the words of the NVR Editoral Board in 2020) with evermore land use, community and transportation experience since, is in a good position this time around.

Since, as shown in many studies, women seem to be more effective leaders than men, this bodes well for the County as it heads into the important task of updating the General Plan.

KJS & Sorrento ECP on: Watershed Issues


Bill Hocker - Feb 29,24  expand...  Share

Update 2/29/24 KJS & Sorrento Appeal
NVR 2/29/24: KJS/Sorrento is Napa County's next vineyard appeal case

An appeal to the approval of the project brought by the Center for Biological Diversity was continued by the board of supervisors on 2/27/24 to a new date of 5/7/23.
Notice of Appeal Hearing

1/26/24
Laurie Claudon LTE 1/26/24: Vineyard project needs more transparency, scrutiny

This LTE from Laurie Claudon made me look up the project. I realized that Kellie Anderson brought up this project some time ago. (her 2021 EIR comment letters are here) She labeled it "a sleeper", and it has been; the FEIR was approved in November 2023 with no controversy at the same time the much smaller Le Colline vineyard rejection in August was still being mulled over in the press. It is a huge project and deserved much more scrutiny that it received.

I feel remiss in not having documented as it made its way through the meat grinder and will do so now.

Notice of Decision Letter 11/3/23
FEIR Documents (state website)
DEIR Documents (state website)
All documents (county website)
Notice of Preparation of Draft EIR 9/18/18

This is the the cover of the EIR. I can't help being struck by the beauty of the existing habitat that is about to be destroyed (similar to the photo on the Walt Ranch EIR). It's unclear what intention the consultants have in showing what is being lost as the roads are cut, the trees bulldozed, the prison of fences and trellises hammered in, the power poles and lines strung. It seems almost a perverse statement of their destructive intentions.

Walt Ranch and the Lands of Pedroza on: Walt Ranch


Bill Hocker - Feb 24,24  expand...  Share

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

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

DOJ investigates Napa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

napacountycash.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

"There's no direct benefit," he said
,

Move along, nothing to see here.

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

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

Napa County Code of Ethics 2005
Circle S Ranch DEIR 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Post 2/7/22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

Manfree/Mott fire discussion Feb 20 on: Campaign 2024


Bill Hocker - Feb 21,24  expand...  Share

2-18-24
Amber Manfree and Pete Mott will be discussing and taking questions about their approach to fire protection at a forum sponsored by the Atlas Peak Appeltion Association on Tuesday Februrary 20, 2024 from 6 to 8pm at the Vintners Court Room at the Silverado Resort.

The invitation is here and the event is open to everyone.

Update 2/21/24
I have received this email repost from one of the people at the event.

    "I went to the forum last night at Silverado Resort (ugh…).

    Mott, as always phoned it in and talked a lot but, didn’t say much in terms of original planning or thinking if he was elected.

    Amber got more comfortable as the event went on in delivering her priorities, and kicked ass towards the end when the audience engaged when she spoke about using her expertise and willingness to reach across the table to work on issues that impact everyone in the county. I even saw $upporter$ of Mott nodding in agreement when Amber was dropping some science!!! At the end, multiple people were waiting to speak with Amber, and Mott had very few people speaking with him, and left shortly after. Amber was literally the last person to leave the room, and even got stopped by one more person on the way out."

The NVR editorial board endorsement on: Campaign 2024


Bill Hocker - Feb 14,24  expand...  Share

2/14/24
NVR editorial board 2/14/24: Election 2024: Napa Valley Register county supervisor endorsements

Regarding the endorsement of Pete Mott over Amber Manfree:

    "In the end, the board believes whoever wins this race will well represent the district on the board. But it is a choice."

Why do they need to choose when one will represent as well as another? The big type face given to their chosen name implies a greater difference than their opinion suggests, and is a disservice to a candidate they consider equally qualified. There is no law that requires the board to pick one of the candidates.

    "Mott will likely be more open to development and business interests, while Manfree will likely lean toward preserving the area’s natural beauty - perhaps at the expense of those interests. Regardless, we believe both will forcefully protect the limits of the Agricultural Preserve, something voters in Napa County have long demanded of its leaders."

And the reason they chose Mr. Mott?

    "Despite all this, we choose Mott. We particularly liked the specificity of his plans regarding rural fire protection...."


Manfree property 2017Manfree property 2020
I think few people understand the issues of rural fire protection and the the county's dependence on Cal Fire better than Amber. Her family's property burned in the 1981, 2017 and 2020 fires. Those last two fires provided first hand, on the ground experience (including residents having to do their own firefighting) that will be invaluable in crafting the details of any fire plan the Board will produce.The business community yells the loudest given their losses in the glass fire and the hit on tourism, but residents have just as great a stake in fire protection. It is unlikely that the two candidates will differ in their efforts to maximize fire protection county-wide (unless, of course, the business community claims deforestation for vineyards is a fire protective strategy). Again it is a disservice to elevate one candidate over the other on this issue. It is a thin reed to use to justify appeasing the pro-development bent of the editorial board.

Inn at the Abbey on: The Hotel Binge


Bill Hocker - Dec 6,23  expand...  Share

Update 5/4/24
On 5/21/24 the Supes will be "considering" the proposed Development Agreement for the the project, a 79 unit hotel, staff housing and 5 residential units, taking public comment and giving direction to staff prior to the project being reviewed at the Planning Commisssion at a later date.
Hearing Notice
Project Documents

Update 12/5/23

NVR 12/6/23: Napa County supervisors see housing an issue for The Inn at the Abbey

Supes voted to have staff come back at beginning of year for another scoping session based on their comments. As with the Oak Knoll Hotel, Supes, led by Sup. Pedroza, saw the need to produce actual affordable housing (more commensurate with the number of added employees) as part of the project rather than just affordable housing fees. This is a hopeful trend in obtaining approvals, one that should also apply to wineryies. Tying the actual impacts of job creation to the projects that create those jobs would bring a much more deliberative process in the potential urbanization of the county.

Staff Agenda Letter
Video of 12/5/23 Board Meeting

Update 11/28/23
NVR 11/28/23: Proposed Napa Valley hotel near Freemark Abbey back in public arena

In their own scoping session, Supervisors will assess the project in consideration of a possible development agreement. If the project is realized it will be one more precedent on the road to a true Las Vegas of Wine where entertainment revenues totally eclipse the need to produce or sell wine.

Update 8/6/20
NVR 8/6/20: Napa County takes initial look at proposed Highway 29 hotel
8/5/20 PC meeting video
8/5/20 PC agenda and docs
Project Documents

7/31/20
A "scoping session" will be held by the Napa County Planning Commission on Aug 5, 2020 for The Inn at the Abbey, a resort project being developed as an extension of the Freemark Abbey north of St. Helena. The meeting agenda with project documents is here. The project will be presented, and the public and planning commissioners will have a chance to weigh in on the project prior to the Planning Department's preparation of an Environmental Impact Report.

Notice of Preparation of the Environmental Imapct Report

This is one of several projects under government review in which the wine industry is making its way into the hotel business. The Farmstead Hotel and the Hall Winery Hotel are also under review. In addition there are at least a couple of projects in which a winery is integral to the resort being developed: Marriott AC Hotel being developed with a winery next door. And the under development Calistoga Hills Resort bought the Reverie Winery and vineyards next door. And then, of course, there is the mammoth Guenoc Valley development proposed just over the county line.

The combination of wine making and hotel accommodation is a new paradigm in Napa County but also, in fact, just represents a continuum in the conversion wine production facilities into tourism venues, first with paid wine tasting and then with food service. Wineries are now only being built based on the tourism related "experiences" and income they produce. The incorporation of lodging into that "experience" is the next step. It is an ominous direction for those that feel that Napa County has already become overburdened by tourism impacts: traffic, housing shortages, loss of local businesses and small-town life.

There are well over 500 official wineries in Napa County. As more winery-hotel projects are realized, the wineries currently prohibited from increasing their revenue stream with overnight guests will agitate for the further loosening of the WDO, as they did for food service, to allow them to compete. Converting wineries into hotels puts Napa County on the road to become a wine-themed Las Vegas. It's easy to imagine what the Palazzo di Amorosa or The Prisoner Cells will be like. Considering how hard Napa has resisted the incursion of casinos into the county, it is odd that they seem to be so willing to consider this transformation.

George Caloyannidis, in a written comment for the scoping session, has asked county planners to consider the cumulative impacts of similar projects, existant and proposed, near the project as required by the State for the production of an Environmental Impact Report. It is an analysis often glossed over with token mitigations in the planning review resulting in a conclusion in the EIR of less-than-significant impacts. Yet the impacts of project after project being built in the county, bringing ever more visitors, employees, traffic, strain on services and resources, loss of rural character and small-town life, have begun to impact everyone that lives here - very significantly.
Caloyannidis Comment about cumulative impacts of resort projects

Small Winery Ordinance on: The Winery Glut


Bill Hocker - Nov 10,23  expand...  Share

Update11/10/23
WIN Advisor 11/8/23: Three Wineries Seek Federal & State Civil Rights Investigations
The Tentative Court decision
If the tentative decision become final, there will probably be further lawsuits challenging the County's long and torturous effort to insure that wineries are more about wine making than wine tourism. (Follow the Hoopes Saga here)

Update 4/4/20
Final Streamlining Ordinance
DP&F summary of ordinance
Administrative Use Permit modifications in Code
Administrative Permits for Wineries in Code

Update 2/8/20
Mike Hackett LTE 2/8/20: Small Winery ordinance only helps the big ones

Update 1/30/20
NVR 1/30/20: Napa County's winery streamlining plan faces legal threat
1/21/20: Water Audit Notice of Intended Litigation
1/28/20 BOS meeting video
1/28/20 BOS meeting agenda and docs
NVR 1/15/20: Napa County favors streamlining for some winery expansion requests

Update 12/23/19
NVR 12/23/19: Napa County Planning Commission favors winery streamlining
Video of the 12/19/19 Planning Commission meeting
Agenda and Documents

Update 10/18/19
NVR 10/18/19: Napa County works on permit streamlining for small wineries

Update 9/13/19
Dir. Morrison has released an update to the fast track ordinance for small wineries intended to enable small wineries to participate in the wine tourism economy without the enormous cost and time needed for the current use permit modification process. He is asking for public comments to be submitted by Oct. 4, 2019 (to David.Morrison@countyofnapa.org) and will present the ordinance and comments to the Supervisors on Oct 15, 2019.

Dir. Morrison's email and request for comments
Revised Outline of Ordinance

Update 7/18/19
NV2050 Letter to Dir. Morrison concerning the proposed ordinance

Update 6/24/19
NBBJ 6/24/19: Napa County creating special blend of regulations for small wineries

The note has been sent from Planning Director David Morrison to various stakeholder groups in the county to elicit comments on a proposed small winery definition ordinance:

From: Morrison, David
Sent: Thursday, June 20, 2019 5:05 PM
Subject: Small Winery Protection and Use Permit Streamlining Ordinance

On May 21, 2019, the Board of Supervisors directed staff to prepare an outline for discussion of a future ordinance focused on four areas:

  • Protect small wineries by allowing them to reasonably expand their business through the use permit process, in a way that isn’t cost and time prohibitive;

  • Create a path that allows facilities operating under a Small Winery Exemption to transition so that they can fairly compete in the modern economy;

  • Streamline the use permit modification process, so that County resources can be focused on more complex projects and policy issues; and

  • Provide incentives for wineries to expand operations in the Airport Industrial Area Specific Plan (AIASP), to relieve traffic up valley and create shorter commutes for out-of-county employees.

A draft outline of an ordinance to accomplish these goals is attached here.

You are being provided this outline as one of our key stakeholder groups. Your comments on this draft proposal would be greatly appreciated.

The draft outline, as modified by any public feedback, is tentatively scheduled to go back to the Board of Supervisors in late July for additional direction.

Please provide your organization's comments to me by July 11, so that they can be incorporated into the staff report when this item goes back to the Board.

I am also available to meet with your group and discuss the outline anytime within the next three weeks and welcome the opportunity to discuss with you.

A draft ordinance is expected to go to the Planning Commission for recommendation in October, and to the Board for adoption in November.

I know that we all have busy schedules and vacations this time of year. Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.

Respectfully,
David


Update 5/23/19
NVR 5/23/19: Small wineries plead for regulatory relief from Napa County

Good luck coming up with an ordinance based on the free-for-all of ideas thrown out at the meeting, many requiring changes to the WDO, the General Plan EIR and the entire winery regulatory regimen of the last 50 years.

Update 5/16/19
In the glow of positive public reaction to the Matthiasson Family Winery at the 5/15/19 Planning Commission, the BOS is going to take up the issue of the small winery ordinance again at their 5/21/19 meeting. The Staff letter is here.

While the emphasis seems to be on simplifying the process for the approval of small wineries, there is still the unresolved question of what the definition of a small winery is. In Napa county 30,000 gal/yr is a medium-sized winery. 60% of the wineries in Napa county are 30,000gal or smaller. The proposed 9800 visitors/yr to be allowed for small wineries (an approximation assuming half of the proposed 40 vehicle trips/day are visitor's cars+events) would be many times the median visitation of existing wineries that are 30,000 gal or smaller. Meaning that the impact of fast-tracking is not to encourage more wine making (it would just redistribute the existing Napa wine output to a greater number of makers), but to encourage more wine tourism venues and more urbanization to accommodate a larger tourist population.

Actually, the Matthiasson approval shows that the current review process can be expeditious for small wineries - as long as the proposals are appropriate for the communities in which they are located. The multi-year battles that some wineries are experiencing in obtaining approval are a direct result of the scale of the disruptive industrial and commercial impacts that they will bring to bucolic rural farming neighborhoods. A fast track process is a developers' (or realtors') solution to put small winery development beyond the reach of community participation; a willingness and mechanism to achieve community consensus about appropriate scale, beyond just telling residents and developers to work it out between themselves, is needed instead.

NV2050 Newsletter on the proposal

Update 11/5/17
Eve Kahn sent along this update on the decision to table the ordinance:
"David Morrison was reviewing staff priorities with the board in late Sept and when Limited Winery Ordinance was discussed the board opted to table it to an unknown date. Diane felt that this was a solution looking for a problem - and was definitely not what she expected or wanted to see.

SO - bottom line, between given a low priority prior to the firestorm and more pressing issues at hand - this one is off the radar for now."

Update 8/14/17
NVR 8/14/17: Obscure Napa County position may play a bigger winery growth role

Update 8/11/17
[In response to questions from Chris Malan, Planning Dir. David Morrison elaborated on the process that the Limited Winery Ordinance will endure through the county meat grinder]

    Date: August 11, 2017 at 6:14 AM! PDT

    Chris,

    Thank you for the inquiry.

    No, a CEQA document has not been prepared as of yet. This comment period is solely to obtain public input and concerns regarding the proposed ordinance.

    After the additional 45-day review period has been completed, staff will revise the draft ordinance, incorporating public comments where appropriate. The revised draft ordinance will then be used as the project for preparing a CEQA document, which will have a separate public comment period. In addition, the public will have opportunities to comment at public hearings before both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.

    I hope you find this helpful in clarifying the status of the current review period. If you have any further questions, please let me know.

    Respectfully,

    David

8/4/17
NVR 7/8/17: Napa County eyes streamlining approval process for smaller wineries

Proposed Limited Winery Ordinance
Dir. Morrison's request for comments.
Local Procedures for Implementing CEQA (CEQA sm. winery def. see appendix B, #10)

What can one say? The County is issuing use permits for new wineries at the rate of one a month (and increases to existing wineries at two per month) even with Planning Commission review. Apparently that is still not fast enough to keep up with developer's desire to profit from an expanding tourism economy and booming real estate market. The County wants to streamline the process, providing an easier avenue for speculators to increase resale value with "winery-ready" properties. Not one more gallon of Napa wine will be added to the county's "wine industry" (producing acreage hasn't budged in the last 10 years despite some 100 new winery approvals), just more luxury estates and tourism venues. This is not about affordable small "family" wineries. It's about expediting a real estate strategy targeting wealthy vanity investors.

One can see the problem from the County's standpoint: The amount of pushback from citizens who will be negatively impacted by all of the proposed development is bogging down a process whose purpose is to allow public participation. The solution proposed is to reduce the visibility and amount of public input in the process.

The Planning Commission is a public event. Its meetings are predictable and previewed on the county's website and in the Register. Its proceedings are broadcast and a video archive is retained. The county claims that the public will have a similar opportunity to vet projects being presented to the Zoning Administrator. But notification will only go to residents within 1000' of the project. No previews in a public calendar. And likely no mention in the Register. It will then be up to a neighbor to make the project known to a wider audience, a daunting task for some. Once the hearing is done, no record beyond brief meeting minutes will be available for review. But the collective changes that these projects bring, with increased tourism throughout the remote areas of the county and the expansion of taxpayer-funded infrastructure to accommodate an ever increasing number of tourists and employees, will affect the county as a whole, not just the immediate neighbors.

As a recent article on Visit Napa Valley highlights, county and municipal governments seem to see a "growth" economy based on tourism as the prime objective of planning decisions. As we have seen in all meetings throughout the last few years, the county is unwilling to seriously consider the increasing cumulative impacts of growth that have led to so much citizent opposition. In this proposal, conceding to the demands of the development industries, they wish to make the opposition more difficult.

The County's continued promotion of building projects and the resulting impacts on traffic, affordable housing, community character, infrastructure and service demands, the physical landscape and resource sustainability, run counter to the County's stated image of itself in the first paragraph of its Vision Statement in the Napa County General Plan:

    "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."

Many county residents, seeing the urbanization taking place before their eyes, no longer feel that vision is being supported by their government, and they should be allowed to conscientiously make their voices heard. In a public forum.

The question the County should be addressing is not how the approval of building projects can be streamlined to increase the pace of urban development. The question should be how to scale back the amount of development being proposed, as previous governments and citizens have done with the Ag Preserve, zoning ordinances and initiatives, to insure that Napa remains a rural, agricultural place to be treasured in the future. Fast-tracking building projects (much like pretending that building projects are "agriculture") is not the answer.

7/29/17 LTE version: Fast tracking Napa County wineries isn't the answer


NVR 10/2/15: Planners look at fast-tracking small wineries

Note the difference between the 2015 and the current proposal: the requirement that grapes must come from the property has been eliminated. Wineries can be approved under the new proposal on properties having no vineyard potential (like The Caves); a lease on grapes (currently leased by someone else, no doubt) suffices. There is no mention of use-permit revocation in the ordinance, so presumably the lease may be sold as soon as the winery is approved.

Comments

George Caloyannidis - Jul 10, 2017 7:50AM

[Comment submission to Dir. Morrison re limited winery ordinance]

Dear David,

Attached is my revised comment on the Limited Winery Ordinance.
I revised Section "H" with a calculation of visitors this Ordinance would permit which is so staggering that one has to indeed wonder what thought if any is behind it.

George

Small Winery Ordinance Comment

And Divid Morrison's response:

From: Morrison, David [mailto:David.Morrison@countyofnapa.org]
Sent: Wednesday, August 02, 2017 1:14 AM
Subject: RE: SMALL WINERY ORDINANCE

George,

With all due respect, I strongly disagree with several of the statements made in your letter.

A. There is a policy reason for the draft ordinance. It says so in the third paragraph of the ordinance recitals, where it states: 'Action Item AG/LU-16.1 directs that consideration be given to amendments to the Zoning Ordinance that define "small wineries," a "small quantity of wine," "small marketing events," and "mostly grown on site," and establishes a streamlined permitting process for small wineries which retains the requirement for a use permit when the winery is in proximity to urban areas. In turn, the Action Item implements Policy AG/LU-16, which states:

In recognition of their limited impacts, the County will consider affording small wineries a streamlined permitting process. For purposes of this policy, small wineries are those that produce a small quantity of wine using grapes mostly grown on site and host a limited number of small marketing events each year.

The County's intent and purpose in considering this ordinance is clear. It is to amend the County Code and create a simpler permit review process that reflects the limited impacts of smaller wineries. You may not agree with the policy, but the basis for this action does not require any surmise.

I would also point out that the proposed ordinance does not minimize either public scrutiny or the CEQA process. Applications considered under the draft ordinance would still be subject to CEQA review. They may obtain a Categorical Exemption, if they qualify, as they may currently do under the adopted Local CEQA Guidelines. If they do not qualify for a Cat Ex, then a Negative Declaration, Mitigated Negative Declaration, or EIR will be prepared, as is appropriate. The draft ordinance would not change CEQA review in any way. Similarly, applications under the draft ordinance would still be noticed to all neighboring property owners within 1,000 feet of the project, still be noticed in the newspaper, and would be considered in a public hearing, where interested parties may testify, and any resulting decision may be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. The draft ordinance would not minimize public scrutiny in any way.

B. There appears to be a misunderstanding. The provisions of the draft ordinance would be available to all wineries that meet the qualifying criteria, whether they are newly established or are already established and want to modify their existing use permit within the constraints of the definition of a limited winery. To do otherwise, would create an unfair advantage for one class of business over another.

C. Why is 30,000 gallons considered a small (or in this case limited) winery? Because that is how they are defined in Napa County's Local Procedures for Implementing CEQA. Appendix B, Class 3, Subsection 10 states:

Construction and operation of small wineries, other agricultural processing facilities, and farm management uses that:
(a) are less than 5,000 square feet in size excluding caves;
(b) will involve either no cave excavation, or excavation sufficient to create no more than 5,000 additional square feet with all of the excavated cave spoils to be used on site;
(c) will produce 30,000 gallons or less per year;
(d) will generate less than 40 vehicle trips per day and 5 peak hour trips except on those days when marketing events are taking place;
(e) will hold no more than 10 marketing events per year, each with no more than 30 attendees, except for one wine auction event with up to 100 persons in attendance; AND
(f) will hold no temporary events.

As for national metrics, wine economists generally categorize wineries as follows:

Large - 500,000 cases and up (1,2 million gallons)
Medium - 50,000 cases to 500,000 cases (120,000 - 1.2 million gallons)
Small - 5,000 cases to 50,000 cases (12,000 - 120,000 gallons)
Very Small - 1,000 cases to 5,000 cases (2,400 - 12,000 gallons)
Limited - less than 1,000 cases (under 2,400 gallons)

By this standard also, 30,000 gallons is considered a small winery.

D. The focus of the draft ordinance is to provide some relief to small and family-owned businesses. If there are many such businesses, should they be denied relief simply because of their number, or should policy instead be based on their circumstances?

For clarification sake, about 1/3 of the wineries listed on the Napa County database would fall within the criteria of the draft ordinance. While there are more wineries that produce under 30,000 gallons, about 70 of those wineries have buildings, caves, visitation levels, or marketing events that exceed the definition of a "limited winery."

E. I don't agree that there is a contradiction. If wineries were to take advantage of the draft ordinance (should it be adopted) to increase production to 30,000 gallons, they would still be small wineries. There is only a contradiction if you define a small winery as having much lower production. I do not share that perspective.

F. Once again, I have to disagree. The cumulative impacts of winery development was already evaluated in the General Plan EIR, which was certified in 2008. Each winery permitted under the draft ordinance would undergo appropriate project-specific CEQA review. The draft ordinance does not allow any additional winery development not already anticipated in the General Plan. In fact, as stated previously, the draft ordinance is a direct implementation of the General Plan. Additional cumulative CEQA review of the draft ordinance is not required, in my opinion.

G. See F above.

H. See F above.

I. With regards to justifying the consideration of the draft ordinance, that was part of the policy debate regarding the General Plan in 2008. The purpose of the General Plan is to provide a set of policies under which the County would operate over the following 25 years. That is why adopting comprehensive General Plan updates is such a lengthy and expensive process. If you believe that circumstances have changed since 2008, you may want to request that the Board amend the General Plan to delete Policy AG/LU-16. Again, you may not agree with the idea, but an adopted policy carries significant legal weight.

If you are suggesting that the production level for limited wineries in the draft ordinance could be reduced to 15,000 or 20,000 gallons annually, I agree. The 30,000 gallon criterion was initially offered as a starting point for public discussion, but one that was consistent with the adopted Local CEQA Guidelines. Others have also suggested a lower threshold. The Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors are free to use an alternate metric.

J. Once again, I have to disagree. Length of time in permit review does not necessarily equate to public benefit. Staff is required to follow State law, which includes the Permit Streamlining Act. There is a balance between the exercise of private property rights and public interest. This ordinance would continue to provide full public review and participation for the review of development applications.

The draft ordinance would not permit any greater level of winery development than is already allowed under the General Plan, which evaluated the cumulative impacts of winery and vineyard development between 2005 and 2030. As this ordinance would not increase that potential, further cumulative analysis is not required.

The Zoning Administrator would not become a "winery czar," any more than the Planning Commission could be described as such. The Zoning Administrator currently makes decisions regarding Use Permit Modifications, Variances, Certificates of Non-Conformance, and other applications. This would be similar to the Administrator's existing duties. The Administrator's decisions may be appealed to the Board of Supervisors, who ultimately is responsible for setting policy in the County.

As always, I am happy to discuss these issues and welcome constructive dialogue towards developing a better draft ordinance.

Thank you for you comments.

Respectfully,

David

And George Caloyannidis' response

Sent: Wednesday, August 02, 2017 11:37 AM
To: 'Morrison, David'
Subject: FW: SMALL WINERY ORDINANCE

Thank you David.

Your statements are technically correct as they reflect the provisions of the Ordinance which are already known. However, they neither refute or specifically address mine because by their nature, they try to show the shortcomings of the Ordinance. Specifically, your statements do not provide answers to the points I presented.

• They do not explain the rationale for the need of the Ordinance other than to make things easier for applicants.

• They do not explain by what standard (or reason) a 30,000 gallon production winery is a new "small" one when 52% of all existing wineries in the county produce less.

• They fail to explain why potential quantifying data have not been presented to the Planning Commission.

• They do not explain why potential impacts of the Ordinance have not been presented to the Planning Commission or even a suggestion by staff that there may be worthy of consideration.
• They fail to explain which specific provisions of the Ordinance are the ones which facilitates its "streamlining". What specifically has been eliminated from the current process and what is its downside?

Maintaining that the Administrator's decisions may still be appealed to the BOS is correct but let's stop trying to hide the fact that it facilitates a process by which many of his/hers decisions will occur under the public's radar. Unless you can explain otherwise, this is the main instrument behind the "streamlining" of the process.

The 1,000 foot notification radius is grossly insufficient. Has staff tried to put the adequacy of such radius into perspective? For example, how many property owners would be notified if some of the randomly selected wineries below would apply?

Colgin (20,000)
Dalla Valle (20,000)
Diamond Mountain (10,000)
Kongsgaard (12,000)
Mayacamas (5,000)
Saddleback (8,000)
Signorello (20,000)
Titus (25,000)

Does Staff seriously believe that a 1,000 foot radius is sufficient to serve the public interest? Or does this number prove my point?

But the main concerns is the roundabout way by which this Ordinance will have advanced the Napa county CEQA baseline (traffic, water etc.) without CEQA review.

Your response does not address how an Ordinance which has the potential to incrementally add 3,564,277 gallons of production to the EXISTING "small" wineries, add 7,931 acres of vineyards plus 3,248,628 annual visitors is not cause for alarm meriting responsible environmental review. Mind you, this does NOT include special event visits NOR the impacts of NEW "small" winery streamlined applications, the number of which staff has also failed to make a credible effort to quantify.

These are massive numbers with potentially profound cumulative impacts - none of which were presented to the Planning Commission or the BOS for consideration - but obvious to any thinking person. They are so obvious that it is hard to hide the agenda driving this Ordinance by disingenuously hiding it under the innocent clothing of "SMALL".

George

PS: When will the Ordinance be heard by the BOS?


The Ellman Winery on: Soda Canyon Road


Bill Hocker - Nov 10,23  expand...  Share

Update 11/10/23
Another tourist attraction and more traffic coming to Soda Canyon Road.

Update 1/18/23
In a brief PC hearing on 1/18/23, the modifications were approved 3-0.

One neighbor brought up the logical problem that moving the entrance to Soda Canyon Road will exacerbate the traffic at an intersection that is already at level F and already requires a traffic signal according to county road and street standards. The developer's traffic engineer responded to her concern by saying it was true that a signal was needed at the intersection but was told by the county that no signals would be approved on the Silverado Trail so just go ahead and increase the traffic. At some point, as the County continues to approve more and more projects making all those intersections more dangerous, the family of someone killed trying to get out on to the Trail will sue the county for their disregard for public safety.

The neighbor also pointed out that access to the winery from the Silverado Trail driveway, which now has a left turn specifically for the property, would be just as convenient as the SCR access (and allow for more vineyard north of the winery) thus eliminating the additional traffic at the SCR stop sign.

To no avail.

Update 7/23/21 Ellman Winery Modification
The Ellmans are expanding their winery property to the north and will now have an access directly off Soda Canyon Road.
County Notice of intent
Documents for the Modification

The property was formerly Soda Canyon Elementary School decommissioned in 1989. It was bought in the 2000's by a farm equipment collector and "Don't Tread on Me" patriot, and sold to the Ellmans for $2.7 million in April 2020. The school property will now be subdivided and the large field on its east side combined with the existing Ellman property by lot line adjustment. The reduced property containing the former school buildings will remain a residence.

Update 10/7/19
NVR 10/87/19: Proposed Ellman Family Winery wins county approval

The Ellman Winery was approved by the Planning Commission on Oct 2nd. There was no opposition, with the adjacent neighbors in support. Commissioners agreed this is just the type of "family" winery that they wish to encourage. There are now 8 wineries within a quarter mile of the entrance to Soda Canyon Road, 6 of them yet to be built.

Ellman and Reynolds will go together on the widening of the Trail to 3 lanes. Once the remaining wineries are built, 2 miles of the Trail will probably have become a three-lane highway - a harbinger for the expansion of the rest of the Trail as more wineries are added.

Following a several-month hiatus on winery approvals, the planning commission docket is once again stuffed with winery proposals for the foreseeable future. As Geoff Ellsworth's potential winery map shows, filling up all 4000+ suitable properties with family wineries may take a while - but the process is proceeding as rapidly as possible.

Update 9/11/19
The Ellman Winery is up for review at the Planning Commission on 10/2/19; another tourist venue to be added to the winery strip mall developing at the base of Soda Canyon Road. As I have noted before, this stretch of the Trail is a harbinger of what the rest of the Trail will become as the winery applications keep coming.

The Ellman driveway is in a particularly egregious location: turning left onto the Trail from Soda Canyon Road can be a hair-raising prospect with heavy 55mph traffic, and pushed acceleration after making the turn is essential. Yet just a hundred feet up the road people may be making their own left turn (having seen the same hole in the traffic that you saw) from the Ellman driveway right in front of you while you're accelerating. It's a recipe for disaster.


1/11/19
Yet another winery has been proposed at the Soda Canyon Junction. As I have lamented in "The end of the trail" the winery congestion at the Soda Canyon intersection with the Trail has been a particular concern both on the impact in this one corner of the county and as a harbinger of and prototype for continued winery development on every possible parcel in the county. And the eventual demise of the Trail as an iconic piece of Napa landscape.

The County's Ellman page is here and I will continue to follow the project as it makes its way through the Planning Commission.

As usual with current winery proposals, the visitation request is modest. Given community pushback in the last few years, becoming established with low numbers and then ramping up with future requests seems an easier route than starting out at full ambition.

The production request of 30,000 gal/yr (above the median size of 20,000 gal for wineries in the county) also seems to be the current starting number for new wineries. It represents perhaps 4 times the amount of wine that can be produced from the 14 acre site. There's a logic to allow larger capacity on small sites because, in theory, fewer wineries need to be built to process the Napa grape crop. The reality is, however, that there is already enough winery capacity in the county to process all available Napa grapes several times over. This winery, like most other being approved, will make wine from vines that are currently used by some other winery. It will add only another building to the Napa landscape and no more wine to the Napa wine industry.

Note that in terms of the real wine industry, Ellman, like Mountain Peak proposed next to me, already makes wine and markets it through tasting rooms in town and in online portals. The Mountain Peak brand is also marketed through a distributer. None of these projects are about making wine - they are about catering to more profitable (and/or ego boosting) entertainment uses.

Unfortunately, by ignoring the reality that these projects would probably not be built without the justification of the profitability of direct-to-consumer "experiences", the County is continuing to promote the urbanizing impacts that the tourism industry is having on county infrastructure, resources and quality of life.

House or winery?
The Ellman Winery proposal also highlights another issue: The very un-residential Ellman house that has been under construction on the site this last year is an unfortunate example that treating homes differently from wineries in terms of setbacks and coverage and community review is as destructive as winery development to the rural character that the county claims to protect. I know that in the past efforts have been made link the two types of building projects under one set of ordinances when it comes to their impact on the land, and I hope the County is continuing with those efforts. The purpose of the winery ordinances to protect Napa's rural character is a mockery if homes, many as large as a winery, can continue to be built ignoring those protections.

Le Colline Vineyard on: Watershed Issues


Bill Hocker - Nov 8,23  expand...  Share

lt green: vineyard block reduction in approved proposal
Update 11/8/23
NVR 11/8/23: Napa County explains controversial Le Colline vineyard rejection
Frances Tinney LTE 11/6/23: Le Colline denial isn’t a rebuke of Napa's ag heritage
Sierra Club LTE 9/8/23: Napa Sierra Club supports Le Colline decision

Update 8/21/23
NVR 8/21/23: After rejection of Le Colline, what does the future hold for Napa County vineyard plans?

I finally had the chance to look at the hearing video. I was quite struck by the amount of vehement opposition, worthy almost of a Walt Ranch hearing - including t-shirts! I was also a bit dismayed by the apocalyptic language and the demonization of the developers who were, in fact, proposing a project no different than the many unopposed lifestyle vineyards that already surround Angwin. A little more appreciation of how quickly the zeitgeist and reality has changed due to climate catastrophe would have been welcome.

The significant pushback had much to do, no doubt, with the organizing efforts of the Save Napa Valley Foundation which hopefully will be instrumental in promoting the county's rapid shift to sustainable conservation and away from entrepreneurial economic growth as we move into the next General Plan cycle.

Update 8/15/23
The appeal was upheld on the basis of biological impacts, potential erosion impacts, and non-consideration of tree burning in GHG analysis!

NVR 8/15/23: Napa County rules against Le Colline vineyard
Video of the hearing
Caloyannidis LTE 8/18/23: Supervisors made the right call in rejecting Le Colline
Napa County Farm Bureau response

The Board, reconfigured from patriarchy into matriarchy by the arrival two new members at the beginning of 2023, has made its first major land use decision concerning the ongoing deforestation of Napa County for vineyard use. It may (or may not) represent a watershed moment, so to speak, in the approach the County is willing to use to address climate change. Thus far the county's response to climate change has been a slow-walk for years through committee hearings and reports, all while the county burns and the watertable sinks. Putting a hold on vineyard development in the forested hills, thus mitigating the GHG's emitted and groundwater depleted by such projects, is a first concrete action in the right direction. The decision was 3-2 with Sups. Cottrell, Gallagher and Ramos backing the appeal and Sups. Gregory and Pedroza for denial.

The findings to uphold the appeal will be finalized by the BOS on Nov 7, 2023.

Update 7/25/23
Le Colline Appeal Notice
CBD summary of appeal
Save Napa Valley hearing email
Objection correspondence

The Appeal Hearing will be held on Aug 15, 2023 in the BOS Chambers. Submit comments by email, letter or verbally at the hearing. Form letter, email addresses, contact and location info is on the SNV email.

Update 4/15/23
NVR 4/15/23: Napa County fight over Le Colline vineyard to continue
Mike Hackett LTE 4/16/23: Le Colline vineyard developer’s classic greenwashing

Update 3/25/23 Project Approval
Notice of Administrative Decision to certify La Colline FEIR and approve ECP

Project Documents on Project Explorer
As usual these documents will be lost to easy retrieval once the project disappears from the Current Projects list.

Rather that approve the "environmentally superior" alternative among the three alternatives to the project originally proposed in the DEIR, the County approved the environmentally not-quite-superior alternative, called the "Increased Water Quality and Sensitive Habitat Alternative" which reduced the acerage disturbed by 5+ acres for a total deforestation of about 28.5 acres. Almost universally in these EIR's , the "environmentally superior alternative", as here, is the "No Project Alternative", ie just leaving the existing state alone. It shows how little governments are concerned about the long term health of our environment when they routinely recognize that development projects are detrimental to that environment but approve them anyway because enabling capitalism is more important than life on earth - a truth more apparent with each new climate catastrophe.

Update 1/9/23
NVR 1/9/23: Napa County decision on proposed Le Colline vineyard coming
County FEIR documents (viewable on fewer and fewer browsers)

Update 2/18/19
Comment deadline extended to Mon., Feb 25, 2019, 5:00pm.

NVR 2/18/19: Napa Open Space District suggests improvements to vineyard project

2/7/19
A vineyard development at the southern edge of Angwin has been making its way through the county meat grinder for a couple of years now. The Le Colline Vineyard ECP and DEIR calls for the clearing of a wooded hillside with a flat topped knob (Le Colline) just south of Angwin. (map) The vineyard will consume much of a watershed that adds to the popular natural attraction of the Linda Falls Preserve before heading down Conn Creek to Hennessey Reservoir and the taps of Napa city residents. It will also consume a fair number of trees that will be cleared in a timber harvesting operation. This was one of the projects that convinced CalFire to turn over control of Timber Harvest Plans to the County in 2017 (see here). Access to the vineyard will be off the dead-end Cold Springs Road, a community already concerned over the threat of the Aloft Winery proposed at the end of the road.

A Draft Environmental Impact Report has been prepared for the project and public comments have been requested on the DEIR. The deadline for public comments is Mon, February 25, 2019, 5:00pm.
NV2050 Elaine De Man: Le Colline Vineyard Conversion, Public Comment Suggestions

Comments should be directed to:

Brian Bordona, Supervising Planner
Napa County Planning, Building, and Environmental Services Department
1195 Third Street, 2nd Floor
Napa, CA 94559
Email: Brian.Bordona@countyofnapa.org
Phone: (707) 259-5935

Documents:
The County's Le Colline ECPA documents page is here
DEIR Notice of Availability
The DEIR document is here

Articles:
SRC 3/9/17: Deforestation leader: CalFire or County?
NVR 3/8/17: Cal Fire shifts timber harvest permits to Napa County
James Conaway's Nose blog 10/9/16: Fish biologist Patrick Higgins Comments on Le Colline
Deborah Leidig LTE 5/16/16: Let the valley soil host the vines
NVR 5/9/16: Angwin land in the bull's-eye yet again

More needs to be done to protect groundwater on: Watershed Issues


Daniel Mufson - Oct 17,23  expand...  Share

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are endowed with certain inalienable rights…among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness and, an adequate supply of fresh water.”

Recent articles have described the uncontrolled growth of wine tourism in Napa. The county does not seem to track cumulative impacts of this growth on traffic, greenhouse gas emissions or water usage. There is not a firm understanding of how much groundwater is stored in the valley floor, nor any clear idea about the capacity of the watersheds. However, there is now an understanding that we are currently using groundwater at an unsustainable rate.

To remedy our situation, studies will be called for, new wells dug to judge water levels, but still there is no clear data on how much water is used and by whom. Until recently, the general rule has been that each parcel can use an acre foot (about 326,000 gallons) per acre to irrigate or process wine, but in January 2022, as a part of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan approved the California Department of Water Resources, that rule was modified to limit use of new wells on the valley floor to 0.3 af per acre. Domestic wells are considered de minimis users and are exempt from this ruling.

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Although this change in law limits the pumping of new wells, it does little to regulate the numerous wells on the valley floor already in operation. One property can use more water than an adjacent property just because of the date its well was drilled, and a property can use so much water that the water table drops, depriving neighbors of water, even if that pumping is allowed by the existing regulations. This is the lesson of “The Tragedy of the Commons.” The tragedy of the commons refers to a situation in which individuals with access to a public resource (also called a common) act in their own interest and, in doing so, ultimately deplete the resource.

A recent New York Times study of the aquifers in United States warns that we are using more water than can be restored, and, as a result, we are running out of water. Agriculture is the main user. In Napa County, agriculture uses up to 72% of the known groundwater.

It is long past due that Napa Country should require water meters on all wells along with an automated meter reading (AMR) and real-time consumption data. Joy Eldredge, manager of the city of Napa's water supply department, stated this two years ago when serving on the Ground Water Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee: “To ensure a sustainable groundwater supply, outflow and recharge must be quantified. It is difficult to comprehend long-term management of the resource so long as the extraction and use of the resource is not understood.” “We simply cannot accurately study what we do not adequately measure.”

Sadly, Ms. Eldredge’s thoughtful, intelligent presentation was moved to the end of several meeting agendas and somehow not gotten to, for several sessions and then shortened. This critical concept seems to be anathema to Napa Country and some in the agricultural community. This attitude is foolish!" it’s akin to having a family checking account without any controls on who is writing checks.

Groundwater agencies in Sonoma, Santa Cruz and others have come to realize the need to meter and report all non-domestic wells:

Collection and reporting of well flow data are integral to enable proactive and adaptive management of groundwater resources and documentation of seasonal fluctuation in water demand. This data is more accurate than evapotranspiration estimates and will provide additional data for model calibration. In addition to providing an estimate of groundwater production, groundwater flow data may be used by the CBGSA in conjunction with groundwater level data to improve understanding of groundwater basin conditions. This is especially important for sustainable regional management of groundwater resources.

That makes sense. Any thinking person knows that metering is necessary to ensure reasonable and fair sharing of this life-giving resource. So when will Napa County do the right thing? Are they really going to wait until 2040?

NVR Version 10/14/23: More needs to be done to protect groundwater

Napa Groundwater Sustainability Plan on: Watershed Issues


Bill Hocker - Aug 24,23  expand...  Share

Click for 2022 Annual Sustainability Report
Update 8/24/23

NVR 8/24/23: Napa County supervisors take on groundwater issues
8/22/23 BOS meeting video
Grand Jury 6/21/23 Report on Groundwater Sustainability
Response to be discussed at 8/22/23 BOS meeting.


Update 3/28/23
NVR 3/28/23: Napa Valley groundwater pumping exceeds sustainable yield

Update 1/26/23
NVR 1/26/23: California approves Napa Valley groundwater plan

Update 9/6/22
NV2050 9/6/22: The Napa County GSA Appoints:"Technical Advisors" or "Industry Lobbyists"?

Update 5/9/22
NV2050: "My well is running dry"

Napa Vision 2050 unearths the County's current magical thinking and buried data in their Groundwater Sustainability Plan.

Update 4/22/22
Dan Mufson sends this article that parallels Napa County's own sinking groundwater situation.

NVR 4/22/22: Can the Paso Robles wine industry continue to thrive as groundwater levels fall?

Update 3/23/22
NVR 3/24/22: Napa County raises red flags on groundwater

The 2021 Groundwater Sustainability Report was presented by PBES to the Supervisors at their 3/22/22 meeting (Staff agenda letter is here). From the Agenda Letter:

"As a result of the current prolonged and increasing drought conditions, and as documented in the GSP Annual Report attached, the Minimum Thresholds for the following Sustainability Indicators have been exceeded:
1. Chronic groundwater decline;
2. Reduction in groundwater storage;
3. Depletion of interconnected surface water;
4. Land subsidence; "

Until now previous studies have indicated that the amount of groundwater available for the water needs of Napa county businesses and residents has been just sufficient for our needs. The county has always patted itself on its back over its conservation policies intended to insure the availability of water for its agricultural industry (while the central valley runs dry and sinks). This report comes as a surprise to all -- except, of course, the county's environmental activist community that has been predicting it for years. And 2022, as we all recognize, is not going to improve the outlook. This is probably a first indication that not only will current water practices have to be reviewed and perhaps curtailed, but that all future building and vineyard development in the county will now be evaluated on a realistic evaluation of their impact on an already exceeded supply of groundwater.

For those of us in the watersheds who have seen wells or springs go dry in the last few years, this study leaves a huge hole in the analysis. It only looks at the water conditions in the "Napa Valley Subbasin", ie the valley floor.

From the report:
    "Conditions that may lead to an UR [undesirable result, ie not enough water] due to reductions of groundwater storage include increased groundwater extraction without offsetting increases in groundwater recharge, which could result from:
    • Prolonged drought conditions, such as drought conditions exceeding the severity and duration of historical droughts, and
    • Reduced surface water supply availability due to physical, legal, or other constraints."

These conclusions are based on an agricultural base in the valley which has actually declined in acreage since 1987. Hence no mention of additional irrigated acreage, the largest consumer of groundwater, as contributing to the "UR".

For some reason that I still don't understand, the analysis of groundwater in the subbasin doesn't seem to consider changes in the mountainous watersheds that supply water to the basin. And the amount of vineyard acreage added in the watersheds above the valley in that period is substantial (for example rector watershed). Somehow an assumption is made that the vast amount of groundwater extracted for watershed vineyards is unrelated to the amount of groundwater that eventually reaches the subbasin, and is not indicated as contributing to the "UR". This is a perplexing conclusion. The entirety of groundwater sucking vineyards created in Napa County the last 20 years has been in areas not defined by the Subbasin. And those areas are excluded form the Napa County Groundwater Sustainability Plan (including the foreground vineyard on the GSP Report cover). A great mystery.

[3/31/22: Amber Manfree, our resident scientist and member of the GSP committee, has attempted to dispel the mystery. Projections of water use in the GSP Report are made using the Napa Valley Hydrologic Model, a complex mathematical algorithm that takes into account the many variables that affect and will affect the amount of groundwater under the Napa Valley. The amount of water pumped from watershed aquifers is actually a part of that calculation. And the conclusion drawn by varying watershed vineyard acreage in the model is that watershed pumping has very little impact; the overwhelming amount of water that replenishes the subbasin is surface water that flows from the watersheds in streams and dam spillways.

As I have noted elsewhere, the Rector watershed is now at 21% vineyard coverage, while the county's other watersheds are at 8% coverage. It would be somewhat comforting to have the model calculate a 21% coverage for the entire Napa river watershed to verify that watershed pumping will remain insignificant.]

Update 1/14/22
NVR 1/13/22: Napa County approves groundwater plan - but there's more to come

Update 12/11/21
Letters of concern about the Groundwater Sustainability Plan may be submitted until 12/14/21 at 5:00pm. Letters my be submitted to David.Morrison@countyofnapa.org
NV2050 exhortation to submit letters

NVR 12/8/21: Napa County's groundwater protection plan draws mixed reviews
NVR 12/3/21: Napa County unveils groundwater strategy

On 12/7/21 the County BOS, in their capacity as the Napa Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA), met to consider transmittal of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) to the CA Dept of Water Resources, as-is or with edits. (See Item 12A of the meeting agenda here)

The draft sections of the GSP are here.

Four members of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee (GSPAC) are not in support of recommending the current draft of the GSP to the Agency for review because it fails to adequately protect environmental users of groundwater from adverse impacts. Their letter is here.

Also:
NV2050 Eyes on Napa 12/3/21: Voices From the Committee (Extensive interviews with committee members on their takeaways from the process).
Eve Kahn for NV2050 LTE, 12/1/21: Napa’s water: a dangerously flawed plan

Update 11/24/21
Gary Margadant has issued a public rebuke to the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee over member, and Napa City Water Manager, Joy Eldridge's sidelining in committee meetings.
Gary Margadant LTE 11/23/21: Why treat a water manager so poorly?
GSPAC agenda and video page

Update 10/13/21
Water Audit California has uploaded videos of the first two public meetings presented by the County on the Draft Groundwater Sustainability Plan. Links to the videos are here.

The County has added agendas, PowerPoints, and participant Q&A's from the presentations on their meeting page here.

Pam Smithers LTE 10/13/21: Some steps to protect our groundwater

Update 9/20/21
NVR 9/18/21: Napa County's groundwater plans moving to spotlight
NVR 9/20/21: Drought takes a toll on Napa County wildlife
Dan Mufson LTE 9/28/21: Our Spine is Broken
Chris Malan LTE9/2/21: The Drying Up of the Napa RIver

Two in-person meetings and one online meeting are being held by the County to present their Draft Groundwater Sustainability Plan on 9/22/21 at Napa Valley College, 9/29/21 at the NVC up-valley campus in St Helena and 10/6/21 online. Registration, time and location information is here: https://www.countyofnapa.org/3235/Upcoming-Events

Update 2/20/21
Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee meetings Agendas, Documents, Videos

Update 9/15/20
NVR 9/15/20: Citizens group begins deep dive in Napa Valley groundwater issues

9/10/20
2020 County Groundwater Sustainability Plan Documents

Update 6/11/20
The County will have a Water Availability Analysis workshop with the Planning Commission on 6/17/20 (subsequently cancelled). Several documents will form the background for the discussion:

Draft markup of the 2015 WAA Guidance Document
Executative Summary of the Napa County Groundwater Sustainability Annual Report fo 2019
Comprehensive Timeline of County WAA activities since 1963<

Update 1/9/20
NVR 1/9/20: New Napa County groundwater agency hears from critics at its first meeting
NVR 12/29/19: Napa County supervisors to govern groundwater agency
NVR 11/22/19: State tells Napa County to form agency to monitor Napa Valley groundwater
NV2050 12/21/19: Sustainable Groundwater Management Agency (SGMA)

Update 7/24/19
NVR 7/19/19: State dissatisfied with Napa wine country groundwater plan
Mike Hackett LTE 7/24/19: Take real action on water and development

Update 3/20/19
NVR 3/20/19: Report says Napa County's 2018 groundwater levels stable

2018 Napa County Groundwater Sustainability Annual Report
Report Summary

Staff will be presenting the Report to the Supervisors on Mar 19, 2019. The Agenda letter is here

Update 5/21/18

Click image to open Basin widget. Click on Napa basin in widget for basin data
NVR 5/24/18: State proposes change in monitoring status for Napa County's groundwater

Chris Malan has passed along the email below from the State Department of Water Resources which indicates that the Napa Subbasin has been reclassified in a draft document from a "medium-" to "high-" priority basin. It is unclear how this change would affect Napa's Groundwater Sustainability Alternative but does suggest that the condition of the Napa Subbasin may be of greater concern than the county has indicated. A public comment period on the Draft runs through July 18th, 2018.


From: Lauren.Bisnett@WATER.CA.GOV
Subject: DWR Releases Draft Prioritization Under SGMA
Date: May 18, 2018 at 1:45:19 PM PDT

DWR Releases Draft Prioritization of Groundwater Basins Under Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

The DWR Sustainable Groundwater Management Program today released a draft prioritization of groundwater basins as required by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). The 2018 SGMA Basin Prioritization is scheduled to be finalized by fall 2018 after a 60 day public comment period that starts today and runs through July 18, 2018.

Basins throughout the state are ranked high-, medium-, low-, or very low-priority. Basins ranking high- or medium-priority are subject to SGMA. Of the 517 groundwater basins statewide, the newly released draft prioritization identifies 109 basins as high- and medium-priority, which includes 14 basins newly ranked as high- or medium-priority. Additionally, 38 basins previously ranked as high or medium-priority are now ranked as low- or very-low priority and are no longer subject to SGMA. Draft prioritization results can be viewed using DWR’s newly developed visual application tool, the 2018 Prioritization Dashboard.

DWR will hold a public webinar May 30 to present the draft results, followed by statewide public meetings at the end of June. DWR will be taking public comments on the draft results, including additional data or information that is consistent with statewide datasets identified in the Basin Prioritization Process and Results Document. For more information, please refer to the 2018 SGMA Basin Prioritization Frequently Asked Questions.

When the 2018 SGMA Basin Prioritization is made final, the basins newly subject to SGMA must form Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) within two years and develop Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) within five years, or submit an Alternative Plan within two years. DWR provides a wide-variety of resources and services to support local agencies and GSAs in implementing SGMA.

Low- or very low-priority basins are not subject to SGMA, but are encouraged to form GSAs and GSPs, update existing groundwater management plans, and coordinate with adjacent basins to develop a new groundwater management plan.

For more information or to submit a comment, please visit:State Groundwater Management Prioritization Program


Dan Mufson of NapaVision2050 has sent a copy of his 2/15/17 letter in response to the County's Sustainable Groundwater Management alternative critical of the alternative's lack of consideration of an increasingly dryer climate future.

Update 4/25/17
NVR 2/25/17: Napa County says groundwater picture continues to be good

Update 2/15/17
This is a summary of documents and posts on Napa County's sustainable groundwater management alternative plan, titled Napa Valley Groundwater Sustainability - A Basin Analysis Report for the Napa Valley Subbasin, in response to the State's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

State Links:
Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)
Sustainable Groundwater Alternative Plan description
List and Map of all water district SGM Alternatives with comments
Comments specifically on the Napa County Plan

County Links:
12/13/16 Staff Presentation of supporting documents for the Napa Valley Groundwater Sustainability - A Basin Analysis Report for the Napa Valley Subbasin to the California Dept of Water Resources (DWR), Item 9A on the Board Agenda.
The County's Groundwater Basin Analysis page
The Nov 3rd WICC workshop and draft report
Napa Grand Jury 2014-15 Report on groundwater

Individual Responses:
Donoviel LTE 2/26/17: Concerns over water plan
Gary Margadant: What is Happening to Our Most Precious and Irreplaceable Resource: Our Water
Letter sent to the BOS on Dec 19th 2016
Chris Malan, Mike Hackett: Napa's Sustainable Groundwater alternative
Dan Mufson: got Water? Will you have water?
Responses to the Draft Napa Valley Basin Analysis Report

11/13/16
Chris Malan has sent this informative email concerning the WICC workshop that was held on Nov 3rd, with the resulting workshop report to be presented to he BOS on Dec 13th 2016 [now Dec 20th].

11/2/16

Public comment is open on the County's recent study of groundwater (gw) in the Napa Valley, in order to comply with the California State Law: Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, SGMA.

A workshop is being held tomorrow, November 3rd, from 3-6 at 2121 Imola, Napa County Office of Education.

Public comment (3 minutes) is allowed after their consultant presents the study.

You can review the Draft Basin analysis (DBA)/Napa Valley Groundwater Sustainability documents here.

There consultant is Luhdorff and Scalmanini (LS) who say gw in the Napa Valley aquifer is stable and does not need gw management.

Their document is lacking in these areas (to mention a few):
  • False baseline of gw surface elevation: historically gw was at the surface (0 mean sea level) level in Calistoga-now gw is 10 feet below the surface in Calistoga and there is on-going dewatering of the Napa River from Calistoga to Hardman lane.
  • misleading information about groundwater quality-LS admit that gw quality is poor in many areas of the County due to boron, arsenic, nitrogen and heavy metals but dismisses this by calling it "normal.
  • misleading information about the root zone modeling outcomes-LS discuss root zone modeling on the valley floor but ignore the upper/wild watershed in their water budget-this allows them to not model the impacts of deforestation on gw recharge
  • ignores Public Trust values and resources
  • fails to discuss or define " undesirable results" required by SGMA such as: declining gw quality, wells going dry, fish kills, de-watering of the Napa River and streams, salt water intrusion, land subsidence; all of which are occurring now, on-going and re-occurring since January 2015. If "undesirable results" are present in the Napa River watershed, the County is required to do a Groundwater Sustainable Plan, GSP, by 2020 and a Groundwater Sustainable Agency, GSA, by June 2017.
  • mis-characterizes the water budget elements-discusses the vines production at 20,000 acres and holding and ignores the recharge area in the hills where deforestation and vines are being planted by thousands of acres each year
  • fails to account for the major use of groundwater at 60% during drought-causing de-watering of streams
Because of this, Napa County shouldn't have this Alternative monitoring plan but instead get going on a Groundwater Sustainable Plan, GSP.

Background on why Napa County has chosen to do a DBA, (just continued monitoring) instead of Groundwater Sustainable Plan (includes a plan for sustainable extraction of gw): The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), historic legislation enacted by Governor Brown in September 2014, provided a new structure for sustainable management of California's groundwater basins. On January 1, 2015 the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) began implementing the Act, including the development of new regulations to guide local groundwater sustainability efforts. SGMA established a sustainability goal for groundwater basins throughout the state, prioritized basins, established a timeline for implementation, and provided for new Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA). It also required the development of Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs), or Alternatives that are equivalent to them, to ensure that basins are operated within their sustainable yield.

In basins that have ongoing successful groundwater management programs, a local agency may elect to submit a Basin Analysis Report Alternative that demonstrates that the groundwater basin is being sustainably managed. With direction from the Board of Supervisors on March 3, 2015, Napa County began work to implement SGMA through development of a Basin Analysis Report for the Napa Valley Groundwater Subbasin. Napa County was well suited to meet the requirements for this Alternative due to its groundwater sustainability program, which includes: an ongoing and evolving groundwater monitoring network and program, annual groundwater conditions reporting, an Updated Hydrogeologic Conceptualization and Characterization of Conditions Report (2013), development of new groundwater/surface water monitoring facilities along the Napa River, and a long-term public education and outreach program through the Watershed Information & Conservation Council of Napa County.

You should come tomorrow and listen to the presentation and be prepared to say something about the process and lack of correct information being presented to the both the WICC Board tomorrow and subsequently the BOS on Tuesday December 13, 2016 at a Special Meeting.

Keep in mind that if the BOS approve this Alternative to be submitted to the Department of Water Resources by January 1, 2017, and the DWR accepts this bogus Alternative this denies us groundwater management for an undetermined amount of time.

Our aquifers deserve our voice if we want sustainable gw for future generations. The time to act is now.

Chris Malan


The WICC Nov 3rd workshop agenda with supporting documents are here.
The county's page on groundwater sustainability is here

Dissenting voices to the County's proposed alternative to SMGA requirements by Gary Margadant and Gordon Evans among others are summarized in this response to comments, one of the documents in the Nov. 3rd workshop packet.

In an email to WICC Board Member David Graves after the Nov 3rd workshop, Mike Hackett of Angwin writes:

"Good morning David,

I need to fully understand why the County has painted itself into a corner by going "all-in" for the alternate plan. Initially, what individual or group came to that determination? Was it Patrick Lowe's regime, WIIC recommendation, BOS? I would hope it wasn't from the consultant group L&S. Our year long study related to enhanced protections for our watershed [the subverted Oak Woodland Initiative] uncovered strong needs for preservation of our oak woodlands and riparian corridors. This is about the future of not just supply, but equally important the quality of that supply. How can we plan for our children's future without ensuring quantity and quality?

I know you would agree that our water resource is THE most important resource needed to sustain life. Why are we gambling with this absolutely-necessary resource for life itself? What was the reasoning for selecting the alternate plan? It would be heartbreaking to think it was about $$. We need and will continue to demand an ongoing process like a sustainable groundwater plan. I simply am dumbfounded that we're trying to cut corners here! Dumbfounded!

Lastly, L&S appear to have cherry picked data and modeling to support the alternate plan, which is disturbing enough. But more scary is that their future assumptions are based on current conditions: like no increased development. What a "crock." We have the demand for 5,000 more acres of conversion from forest to vineyard in the pipeline right now. Many of those 113 wells are recently on line. We are gambling with our most important resource. This is outrageous and very troubling. I've admired your intellect and participation for several years now. Why do you not see the contradiction here? Those of us who are only in this fight because of the need for truth, justice and the dignity of life will continue to educate our fellow citizens that we are being sold ' a bill of goods" leading to the ultimate destruction of our Valley. We will continue until our last breaths to awaken our residents to these corporate blind ambitions.

Mike Hackett"

My First ChatGPT on: Open Comments


Bill Hocker - Aug 23,23  expand...  Share

I tried out ChatGPT, and I have to admit that the results sorta lived up to the hype. I can see why authors and consumers of the written word in any form will be impacted by the technology. I tried a couple of simple questions with complex ramifications that I thought might be illuminating.

My first question:
"Tell me about tourism in the Napa Valley" with the followup "What is the best way to reduce tourism to the Napa Valley?"

Link to the ChatGTP response

My next question:
"Should agriculture be limited to protect groundwater and forests?" followed up with "Should vineyards in napa valley hillsides be limited to protect groundwater and forests?" (which should have been my only question)

Link to the ChatGPT response

The responses could have been taken directly from Visit Napa Valley or the Napa County General Plan. The art of writing may now be in knowing what questions to ask. It is pretty obvious with just one try that the technology will drastically change the lives of anyone that writes or does research for a living.

Tourism threatens the world on: Tourism Issues


Bill Hocker - Aug 17,23  expand...  Share

Update 8/17/23
The Guardian 8/17/23: Wish you weren’t here! How tourists are ruining the world’s greatest destinations

Update 4/15/23
CNN 4/15/23: This popular Italian region is imposing restrictions on tourists

NYTimes 4/2/21: In Empty Amsterdam, Reconsidering Tourism

SCR on tourism and the threat to water resources

Update 9/14/19
CNN 1/23/20: Destinations have vowed to fight back against overtourism for 2020
Yahoo Finance 8/13/10: Tourism Is Eating the World
CNN 5/23/19: How Amsterdam is fighting back against mass tourism
Guardian 1/4/19: The death of Venice? City's battles with tourism and flooding reach crisis level

Update 8/28/18
The Economist 10/25/18: The backlash against overtourism

The concept of putting gates at the entrances to neighborhoods in Venice to limit the number of tourists is a lamentable proposal. "'It's the last step to becoming Disneyland,' sighs one of the city's urban planners."

Perhaps one of the most memorable of the hundreds of bullet points from the Napa Strategic Plan meetings is this from the Wine Growers: "Fee for Silverado Trail (aka 7 mile drive)". It might be considered tongue-in-cheek were it not highlighted as one of their principal proposals. As Supervisor Pedroza at one BOS hearing dismissed the annoyances of the tourism economy that we are all having to deal with: "This is not Disneyland; I think it's just agriculture in the 21st century."

Update 8/28/18
Dan Mufson sends along a link to this 2-part article in Der Spiegel on the worldwide pushback on the undesirable impacts of tourism on local communities:
Der Spiegel 8/21/18: How Tourists Are Destroying the Places They Love

Dan writes:
"Here's an important article that describes the state of tourism today and it's negative effect on locals. We heard the same message from Professor Mendlinger at our Forum on the Costs of Tourism in April, 2016. George said then that tourism creates private profits along with socialized costs. Others now state this: 'Tourism is a phenomenon that creates many private profits but also many socialized losses,' says Christian Laesser, a tourism professor at the University of St. Gallen.

When will our elected officials acknowledge this?"

As I have mentioned before, our travels are no longer as naive as they use to be. We now see every place visited through the lens of the impact of tourism on our own appreciation of Napa. And on the environment. We are headed to Porto for a conference in October, so the Der Spiegel article is timely - and concerning.

Update 8/2/17
The Gardian 3/7/18: Europe's beauty spots plot escape from the too-many-tourists trap

The solution proposed by a tourism conference in Berlin? Spread it out. Rather than being overwhelmed by tourists at peak periods, have constant tourists at every location at all times. This is a tourism industry solution to the very real impacts that tourism is having on residential communities all over the world. And, in fact, it is the solution that Napa County takes with Visit Napa Valley. When I asked Mark Luce why the county spends millions of dollars on Visit Napa Valley each year to attract more tourists, he said that it's not about attracting more, but in spreading out the tourism by promoting visitation in off-months and off-hours. What it really does is to promote filling up the level of tourism at all times to match the overwhelming tourism at peak periods. And, of course, to increase the tourism urbanization that threatens the rural small town quality of life in the county, impacts not so different to those being felt, and fought, around the world.

Update 8/2/17
The Local (Italy) 7/4/17: Venice residents protest against tourist influx
NYT 8/2/17: Venice, Invaded by Tourists, Risks Becoming 'Disneyland on the Sea'

Original Post 7/12/17
George Caloyannidis sends over this link to the latest in Venice:

The Telegraph (UK) 6/12/17: Venice bans new hotels as crackdown on tourism continues

Which also references their article on Amsterdam: Amsterdam has become 'unlivable' as residents fight back to stop 'Disneyfication' of city (When it comes to wine tourism, the term of art is 'Napafication', and the negative impacts are just as onerous). And more recently the resistance is becoming aggressive: DailyMail (UK) 8/2/17: Majorca is hit by anti-tourism protesters


The international uprising of locals against the unwanted impacts of tourism has been building for some time, as chronicled in this 2015 article in the NY Times.

It is interesting to look at the ratio of yearly tourists to residents to ask if there is some breaking point at which rebellion occurs. Venice is the extreme example: 20 mil tourists/yr and 265,000 residents (including suburbs) or 75 tourists/resident/yr. (Just
look at this graph to see what the "success" of post-war tourism has done - and can still do - to a resident population, a goal that the tourism industry might prefer.)

Compare this to the other cities mentioned in the articles that have been experiencing tourism backlash:
    Venice 75 tourists/resident
    Charleston: 38.4 tourists/resident
    New Orleans: 27 tourists/resident
    Amsterdam: 21 tourists/resident
    Ankor Wat 9.1 tourists/resident
    Barcelona: 4.4 tourists/resident
    Berlin: 2.6 tourists/resident
    Copenhagen: 1.5 tourists/resident
    Buthan: 0.3 tourists/resident (a ratio that any place wishing to maintain its quality-of-life should strive for)

Our local stats:
Napa 27 tourists/resident (2018)
Sonoma 14 tourists/resident

Napa currently is at the upper end of the ratio and is rapidly gearing up for even more.

While it seems there is no universal magic trigger point at which resident anger over the threat to the character of their communities becomes actionable, clearly Napa residents, having moved firmly into the double-digit tourist-to-resident category, have begun to realize that a crisis is at hand.

More oaks to vines on Soda Canyon Road on: Watershed Issues


Bill Hocker - Aug 8,23  expand...  Share
Notice of Intent to adopt a neg dec for Red Boat Vineyard (comments due 6/7/23)
Project documents
Narrative and Plans

It is probably hypocritical to take issue with the the pursuit of the Napa Good Life, especially for a fellow resident on Soda Canyon Road. But the project is one of many that represents the much bigger issue that the county must face in the age of global warming: how many acres of carbon-sequestering, aquefer-protecting woodlands should the county allow to be converted to GHG-generating, aquefer-consuming vineyards in a world in which GHG reduction and water conservation are becoming existential survival strategies.

As vineyards in the heart of the valley are being removed for entertainment centers and processing plants (recent example), the grapes must be found elsewhere. And the wooded knolls and mountains that surround the valley, despite the massive amounts of carbon unsequestered and mountains of rocks that must be dug up or blasted to make them farmable, are now the resource being exploited to allow continuing economic growth of Napa's increasingly corporate, bottom-line-driven, wine industry.

An appropriate balance of agriculture to woodland and winemaking to tourism, to insure economic sustainability, has already produced a successful economy in Napa County for the last 50 years. As long as existing vineyards are protected and as long as forever-increasing corporate profits, taxes and fees are not the basis for land development decisions, Napa's rural heritage can be retained for another 50. If economic growth is the only measure that counts then we are doomed, as is increasingly evident, to the exhaustion of our resources and the environmental catastrophe that results.

Fire events on: Fire Issues


Daniel Mufson - Jul 12,23  expand...  Share
Atlas Peak Road 10/8/17

[Email below sent to District 4 Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza on 7/9/23. A Zoning Administrator Hearing will be held on 7/13/23 to review and possibly approve an application for a temporary event license for the Blue Note Jazz Festival (up to 12000 people/day) at the Silverado Country Club.]



Alfredo,

All of us who live on Atlas Peak Road (APR) or Soda Canyon Road well remember the horror of October 8, 2017-The Atlas Fire. It was a hot, dry night with lots of wind. And then about 10 PM all hell broke loose as one by one, and with phone calls from neighbors, we realized the need to evaluate our homes.

Not all were lucky. In particular we will never forget the couple on Westgate Drive who could not move fast enough to be saved. The real tragedy was that there were two fire trucks parked just around the corner at Old Soda Springs sitting in the dark and smoke “awaiting orders.” They had arrived in position without alerting residents with a siren or horn.

The attached video https://youtu.be/ElHjSOC2y6o shows the situation on Atlas Peak Road about the time we evacuated. Note the embers all over the road and the terrific wind blowing at the William Hill Winery and the parked car engulfed in flames. This area is adjacent to where parking is proposed for the Blue Note Jazz. There was no evacuation plan for residents and we all scrambled our way to safety. Some had to be evacuated by helicopter as downed trees blocked the roads. I hope that there is an evacuation plan currently in place. But if so, I’ve never seen it. I hope that the planners and Zoning Administrator-and you-are going to take the seriousness of a catastrophic fire in your deliberations about this permit.

This history is relevant to the determination as to whether there ought to be a series of summer concerts at Silverado with up to 12,000 attendees each. I have reviewed the permit documents filed by the sponsors, who operate from downtown New York City, but do no see where the County of Napa has determined/approved the safety plan for residents and attendees if another catastrophic fire event in this Fire Hazard Safety Zone were to occur during a concert. Presumably the disaster planners : Napa County Fire Department; the California State Fire Marshall; and the Napa County Executive Office-Risk Manager have been alerted to the filing of this permit but I do not see where they have made the determination that the plan is acceptable.

Who has the responsibility, and authority, to cancel these events during a Red Flag conditions?

I was encouraged to attend the Public Hearing on Thursday to solicit the opinions of the sponsors. Why do I need to do that? I thought the County Government had that responsibility. Where is the adult in the room that will make the hard decisions on behalf of Napa’s citizens?

Why is the event being advertised and tickets sold when the permit has not yet been issued? Is it already a done deal?

What are the security preparations for the advertised “after parties” that are to run from 11PM-2AM? Are there decibel limits?

I find fault with the proposed size of these events which in turn requires numerous car parking facilities to be set up. Several of these parking lots are planned on Atlas Peak Road which is exactly where fleeing residents would drive if necessary to evacuate. As can be seen in the video above those parking fields were engulfed in flames early in the Atlas Fire. What do those visitors do when they are running in fire and smoke and can’t access their cars? Does it make sense to have thousands of visitor cars trying to enter narrow APR or Hardman (after a day of enjoying adult beverages)?

I recommend:

  • The size of the event be reduced so that no parking lots are required on Atlas Peak Road;
  • That CalFire sign off on the permit and evacuation plans; the plans to include rules to allow emergency vehicles in and cars out;
  • That the Sheriff and CHP have sufficient force to direct traffic out of the area, and emergency vehicles into the area, including at APR-Westgate, APR-Hillside, Hardman-Silverado Trail...


Daniel and Naoko Mufson

Gallo Stagecoach North ECP/EIR on: The Rector Watershed


Bill Hocker - Jun 28,23  expand...  Share

DEIR reduction aternatives
Update 6/27/23
NVR 6/30/23: Napa County approves pared-back Stagecoach Vineyard expansion
Notice of Tentative Decision
The Tweedledum Alternative (on the left) wins the battle.

An interesting article in the NY Times a few days ago: Something Was Messing With Earth’s Axis. The Answer Has to Do With Us.
The pumping of water resources has become as existentially significant to the planet as the pumping of fossil fuel resources.

Stagecoach North will suck up 45 acre feet of groundwater each year, a drop in the groundwater bucket which consultants confidently predict will be replaced by future rainfall. But the reality, shown in the NY Times article, is that, in aggregate, groundwater, just like oil, will never be replaced as long as humanity doesn't drastically change its ways. And the county, as is evident in vineyard approvals, seems reluctant to change its ways. (The project will also add 317 metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere each year toward that other existential threat.)

Despite a significant amount of rainfall this winter, my pond, which used to retain some water through the year, is now dry at the beginning of June. At a micro level it shows that even enough precipitation to recreate Tulare Lake will do little to replenish the groundwater we've used up. No consultant predictions will ever be more convincing to me than the reality on (or in) the ground.

At least in the case of Stagecoach, the water is used for an industrial product that is efficiently distributed worldwide - unlike the many vanity vineyards being created as one-off come-ons for the tourism industry, itself an additional cause of climate change and water depletion.

Update 1/17/23
The county has unveiled the FEIR for the project. Acting County Planning Director Donald Barrella has sent a notification that the County will be shortly certifying the FEIR, perhaps in mid Feb. Contact donald.barrella@countyof napa.org with questions or comments.

The FEIR proposes some mitigations to the DEIR in response to pushback from commenters and perhaps the changing political climate within which the County now operates. The principal change is the reduction in vineyard acreage by about 25 acres. Two alternatives are preresented to reduce the acreage: one reduces vineyard area by adding to the open space to be preserved on the property. The other reduces vineyard area by increasing stream setbacks.

Reducing the developed area might have a positive impact on the amount of GHGs the project would have produced under the DEIR and will add to the land put into conservation easements to insure wildlife migration and species survival. And yet... the project will still be adding about 870 metric tons of CO2 each year including initial deforestation and uprooting and yearly operations, continuing to exacerbate a climate catastrophe that is already occuring. Our governments are still not ready to make the decisions needed to change the apocalyptic climate trajectory if it means constricting capitalism, in this case a few more bottles of wine sold by the largest wine maker in the world.

The FEIR Documents may be here. (The county website is working on fewer and fewer browsers.)
Center for Biolgical Diversity Letter
Amber Manfree Letter

Update 7/2/21
NVR 7/2/21: Napa County's vineyard growth debates continue beneath surface

Update 3/29/21
County Documents including comments submitted on the DEIR have been collected here
Center for Biological Diversity DEIR CEQA rebuttal
Amber Manfree DEIR CEQA rebuttal
Bill Hocker letter of concern

Update 3/11/21
Amber Manfree writes that a public notice of the Draft Environmental Impact (DEIR) for the Gallo Stagecoach North ECP/EIR has been posted requesting public comment, with comments due by Mon. Mar. 29, 2021 to Donald.Barrella@countyofnapa.org.
Resources

Manfree 7 page synopsis of the 300+ page DEIR

You can access Erosion Control Plan documents via the State of California EIR site here. Alternatively, you can access them along with additioanl documents on the County website (here's a direct link to documents [in a very frustrating cutoff format]).

The Soda Canyon Road materials from the Mountain Peak Winery project will be very helpful!

  • Likely negative impacts
  • Increased traffic
  • Reduced fire safety
  • Impacts of runoff on downstream waterways, including threatened species and water supply for the Veteran's Home and Town of Yountville
  • Loss of biodiversity
  • Loss of carbon storage
  • Potential groundwater impacts

Again, questions or comments regarding the project may be addressed to County Planner Donald Barilla at Donald.Barrella@countyofnapa.org

Update 10/14/19
The County has just sent a Notice of Preparation for the Stagecoach North vineyards EIR. The Erosion Control Plan has been available for some time.

Notice of Preparation of the Draft EIR for Stagecoach North Vineyard Conversion
The County's Stagecoach North documents

Note below the concern that this expansion will become the precedent for the vineyard development of all the ridges surrounding the watershed, in a watershed already burdened by the greatest level of watershed development in the county.


4/23/19
Winebusiness.com 4/23/19: E&J Gallo to Expand Stagecoach Vineyard

Gallo has taken up an expansion of Stagecoach Vineyards first proposed by Jan Krupp but then abandoned when he sold the property. The expansion adds 116 more acres to their existing 600 acres on the Rector Reservoir watershed.

The County documents page is here.

It's interesting to compare the Gallo proposal to Bloodlines, both similar sized proposals. Other than a couple of blocks which may not be developed, the Bloodlines proposal infills a development pattern that has already been established on the Rector Plateau which stays away from the ridgelines. The Gallo proposal pushes all the way up to the ridge, breaking the de facto development boundary and establishing a precedent for development on the rest of the ridges.

The Rector watershed is already the most heavily developed by percentage in the county. The impact of siltation on the capacity of Rector Reservoir has already been raised, and continued development of the the ridgeline slopes will only continue the process as well as further constraining wildlife movement. And of course will add that much more traffic on the road.

The County, at the 4/23/19 BOS meeting, requested $330,000 to contract for an EIR on the project (paid for by Gallo). The EIR will probably take a year of so to be finalized.

The Hunter subdivision on: St. Helena


Bill Hocker - Jun 27,23  expand...  Share

17 more acres of prime Napa farmland to be paved over
Update 6/27/23
NVR 6/27/23: St. Helena City Council approves controversial Hunter housing project

Update 11/2/21
SH Star 11/2/21: St. Helenans air objections to Hunter project
SH Star 10/26/21: St. Helena Planning Commission to hear input on Hunter project

St Helena Hunter Project Draft EIR Page
Mariam Hansen LTE 10/30/21: Educate yourself about St. Helena's Hunter project

Since 2015 the population of Napa County has been steadily decreasing. There are currently 5200 fewer people residing here than lived here 6 years ago. There are 400 fewer people living in St Helena. And yet there are some 4-5000 housing units in the county development pipeline. Is it really necessary to continue to use up Napa's agricultural land, some of the most valuable land for agricultural in the world, to force an unnecessary population increase or increase 2nd home ownership solely to support developers wishing to turn a greater profit on their speculative land investments or the myth that more property tax payers improve government balance sheets?

If, as a county, Napa is committed to remaining an agriculture-based economy, not one more acre of arable land should be lost to urbanization. Too many have already been paved over.


2/12/15
City orders more study of Hunter project

87 housing units to be built on a vineyard plot near the Trail. This brings to a total of 2817 the number of housing units currently being proposed in the county that I know of.

Napa Climate Summit on: Climate Action Plan


Bill Hocker - Jun 9,23  expand...  Share

Update 6/9/23
NVR Column 6/24/23: The Climate Connection: Our waste is becoming renewable energy
NVR Column 6/9/23: climate solutions into our infrastructure
NVR 5/24/23: Napa Climate Summit wants to pick up carbon-cutting pace

Video and powerpoints from the Napa Climate Summit

Original Post 5/6/23 Napa Climate Summit
NVR 5/6/23: Napa Climate Summit set for May 24

The graphic in the article is great. Perhaps I'm overly pessimistic, but the only real fix for the end of our current climate catastrophe, as the graphic shows, is a world without people. The technological fixes being proposed, even if they are immediately adopted, will be vastly insufficient as the ever-increasing world population seeks greater prosperity and further overburdens a planet already buckling under its existing human load.

OMG! Land Trust buys Walt Ranch! on: Walt Ranch


Bill Hocker - May 31,23  expand...  Share

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

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

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

Le Colline: one more cumulative impact on: Growth Issues


George Caloyannidis - Apr 19,23  expand...  Share

I have been following the Le Colline project application. Two arguments in support by the applicant surprised me as considered relevant by people who want to enter the wine-making business in the Napa Valley. And as they are made again and again, they also seem to resonate with the Planning Commission and our Supervisors.

The first applicants’ argument is that planting a vineyard, building a winery, a home and raising their children in the Napa Valley has been their life-long dream. This sounds very romantic, noble and on its face convincing enough.

The second argument this particular applicant - and others before them - made when asked to minimize the scope of their project, is that such reduction would not economically support their business model.

The problem is that there are appropriate places in the Napa Valley to realize these kinds of dreams and inappropriate places without the environmental impacts Le Colline has. There are plenty of data on file on what these impacts are that I don’t need to repeat here.

But the presumption that this Valley has the obligation to make all kinds of concessions in order to facilitate any business anywhere has been promoted by our local government for so long or these types of arguments wouldn’t be made in the first place.

Over the more than two decades I have been here, I have seen how ineffective the County’s so-called mitigation measures have been as it consistently has failed to consider cumulative impacts of the projects it approves. This failure has created incremental deforestation, river bed siltation, commuters and traffic jams, declining school enrollment, affordable housing shortage, the list is endless. Yet, our government has assured us that all these impacts were mitigated by each project. How can such government by worthy of our trust?

If more proof is needed, it is the increasing contention of winery projects, especially ones in the hillsides for which the County’s taxpayers, the applicants and the public are forced to spend inordinate amounts of time and money better spent on our crumbling infrastructure than in lawsuits. The County has failed miserably to safeguard - in fact has promoted - the incremental degradation of our overall quality of life; its foremost obligation. Undaunted, it keeps at it!

NVR LTE version 4/18/23: Le Colline project not a good fit for the area

Neighboring Land Trust Properties on: Napa Soda Springs


Bill Hocker - Apr 18,23  expand...  Share

In working out their purchase of the Walt Ranch property, the Napa County Land Trust produced a map showing protected open space in the area of Walt Ranch. It is interesting to overlay the Napa Soda Springs property to show its relationship to this constellation of the Land Trust properties. The sale of Napa Soda Springs for use as a potential resort, while disappointing, may not be entirely incompatible with the creation of Land Trust conservation easements to tie this property into the creation of a larger contiguous protected wildlife reserve in the county.

Another look at The Big Picture on: Napa Strategic Plan


Bill Hocker - Apr 14,23  expand...  Share

Update 4/14/23 Napa County Strategic Plan Revision Process
The meeting below was a precursor to a new look at the Napa County Stratigic Plan, a 2018 revision process that was orphaned in the wake of major fires and the covid epidemic. This new Board is intent on bringing the process to the fore again. Thank goodness. Staff will make a presentation to the BOS meeting on April 18, 2023 to implement a process to revise the Strategic Plan. The staff letter letter outlining the process is here.

Update 3/23/23
NVR 3/22/23: New-look Napa County Board of Supervisors looks at big picture

I'm glad that Barry Eberling was there to document the proceeding - but still. The Board of Supervisors talks about a vision for Napa's future for 5 hours in a discussion that wasn't recorded, in a location away from the Board Chambers, that was not noticed beyond a rather cryptic and ambiguous item on an otherwise bland agenda. The low profile may have been what the Board wanted in order to be more open in their deliberations. But such open ended discussions are the most interesting parts of regular BOS meetings, and to have 5 hours of it would have been a treat and very enlightening. It would seem to be a subject of interest to wide swath of Napa Valley Citizenry and yet all we seem to know of it are some sound bytes in the article.

A good read for those considering what the big picture should look like ahead is this report funded by the JLDAgFund: Agricultural Land Protection, Annexation, and Housing Development: An Analysis of Programs and Techniques with Potential Use in Napa County It makes the same argument that the Ag Preserve was founded on: contain urban development tightly in the municipalities so that the rest of the county can remain in vines and open space. And that is good. And yet, sadly, the word "tourism" occurs only once in the entire report, as if the expanision of wineries, restaurants, hotels resorts and their parking lots into agricultural zones [see here] were not equivalent to the threat posed by housing. The big picture must consider that urbanization threat as well.

Original Post 11/16/22
Each year the county puts out a legislative platform describing the issues that they plan to take up with the State where county governance overlaps with State law. The markup of last year's document in preparation for this 2023 platform is here:

Napa County 2023 Legislative Regulatory Platform

The document begins with a statement of Legislative Principals that define what its goals are in its effort to influence State-wide legislation that will have an impact on the county, and it is worth repeating here.

PRINCIPLES AND GOALS
Legislative Principles

The primary goal of the County's elected representatives and employees is to serve and support the County’s social and economic well-being and the health and safety of its citizens. Therefore, the Napa County Board of Supervisors has adopted the following principles:
  • The County of Napa will encourage, seek and support legislation and policies that protect the County's quality of life, its diverse natural resources and preserve the County’s essence, history, and agricultural heritage.
  • The County of Napa will encourage, seek and support legislation and policies that facilitate orderly economic expansion and growth, oppose unfunded and/or unnecessary State mandates, and increase the opportunity for discretionary revenues and programmatic and financial flexibility.

Legislative Goals


Sustainable Growth

The Board of Supervisors seeks to preserve Napa County’s agricultural heritage and economy by locating appropriate housing and development in the urban areas of the County. The Board supports State housing needs assessment reforms that provide flexibility and acknowledge the differences between rural and urban counties. The Board also supports legislation that would allow for the transfer of mandated County housing allocations to the incorporated areas within the County at any time during the housing cycle in exchange for the expenditure of County housing funds or the provision of County land. Rural counties lack adequate infrastructure and services necessary to support housing in less developed unincorporated areas.

Preserving the Agricultural Economy

In 1968, the Napa County Board of Supervisors had the forethought to preserve open space and prevent future overdevelopment by creating the nation’s first Agricultural Preserve. This designation has ensured that Napa Valley’s limited resources are preserved for agriculture first and foremost. Napa County opposes efforts that would exempt real property, such as tribal land, from local land use regulations, including provisions regulating the Agricultural Preserve, which ultimately could upset Napa County’s vital agricultural economy.


The two bullet-pointed principals are interesting because they illustrate the schizophrenic nature of the county's self image. On the one hand they want to "protect the County's quality of life, its diverse natural resources and preserve the County’s essence, history, and agricultural heritage." and on the other they want to "facilitate orderly economic expansion and growth". By "Expansion and growth" the County may mean more vineyards, but I don't think so. Every week new building projects are submitted to the county planners, and every week building projects are approved and construction projects begin. Expansion and growth in Napa County means just what it does elsewhere: more buildings and parking lots and road improvements, more workers and visitors to fill them and further projects to service the additional people in a never-ending cycle of growth and expansion. Growth and Expansion consume natural resources like water and land that specifically threaten the agricultrual heritage and quality of life that the county claims as its essence. If ever their was a zero sum game, it is the preservation of open space vs. economic growth.

Develop a Napa Wine Online Portal on: Solutions


Bill Hocker - Mar 29,23  expand...  Share

Update 3/29/23
NVR 3/29/23: Winemaker Dan Petroski's grapes, marketing stand out

This article highlights one of the (probably) numerous wines made in Napa that don't depend on wine tourism to remain in business. They do so through the effective use of online marketing, just as most of the world's businesses do today. A full description of the Massican wines are to be found on the Napa Wine Project website and on the Massican website.

Update 2/14/22
2/14/22: Sen. Dodd Announces Online Wine Auction Bill
Sothbys.com 2/5/22: Napa Valley Library Wine Auction
SF Chronicle 6/15/21: Napa’s extravagant wine auction ends after 40 years, changing to be less ‘elitist’

This all seems to be going in the right direction, increasing the visibility, market and charity clout of Napa wines without increasing the carbon footprint and other deleterious impacts of wine tourism.

Update 8/29/21
NVR 8/29/21: For some Napa Valley wineries, virtual tastings will persist beyond the pandemic

Update 8/9/21
NVR 8/9/21: Stags’ Leap jumps into the world of digital, augmented reality marketing

Update 8/21/20


Paul Mabray, the online wine sales evangelist, made another presentation to the Napa County Planning Commission on 8/19/20. It is the way forward in creating a viable wine industry that doesn't depend on the environmentally and culturally destructive use of tourism as a marketing vehicle. Will the County or the wine industry listen?


Update 4/18/20
NVR 4/18/20: COVID-19 could permanently reshape the business of wine in Napa Valley

This site was born out of the threat of proposed winery tourist attraction on the vineyard next to us at the very remote end of Soda Canyon Road. It was just one example the impact that tourism is having on all who live in Napa County. The basic argument of all of the articles here over the last 6 years is that tourism is bad for the maintenance of an economy based on agriculture and for the survival of a rural, small town lifestyle. Tourism development is an urbanizing process. More buildings are built for tourism venues, more workers must come to staff them, more housing and commercial buildings must be built to serve the workforce, more restaurants and hotels must be built to cater to the tourists, more road and infrastructure improvements must be made serve the increased population. If the tourism economy is successful, the urbanization will continue. At some point the need to accommodate that larger population outweighs the economic viability of agricultural land, and the fields that remain become merely landscaping to give purpose to the tourism industry. The actual wine industry moves to a more economical locale, and the authenticity of a wine making region leaves with it.

Update 2/7/20
NVR 1/24/20: Napa wineries are beginning to chat up customers online
NVR 12/13/19: Amazon could disrupt direct to consumer sphere for Napa wineries

Update 3/11/19
NVR 1/28/19: Winegrowers instructed on 'future-proofing' Napa wine in the digital age
From the Paul Mabray presentation to the NV Grapegrowers:
"I fundamentally believe that the only way we're going to survive as an industry is how we can help bring Napa Valley into people's homes, without them coming to Napa Valley."
Hear! Hear!

PressDemocrat 2/24/19: Rely on the numbers? Respected Napa consultant thinks it’s vital for wineries to survive
Forbes 10/12/18: Wine Industry Digital Leader Paul Mabray Pulls No Punches
SVB on Wine 3/15/17: The Tough Questions Wine Clubs Face

SVB State of the Wine Industry 2019
With visitor counts falling every year for the last 4 years in Napa county Rob McMillan advises that "Your winery needs to find new growth and new consumers, and they aren't going to come from the present tasting room approach". (Chapter 9: "Sales and marketing for family wineries" beginning page 45.)

Update 2/25/15
Amber forwards one website that begins to create the Napa Internet Wine Portal envisioned below: Dave Thompson's very cleanly designed site The Napa Wine Project. It is a tremendous, actually astounding, online catalog of Napa wines and their descriptions and backstories. Just the thing to begin to make the necessity of acually visiting the 770+ small wineries he has been to around the county unnecessary. (Of course transporting people to them is how Dave tries to make ends meet.)

The Napa Wine Project
Internet wine merchants:
invino.com Sonoma
nakedwines.com Sonoma
Wine.com no doubt the largest wine e-tailer.

Original Post 2/10/15
It is important to remember that the one purpose of the land use policies articulated in the Napa General Plan is to encourage a market for Napa grapes, not to create a tourist industry to consume Napa wine. Wine sales to tourists have major negative impacts on the character of the valley, on the lives of the people who live here and, I think, on the viability of continuing an agricultural economy. Alternatives need to be pursued.

Currently, according to to Rob McMillan's SVB statistics, 6% of Napa wine is sold via the Internet. His feeling in his presentation to the Planning Comission was that direct sales at the winery were still important because unlike books or shoes, fine wines didn't lend themselves to Internet sales - they can't be returned after they're opened. There may be hurdles, but a technique to sell high-end wine on the internet will eventually be perfected and the need for in-winery sales, which even now constitute only a small portion of the overall sales of Napa wines but have big environmental impacts, will be over. Internet sales promise greater profits to the vintners without the impacts, hence as much effort should be put into an internet portal for Napa wines as has been spent on Visit Napa Valley trying to lure more customers to its bricks and mortar outlets. We need to make sure that the rural character of the valley is not destroyed in the meantime by preventing the construction of tourist facilities which will remain even after their need to support agriculture is gone.

Each winery has its own internet site, of course, so the process works, and someone will eventually become the Zappos of wine. Which is why it is important now for a Napa-only website to be developed that can compete with a larger site when it comes. Such a site, if developed as a quasi-public company like Visit Napa Valley, would profit vintners more than might be the case in a purely private company. The site should extoll the qualities of Napa wines, the importance of the concept of the Ag Preserve to maintain that quality and the reasons that Napa wine is more than just a bottle of wine - it is a piece of winemaking history.

Napa Soda Springs, County RSS and the BOF on: Napa Soda Springs


Bill Hocker - Mar 13,23  expand...  Share

The Soda Springs Resort property is located in a Fire Hazard Severity Zone (FHSZ) in the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's (Cal Fire's) State Responsibility Area (SRA), ie the areas of the state in which Cal Fire is the lead firefighting agency. It also means that development is governed by the State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations (MFSR) enacted by Cal Fire's Board of Forestry (BOF). Beginning in late 2019, following major destructive wildfires in the state, the BOF began a review of their regulations to see what could be improved. The review process was preceded by a decision by the State Attorney General's office earilier in 2019 to deny the EIR for the Paraiso Springs Resort development in Monterey County. That project was to be located on an existing long dead-end road. The Attorney General concluded that the EIR failed to mitigate the fact that the existing road did not comply with the BOF regulations regarding width or length of a dead end road. Monterey County had contended that the BOF regulations should only apply to new roads, not existing ones. The Attorney General's office disagreed in their comment letter while reviewing the EIR, and the BOF review of its MFSR began.

A year and a half of marked up changes to the MFSR were proposed involving input from all stakeholders (local governments, developers, and private citizens). The process is documented here. At the end of the process the BOF apparently decided that their original regulations were for the most part adequate, but it was the process of enforcement of those regulations that was lax, leaving too much of that enforcement to local governments whose priority was to enable development rather than prevent wildfire catastrophe. The approval of the regulations as modified in 2021 was upheld. The major change to come out of the review was in how active the BOF would become in reviewing projects in the SRA.

The Napa Soda Springs Resort project may become a test to see how far the BOF will go in enforcing their regulations. Napa County is in the process of presenting their interpretation of the BOF regs to the Board of Supervisors and the public. They are relying on a 2016 certification of Napa County's Road and Street Standards (RSS) by the BOF. The certification meant that the RSS complied or exceeded the BOF standards. The certification was re-approved in 2019 before the State began to review their regulations. A major change to come out of the review was that the State would no longer certify local standards. It would now be up to local jurisdictions to prove that BOF standards were being complied with on each individual project.

The current RSS explicitly state that existing roads are exempt from the provisions of the RSS. The County is relying on the previous certification to allow that provision to remain in effect. But the Attorney General specifically rejected that interpretation of the BOF regs in the Paradiso Springs EIR. They concluded that the EIR failed to mitigate for the length of the dead-end road that exceeded BOF standards and that, indeed, there was no mitigation that would provide the "same practical effect" as a shorter road. Existing dead-end roads can not be exempted from BOF regulations.

But even more recently, when Sonoma County tried to have their local road standards certified by the BOF in 2020, the BOF rejected that certification on the basis that Sonoma's road standards, just like Napa's, exempted existing roads. Deborah Eppstein, who led the fight in Sonoma County against the certification, has just now sent a letter to Napa County rebutting their effort to claim that existing roads are exempt.

Which brings us to the ruins of the Napa Soda Springs Resort, 3.4 miles up Soda Canyon Road in a Fire Hazard Severity Zone. At this point it is total conjecture what will happen as the Napa Soda Springs projects progresses. To our knowledge, nothing beyond a zoning review in March 2022 between the county and the previous owner has transpired. But intuitively there must have been a more substantial informal commitment by the County that the project could proceed in order for the new owner, with development ambitions, to buy the property. The future of this project very much depends on how well the County can convince the State that their own RSS should supersede the BOF regs when the two are in conflict, as is the case over whether the BOF regs apply to existing roads. It may be come an important test of the State's newfound interest in curbing development in fire-prone areas.

Board of Forestry Fire Safe Regulations & the NCRSS on: Fire Issues


Bill Hocker - Mar 6,23  expand...  Share

Napa County State Responsibility Area in which Regs apply
Update 3/6/23
NVR 3/4/23: County works on fire hazard road standards
Video of 2/28/23 BOS meeting
Adopted NCRSS 4/27/23

Contrary to rumor, the county has not backed off their stance that that existing roads need not be improved to NCRSS/MFSR standards to accommodate new development. Patrick Ryan did say that for CEQA projects the totality of access from the nearest 'through" road would be looked at. But this iteration of the 2023 NCRSS still begins it's scope with "These Standards are not applicable retroactively to existing roads, streets and driveways or facilities." The emphasis again in this meeting was about what would happen with new development on private property or existing private subdivisions.

Conversely, the MFSR Regs do not differentiate between existing and new roads. And the State has already made itself very clear that they think the Regs should apply to existing roads when considering new development as in this letter to Monterey County and this letter to Sonoma County (see page 6). It is an issue which the County still seems to be fudging.

At the end of the meeting, ICEO Morrison conceded that, since county regulations are no longer being certified by the State, "the concern that staff has had is that others [i.e. the public] can bring litigation against the County for not being consistant with the State." They should be concerned.

Update 2/27/23
Here are the final, but still "unofficial" (until 4/1/23), Board of Forestry and Fire State Protection Minimum Fire Safe Regulations. This link is to a pdf. The BOF continues to publish only a link to a MSWord document here.

The regulations are certainly much clearer without all of the strikeouts, addition and existing text jumbled together for the first time. And it is still clear that the plain language of the text and the County's convenient interpretation of that language to enable continuing development in hazrdous fire zones are miles apart.

Update12/2/22 State response to inquiries
The County has received notification that the State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations have not yet been approved and may be under additional review. So the "final" MSFR may not be so final after all.

There is a clear difference in code between State Board of Forestry Minimum Fire Safe Regulations (MFSR) as presently proposed and Napa County's Road and Street standards as proposed. Though the State regulations and County standards are for the most part identical, the NCRSS definitively exempt existing roads from having to comply with other provisions of the standards. The MFSR explicitly make no difference between existing and new roads, and, in fact, the BOF specifically rejected, in their "final" redline, language that would have limited their regulations to new roads only.

So what happens when local regulations, like the NCRSS, conflict with the MSFR? The difference in implementation of the two codes would result in a huge difference in the amount of new development occurring in wildfire areas of the state going forward. Limiting that development was one of the principal reasons for the review of the MSFR in 2020-22 and the retention of language that did not differentiate between new and existing roads in the regulations.

Several concerned citizens asked Edith Hannigan, Executive Officer at the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, what happens when local standards and state regulations differ. This is one such email exchange:

    From Bill Hocker to Edith Hannigan 11/14/22:
    I would be very happy to know how the BOF feels about local jurisdictions exempting existing roads from having to comply with the MSFR.

    From EH 11/15/22:
    The Board cannot offer interpretations on other governments' codes and ordinances.
    Thank you for your understanding.

    From BH 11/15/22:
    So what is the recourse if local codes contradict the BOF Fire Safe Regulations? Doesn't that render the BOF regulations meaningless?

    From EH 11/15/22:
    I would consult a lawyer to explore your options for legal relief.

In looking at this response, it would seem that the State will treat MSFR as they do CEQA standards. That is, it is not up to the State to enforce the code, but rather it is up to individuals or organizations to challenge non-compliance with State code in court on a project-specific basis. In fact, discontinuing BOF certifications of local codes, as the BOF has now done, eliminates one barrier to lawsuits against local jurisdictions over their codes. It is perhaps one more example of how, in such a litigious society, governance can now only occur through the courts.

Update11/17/22 Community Outreach Meeting
On 11/17/22 Napa County Staff held a community outreach meeting to present the the County's revised Road and Street Standards in response to the State's newly approved Minimum Fire Safe Regulations.

Notice of the meeting
2023 Draft NCRSS redline version
2023 Draft NCRSS FAQ letter
Approved 2021 State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations (MFSR)
BOF Statement of Reasons behind Approved 2021 MSFR
2019 "certified" Napa County Road and Street Standards (NCRSS)
Video of the 11/17/22 hearing
Deborah Eppstein Letter to planner Patrick Ryan and County

Deborah Eppstein, representing the Sonoma group SAFRR concerned with local interpretation of the MFSR, has sent this list of issues that she wishes to bring up at the Outreach Meeting:

    "1) Napa’s prior certification is no longer valid as any time an ordinance is amended to update it as is required anytime the state regs are updated, the prior certification is no longer valid. That is spelled out black and white in the current regs (see § 1270.04(d) of current 2020 regs). All local ordinances must be amended to comply with the new regs. Furthermore, BOF is no longer doing certifications (moratorium started Nov 4, 2020) and they accordingly beefed up language in the new [2021] regs (§ 1270.05) spelling out that local ordinances must fully comply with the corresponding minimum standards in the state regs, and that no exemptions could be applied that were not in the state regs.

    2) The state regs apply to all public and private roads (see definition of Road), so the Napa regs cannot exclude the public access roads.

    3) Separately, the Napa 2019 certified regs actually did not exclude the public access roads as Patrick Ryan has stated
    [SCR notes they are exempted in Scope of Standards section ] - sections 12 and 13 of the Napa regs rather provide the requirements for road and driveway standards within a parcel, but they do not state that the road standards outside the parcel are no longer applicable.

    4) Exceptions can only be granted under the limited conditions listed in Section 3 (p3) and then only within the development parcel as specified. Exceptions must provide for the same practical effect as the state regs, which includes concurrent fire apparatus ingress and civilian evacuation, and unobstructed traffic circulation (see BOF regs, § 1273.00), consistent with the technical details specified in Article 2 of the state regs (20 ft wide roads, 16% grades, dead-end road length limits, etc). Exceptions are not for entire roads, but for specific obstacles- eg heritage oaks, recorded historical sites.

    5) The state AG has written that exceptions cannot be applied to change the dead-end road length limitation (2019 letter to Monterey County)

Deborah has also supplied this highlighted 2020 Letter from the BOF to the County of Sonoma during Sonoma's attempt to certify their road standards. Pease note the highlights on p. 6. The BOF makes clear that the exemption of existing roads from compliance with local ordinance " is a legitimate basis for determining that the ordinance does not equal or exceed the Fire Safe Regulations." The NCRSS exemption of existing roads in its Scope of Standards clearly violates the MSFR.

She also calls attention to the 8/17/22 BOF Statement of Reasons that accompanied the BOF approval of the 2021 MFSR. Beginning on page 5 they enumerate their "General Response to Comments Regarding Existing Roads:" That response makes crystal clear that their intent is that the regulations apply to existing as well as new roads. Any attempt by local jurisdictions to exempt existing roads from the application of local standards would clearly indicate that those standards do not "equal or exceed" the MSFR.

After the meeting she sent this letter to county officials to further clarify the issue.

Update10/21/22
NVR 10/21/22: Napa County grapples with controversial state fire safe standards
Video of BOS 10/18/22 meeting
Staff Agenda Letter
Approved 2021 State Fire Safe Regulations
Napa County 2019 Road and Street Standards

Following a year and a half haggling over the revision of the State Board of Forestry's Fire Safe Regulations for development in the fire-prone wildland areas, and the significant development restrictions that strict enforcement of the regulations would entail, county staff has decided to take the most minimalist interpretation with little change in their policies and practices, based on the County's own Road and Street Standards that had been certified by the BOF in 2016 before the county began burning down. The State will no longer certify local road standards, and that lack of certification means that localities are responsible for defending their standards when it comes to litigation.

Despite a slew of proposed markups over that year and a half, the final regulations remained mostly as they were, but there was a committment that the State would be more involved in vetting projects and applying their regulations more diligently.

The most significant of the proposed markups, desired by developers and jurisdictions, was the insertion of the word "new" when referring to roads in the regulations. The State's ultimate decision was to leave the Fire Safe Regulations as they are, making no distinction between existing and new roads when it came to the application of the regulations. Napa's own Road and Street Standards (RSS) explicitly state that "These Standards are not applicable retroactively to existing roads, streets and driveways or facilities." County staff has chosen to consider all of the Fire Safe Regulations, also closely mimicked in the RSS, as not applicable to any public road in the county! Firefighting "access" to new building projects would only become an issue from the nearest public road in their reviews. But they are now proposing that, in conformance with the BOF regs, driveways on private property would be considered roads when serving commercial and industrial uses and more than 4 residential units. Those roads would have to conform to the RSS but mitigating execptions would be allowed that provided the "same practical effect", defined at the discretion of local fire authority. The county has always found a mitigation that would allow substandard roads to be approved. (Anthem is the most egregious example.)

The most contentious of the BOF Regulations relates to the length of dead-end roads. The MFSR specifically do not allow new building projects on dead-ends longer than 1 mile (even less for dead-ends serving properties less than 20 acres). For those of us concerned about the urbanization of the rural areas of the county, this was an important revelation. Soda Canyon has some 200 properties beyond the 1 mile mark, with the potential for hundreds of housing units (3/property), dozens of wineries and 1 mega resort adding to the evacuation traffic on a road that has already proven inadequate in a major fire. But most of the speakers throughout this process have had the opposite concern: the enforcement of this regulation would limit their development rights on their properties, a financial taking. The county was no doubt concerned about their lawsuits as well.

The intent of the BOF review of their regulations, in the wake of the devastating wildfires that occur every year now, was to limit development on substandard roads in State [fire] Responsibility Areas which add to the likelihood and destructiveness of the fires. The county, in deciding that the access constraints of existing roads would have no bearing on their approval of new development has essentially thumbed its nose at that intent.

Update 10/11/22
Napa Vision 2050 has sent a letter to the BOS expressing concern that the County Staff may not be planning to enforce BOF Fire Safe Regulations on access roads beyond property boundries. Given the staff statement below, it almost seems that nothing has changed in the County's approach to approving projects in hazardous fire zones, despite the clear effort by the State over the last year and a half to impress upon jurisdictions the need to rein in development in such areas.

Update 10/6/22: Staff recommendations
The County Planning Commission Clerk has sent out the recommendations that County Planning Staff will be presenting to the Board of Supervisors on October 18, 2022 regarding its interpretation of the State Board of Forestry Fire Safe Regulations that will be enforced beginning on 1/1/23. The recommendations are here.

Regarding Access
    "Access Staff Recommendation: Access will be evaluated for each project on only the private driveway, from the nearest public right of way to the new building. This is consistent with the County’s certified 2016 Ordinance, the adopted 2022 Fire Safe Regulations, and the California Fire Code. These same standards would be applied to both ministerial and discretionary projects.

    However, discretionary projects, such as Use Permits, are also subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In those cases, County Fire and Public Works Departments would determine whether access to the site (including both public and private roads) provides sufficient emergency evacuation for the proposed use. Where existing emergency evacuation is inadequate, Fire and Public Works would make recommendations for improvements to be included as conditions of approval."

Beyond fire rebuilds, which the county says it will allow, the County has made no comment on the regulation that most concerns the future of Soda Canyon Road: whether or not they will permit development of new projects beyond 1 mile on dead-end roads. The language of the Regulations is quite clear: dead end roads serving parcels of 20 acres or larger cannot have new construction of residential, commercial or industrial buildings beyond one mile from their connection to a through road. My interpretation of the state Regs is that the county must approve an alternative that provides the same practical effect as the regulation. The proposed statement to the BOS seems to say that the County rather than the state will decide, as it did on Mountiain Peak, whether building on a dead end road beyond 1 mile is safe, and whether a mitigation provides the same-practical-effect as the regulation. It will be interesting to see what that mitigation is.

Update 9/8/22: County discussion of Final Regs
The County presented their interpretation of the Final BOF Minimum Fire Safe Regulations (8/19/22) that are anticipated to take effect on 1/1/23. Video of the Zoom meeting is here.

I've had to go through the zoom video a couple of times to understand how the county thus far interprets the new regulations. The year and a half drafting process (see previous updates below) despite the active additions and consternation of stakeholders throughout the state, are more restrictive than when the process began. The regs on their face will have such a significant impact on future development in the county (and the state) that there seemed a sense of disbelief on the part of Mr. Ryan and Dir. Morrison in their interpretations. But perhaps these are the unbelievable changes that we will have to make to confront a changing climate.

My Selective takeaways:
  • All projects that receive final approval, whether planning or building permit, after 1/1/23 must comply with the new Fire Safe Regulations.
  • the regulations apply equally to new and existing roads.
  • Driveways (10' wide with turnouts) can only serve a maximum of 4 residential units.
  • Anything over 4 residential units or any industrial or commmercial use must be accessed by a road (2-10' lanes and 2' shoulders).
  • no new construction on ridgelines (beyond some utility buildings).
  • no new construction (including fire rebuilds!) allowed on dead-end roads beyond 1 mile (less for parcels smaller then 20 acres).

The last is a really big deal. For those of us not interested in further development in our remote neighborhoods it is very good news. The built environment of most of Soda Canyon Road, like that of many of the dead end road throughout the state, is frozen in time - diminishing perhaps as buildings burn. The profound implications of this limitation seemed to generate that sense of disbelief in the presentation. It goes beyond just the homes or businesses that people can no longer build on their properties. The value of the properties (and the taxes they generate) have just taken an enormous hit, a regulatory taking, and there will be an eternity of lawsuits.

The county is surely anticipating a period of negotiation with the BOF to soften things up. But right now, many of the battles over rural land use fought over the last 8 years may be history.

There was one little issue that I still had a question about. Mr. Ryan indicated that in talking to the BOF "access" meant from the fire station to the property. His interpretation was that the 1 mile dead end would begin from a fire station. A commentor asked about the Soda Canyon Road fire station. Yes, construction could occur up to 1 mile from the station. Does that mean that the entire road below the station can have construction? If the fire station were located at the end of SCR would construction be allowed on the whole road? The Soda Canyon fire station is the size of a 2 car garage, has one engine and isn't manned all the time. If such a fire station eliminates the problem of long dead-end roads won't developers or communities simply provide such a structure and truck to enable their development plans to proceed? The issues of ingress and egress on a dead-end road are the same whether there is one additional fire truck on the road or not.

Update 9/1/22
The County is having a public meeting to discuss the implications of the State's renewed commitment to enforce its Minimum Fire Safe Regulations. There will be a webinar on Thurs, Sep. 8, 2022 from 8 to 10am. More information about participating may be found here.

Dir. Morrison has responded to a request for information from George Calyonnidis with the above link which contains further links to the text of the Regulations as well as the BOF reasons for the decision. Dir. Morrison also writes (music to my ears):

    "The rules have already been adopted by the State and are final. To be clear, the upcoming meeting is not an opportunity for the public to comment regarding any changes to the rules, as it would be for a draft ordinance before the Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors. The meeting being held by the County is primarily to help people be aware of and explain how these new rules will affect future building permit applications. For many areas in the county, the changes will be significant for many property owners wishing to build homes or businesses."

Update 8/29/22
NV2050 Eyes on Napa Newsletter 8/25/22: Hard Won Victory For Fire Safety

After numerous revisions back and forth in proposed rules changes over the last year plus, the Board of Forestry has apparently voted to retain existing wording in the regulations that do not specifically designate that Fire Safe Regulations shall apply only to new access roads rather than existing roads. It was the most contentious and significant debate in the discussion because, under existing regulations, it is implied that access roads to new development whether existing or new, should comply with the minimum Fire Safe standards. For new projects at the end of sub-standard roads, the entire road must be brought up to standard to be approved, a cost that developer-dominated jurisdictions throughout the state argued would kill development in fire-prone, wild-land areas. That disincentive was, of course, the purpose in revisiting the regulations after so much fire damage in the last few years.

The cleanest version of the adopted Regulations (8/19/22) is here
BOF Final Statements of Reasons behind the BOF decisions (8/17/22)
County's map of State Responsibility Areas where the Fire Safe Regulations apply

For residents of Soda Canyon Road, one condition in the existing regulations has always stood out: the prohibition of new development on dead end roads greater than 1 mile. In that regard I was sent a 2019 determination by the State Attorney General in reviewing the FEIR for a development project at the end of a dead end road in Monterey County. The Attorney General's finding regarding road length was unequivocal: there are no exceptions for existing roads in the regulations nor is there any mitigation that would provide the same practical effect on a road exceeding the length specified in the regulations. The County has made the argument that because Soda Canyon Road has been defined (by the County) as a "collector road" that it is exempt from the dead-end requirements of the regulations. This was not the reading I got from the AG decision in Paradiso Springs.

Update 5/23/22
Patricia Damery sends this SAFRR 5/23/22 ananouncement: SAFRR Initial Victory Announcement

SAFRR is a Sonoma citizens group that has lobbied to continue to have fire-safe road regulations apply to all roads rather than just new roads. The push to add the word "new" to all of the minimum road prescriptions in the old text was promoted by the RCRC, a lobbying association promoting the interests of governments, who knew that road prescriptions without the "new" in front of them, would apply to existing as well as new roads. This would limit the ability of governments to continue to approve new development projects at the ends of substandard roads. Slowing down that development was exactly the reason given for the revision of the regs in the first place, but until the most recent proposed update, the previous revisions were modified under developer pressure to specify minimum regs would only apply to new roads. This latest revision reverts to the text that doesn't differentiate between existing and new roads.

Update 5/17/22
The latest draft of the State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations are out and a request for comments has been made. The written comment period ends on Monday, May 23, 2022. Comments may be sent by email to Edith Hannigan at PublicComments@bof.ca.gov

Latest draft of "State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations" (markup of text 5/10/22)
Latest "Statement of Reasons" (description of changes 5/10/22)
County comments on proposed revisions

As is obvious from the length of this post, this has been a tortuous process. Most of the verbiage that had been revised and revised again in previous drafts seems to have been scuttled in this draft and a new mini version of the regs has emerged. The markup was difficult to follow before but is impossible for all but forensic scholars to follow now.

One previous revision that was jettisoned was the word "new" that had been liberally added throughout the text. The concept that the regulations would only apply to new means of access has reverted to the more ambiguous prescriptions that might be interpreted as applying to existing roads as well. In terms of preventing development in fire zones, which is what I think the regs should do, this reversion to the original is an improvement.

Update 1/14/22
NVR 1/14/22: Proposed state wildfire rules worry Napa County

Update 1/2/22
The rule-making package entitled “State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations” is available on the Board's website for a 15-day public comment period following revisions to the draft rule text. The comment period begins on Tuesday, January 3 and ends at 5pm on Wednesday, January 19, 2022. Email comments, or comments as attachments to emails, are preferred. They can be sent to PublicComments@bof.ca.gov.

Napavision 2050 on the new Regulations
Comment letter from Wildfire Professionals opposed to the regulation changes

In a sad reprise of the APAC process in Napa County, the State decided to amend their fire safe regulations in response to an obvious public need for reform. And, as in APAC, the good intentions and proposals made at the beginning of the process were slowly pared back and then twisted by development interests resulting in a new codification of the status quo to their own benefit. In the case of the fire safe regulations, the previous regulations were phrased as applying to all roads, new and old. While the new regulations do in some cases make the regulations stricter for new roads, the most significant change in the regulations is that they now clearly differentiate between existing and new roads, and clarify that existing roads are now, in fact, subject to lesser regulation than they were before. Since most new development happens along or at the end of existing roads, the new regulations have the effect of making development in fire risk areas more likely to happen than before, in direct opposition to the initial intent of changing the regulations.

An article in The Guardian lays out exactly the development patterns, in this case Colorado, that caused the State of California to revisit their fire safe regulations. The solution to the problem is not in providing wider roads and shorter dead-ends in the developments themselves. The Colorado neighborhoods no doubt complied with similar fire-safe regulations and yet burned up in a matter of hours. The object of fire safe regulations should be to dis-incentivize the developments in the first place. Requiring existing roads serving those developments to be completely fire-safe compliant, thus adding significant expenditures to enable the developments, is one, rather inefficient, way to further that goal. A better way is to simply ban development in high fire risk areas, a sensible solution that is, unfortunately, anathema to American capitalism and the politicians and governments that are funded by development interests.

The Guardian 1/6/22: 'Urban fire storm’: suburban sprawl raising risk of destructive wildfires

Update 6/22/21
The Guardian 6/29/21: California developers want to build a city in the wild-lands. It could all go up in flames

Will the Fire Safe Regulations really make any difference? Centennial, the city proposed at Tejon Ranch, will no doubt comply with and probably exceed every proposed regulation. And the urban expansion into the state's wild-lands will proceed apace.

The issue from Cal Fire's standpoint should not be whether the roads are big enough to get to the fire, but how to stop expanding the urban perimeter they have to defend. By not imposing any meaningful changes to existing roads, which would substantially raise the cost of development in wild-land areas, the regulations will do nothing to slow that expansion.

Update 6/22/21 BOF Webinar
What had been originally planned as a Board of Forestry hearing to possibly ratify the Fire Safe Regulations they have been working on for over a year became just one more workshop in the process with more comments and letters from "stakeholders". The comments represented "diametrically opposed views" (in the BOF chair's summation) of the regulations. County governments, developers and some property owners felt that the new regs are so onerous that development would just stop. They bemoaned the lack of local control and flexibility. Environmental groups and some property owners felt that the new regs were a regression and would do nothing to improve safety or slow development in fire hazard areas. They bemoaned the lack of State oversight of the implementation and enforcement of the regs, old or new.

Napa had verbal input on both sides, though not by the County. Chuck Wagner wants more local control and development on the ridge-lines. Mr. Erickson wants more building hardening but less regulation of development location. Kellie Anderson wants all roads to be brought to new road standards. Patricia Damery felt the standards have been weakened and wants more state oversight of county exceptions (and called out the county approval of tourist attractions at the end of 6 mile dead-end roads).

There did seem to be a consensus on both sides over one issue (except for one person whose house was on hold in the building dept): more time was needed - 90 days often mentioned - and an EIR should be required (another year at least). Given the unknown impacts of such regulations on development throughout the state, an EIR, though they never seem to change anything, would seem warranted.

The BOF promised to carefully consider all letters and comments submitted before deciding a path forward, though I'm sure they are under enormous pressure to get this task finished before this year's fire season adds to the complaints about their slowness. Given that they were vigorously attacked from both sides, they may just feel that they have gotten it about right as is, and approve the regs as they are.

Update 6/15/21 BOF Hearing
The Board of Forestry will be meeting on June 22, 2021 to consider and possibly approve (tho unlikely) the current markup version of the Fire Safe regulations. The hearing notice is here.

Comment letters are requested to be submitted before the end of the meeting. Send letters to Edith Hanningan at edith.hannigan@bof.ca.gov

George Caloyannidis Comments
Deborah Eppstein LTE 6/17/21: Proposed regulations will promote fire safety?

Update 6/7/21 BOS Meeting
NVR:6/10/21: Napa County says proposed state wildfire safety regulations threaten fire rebuilding

Revised letter to be sent to the BOF by the BOS. One further modification will be added to the letter based on the 6/8/21 BOS meeting. The expression "Declared Disaster" will be replaced by something equivalent to (for want of a better phrase) "Act of God".

The red-line indicates that the new regulations apply to development that "results in an increase of 40 average daily trips (ADT) or less". [County staff indicated that the correction has been made to read "40 average daily trips (ADT) or more"]

Update 6/3/21 County Virtual Stakeholders Meeting
At the Stakeholders zoom meeting on the proposed FSR, County engineer Patrick Ryan made a presentation of the Regs to help clarify with discussion the meaning of the changes. He promised to make his PowerPoint available. It would be nice to have a copy of the zoom meeting if possible. Dir. Morrison had a couple of interesting comments. In one he indicted that the Board of Forestry seems to be ignoring the input of local planning departments in their effort to approve the new Regulations. (What he really means is that the BOF is ignoring the input of local development interests - "stakeholders" - that normally control land use policy.) County residents certainly know the feeling of being ignored by government bodies. I can't say it makes us sympathetic.

A similar presentation will be made to the Board of Supervisors on Jun 8, 2021.

Virtual Meeting Notice (Quite odd that it is at the same time as the Planning Commission meeting.)
County webpage about meeting

Update 6/1/21
Patricia Damery has sent a copy of a letter from lawyers representing State Alliance for Fire safe Road Regulations, a group that wants to compel an EIR to assess the impacts of changes to the BOF regulations. Their contention is that in exempting existing roads from compliance in the new Regulations, more development will be facilitated. They make the case that there was never an exemption for existing roads in the previous regulations. Since most new development occurs on old roads, changing wording of provisions to apply only to new roads allows development on old roads that would have been prohibited under the old regulations.

The word "new" appears 4 times in the old regulations (none relating to roads) and 21 times in the revised ones (most relating to roads) . Until reading the letter I had lost the forest for the trees in the tangled undergrowth of the strikeouts, underlines, paragraph movements and subsection references. The revisions are a big win for developers in codifying that minimum road dimensions, radii, grades, dead-end lengths, etc., apply to "new" roads rather than all roads.

Update 5/20/21
On June 22, 2021 The Board of Forestry will hold a Public Hearing to discuss and perhaps vote on proposed changes to the BOF Fire Safe Regulations. The notice for the hearing is here. Comments may be submitted up through the conclusion of the hearing. The BOF may vote to approve the proposed changes at the hearing or may propose revisions based on comments submitted with a future additional comment period and hearing to consider and vote on those revisions.

The official documents related to the hearing are linked on the this Board of Forestry webpage under the menu item "State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations".

Napa County Sup. Gregory mentioned in comments that the 5/18/20 BOS meeting that they will be discussing proposed changes to the State Board of Forestry Fire Safe Regulations on June 8th in preparation for the drafting of a second response letter to the Regulation changes.

Update 4/26/21
NVR 4/26/21: Napa County worries that proposed state fire rules could trigger costly road improvements

I'm not sure if the claim by the Supervisors that rebuilding fire damaged homes will trigger new road construction is more than just a scare tactic to get the public involved. There was an exemption for fire rebuilding in the existing road standards and that exemption has been widened to allow increased footprints.

The notion that adding a bedroom or a minor modification to a winery should be allowed discretionary thresholds of intensity or density increase, sounds reasonable until you extrapolate it to all properties using a road and realize that a "mitigation" will always be found to exceed any threshold. Nominally "less-than-significant" impacts on each and every project being built in the County, as we have contended since beginning this blog, add up to a very significant impact on county urbanization as a whole.

Dir. Morrison's concern that the regulations would have a "dramatic effect on development" is, of course, just the point of the regulation changes: to stop the spread of urban development into high fire areas that don't have the firefighting infrastructure to defend the new development.

I was surprised to find that the Fire Safe Regulations had severe restrictions on dead-end roads. The existing regulation prevents development on dead-end roads longer than 1 mile. The new regulation prevents development on "local" dead-ends longer than a half mile. Why was this not a consideration in approving the Mountain Peak project 6 miles up a dead-end road? Because the county defines Soda Canyon as a "collector" road, not subject to the Fire Safe Regulations. As a collector, however, Soda Canyon is substandard in width, radii and slope on the grade by the county's own road and street standards. And there are sections of the road narrower than the 20' minimum required by the Fire Safe Regs for collectors. (The County also designates Monticello Rd and Hwy 128 as a "Freeway (2 Lanes)" - there does seem to be a bit of road inflation going on.)

[added 5/23/22: The State does not consider SCR a collector. In their Functional Classifications of Roads widget Cal Trans considers it a "local" road. (Dry Creek Rd, e.g., is considered a "minor collector".)]

In any case, fires don't know the difference between "local" and "collector" roads particularly in constrained high fire risk canyons. As the Atlas fire showed, a dead-end collector is still a dead-end road, and the length along which a fire can wreck havoc to block access is a significant factor in its safety.

Numerous projects have been appealed to the board on the basis of their access constraints and the fire dangers that are a result. Anthem Winery was the most recently approved despite substantial fire hazard concerns.

The Board knows, as they acknowledge in their letter, that most of the roads in the county are substandard -- they are so even under the old BOF regulations. Yet they continue to approve tourism-reliant winery projects in remote areas of the county (including the creation of a new ordinance allowing private homes to be turned into tasting rooms.) Their concern is for the promotion of "growth" (and in Napa County that means tourism growth) at all costs.

The BOF is pursuing a rapid timeline on the new regulations precisely because counties have failed to heed their old regulations, and the BOF knows that if the process is drawn out, thousands of projects in the pipeline will be rushed to approval, adding to the firefighting burden in hazardous areas in the future. The import of the new regulations is not just that their conditions will impose greater restrictions than the old regulations, but that the state is now ready to enforce their regulations in a way that they haven't before.

Update 2/15/21
The Board of Forestry has sent out a new draft of the fire safe regulations. In this latest revision, existing sub-standard roads, for example those less than 20' wide or dead-ends greater than 1 mile in length, may be used for new development that doesn't exceed pre-defined numerical thresholds. Several options are proposed in the new draft as possibilities for creating those thresholds. This acknowledgement that the Board of Forestry is willing to accept sub-standard, and more dangerous roads in certain development circumstances is a divergence from the previous regulations which, in theory, would have made standards applicable all new development.

The revised (2/8/21) Draft is here.
PRN comments on the draft
Napa Vision 2050 letter to the BOF

2/3/21 Original Post
Following the California wildfires in 2017, which had major impacts on Napa and Sonoma counties (though worse was yet to come), Sen. Bill Dodd sponsored CA SB-901 in a wide ranging effort to address wildfire danger in the state. In one of its many provisions, "This bill would also require the state forestry board to adopt regulations implementing minimum fire safety standards that are applicable to lands classified and designated as very high fire hazard severity zones and would require the regulations to apply to the perimeters and access to all residential, commercial, and industrial building construction within lands classified and designated as very high fire hazard severity zones, as defined, after July 1, 2021"

Following the California Wildfires of 2020 which again devastated large areas of Northern California, State Sens. Stern and Allen introduced Ca SB-55 that would "prohibit the creation or approval of a new development, as defined, in a very high fire hazard severity zone or a state responsibility area." The bill is short with no exemptions, and seems unlikely to become law. The Board of Forestry seems to be proceeding on the basis of attempting to satisfy the requirements of SB-901 rather than the absolute prohibitions of SB-55. [Update: a subsequent revision completely emasculated the bill to the benefit of developers.]

In 1991 the State of California Board of Forestry (BOF) established Fire Safe Regulations defining road standards in state responsibility areas (SRA's are beige on this map). The regulations define minimum road widths, maximum gradients, required turnouts and turnarounds, road surfaces, dead-end road lengths, curve radii, water provision, and vegetation management. The standards are intended to insure that firefighters have adequate access for their equipment in the event of wildfires.

Following the requirements of SB 901, the Board of Forestry has begun to review its 1991 standards. In 2019 they produced a first draft of changes to the current regulations. And beginning in Nov 2020 the Board has convened a series of workshops on the draft regulations, and comments have been submitted. A new draft of the regulations will be published on Feb 8th with a request for further comments. The documents are here. A background of the issues and contacts for submission of comments, from the perspective of some concerned citizens of Sonoma, are here.

The draft regulations would expand the areas of regulation to another set of High Fire Hazard Severity Zones beyond the current SRA's into Local Responsibility Areas (LRA's). And they would strengthen certification to insure that local fire safety regulations comply with state regulations with a new emphasis on existing roadways serving new development.

The use of substandard existing roads to access new development has in the past been excused in new development approvals; since the preponderance of new development in the state has been to expand into rural and mountainous areas at the edges of its megalopolises, the impact on new development projects requiring all existing roads to be upgraded would be substantial. In the case of existing dead-end roads, or roads with non-compliant widths, curves and gradients previously mitigate-able development would become unfeasible.

State regulations allow for local governments to use their own standards in approving development projects as long as those standards are "equal or more stringent" and provide "the same practical effect as" the level of fire protection in the state standards. But seldom are the mitigations that local authorities accept as providing "the same practical effect" challenged, and counties have been free heretofore to approve developments based on local regulations often, in fact, more lenient than the state regulations.

But the recent wildfires have changed the state's willingness to allow local governments to overlook or mitigate-away state standards. In 2019 an exception for existing roads was argued by Monterey County on the behalf of a developer and the argument was firmly rejected by the State Attorney General. The Attorney General has also stepped in to join a lawsuit against the Guenoc Valley project in Lake County over fire issues.

Sonoma County has tried in the last year to certify their own Fire Safety Ordinance. An article in the Sonoma County Gazette gives an overview of the effort so far. The State has not been persuaded. The BOF responded to the Sonoma Ordinance in this letter. The Board has suspended certifying any local ordinances until the revision of the state regulations are finalized.

An association of county governments that lobbies the state, the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), is weighing in on the proposed BOF Fire Safe Regulation changes. The member counties, often in the grip of development interests that promise fees, taxes, jobs (and campaign contributions), are, of course, quite concerned about the regulations' impact on their construction projects. It remains to be seen how effective they will be in reducing the fire safe measures the state now seems intent on enforcing. Sup. Diane Dillon is Napa's member in the association. Napa County doesn't yet seemed to have weighed in on the draft.

What this means for Napa County

Wine and Water Watch take on NapaVision2050 article: PLAYING WITH FIRE Is Napa County Ignoring Forestry and State Road Standards for Fire Safety?

It was news to me that State regulations do not allow commercial development on dead end roads longer than 1 mile in high fire severity SRA's like Soda Canyon Road. In the new draft, that distance for new roads is shortened to one-half mile. It may be news to other residents of the county facing a winery in their backyard that roads leading to the project might be required to be raised to state fire safe standards if the projects are to be approved. Such a requirement would be good news to all county residents currently fighting the county over the commercialization of their neighborhoods for event centers and tasting rooms.

A remand of the Mountain Peak project back to the Napa Board of Supervisors to revisit the fire safety of Soda Canyon Road in light of the devastation of the 2017 fire is due in the not-too-distant future. The Board of Forestry should be asked to weigh in specifically on their half mile limitation on new development in the SRA's, and the county should be asked to justify their exemption from BOF standards in approving some winery projects.

Climate Action Committee on: Climate Action Plan


Bill Hocker - Mar 4,23  expand...  Share

Update 3/3/23
NVR 3/4/23: Napa County seeking grant for regional climate action plan
2/24/23 Climate Action Committee Meeting video

More money for yet another study.

'“We can’t really spend all our time just planning. We have to actually take some important actions,” county Supervisor Joelle Gallagher said.'

As I note every time an update is added to this post, there is one "hard choice" (in Sup. Pedroza's words) the supervisors and municipalities could take immediately to reduce GHG's at the same time supercharging the effort to seek long term solutions: stop approving any new building projects until Napa's GHG's begin to fall. It is, in fact, a relatively easy choice, since it will only impact the 2030 reduction goal rather than the much harder effort needed to curtail existing emissions.

And, at some point perhaps, the supervisors, and other county governments, may want to recognize that the promotion of the urbanizing, hedonistic and GHG-producing activity of wine-country tourism should be curtailed in order to save the planet as well as the rural, small-town character of Napa County.

Update 12/3/22
NVR 12/3/22: County, cities look at meeting "daunting" climate goals
11/30/22 meeting video
NVR 9/23/22: Napa County totals up its greenhouse gas emissions
Inventory of GHG emissions in the county as of 2019
Projection of County GHG emissions through 2030.

There is a lot to digest in the numbers. One nugget that stood out to me was the inordinate percentage of GHG's produced by "pleasure craft", an item projected to have the biggest percent increase by 2030, when it will constitute almost 8% of combined on-road off-road transport emissions. Of course, as things are going, many more of us will be living on the water at the edges of an expanding bay. But, still, it does seem like we should be making a better effort to curtail our pleasures in an effort to save the planet.

Still no discussion about curtailing the ongoing development that is a significant factor in ever increasing GHG emmissions. Finessing an existing GHG inventory and calls for a regional response may seem like action, but in fact are just prolonging taking any real action. See previous update.

In the meantime the county continues each month to approve winery entertainment venues bringing dozens of GHG-generating buildings and hundreds of thousands GHG-generating visitors plus employees, while also approving the deforestation of hundreds of acres of carbon-sequestering woodlands for vanity vineyards.

Update. 5/31/22
NVR 5/31/22: Napa County, cities consider teaming up for climate action plan

From the article:
    "Development projects between now and the creation of a climate action plan must still comply with state environmental laws, county Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said"

Those are the same laws that have led to a booming industry in LEED-blessed buildings that, with "bicycle-rack" mitigations, have done nothing to halt the exponential rise in GHGs over the last decade. If, instead, the director had announced a moratorium on building permits and deforestation proposals (ECPs) until a regional climate action plan was in place (perhaps like the one in Sonoma), the private sector might be encouraged to put money and energy into the climate action plan process that seems a bit plodding at present.

Even better, of course, would be a moratorium on such development until measurable GHG levels actually begin to decline. That might encourage a sincere effort on the part of developers to fund the search for solutions that work.

4/21/22
NVR 6/1/21: Napa County's Climate Action Committee looking for some 'small wins'

The above article is a bit dated. I have been negligent in not following the aftermath of the failure of the years-long effort in the County's 2019 CAP DEIR to meaningfully address the climate crisis we now face.

Natural catastrophes here and around the world have forced the recognition that more was needed than the county alone could achieve, and, in late 2019, the county and municipalities entered into a joint process, the Climate Action Committee to craft a new Climate action Plan. The effort involves once-a-month collegial meetings to digest options a make lists. It is a very deliberative process, infuriatingly slow given that the county has literally been burning down around them as they worked. They still anticipate a year of meetings. By 2016, Sonoma County had created a Regional Climate Protection Authority and a plan.

Some significant work has been done in formal recognition of the severity of the problem through private coaxing: The cities of Napa, American Canyon and Calistoga have each declared a climate emergency.

Declaring an emergency is, of course, a lot easier than doing something about it. To achieve the sort of "net zero" reductions in county GHGs needed by 2030, major lifestyle changes have to occur for the county's population, a prospect beyond the legislative power of democratic institutions and processes. The pace of their progress (after 2 years they are discussing how to make current GHG inventories in each jurisdiction) is slow, and they spend enormous amounts of time on procedure and minor conservation strategies that may or may not really work. Who knew that leaf-blowers are so detrimental to the future of mankind.

The "small wins" discussed a year ago in the above article seem quite comical given the enormity of change that must occur to really reduce GHG emissions. Unfortunately no one really seems to know what to do to make significant reductions, the "heavy lifting" mentioned in the article, which is perhaps why the work of the CAC seems to be so plodding.

I will suggest one easy-to-understand emergency action that is within governmental power to implement now: stop making the problem worse. Stop approving new development. Urbanization creates GHGs. Napa has been very good about holding off urbanization for 30 of the last 50 years with simple zoning fixes beginning in 1968. (It might be instructive to compare the GHGs generated by Napa County with the GHGs generated by, say, Santa Clara in the these 50 years.) Unfortunately, in the last two decades a "growth" agenda, the same agenda that filled the rest of the Bay Area with GHG producing people, buildings and cars, has taken root and is now beginning to blossom in Napa - into GHG producing tourist attractions, hotels, warehouses, shopping centers, housing projects, road upgrades and vineyard deforestation. Stop it.

And likewise rescind un-exercised development approvals to make sure they don't add to the problem. This is an emergency - many scientists now see it as an existential threat to humanity. Treat it as such. Something as bold as the Ag Preserve legislation is needed now more than ever.

Once county leaders have mustered the courage needed to keep the problem from getting worse, perhaps they will be emboldened enough to devise the life-changing strategies actually needed to save us from extinction.

General Plan Housing Element Amendments on: Affordable Housing


Bill Hocker - Jan 26,23  expand...  Share

click to enlarge
Update 1/26/23
At their 1/24/23 meeting, against a hard deadline from the state, the Board of Supervisors certified, 3-2, the updated FEIR for the Housing Element of the General Plan to incorporate RHNA allotments for the 2023-31 cycle. The staff agenda letter is here.

Of the inventory of 6 sites originally proposed, only 3 remained in the final certification. The Big Ranch Road site had previously been ruled out because the owner didn't want to sell. The Bishop site was eliminated after concerns expressed by neighbors (including neighbor Sup. Pedroza). The Altamura site was removed from consideration by staff, quite late in the process, because the property owner would "not consider affordable housing" at the site in the 2023-31 cycle. It is of note that both of those sites are within 500 yards of Sup. Pedroza's home and that he has had business dealings with George Altamura in the past. The Supervisor's active participation in and vote on site selection recalled to mind the recusal Planning Commissioner Heather Phillips was forced to make on the Yountville Hill project although her home was even further away from a potential conflict of interest.

On the basis of some statistical juggling, staff increased the assumed number of ADU's that would contribute to the housing cycle (via an "Errata"), perhaps to offset the loss of the Altamura/Bishop sites.

Sups. Gregory and Cottrell voted against the certification largely because of the inclusion of the Skyline Park (Imola) site, which currently serves as an active part of the park for large events and has a great deal of community use and support from all age groups. The other three supes voted for its inclusion claiming that the state might build housing there in any case and assigning RHNA numbers to it would give the county leverage in case they did.

A recent flurry of attention by ICEO Morrison was focused on an annexation agreement between the City of Napa and the County over the Foster Road site perhaps because that site now becomes more critical to the plan with the loss of Bishop/Altamura. Sup. Pedroza seemed keen on the possibility of developing the Foster Road site in conjunction with the city, praising the cooperation that led to Napa Pipe. As with Napa Pipe there is probably a well-connected developer in the wings ready to create a major housing project that would include some affordable units. The use of the site for housing is being vehemently opposed by city residents concerned that one of the few open spaces within the sphere of influence of the city, and a bucholic, rural-heritage gateway to the city (as opposed to the used car lots on the other side of town), is being considered for urban development. Again Sup. Pedroza is prominent voice for development of the county's open spaces.

Kelly Anderson, in public comments, again called attention to the issue of mobile home parks and the supes lack of effort to retain such housing including three projects currently in the process of conversion to other uses. As I mentioned in the opening of this page, mobile home parks are one of the most successful methods of providing affordable housing in the US (5.6% of the US population lives in mobile homes.) The supervisors agreed to include some language about mobile homes in the housing element. (How about a committment to RV parks as well? RV's are increasingly a form of affordable housing in the US.)

PS: It is still a mystery why the Old Sonoma Road site, sold by the county to a developer in late 2021 with no committment to accept RHNA allotments, was not saved for this RHNA cycle. Proceeds from the sale were destined to help pay for another jail. Talk about misplaced priorities.

Update 1/4/23
Jan 11, 2023 will see presentation meetings to the Napa County Planning Commission and the Airport Land Use Commission for the Final Housing Element and Safety Element General Plan Amendments. The PC will make recommendations to the BOS. The ALUC will check for compatibility with the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan. The County Housing Element documents are here.

The number of sites proposed has been reduced by one, the Big Ranch Road site: the owner didn't want to sell - such an easy solution to stop the loss of agricultural land. The 5 others, each with their own drawbacks and detractors, remain.

The notification for the ALUC meeting succinctly says it all when it comes to the future of Napa's rural heritage:

    "implementation of the Housing Element General Plan Amendments would result in significant and unavoidable environmental impacts to the following; Aesthetics (AES-2), Air Quality (AIR-2, AIR-3), Cultural Resources (CUL-1, CUL-1.CU), Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG-1, GHG-2, GHG-1.CU), Noise (NOI-3, NOI-2.CU), Transportation (TRA-2) and Utilities and Service Systems (UTL-2, UTL-3, UTL-2.CU, UTL-3.CU)."

Every building project EIR says essentially the same thing, and the projects continue to be approved. Discussion of the No-Project Alternative, required to be evaluated under CEQA and almost always declared the "environmentally superior alternative", seems to be absent in this EIR.

The county, of course, has to go through this land-grab to satisfy ABAG's (and the State's) housing allocation policy, a policy no doubt heavily influenced by developers. The state grew by 5.6% over the last decade. A 5.6% increase in Napa's population would add 7600 people or about 2600 households. ABAG is requiring Napa to allocate land for 3843 units between 2023-31. But the real solution to housing an increasing population should be long-range development undertaken by the State involving the building of a public transport system to link to dense housing nodes and major city centers. Forcing the process on local governments and private developers on postage stamp properties in transport-poor rural areas is a recipe for never solving the problem. As we see today.

Update 8/24/22
The county will have a second public hearing on the Draft housing Element on Oct. 5 2022. Written comments may be submitted until 4:00pm, Oct 7, 2022. Email trevor.hawkes@countyofnapa.org.

The County's Housing Element documents page is here.

Update 7/14/22
Meeting of the Housing Element Advisory Committee on at 1:00 pm on 7/14/22. Viewing/listening info here.

Update 7/7/22
NVR 7/8/22: Napa County potential housing sites criticized
Planning Commission 7/6/22 meeting video

Update 6/29/22
Planning Commission Meeting to review the Draft Housing element on 7/6/22: Agenda and documents

Update 6/10/22
The county has presented a preview of the Draft Housing Element EIR.
The Notice of Availability contains information on the comment process. Comments are to be submitted by July 11, 2022. A public County Planning Commission hearing on the DEIR will be held on July 6, 2022.

Final ABAG RHNA 2023-2030 housing allocation for the unincorporated county: 106 units, way down from the 180 units the county struggled with in the 2015-2022 cycle (finally resulting in the approval of the massive Napa Pipe urbanization project).

6 sites have been proposed in the current DEIR with a total capacity of 483 housing units. 4 of the sites can accommodate 100 units each so in theory the county would have to choose no more than two sites, or even 1 if they cram a little. Of course each site is adjacent to existing residential neighborhoods so there will be push-back. There are already constituencies that will oppose the Foster Road and Imola Ave sites. Two sites are adjacent to the very upscale Silverado Resort neighborhood (pushback here). Which leaves Spanish Flat and Big Ranch Rd.

Update 1/24/22
Notice of Preparation for the Housing Element DEIR

Update 11/28/21
Napa County 2022 Housing Element page
Video of the 11/15/21 HEAC meeting
It is still unclear in my mind how many RHNA units the county is required to find sites for. The gross number from ABAG is 1014. In a previous NVR article it seemed assumed that transfer agreements with the cities might reduce that number to 200 or so. In this meeting there was no discussion of numbers smaller than the full 1014 number, other than to say that the cities may not be interested in honoring their agreements given the large number the have been assigned.

Supervisors will be discussing the Housing Element on 12/7/21, the next step in what would seem to be a long process.

It is a bit depressing that the county is rearresting all of the usual suspects in its efforts to deal with RHNA mandates: Spanish Flat, Moskowite Corners, Angwin (page H12 here). No Napa Pipe to Bail them out this time.

NVR 11/28/21: Napa County works on housing puzzle
NVR 11/10/21: Napa County's sale of Old Sonoma Road land for housing becomes official

These two stories, somehow disconnected from one another in the county's mental map, seem like they would have been a natural fit. Now a private developer will build 128 market rate houses plus 22 affordable houses that don't count toward the county's RHNA allotment. Had they given the land to a non-profit to develop 100% affordable housing, their RHNA allotment for 2023-2031 would be greatly reduced. An opportunity missed.

The county doesn't know what it's going to do with the $7.5 million. Placed into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund it could be used to build 15 affordable housing units (at this 2018 rate). Placed into the general fund it will probably be frittered away on the hundreds of financial pot holes in the county - holes that were supposed to be filled by all the fees and taxes from the new development the county keeps approving. Of course the more "growth" that occurs, i.e. the more of the county that is paved over for new development, the more pot holes there are to fill.

Update 2/24/21
NVR 2/10/21: ABAG's mandate for new Napa County housing grows

The unincorporated county's share of the RHNA mandate for 2023-2031 will be around 200 additional units, 10% above the 180 units in the last allocation. Let's hope a way is found to build those 200 units that doesn't require the building of another Napa Pipe-sized city on county land to finance them.

NVR 2/24/21: Napa County again tries to sell Old Sonoma Road site for housing
In the meantime the county is putting their Old Sonoma Road property up for sale again after the previous deal fell through because the site isn't yet zoned residential, a complication for a buyer. The City of Napa is about to update their general plan with residential zoning for the site included. Regardless, the County is trying to sell the site at a cut rate because of the current zoning. If they waited they could get more money. If they waited they could use the site for some of the housing they are required to provide under 2023-2031 RHNA. If they were smart they would give the land to a developer willing to do 100% affordable housing on the site.

Update 11/22/20
NVR 11/22/20: Napa County pushes back on possible, big housing mandate

Just below the above article in the Register is a video of the construction ongoing at the Stanly Ranch Resort. The resort will eventually employ 500 people, most needing affordable housing. This is just the population growth that ABAG is trying to house with their mandates. The commitment by the cities and the county to continue to approve resorts, hotels, winery entertainment venues, industrial warehouses are all creating the conditions needing more housing. ABAG should be apportioning housing mandates based on the number of jobs communities are creating. And the amount of job-creating development ongoing, much but not all shown here and here, is quite astounding.

At the end of last year the County finally recognized the link between job creation and urban development in refusing to ramp up industrial development in the south county. But much like climate change, the projects already in the pipeline make make modest efforts at mitigation futile. And nothing in the approvals made in the last year, slowed somewhat perhaps by the pandemic, makes one think that a radical rethinking of the problem is in the offing.

The cities and county are trying to hide behind some high minded dedication to agriculture and open space to shirk their duty to provide for the housing need they are creating in their approvals. If they truly were committed to agriculture and open space they would stop, immediately, promoting a tourism/industrial economic base for the county and concentrate on how to make their unique, low urbanizing, agricultural product more viable in a global marketplace. Napa has spent millions promoting Visit Napa Valley and nothing promoting the sale of Napa wines outside the county. Selling wine as a tourist good is more profitable for more people than growing and processing crops for export, but the urbanization needed to achieve that additional profitability will eventually undermine the agriculture and open space that governments hypocritically claim to treasure.

Update 11/6/20
The Board of Supervisors and City of Napa have drafted a response to the ABAG proposed RHNA allocation for 2023-31. It will be presented and discussed at the BOS meeting on 11/10/20 (item 10E here). The county's agenda letter more clearly spells out the thinking than the letter to ABAG (the ABAG unincorporated allocation seems ot have risen to 880 units!). While the letter gets into the weeds of ABAG's "methodology", they are essentially pleading that the unique circumstances of a county devoted to preserving an agricultural economy needs a more flexible approach to affordable home building goals than the rest of the constantly urbanizing Bay Area. Of course the county's promotion of tourism and industrial development in the unincorporated area over the last 20 years are making that argument more difficult with every new (mostly low-paying) job created.

10/28/20
Every 8 years the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) sets an affordable housing requirement, called Regional Housing Needs Allocations (RHNA), for counties and municipalities with in its jurisdiction, for the 8 year period ahead. It is the government's job to make sure those allocations are realized.

On Nov 4, 2020, the County Planning Commissionn will get an update from the Planning Department on the current 2023-2031 proposed allocation. It is not good news.

In 2012, for the period of 2015-2023 ABAG required Napa County to supply 180 affordable housing units. The result of that allocation was a difficult effort to find sites in the unincorporated county on which to build the units (documented in the General Plan 2014 Housing Element), resulting ultimately in a complex deal with the City of Napa to build them as part of the Napa Pipe Project, the only site beyond one in Angwin, strongly opposed by Angwin Residents, that was remotely suitable. The desire to fulfill the RHNA allotment was a principal reason the Napa Pipe Project was approved. Of course along with the 180 units came an additional massive urban development project. Unfortunately the method of supplying affordable housing in a capitalist society is to fund it with fees and taxes from vast amounts of other, more profitable construction.

This time around, ABAG is allotting 792 affordable units to be built in the unincorporated county between the years 2023 and 2031, not quite four and a half times the number of units allotted, but still not built, from the 2015 to 2023 requirement. And Napa Pipe is no longer an eligible site. How much additional urban development of Napa's open space, the legacy of a commitment to agriculture by a previous generation of citizens and politicians, will be necessary to accommodate the next RHNA allotment? Something four and half times the size of Napa Pipe, perhaps.

Board of Forestry education campaign on: Fire Issues


Bill Hocker - Jan 11,23  expand...  Share

The California State Board of Forestry, following a 2 year effort to update their Minimum Fire Safe Regulations for fire safe development in State Responsibility Areas, has rolled out an education process to help governments, fire authorities, developers and residents understand the new normal in building in fire-prone environments. (An announcement was just received for training seminars fo rrelated professionals.) There are links to the national non-profit Community Wildfire Planning Center, a wildfire mitigation think tank, to encourage and illustrate fire safe planning and strategies. Their Wildland-urban Interface (WUI) Planning Guide for California is here. (Including a case study on Napa's Fire Hazard Abatement Ordinance). The Guide is in addition to the State's Fire Planning Technical Advisory

There are now layers of documents relating to design in the WUI such as this one: Building to Coexist with Fire: Community Risk Reduction Measures for New Development in California

I will update this post as I find more information about the program and its implication for planning decisions in Napa County including the General Plan Safety Element.

Anarchy in the hills on: Conservation Regulations


Bill Hocker - Jan 7,23  expand...  Share

NVR 1/7/23: Napa County responds in Hundred Acre vineyard case near Calistoga

In one of the more bizarre examples of the anarchy that citizens are increasingly adopting in dealing with their governments, a vineyard developer has simply said that he doesn't have to play by County rules, that he is above the law. Right-wing tactical politics have arrived in Napa County. There may be some sympathetic judges to the argument government regulation can be an overreach when balanced against public well-being. The California First Appellate District court has expressed some sympathy for the fact that CEQA is exacerbating the state's housing crisis. But it is unlikely that they would conclude that trying to prevent hillsides from washing into creeks by regulating hillside development would be too great a burden to place on the development community.

Our complaint on this site is often that our County government has not done enough enforcement of its own regulations, often providing exemptions, exceptions and forgiveness in order to let developers do what they will. In this case the County has, as they occasionally do against blatent scofflaws, done the right thing. Let's hope that reports of the death of the rule-of-law in America are greatly exagerated..

The New Board of Supervisors on: Campaign 2022


Bill Hocker - Jan 3,23  expand...  Share

1/3/23
NVR 1/3/23: Napa County Board of Supervisors begins new year with new look

While I have many hopes and expectations that there will be a new emphasis on the sustainability of the ag preserve experiment that the county has been engaged in for the last 50 years, the pressure to facilitate economic growth and continue urbanizing the county is unlikely to recede. I hope that new Board is up to the task of curbing the developers' lust to convert ever more of the county's rural heritage into more profitable use.

As warehouses fill the wetlands... on: Growth Issues


Bill Hocker - Dec 29,22  expand...  Share

The Guardian 12/28/22: Revealed: how warehouses took over southern California ‘like a slow death’

As we have driven up to Napa each weekend for the last 30 years, none of the many changes have been quite as disheartening as the loss of the vistas over the south county wetlands, now blocked by warehouses. As the master plans of the Airport and American Canyon industrial zones have been realized, the entry to the fabled Napa Valley is becoming an alley of tilt-up boxes filled with the noisy grind of semi tractor-trailers coming and going. As I've written about often on this site (here, for example), it is one of the "growth" elements contributing to the demise of Napa as a rural bastion in the urbanizing bay area.

Given the Guardian article above, the concern over the warehouse proliferation, and the destruction of a rural quality of life they bring, is not mine alone.

Save Napa Valley Foundation on: Community Groups


Bill Hocker - Dec 20,22  expand...  Share

Update 12/20/22
SNVF LTE 12/16/22: Protect our open space

Update 8/24/22
SNVF LTE 8/24/22: It’s time for Napa County Groundwater Sustainability Agency to act

Update 8/10/22 Save Napa Valley Fountation
After several years attempting to counter the lethargy and stonewalling of the County and its wine industry patrons in confronting ongoing development in an age of climate crisis, the Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture have upped their game and reorganized as a 501c3 under the name Save Napa Valley Foundation.

The new organization is intended to provide increased public visibility of the need to protect environmental resources threatened by ongoing wine industry, tourism and real estate development in Napa County in an age when water depletion and deforestation, the byproducts of continued development, have become obvious environmental threats.

8/8/22 Letter to State Department of Water Recources
Cover letter for DWR letter
Save Napa Valley Foundaton website
Save Napa Valley Foundation Instagram page


Update 4/14/22 Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agricuture
Laurie Claudon LTE 4/14/22: Action needs to be taken now to stem further climate change damage

Update 6/14/19
NVR 6/9/19: Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture: Why oak woodlands matter

Update 5/6/19
G/VfRA study on the impacts of proposed changes to the Conservation Regulations:
Napa County Conservation Policy: Existing Conditions and Proposed Policy Impacts

Update 4/14/19
NVR 4/14/19: Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture: Answering questions about Napa

This is one of a series of articles that G/VfRA is doing in the Register.

NVR 2/17/19: Protecting Our Napa Valley: Four key scientific facts on Napa Valley's vineyard expansion
G/VfRA concerns and proposals submitted for Napa Strategic Plan

Update 5/6/18
Letters to the Editor
Andy Beckstoffer 5/6/18: Rights require responsibility: Yes on C
Yeoryios Apallas 5/6/18: Don't be mislead by mailers
Joyce Black Sears 4/26/18: Measure C: Murky waters and mistruths in the Napa Valley
Yeoryios Apallas et al. 2/10/18: Oak woodland protection ballot measure is good for our community

Update 4/26/18
WineIndustryAdvisor 4/26/18: Long-Time Napa Valley Vintners and Growers Enthusiastically Support Measure C

Update 4/13/18
SH Star 4/11/18: Howell Mountain vintner Joyce Black Sears: Measure C protects environment

3/13/18
LTE from "Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture"

We are very happy that the Watershed and Oak Woodlands Protection Initiative has been approved for inclusion as Measure C on the June ballot. We particularly like that this was named Measure C, as "C" to us stands for conservation, which we favor because our natural resources are not infinite. Those of us who have come together now have a name - "Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture" - as we want to communicate to the citizens of Napa County that there are many of us in the Grower and Vintner community who support this initiative. Our focus is on stewardship of our watershed, and we recognize that Measure C gives the voters of Napa County the opportunity to ensure that our watershed is protected now and into the future.

The Agricultural Preserve (AP) came into existence in 1968 - its 50th Anniversary is being celebrated in many ways this year! Though it was very controversial when it was created, and though it was considered legally uncertain, it has prevailed all tests and it has protected Napa Valley for agriculture for the last half century.

Measure C aims to offer protection to our Agricultural Watershed (AW). Our Watershed is the source of most of the water we use. We, as members of the vintner and grower community, understand how important a healthy watershed is to the citizens of Napa County, to our natural environment, and to the perpetuation of sustainable agriculture in our community. To the latter point, we know that we have a right to farm, but we also know that it is our obligation to farm responsibly. It is for these reasons that Measure C has our fullest support.

Again, the question to be asked is, Will the Napa Valley itself be better if this measure is passed?" We strongly think so.

Signers:
Yeoryios Apallas, Soda Creek Vineyards
Andy Beckstoffer, Beckstoffer Vineyards
Tom Clark, Clark Claudon Vineyards
Randy Dunn, Dunn Vineyards
Bob Dwyer, past Director of NVGG & NVV
Robin Lail, Lail Vineyards
Dick Maher, past NVV President
Beth Novak Milliken, Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery
Joyce Black Sears, Black Sears Vineyard
Warren Winiarski, Arcadia Vineyards

NVR LTE version 3/13/18: Grower/Vintner Support for Measure C

Residential Development Ordinance on: Growth Issues


Bill Hocker - Dec 11,22  expand...  Share

Update 12/11/22
The next community outreach meeting on the Residential Development Ordinance is scheduled for 12/14/22. The meeting notice is here and the documents are here.

Update 10/21/22
BPES will present the revised Residential Development Ordinance to the County Planing Commission on 11/2/22 for approval.
Staff agenda letter and documents are here

As might be expected, the ordinance is so larded with compromises, exceptions and impenetrable and manipulable legalese to have little impact on determined developers: It only applies to the AP (valley floor), contiguity of the one acre, and most every other provision, is subject to negotiated exemptions, compliance and horse-trading will be decided in below-the-radar zoning administrator meetings, no maximum building height so 2 and 3 story homes are more likely, state-encouraged ADU's need not be included, solar arrays, gardens may be excluded, no road setbacks mean homes will most likely end up within the winery road setback, and the 1 acre is in addition to the 25% of the parcel that may be occupied by a winery (note the pictured example).

I suspect that, as stated in the "Whereas's", the ordinance may have little impact on the 10 acres of Napa farmland currently lost each year to home construction. The value, also stated there, is an increase in government review of the projects. As we have witnessed over the last 9 years, governmental review unfortunately means that government ends up taking on the role of the developer often against the public interest, so not much hope of change there.

Still, some regulation is better than the current no regulation. And more importantly, given that all of the letters in opposition are from real estate brokers, or form-letters supplied by them, the luxury home development industry does seem to think that the ordinance will help protect the vines from their depredations.

Update 5/24/22
The Residential Development ordinance is being solidified and more examples are being presented. The County is requesting comments to be submitted by July 1, 2022 to Jason Hade, jason.hade@countyofnapa.org or Brian Bordona, Brian.Bordona@countyofnapa.org.

Ordinance Amendments
Current development examples

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.

Update 10/20/21
NVR 10/20/21: Napa County considers limiting house size in ag preserve

BOS 10/19/21 meeting agenda (Item 13B)
10/19/21 BOS meeting video
Ordinance Draft
Comments may be sent to john.mcdowell@countyofnap.org
Comment Letters already submitted are here (7 of 9 a form letter from real estate development interests)

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:

ProjectAcres lost
Girard 3.5
Scarlett
Benjamin Ranch 6-7
B Cellars 2.5±
Castellucci 3+
Titus
LMR Rutherford 2-3
Corona WInery 2.5±
Beautiful Day
Darms Lane 4.4
Washington St2


Geographer Amber Manfree has produced a map of the vineyard land lost since 1993, a total of some 793 acres.


Update 9/14/21
NVR 9/14/21: Napa County explores limiting agricultural preserve McMansions

Update 8/21/21
The County is requesting comments on a proposed Draft Residential Development Ordinance. Contact John McDowell with comments.
Proposed Zoning Amendments
Illustrative Development Examples

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.

Update 11/1/18
NVR 11/1/18: Napa County sees McMansions as farmland threat

Original Post 10/28/18

BOS Agenda 10/30/18 Item 10A

"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."

The agenda letter for this item at the Oct 30 2018 BOS meeting is here

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.

Vote for Cottrell and Gallagher on: Campaign 2022


Bill Hocker - Dec 2,22  expand...  Share

Update 12/2/22
Despite the small number of people in Napa County it always seems to take a long time for the votes to be counted. Now, almost a month after the polls have closed, the Register has published the results of the races too close to call earlier. (KQED Napa County election results here). Joelle Gallagher and Anne Cottrell were declared winners shortly after the election, but it is good to know now that Don Williams has been elected mayor of Calistoga, Paul Dohring has been elected mayor of St Helena, and the expansion of the AmCan urban-rural line has failed. It has been a sweep for the races that mattered to me, with the candidates and issues winning that are more resistant to the development industry lust that continues to consume the rural character of the county.

10/1/22
Partisan politics, of the red and blue variety, barely raises its head in Napa County. The real political division is between development interests, who built or tapped into a thriving agriculture-tourism economy over the last 50 years and who feel that it can be expanded indefinitely, and preservation interests, including members of the wine industry, who see the process as beginning to exceed sustainable limits in urban growth and resource depletion that threaten the continuation of the county's rural legacy. That division plays out in the makup of Napa County's Board of Supervisors. Napa is Napa, and not Santa Clara, because a preservationist majority on the Board has more often prevailed.

But since 2000 there has been a shift from the Ag Preserve agenda, begun in 1968 and concerned with the constraint of urban development to allow agriculture to survive, to a Board majority more receptive to the "growth" concerns of most governments - how to create ever more jobs, housing, infrastructure and the illusive goal of more government revenue.

The two Napa County supervisors retiring after the coming 2022 election, District 3 Supervisor Diane Dillon and District 1 Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, are the vestiges of the preservation agenda. Un-coincidentally their districts contain the vast bulk of vineyard acreage in the county. From the standpoint of the many people concerned about development pressure in the county, and who have shown up at Planning Commission and BOS meetings over the last 9 years, they have become the main voices weighing urban development against the desire to preserve an economy based on agriculture and the desire of residents to protect the county's rural character. That balance is now seldom the highest consideration in land use decisions with the focus now on tourism and industrial projects and the workforce housing and infrastructure needed for a "growth" economy..

Unfortunately, even with the election of "preservationists" to replace the two supervisors, it will only maintain the status quo, and the level of development now being approved will continue. But if their replacements are "growth" minded supervisors, it will probably usher in the end of the Ag Preserve experiment as the new board aggressively pushes more development as a solution to the traffic, housing and tight-budget problems caused by the Board's previous development decisions and more tourism as a solution to the declining value of wine to a younger generation more interested in "experiences" than the quality of the wine. If there is any hope of regaining a majority that will support the low-growth ideals of the Ag Preserve heritage, these two seats must be retained in the preservationist camp.

The planning commissioners appointed by Sups. Dillon and Wagenknecht, Anne Cottrell and Joelle Gallagher are both running in their respective districts, and both have made herculean efforts at moderating the scale of development proposals before them at the commission. Both have solid administrative experience that will allow them to take on the myriad issues that Supervisors must deal with on a day to day basis. But they have also proven themselves in the trenches as protectors of the land use legacy that makes Napa distinct from other Bay Area counties, and that is the core of Napa's economy, character and identity. Vote for Cottrell in District 3 and Gallagher in district 1 to preserve that committment to agriculture and rural protection for the next 50 years.

Anne Cottrell website
Joelle Gallagher website


Napa Votes for the Environment on: Campaign 2022


Mike Hackett - Nov 23,22  expand...  Share

After the narrow defeat of Measure C, the 2018 watershed and oak woodland protection initiative, the local Farm Bureau spokesman publicly stated that the Farm Bureau would become the lead voice in matters relating to the grape farming industry and land use decisions. Since then, large sums of donations have come into the Farm Bureau’s coffers, the vast majority of it from the extremely rich who are interested in the continued development on our watershed lands and open space.

The Farm Bureau courted candidates for the November 2022 election, and even went to far as to award like-minded elected officials and even the former CEO of Napa County, Minh Tran, who supported their development agenda.

But look what happened on Election Day. It was a veritable referendum on the unbridled growth and development ambitions of those that believe that all Napa land is theirs to develop without regard to environmental consequences. Well, the citizens of the county spoke with a resounding voice and expressed their concerns about our environment, social inequities, and awareness that our shared natural resources are at stake. The developer candidates were resoundingly defeated.

Some may call this a watershed moment, and perhaps a watershed election. But what has happened is a reawakening of our voters that unbridled development in this world renowned fragile valley, has negative impacts on many levels, from water quality and availability, to erosion of our hillsides, and the loss of our heritage oaks. All to what purpose? The continued enrichment of Napa Valley’s super rich and the wine conglomerates bottom lines? Or is it for the vainglorious and frivolous acquisitions of environmentally sensitive hillside lands for its future degradation? Since the super-rich have no terminal capacity to their voracious gobbling up of our hillsides and watershed lands, we, as citizens, showed that enough is enough! Big money will no longer control the lens through which our county land-use decisions are made. The first priority will now be, as it should have been all along, “Is it doing further harm to our Napa Valley?”

We are especially proud of the residents from St. Helena who had to make a clear choice about the future of St. Helena. Eric Hall was a development conscious man who would have liked to have seen St. Helena boom into a Vail or Carmel kind of place. Paul Dohring on the other hand, was a strong proponent of maintaining St. Helena’s small town charm. Another clear example of a referendum on the future, proved their desire to keep its current character, thank you very much!

We have hope for the first time in a long time. Everyone saw through the money smoke screen and voted with a sharing attitude. We came here to support one another, not to extract more than is one’s fair share. We celebrate as the Green Wave envelopes us in its warmth. For those of us who love Napa and what it has to offer us, to our children, grandchildren and residents of the next millennium, we think Napa is a living space for us all?"not just the land barons in our midst. Our Mother Earth pleads: ”please stop” and we have answered at the polls.

Mike Hackett and Yeoryios Apallas

NVR version 11/23/22: Election showed Napa residents concerned about environment

BOS Revokes Mountain Peak Use Permit on: Mountain Peak Winery


Bill Hocker - Nov 11,22  expand...  Share

County website screenshot
Update 11/9/22
NVR 11/9/22: Napa County revokes Mountain Peak winery approval
11/8/22 video clip of BOS hearing
The adopted resolution

    "When there is this level of community concern and vocal opposition to a project, perhaps it would be a good time to listen to your constituents instead of working so closely with the developer to find some kind of way to move the project through"
      - Amber Manfree in public comments to the BOS

About 20 Soda Canyon residents and county-wide stalwarts showed up to witness the revocation of the Mountain Peak use permit, some voicing their appreciation for the Board's action and others admonition for what the saga says about Napa county governance. The comments of those who spoke are here.

The Supervisors seemed anxious to put this whole vexatious affair behind them as quickly as possible. The presentation by county council was brief - the court has required that they do something in response to the court's demand of an EIR for the project, and the "setting aside" or "rescinding" of the use permit (the county seems reluctant to use the term "revoke" despite that being the clear term used in the resolution) accomplishes that. After our comments, Chair Gregory began Board comments by saying "It's that simple; the court is asking us to do this and we are doing it." With no other discussion it fell to Sup. Ramos (who, to our great appreciation, had switched her vote last time to uphold our appeal) to propose the motion to revoke. Our own District 4 Supervisor, in the first effort he has made on our behalf since being appointed, seconded the motion. All members aye - the motion passes. The Mountain Peak winery is dead - 8 years, 8 months, and 6 days after our neighbor's first anguished email.

But is it? As documented in the emails below it is still unclear in my mind what "revoke" or rescind" or "set aside" actually means since none are actually defined in county code. I'm not sure that the county has ever, in fact, revoked a use permit. Is this project now really dead? Or can it rise, zombie-like, with an owner willing to pay for the EIR? If it means a conclusive end to 9 years of anxiety, sleepless nights and obsession, if it means that our remote rural neighborhood will not become, for now, another of the county's growing number of tourist attractions, then I thank the supervisors from the bottom of my heart for the action they have taken.

Over those 9 years similar projects have brought heartbreak and division to many other rural neighborhoods throughout the county, and they continue to do so, with dozens of wineries currently in the planning department. I wish that those communities could take courage or solace from this decision. But for many it is too late. And for others the unique circumstances that compelled the revocation may be too serendipitous to offer such hope. But I do hope that this process will encourage the County to more carefully consider the concerns of residents whose rural lives will be forever changed by these projects, rather than only showing concern for the developers wishing to profit from a commercial venue in a bucolic location.

We know that this will not be the last tourist attraction proposed on Soda Canyon Road. And, of course, even a project on the Mountain Peak property may be tried again. Nothing that we've heard, even after the devastation and hair-raising evacuation of the road during the Atlas fire and the two other fires that have followed it, indicates that the county would be less receptive to those possibilities in the future.

But right now I'm grateful that the Board has taken this action to help preserve this very unique place for the peaceful benefit of its many residents rather than the personal benefit of one investor. A truly rural quality-of-life is one small facet of the agrarian legacy that previous supervisors worked so hard to create and maintain. It's a legacy that we should all continue to treasure and defend.

We all adjourned to celebrate what seemed to be a small ray of sunshine in what has been an otherwise gloomy era in the county's long history of residents trying to protect the county's rural character in the face of ever-present development pressure.


Update 11/3/22
On 11/8/22 the County Board of Supervisors will vote on a resolution to revoke or rescind the Mountain peak use permit - it's not clear which. The language of the Resolution is quite clear (my underline):

    "NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Napa County Board of Supervisors as follows:

    1. Resolutions Nos. 2017-130, 2017-131, 2017-132, 2017-133, and 2021-81 are
    hereby rescinded and are null and void.

    2. Use Permit No. P13-00320-UP, the Exception to the Napa County Road and Street
    Standards, and the Negative Declaration are hereby declared invalid, revoked and null and void."

But a couple of emails from Planning DIr. Bordona leave me in doubt about what action is being taken. In the first he says:

    "The Board will be 'rescinding' the use permit (by order of the Court), not revoking it.

    Use permit 'revocation' of is quasi-judicial act on the part of the planning commission that typically occurs when there’s a violation of an existing use permit, which isn’t the case here.

    In terms of future development, I’m unaware of what the current or future owners may decide going forward, but they will be subject to all regulatory requirements."

In the second, when asked why the resolution uses the word "revoked" he replies:

    "We are rescinding the approval and revoking the grant of the permit."


Go figure.

Almost 9 years after a neighbor's email alerted us to a proposed tourist attraction next door, the Board of Supervisors has been compelled by the court to take action following the court's decision that the project required an EIR. Their action is to revoke the use permit. Does that mean that the owner must start over, as if the last 9 years hadn't happened? Or does it mean that he can decide to produce the EIR and the project continues where we left off? Unfortunately it is quite unclear what that means. The only reference to revoking a use permit in county code is related to the Planning Commission, in which case revoking means that the use permit is void and that a new application for a similar project may not be begun for a year.

I want to believe that this is the end of the project and that the 9-year threat to turn our community into a tourist attraction has finally abated. But even now, the county presents a lack of specificity seemingly intended to make sure that we don't really know what's going on.

11/8/22 BOS Agenda
Resolution to Revoke the use permit

The whole agonizing saga is documented on this page. The anxiety over the potential loss of our remote haven at the top of Soda Canyon Road has fueled not just this page, but the cathartic need to document, on the rest of this site, the many ways that that the county government works to protect and promote the economic interests of a few entrepreneurs and plutocrats at the expence of the county's rural residents and at the expense of the county's own stated commitment to the preservation of its environment. And as the years have passed, as the climate crisis deepens, as the county's forests disappear to vines and fires, as the water resources dry up, that promotion of ever more development has only become more grotesque. The County currently has 160 development projects under review. Unfortunately, this small win in one community, while of immense relief to its residents, is unlikely to change the trajectory of urbanization the County is following.

In fact, just as one project is removed from the current projects page, another more significant development on the road may be added: the rebirth of the Napa Soda Springs Resort. The impacts to the community would be several orders of magnitude greater than those of Mountain Peak. I am not looking forward to the years ahead.

10/27/22
Following the finalization of the judgement of the Napa Superior Court on 7/29/22 that the Mountain Peak use permit be set aside and the project be returned to the county for an EIR, the project will again be an item on the BOS agenda on 11/8/22. The Court has commanded that the county take action on its judgement and the agenda item will consider a resolution to accomplish the actions required.

Interestingly, on the day the Court Judgement was finalized, the Mountain Peak property was put up for sale on realtor.com and other realty sites. The unreasonably high asking price of $19,995,000 does raise the possibility that this is just a fallback position at this point.

Napa Soda Springs Property Map on: Maps


Bill Hocker - Nov 10,22  expand...  Share

In 2022 RH, formerly Restoration Hardware, purchased the Napa Soda Springs property with the intent to revive, and probably expand, the resort that existed there at the turn of the 20th Century, the ruins of which still exist today. The corporate entity of the project is called 1990 Soda Canyon Road LLC.

Amber Manfree has created a map of the property showing it's developable areas.

SCR will be covering the development of this project on this page. It has the potential to generate as much concern as the Walt Ranch project has.

Napa Soda Springs Resort omnious rebirth on: Napa Soda Springs


Bill Hocker - Nov 7,22  expand...  Share

Update 11/10/22
A new page dedicated to Napa Soda Springs is here

Update 10/24/22
NYTimes 10/24/22: The Company Once Known as Restoration Hardware Is Opening Restaurants. Why?

Update 9/12/22
Siliconevalley.com 9/9/22: $25 million deal: Historic Napa Valley resort is bought; guest homes, winery are possibilities
SFChronicle 9/10/22: RH just bought an abandoned Napa resort to develop its own winery and hotel

“We just closed on 856 acres in the Napa Valley,” [developer] Friedman said. “It’s probably the most beautiful property in all of Napa. We own that.” ... “We’ll build an experience the world has never seen.” (channeling the bombast of the former huckster-in-chief).

1/13/20
NVR 1/13/20: With Napa Soda Springs ruins for sale, could the 19th century resort be reborn?

As feared, the concept of turning Soda Canyon into a major Napa tourist attraction is being sanctioned by the county and promoted by local media. No doubt the realtors selling the property will cite the County's encouragement in their search for the right developer or plutocrat wishing to bring a couple hundred thousand more visitors each year, and a 100 more employees each day, into the county and up Soda Canyon Road.

Donald Williams for Calistoga Mayor on: Campaign 2022


Bill Hocker - Nov 1,22  expand...  Share

The division between residents trying to maintain the rural, small-town character that has been the hallmark of living in Napa County and a tourism industry trying to exploit that character with ever more venues and visitors is most acute in its up-valley municipalities, St. Helena and Calistoga. As with town councils everywhere, theirs are usually dominated by proponents of the economic growth that tourism brings. But both have been lucky to have the rare candidate come forward representing a commitment to the interests of residents and local businesses over the desires of the tourism industry. Donald Williams, running fo Mayor of Calistoga, is one.

This interview summarizes both his inclusive attitude and his unique commitment to preserving his community:


Interview with Donald Williams, Mayoral Candidate --- October 13, 2022

Q. How long have you lived in Calistoga?

A. I moved here from San Francisco in 1974. After 48 years living in Calistoga and working throughout the valley, I have a pretty fair sense of the history and values and people of our town.

Q. What prompted you to run for council?
A. Five years ago, with many others, I objected to the council’s process for determining water rates. We felt the rates were imposed without due regard for public input. We decided we needed to change the council to better respond to the public. After all, it’s the public that is in charge?"or at least it should be. I was elected, and really?"it’s been an honor to serve our community.

Q. And now you’re a candidate for mayor?
A. Yes. The mayor is one of five council members, each with one vote on any issue. The mayor also conducts council meetings, has input on council agendas, and nominates applicants to various committees. Besides that, at grand openings the mayor wields the ceremonial scissors.

Q. Do you feel equal to that job?
A. Oh yes. I’m handy with tools! Much of my work was in construction, very blue-collar. I think a council is fortunate to have members from a variety of backgrounds. Our council members don’t have to be professional politicians. But they should be well-grounded in local history and values. My tenure on council has been very educational. I’ve learned to navigate city hall, figure out how to help the public get what it wants.

Q. What other work experience do you bring to the job?
A. For 30 years I operated my flooring business. I also taught mathematics for almost 20 years at Napa Valley College. They are very different experiences and interests: construction, education, and now government. They help me see issues through very different lenses. For recreation I go another direction: 19th century novels. Often they talk about life in small towns.

Q. Bringing us back to Calistoga?"you’ve brought up the small town concept before.
A. Yes. But it didn’t originate with me. Our town’s Vision Statement begins, “Calistoga will remain a small, walkable town…” There are dozens of references to its small-town quality throughout our General Plan. When I talk about it, I’m just being respectful of our guiding document. I’m also reflecting the sentiments of many of our residents.

Q. Then you’re anti-growth?

A. A balance is needed, not a one-dimensional view. I avoid drastic heroic measures, such as a total ban on building, or unrestrained development. Artificially stimulated development seems contrary to the spirit of the General Plan. But if projects satisfy zoning and codes, let them proceed. (I supported the Indian Springs expansion for that reason.) If building is mandated by state laws, let it proceed. At the same time, abide by the council’s own guideline?"show a “preference towards smaller alternatives when feasible.” And be mindful of our limits: water, traffic, emergency evacuation.

Q. What are your thoughts about business in Calistoga?
A. I believe in business; that’s a way we take care of each other’s needs. I want businesses in Calistoga to succeed. I want them to make a lot of money. I have 30 years’ experience running my own business in Calistoga. I know what it’s like in the private sector?"to develop a market, manage employees, monitor a budget, provide a service or product, and hope for a profit?"all while dealing with external vectors like competition and macro-economic forces.

In support of business and residents, four years ago I called for greater relief from high water bills. During the pandemic I advocated for elimination of the business license tax?"a small tax, but hey, dollars were scarce for businesses then. The hospitality industry in particular suffered during the pandemic (as well as during the fires and recession). The city’s budget was in jeopardy. So I developed a plan for diversifying our local economy. The council agreed and now offers funding to Calistogans who provide a service or product not otherwise readily available locally. I also wanted our council to remind the county to enforce its food ordinance at wineries, to protect Calistoga’s and other cities’ restaurants.

But I opposed spending money to market Calistoga, because it’s not prudent to spend money where it won’t make a difference. My analysis of data for the last decade showed no correlation between marketing expenditures and tourist tax revenue. External forces were the bigger factor in tax revenue.

Q. Did the council agree with you?

A. They didn’t. But the discussion was respectful. They heard a credible alternative point of view. And it made a difference. The new marketing contract links payment to performance, meaning, if tax revenue declines, so does the city’s payment to the marketing firm.

Q. You dissented from the council sometimes.
A. In the last four years there were maybe a score of dissenting votes?"mostly mine, but still only about 3% of the time. However, every dissent represented some of the public. Each dissent gave hope to residents who might have felt unheard or unacknowledged. Not everyone in town thinks the same; why should anyone expect the council to always vote the same? Different ideas are a measure of true diversity, and that stimulates new ideas.

Q. Can you work with a council with diverse perspectives?
A. Certainly. I’m grateful for the service of every council member. Their ideas are important. Respectful, open, fair dialogue benefits our community. I look forward to that.

Q. What would you like the council to work on in the future?
A. The fairgrounds. It’s an integral part of Calistoga. The public wants it restored to public use and so do I. Second, as I go door-to-door to voters’ residences, I hear about water bills. Some trade-offs in the budget may be needed to respond to that issue.
Promoting economic diversity is also important. Not that it’ll replace tourism, but it could be a good backup. And I agree with a Chamber report that public art is important and should be

Maybe most important of all is engaging the public with the council. The council can’t very well represent residents if it doesn’t know what they want. To be good leaders we need to be good listeners.

Instagram: @donaldwilliamscalistoga
Facebook:https://tinyurl.com/donaldwilliamscalistoga
Website: www.donaldcalistoga.com


Also of interest:

Erika Pusey LTE 9/23/22: Donald Williams for Calistoga Mayor
Dennis Lang LTE 9/17/22: Vote for Donald Williams
Donald Williams LTE 11/15/21: Inform yourself, speak up early on important issues
Donald Williams LTE 9/29/20: Upvalley hotels and chasing the tourist dollars

Napa County questions Cal Fire services on: Fire Issues


Bill Hocker - Oct 26,22  expand...  Share

NVR 10/25/22: Napa County looking at how to run county fire services
Video of BOS 10/18/22 meeting

For 90 years Cal-Fire has provided fire protection services to Napa County in both the State Responsibility Areas (wildlands) of the county as well as the unincorporated areas of the county not in the SRA. The protection outside the SRA is separately contracted and that contract is up for renewal. The county has done a study to determine how much it would cost for the county to have its own fire department and not rely on Cal Fire. The study determined that there would be over $5 million/yr in extra personnel costs. The costs of additional fire stations and fire equipment was not calculated.

Not addressed in the study or the discussion with the BOS was why the county would be considering the change after 90 years. Is the county miffed that Cal-fire wants to limit future development in much of the county? The change seems to have been supported by the Napa Valley Vintners. Did Cal-fire let them county down in the Glass Fire?

Barry Eberling, in his article, highlights one quote from a report that was not among the documents presented to the BOS in their Oct 18 meeting. The quote was, to me at least, telling: "Recent catastrophic fires in Napa County and the popularity of our community bringing countless visitors to our majestic valley have influenced the need to ensure that our fire protection services are able to provide the highest level of service possible." Tourists, apparently, need more protection than residents. It is, of course, one more specific example of the transition from an agricultural to a tourism economy and, to my mind, from a rural to an urban county as ever more tourist attractions are built needing an ever increasing supply of patrons and workers. The fact that the NVV is supporting the change is also one more indication that it is now as much a lobbying organization for the tourism industry as the wine-making industry.

Campaign 2022: Following the money on: Campaign 2022


Bill Hocker - Oct 2,22  expand...  Share

During this campaign season, Beth Nelson has been following up on her tenacious pursuit of Sup. Alfredo Pedroza's questionable self-dealing over Walt Ranch with a breakdown of the money behind the 2022 Napa election. She has provided financial analysis and 460 funding documents for every candidate in the 2022 campaign here (view the menu):

NapaCountyCash.com

Napa County politics has always centered around the conflict between preservationists and developers. The Napa County Farm Bureau, formerly a bastion of agricultural protection and now promoter of tourism and real estate development in the name of protecting agriculture, recently cast the preservationists as a "small vocal minority". Every political movement has stalwarts leading the charge, but some are easier to see than others. We know where the passion of preservationists come from: they wear their hearts on their sleeves. When it comes to the passion of developers you need to follow the money. The money shows that a small wealthy minority is in fact bankrolling candidates who they know will enable their development plans, and napacountycash.com shows who they are.

Keep Napa Gateways Green on: City of Napa


Bill Hocker - Sep 30,22  expand...  Share

Napa's only remaining rangeland
Update 9/30/22
NVR 9/30/22: Napa City Council rejects suggested greenbelt designation for Foster Road

Reversing the Planning Commission's recommendation

NVR 9/18/22: Napa City Council to weigh Foster Road zoning as general plan process nears end

Update 9/5/22
NVR 9/5/22: City of Napa planners recommend Foster Road change, removing Linda Vista extension from draft general plan

Celebratory email from KNGG

Update 5/2/22
Comments on the 2040 Napa City General Plan DEIR are due by Fri. May 6, 2022.
City's 2040 General Plan page is here

KNGG talking points on the Ghisletta/Horseman's mixed use designation

Update 4/5/22



The City of Napa Draft General Plan is now undergoing public scrutiny. The SCR blog post on the plan, dubbed Napavision 2040, is here.

A group of residents has formed to preserve the Foster Road ridge, which includes the Ghisletta Ranch and the Horseman's Association grounds. They have been active in trying to get the City to change its designation of the area in the upcoming General Plan Update from undesignated "Sphere of Influence" to "Greenbelt" to act as a rural gateway to the city. City Staff is proposing to designate it as "Mixed Use" meaning housing and commercial. The properties are both currently outside the city boundary but within the current rural-urban line (RUL), an area long designated for future city annexation. It is the last piece of range-land within the RUL. The community organization is "Keep Napa Gateways Green" and their very well done website is here:

KNGG website

As has happened throughout the county and its municipalities, it falls to individual residents and community groups to protect the rural environment that is our reason to live here, and is the county's nominal claim to fame, against the constant development pressure to monetize that fame. This community activism, unfortunately, is now necessary in the face of government addiction to development fees, campaign contributions, and taxes and mitigation fees that never really cover the long term public costs. New approvals are often justified as revenue generators needed to fill public coffers. It is the viscous cycle of urbanization.

For all of my angst over the beautiful Stewart Farm below, it is still outside of the RUL that defines Napa City, and the draft plan makes no attempt to predict its fate in the future. But in looking at the RUL, that portion of the property is the one piece of build-able land that remains to be added to the RUL to fill out the city's unfortunate massive southward expansion into the Stanly Ranch property.


Update 7/26/21
NVR 7/25/21: Memory Lane: The Ghislettas and their dairy

Update 4/26/21

Michael Luttrell LTE 4/25/21: Save Napa's gateway
NVR 4/26/21: Member of Ghisletta family denies plans for developing lands in south Napa

Although the family says that it has "never had an agreement" with any developer (very specific language to use), the fact that the family supports the rezoning of the land for housing in the new general plan, and their dubious rationale that more high-end homes will lead to a general reduction of home prices, is a very ominous sign.

3/15/21
NVR 3/13/21 Foster Road supporters continue push for area’s inclusion in new Napa greenbelts

Stewart Ranch
That hillside along Hwy 29 coming into the Napa Valley, which I now know as the Stewart diary farm, with its picturesque barns, farmhouse, eucalyptus trees and oak-covered knolls has always seemed the essence of rural California now forever disappearing. Even when I first came to Napa in the 1970's in search of bucolic landscapes to photograph, I remember it as a notable landscape composition. It should be preserved in a bell jar as an icon of what California was once-upon-a-time, before such places were buried by developers seeking greater profits from chewing up raw land rather than recycling underused urban land.

As a gateway to the Napa Valley, it is a reminder of a time before vintners began excavating similar hillsides to cage and discipline nature to their own more profitable ends. We love the look of vine covered hillsides, of course, a better example than housing tracts of man's relentless footprint on the land. But to see the vestiges of real life before the advent of the good-life as you drive into this tourist destination is a history lesson well worth preserving for everyone.

The idea of a greenbelt between Napa and the rest of the world has taken a hit over the last few years. In one of many Napa Pipe hearings, a slide flashed up on the screen, almost incidental in its implication for the project, but profound in its implication for the future of Napa.

All of those areas that should have constituted a greenbelt at the edge of Napa rural-urban line are now being filled with buildings. Napa Valley Commons, Airport industrial zone, Stanly Ranch, Carneros Inn, Meritage Resort, Napa Pipe, the Syar expansion, and for that matter the incorporation of American Canyon in 1992, are all filling the boundary that might have separated Napa from the urban sprawl of the rest of the Bay Area. More such projects are coming.

The idea of greenbelts and rural-urban lines, a product of the same enlightened era that created the Agricultural Preserve, seems to have passed. Yet it is heartening that the idea is being revived here and elsewhere. The Greenbelt Alliance is active and full of hope.

But in Napa it is a bit too late. This is not to say that the Foster Road ridge shouldn't be protected. It should. It is a window into what Napa County once was, a reminder to residents and tourists what the land used to look like, and perhaps a tourist attraction itself. But it is a tragedy that before reaching this gateway to the Napa Valley you must first pass through the relentless industrial development to the south, reducing the real entry to the valley to an alley of warehouses. Yes, preserve as much unspoiled landscape as we possibly can. The few still unspoiled wooded hillsides around Napa need to be preserved. We owe that to future generations. But let's admit that the idea of a greenbelt to protect Napa from being engulfed by the greater bay area is a fading memory.

Water for agriculture or tourism? on: Watershed Issues


Bill Hocker - Sep 10,22  expand...  Share

Update 9/10/22
Guardian 9/10/22: Tourism is sucking Utah dry. Now it faces a choice - growth or survival?

Just another example of the pernicious connection between tourism, the urban development that it induces and water consumption.

Original post 11/3/16: Bali, Napa and sustainable groundwater
We have just returned from a "fact finding mission" to the island of Bali. (It has become impossible to be simple tourists on our travels any more.)

We were struck by some comparisons to the situation in Napa: The two economies are principally a combination of agriculture and tourism. Napa is about a third the size of Bali. (Napa and Sonoma together are about the same size). While Bali has always been renowned for it's rice production, a committment to tourism in the last few decades has made it 70-80% of the island's economy. Tourism is about 30% of the Napa economy (and growing). There are some 8-10 million foreign and domestic tourists coming to Bali each year, somewhere around 2 tourists for each of Bali's 4.2 million residents. Napa has about 3 million tourists, equating to 21.4 tourists for each of its 140 thousand residents. Maybe that's why some Napans get more worked up over the impacts of tourism than the Balinese seem to.

One of the interesting comparisons was the concern that both places have for water availability. Bali is a very wet place with rainfall about 15 times that of Napa. It was hard to imagine a water shortage. But apparently the conversion from an agricultural to a tourism economy over the last 3 decades has had a significant impact on the available groundwater and the island has reached a water crisis. This article explains the problem:

Jakarta Post: Tourism industry responsible for water crisis in Bali: Expert
As well as this informative site: Sawah Bali
And this YouTube video: Bali Water Crisis - The Time to Act Is NOW!
And this academic study: A political ecology of water equity and tourism: A Case Study From Bali

Solutions to Bali's problems are being proposed that depend on retaining more of the substantial rainfall in the groundwater aquifer. That is not an option here. Given our modest and dwindling rainfall such technical solutions are less likely. The impact of increasing tourism and urbanization, along with the expansion of vineyards, have the potential to present a similar significant crisis as the development boom continues.

The comparison of the two tourist economies and the impact on water is well worth a look, particularly in light of the scant concern given to future tourism development in the WICC report the county has penned to submit under the State's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, to be presented to the BOS on Dec 13th, Item 9A here.

Alternative transport solutions on: Traffic Issues


Bill Hocker - Aug 30,22  expand...  Share

The truly light rail solution
Update 8/28/22
NVR 8/27/22: Could Napa County have a railroad revolution?
Frauenfelder LTE 8/30/22: Trains Returning to Napa?

Update 3/8/18 Caloyannidis on mass transit
In response to a proposed community meeting on mass transit in Napa, George Caloyannidis, who has written on the issue of induced traffic created by highway expansion here, sends along this comment on the subject:

How can anybody be against mass transit in the Napa valley? For most, it is a no-brainer!

I am one of them:

We learned from the U.C. Davis study that widening highways does not relieve congestion for more that 1-2 years. After that, the increased carrying capacity reaches its new level of maximum tolerance delays as long as the demand to reach a certain destination also increases.

Mass transit has the same effect on highways. It relieves highway congestion for a while and then the level returns to its previous levels.

Once this phenomenon is understood, devastating effects follow.

During the 1-2 traffic relief years, CEQA analysis for projects in the pipeline are approved based on the current relaxed traffic patterns. These projects which would not have been approved were it not for the widening of a highway (or due to mass transit) are approved. This increases demand. The end effect is that more and more people end up in a given community.

In the Napa valley, more and more people will visit, more wineries, more hotels, restaurants, more low paid workers, higher demand on the infrastructure, water, etc. In addition, our small communities will require more public services, police, fire, EMS etc., all resulting in higher costs borne by the residents.

While mass transit seems as if it solves a problem, it actually makes it worse than before.

The city of Los Angeles has a new underground Metro network. Over the years, traffic has increased dramatically and high rises (apartments, condos and retail) have emerged within 2 miles around Metro stations. A whole new density and infrastructure has emerged solely created by the Metro service.


Update 1/8/17
NVR 1/8/17: Wine Train willing to explore employee commuter service

It appears that since the sale of the Napa ValleyWine Train to a new owner in 2015 (it never should have been sold to a private entrapreneur in the first place) that the sensible idea of using the tracks for commuter and tourist cars is now a consideration. One inexpensiive solution is field tested here. While the talk is only of a commute line between Napa and St Helena, the line really needs to be able to run from the Vallejo ferry terminal, to an airport parking structure to Calistoga.

But one thing should be made very clear in all these discussions of alternative transportation: they will only, at best, serve to reduce the rate of increase in road traffic in the future, not decrease it. Development projects representing thousands (if not tens of thousands) of new trips each day have been approved or are in the planning pipeline, and more will continue to be proposed. Effective public transit projects take decades to realize, and will always lag the urbanization they attempt to mitigate.

4/21/15
NVR 4/21/15: Transportation plans face financial roadblocks

Most of the article was devoted to the issue of cycling (and walking) as a solution to traffic problems and the paucity of funds to make it a reality. I rode a bike to work during my 15 year professional career and I'm not unsympathetic to the idea of using bikes where possible. But as a transportation solution to reduce the hundreds of thousands of daily portages necessary to make society function, predictably in all weather, bicycle lanes are really just a sop built to placate the roomful of vocal activists that show up at every meeting seeing their spartan self-righteousness as a planetary solution. Accommodating bicycles costs a lot of money that might be devoted to real transport solutions - like the use of the wine train tracks as a cable car-styled people mover up and down the valley (feasibility tested here), or a wine-industry-subsidized hospitality-, winery- and farm-worker transport van system linked to parking structures at the airport. Or perhaps for the education and support necessary to reverse population growth and the need for ever expanding transport networks (my own self-righteous planetary solution).

A discussion on one solution with very long odds of success, building affordable housing for the workforce in Napa County, was discussed at a community meeting here:
Panel looks at ways to keep Napa affordable. They saw no easy solutions. Napa Pipe, in one of the most ambitious efforts to add affordable housing to the county, will actually be creating more low paid commercial, hotel and nursing home employees in the project than than can fit in the 190 affordable units proposed.

One proposal not brought up: having developers pay for the real costs, in housing needs, community and transport infrastructure, community services etc, etc, that their development schemes create, but which remain unfunded. The full impacts of development need to become part of the developer's decision to add more people to the county.

Bloodlines Vineyards EIR on: The Rector Watershed


Bill Hocker - Aug 1,22  expand...  Share

Update 7/10/23
Bloodlines property up for sale (again).
Zillow Listing

Zillow includes a transaction history. It appears that the property was sold by Mr. Phinney in May 2023 (after several attempts over the last 6 years.) His purchase price was $851,000 in 2014 and his sale price was $3,250,000 in 2023, 9 years later. Probably enough to cover the cost of the vineyard conversion approval but hardly a great return on the 9 year investment and the headache of the EIR process. The property is now being offered, a month and a half after the purchase, for $21 mil, an most optimistic expectation.

Update 8/1/22
Amy Whiteford of Bloodlines Vineyards sends a note to indicate that work on three stream crossings will be started this week but that there are no immediate plans for development to begin after that. The effort to keep residents in touch with the progress of the project is appreciated.

Update 12/4/19
Final approval of the Bloodlines EIR and ECP

Update 9/14/19
Bloodlines vineyard conversion Final EIR The County's Bloodlines page is here. The FEIR is scheduled for certification on Sept 23, 2019.

Update 3/6/19
My comment on the DEIR and Dave Phinney's (prescient) response

Other response letters are here including pushback from the Ca. Dept of Fish and Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity.

Winebusiness.com 3/6/2019: Dave Phinney Plans to Develop Vineyard East of Napa

Update 1/8/19
The Bloodlines Vineyards Draft EIR is available for comment through Jan 30 2019 (previously Jan 16). Comments may be addressed to County Planner Brian Bordona at Brian.Bordona@countyofnapa.org

Update 11/19/18
Dave Phinney has sent the letter below announcing that the EIR that has been in process for the last year for the development of the Bloodlines Wine properties on the Rector plateau will be ready for comments in late November.

The ECP is here (EIR coming soon hopefully)


Dave Phinney
P.O. Box 2020
Saint Helena, California 94574

November 14th, 2018

Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Fellow Community Members:
Please allow me a few minutes to tell you about a project that my team and I have been working on since 1998. Over the past 20 years we have purchased 278 acres at the top of Soda Canyon Road with the vision of planting and farming a vineyard. These nine parcels lie in the Agricultural Watershed in this beloved Right to Farm community, our Napa Valley.

Rather than rushing to plant a vineyard as quickly as possible, we have taken our time. We have spoken with people who have farmed in the area, purchased fruit from adjacent vineyards, talked with neighbors, leased with the intention of eventually purchasing an adjacent vineyard, and have asked questions with open ears and an open heart. A team of expert engineers, biologists, hydrogeologists, archaeologists, geologists, soil scientists, and viticulturists spent five years designing a very unique vineyard. Rather than simply submitting an Erosion Control Plan application to the County of Napa, we voluntarily agreed from the beginning of the process to conduct an Environmental Impact Report to analyze and mitigate all impacts the vineyard may have to our community. This gave us confidence that all Conservation Regulations and mandates of the California Environmental Quality Act were not only followed but exceeded in the Erosion Control Plan application.

Below please find some of the highlights from the expert studies:
The engineering firm designed the vineyard to result in net zero sediment runoff, protecting the watershed from erosion. Since those calculations, the property completely burned in the 2017 wildfires, and an engineered vineyard planting will greatly reduce erosion potential.

We will take on the responsibility for providing safe and ecological transportation options for our employees to do our part in mitigating traffic. Our farming practices will follow an innovative Integrated Pest Management strategy. A hydrogeology team conducted a Water Availability Analysis and confirmed that there is more than enough water on the property to farm the acreage of vineyard in the application.

We will not be applying for a winery permit at this location. We are currently working on plans to build a winery in an historic building that we are restoring on Mare Island in Solano County.

My team is working with local Neighbors, Board of Supervisors, Mayors, City Council Members and Planning Commissioners and listening to any of their questions or concerns regarding our project. This communication has been valuable, and we are incorporating cooperative solutions into our plans. Each expert report, the Erosion Control Plan, and the Environmental Impact Report will be available for your review at the County's website (https://www.countyofnapa.org/694/Bloodlines-LLC-Soda-Canyon-Vineyard). The official County Public Comment Period will start in mid to late November. If you have any questions or input regarding the application prior to that time, I invite you to contact me directly. My team and I value the opportunity to hear what is important to you.

Sincerely,

Dave S. Phinney
707-388-1973
info@bloodlineswine.com



Update 5/28/18
NVR 5/28/18: Napa County's Measure C and D campaign in six figures

According to this NVR article, Dave Phinney has contributed $25,000 to the NO on C campaign, the largest amount after the NVV's $200,000.

Update 12/27/16
Notice of Preparation of the EIR for 114 acre Erosion Control Plan on Rector plateau
County's Bloodlines page

Original post 8/31/16
Several residents of Soda Canyon Road accepted an invitation for an August 26th, 2016 BBQ meet-and-greet over the pending Erosion Control Plan for 114 new acres of vines on 2 separated parcels on the Rector plateau. The ECP, processed initially under the company name of Orin Swift, will be vetted by a full blown Environmental Impact Report, with the draft version due in early 2017. The time line is here.

With little previous interest in the world of high end wines, and knowing nothing about Orin Swift, the meet-and-greet has begun an interesting exploration. The invitation was in the name of the Phinney family, with an RSVP to Amy Whiteford. The vineyards are being developed by the former owner of Orin Swift Wine Cellars, Dave Phinney. Amy Whitehouse, is his viticulturist in their new company, following a similar stint at the Stagecoach vineyards.

Although someone had mentioned something to me long ago about the buzzwortihyness of "The Prisoner" wine, which I understood after seeing the label, only now did I learn that Dave Phinney was the creator. And only after a bit of research after the BBQ have I begun to understand what a wine phenomenon this very youngish-looking man is. His story seems already, at least in my infinitesimal knowledge of the wine world, the stuff of legend.

As summarized in this Wine Searcher article, Dave Phinney since 1998 has now developed two wine brands and sold them for a total of $325 million dollars. These wines were made from contract grapes in custom crush wineries. no land or construction investment necessary. It is the application of the tech startup model of ammassing a fortune. And it shows, while the wines are no doubt good, that in the real world, the business of wine (as with everything else) is all about the value of branding. The name of their new company is "Bloodlines".

There should be a lesson here for all of those entrepreneurs claiming that they simply can't survive without tourists swarming their wineries. The Dave Phinney story shows that survival in the wine business, and in fact over-the-top success, can be achieved without the the threats that tourism urbanization poses to the long-term viability of an agricultural economy and a rural environment.

Dave Phinney has purchased a significant chunk of the Rector watershed, and whatever he does will have an additional impact on our lives. The proposals talked about at the BBQ - conservation easements, worker van pooling, urban tasting rooms, a winery in Vallejo, alternative marketing and branding techniques, a? desire to reach out to residents and to develop a charitable purpose to the business model - all point to an approach that is looking for success that is sustainable and beneficial with a minimal impact to the agricultural land and open space that is our home. The cloud in the narritave is that Mr. Phinney's considerable expertise and success seems to be in building up brand and then flipping it. What development limits is he willing to place not just on himself, but on the potential next owner of the property? We hope those limits will be known by the time the EIR is completed.

There is another small cloud as well: currently, 46 people have written letters to the planning commission opposing the Mountain Peak Winery project on the Rector plateau. 6 people have written letters of support. 5 of the supporters are people with a financial interest in increased development of the watershed, development of more tourism on the road, or direct contracting with Mountain Peak. Mr. Phinney is among them. Opposition to Mountain Peak is not about the responsible development of more vines here; the time to prevent the Rector watershed from being consumed by vineyards is long gone. The concern now is about the use of this remote residential-agricultural community as a tourist destination. Mr. Phinney's support of the Mountain Peak project does raise questions about where his interests will lie once his vineyards are in place.

Napa Chronicled on: Tourism Issues


Bill Hocker - Jul 27,22  expand...  Share

Illustration: James Clapham
Esther Mobley and Jess Lander, wine columnists for the SF Chronicle, have been digging much deeper than just the normal puff-piece reviews about the latest wine, food or resort offerings in the valley. Their recent forays into the underbelly of Napa politics on Walt Ranch and Sup. Pedroza (more here) seem to have inspired a deeper dive into the backstage machinations of America's wine-themed Disneyland. They have published a multi-article look at the county under the title Napa in Flux: Napa is America’s top wine region. But it has reached a turning point (pdf version) .

SF Chronicle 7/26/22: Napa’s ‘Disneyland’ wineries: Are they actually worth the trip? (pdf version)
SF Chronicle 7/27/22: Napa’s most historic wineries are staging a comeback. Will multimillion-dollar rebrands work? (pdf version)
SF Chronicle 7/27/22: Napa Valley has perfected one type of wine. But is it starting to all taste the same?
SF Chronicle 7/27/22: Napa’s vineyard workers are retiring - and the next generation doesn’t want their jobs
SF Chronicle 7/26/22: 'That’s how people die in wildfires': How Wine Country’s fancy new resorts could increase fire risk (pdf version)

Coincidentally, the articles arrive just as Napa County gave their pro forma (14 minute) approval to the reconstruction of Napa's original Disneyland ride, the Sterling Vineyards gondola. (NVR article here) It is being rebuilt after damage from the 2020 Glass Fire and, of course, will double the quantity of tourists capable of visiting the winery. The gondola represents, I suppose, Napa's Tomorrowland in relation to its Fantasyland Castle across the highway. The upgrade is also, no doubt, an example of the corporate makeover of traditional wineries profiled in one of the articles, in this case by the Australian giant, Treasury Wine Estates.

Of interest also in this look at the valley's descent into a corporate theme park is this Tim Carl article from 2019 about Napa's version of the Haunted House, The Prisoner Winery.

Tourism at what cost? on: Fire Issues


Bill Hocker - Jul 26,22  expand...  Share

SF Chronicle 7/26/22: 'That’s how people die in wildfires': How Wine Country’s fancy new resorts could increase fire risk (pdf version)

An important point about the nexus of fire and tourism is not just that tourists place themselves at risk congregating in venues served by small rural roads in fire prone-landscapes, which is true, but that the increase in number of people needing to evacuate in a fire puts residents at greater risk as well, residents who have often fought the development of tourism venues in their midst.

This article was also published in the Register.



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