Eternal vigilance is the price of preserving the Napa Valley.
 - Former Planning Dir. Jim Hickey 2008.
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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 of Napa County that county governments nominally claim to protect but in fact further jeopardize with each new building, infrastructure or deforestation plan approval.

The winery at the top of our road is one of many now being proposed, approved and built throughout Napa county, and this site now documents the efforts of those other impacted residents to protect their communities from similar commercialization. While vineyard acreage has marginally increased in the last 20 years, there is already much more winery capacity than needed to process Napa grapes in the county. Yet more wineries are being approved, not to support Napa agriculture, but to provide venues to bring more tourist dollars into the county. On the valley floor the dominance of tourism over wine making is represented by French and Persian Palaces, Tuscan Castles, Aerial Trams and a vast sculpture garden of ego-fueled modernist statements. The great old wineries have been refurbished to bring a whiff of Disneyland or Planet Hollywood to the Valley. Highway 29 has traffic jams worthy of San Francisco and the Silverado Trail is beginning to resemble a two lane freeway (or worse, Hwy 29!). In the watersheds, clear cutting of forests for the estate-winery fantasies of plutocrats brings good-life enterprise to even the most remote neighborhoods.

County residents have always supported the wine industry for the character of the environment and economy it has produced. But that support is eroding as vanity event centers proliferate and wine corporations move into entertainment. Winery tourism and marketing events have moved from an incidental and subordinate aspect of winery economics to the reason for their being. The impacts of this shift, in traffic, lack of affordable housing and neighborhood commercialization, are no longer palatable, and the pushback of residents hoping to maintain the rural, small-town character that they grew up with or found here is the result. Until the industry adopts a less destructive way of marketing their goods (and the internet age offers other ways in addition to traditional legwork), until it recognizes the enormous difference in community impacts between grape processing and tourist processing, the industry should expect condemnation from those more concerned about the future quality of their lives and their environment than the quality of tourism experiences occurring next door.

Expanding tourism is only one facet of the ongoing urban development, and this site has also recognizes that the loss of the rural character we all treasure is more than just one industry's problem. It is the mentality, a part of the American DNA, promoted by all development interests and enabled by governments controlled by development interests, that growth is good and lack of growth is death. Napa County has made a very strong commitment to protecting its rural environment and economy. As one grape grower has said, this is one place on earth where agriculture might be able to hold out against urbanization. Yet the growth, in wineries, tourism facilities, industrial projects, housing projects, commercial centers continues.

If the county wishes to maintain its rural environment for the next 50 years, it needs to reject a growth economy based on the unlimited profitability of continued urbanization and commit to a stable economy, based on the limited amount of agricultural land with an appropriate mix of wine, tourism, industry and housing that provides the quality of life worth having and the survival of an industry worth supporting. Unless we act now the rural, small-town life that still exists here, as well as the rural environment that is our home on Soda Canyon Road, will soon be gone.

Upcoming Events SCR calendar page | County agenda page

Wed, Oct 5, 2022

County Planning Commission

Second Presentation of the Draft Housing Element EIR
County Housing Element Page
SCR on the Housing Element

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.

Napa Soda Springs Resort omnious rebirth on: Napa Soda Springs

Bill Hocker - Sep 12,22  expand...  Share

Update 9/12/22 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).

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.

Board of Forestry Fire Safe Regulations on: Fire Issues

Bill Hocker - Sep 10,22  expand...  Share

Napa County State Responsibility Area in which Regs apply
Update 9/8/22: County discussion of Final Regs
The County presented their interpretation of the Final BOF Minimum Fire Safe Regulations 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

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

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

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.

Napa Groundwater Sustainability Plan on: Watershed Issues

Bill Hocker - Sep 6,22  expand...  Share

Click for 2021 Annual Sustainability Report
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
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.

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:

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

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

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].


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"

Keep Napa Gateways Green on: City of Napa

Bill Hocker - Sep 5,22  expand...  Share

Napa's only remaining rangeland
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.

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.

Walt Ranch and the Lands of Pedroza on: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Sep 2,22  expand...  Share

Update 8/2/22 Sup. Pedroza Recall
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 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 website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"There's no direct benefit," he said

Move along, nothing to see here.

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

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

Napa County Code of Ethics 2005
Circle S Ranch DEIR 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Post 2/7/22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

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.

ABAG RHNA allocations for 2023-2031 on: Affordable Housing

Bill Hocker - Aug 24,22  expand...  Share

click to enlarge
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

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.

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.

Save Napa Valley Foundation on: Conservation Regulations

Bill Hocker - Aug 24,22  expand...  Share

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

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.

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

So long, vineyards on: South Napa County

Bill Hocker - Aug 19,22  expand...  Share

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?

Bloodlines Vineyards EIR on: The Rector Watershed

Bill Hocker - Aug 1,22  expand...  Share

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 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. 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

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 ( 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.


Dave S. Phinney

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.

The predictable water wars have begun on: Growth Issues

George Caloyannidis - Jul 23,22  expand...  Share

Readers who may have missed Thomas D. Elias’ July 19, 2022 Commentary: “Facts don't matter to Sacramento's Democrats” would benefit by reading it because it explains in good detail our state’s various laws, which effectively end the single family R-1 zoning allowing it to be split into two lots by right and add a second housing unit.

Other mandates such as locating housing development along transportation corridors are just as troubling. In addition, Elias points out the questionable statistics provided by the state -- claiming housing shortages of 3.5 million, later revised to 1.8 million, and now upped again to 2.5 million in AB 2011 -- to justify these laws.

Looking into the future, Elias writes that legislators are making an “effort to make California at least as dense as New York state.”

Adding to the shoddy statistics there are two more troubling effects that point out how lackadaisical the legislation’s approach has been in crafting these laws.

The first is that a large part of local planning authority is overridden by state law, which over time will strip away the individual character of counties and municipalities. We who live in Napa County treasure the individuality of its cities and its Ag Preserve and so do the millions who visit it to enjoy just that. The transformation of Calistoga, St. Helena etc. will be a slow process, slow enough as not to be obvious, little by little. The economic burden and upheaval, immeasurable and shoved under the table.

It is common knowledge that growth collapses when one of its vital structural components collapses, and as we have become aware, the most obvious one right now is water. Space limitation does not allow me to dwell on the many others that are just as important but less obvious such as traffic congestion, CO2 emissions (counteracting climate change policies at that!), police and EMS services, the power grid and general infrastructure and many more.

We all experienced restrictions on water use, as well as the crippling increase of water rates. While several areas in the San Joaquin Valley have subsided by as much as 30 feet, much of its fertile land is lying fallow with thousands of uprooted fruit trees lying down in tree cemeteries, current mitigation debates at local agencies are proposing a moratorium on new well drilling, metering existing ones, enacting all kinds of financial burdens on water use, such as parcel taxes, well and regulatory fees, all focused on conservation. But curtailing usage at the local level while increasing demand by mandating the construction of millions of new housing units at the opposite end is a losing proposition any 10-year-old can figure out but not our legislators. And it is already turning ugly.

American Canyon has filed a lawsuit against the city of Vallejo which allegedly has reneged on its contractual obligation to deliver water to its 35-lot Canyon Estates development. The city of Vallejo on the other hand justifies its action on the fact that California State Water Resources Control Board has curtailed its own water allocations to Vallejo from waters in Solano County. This is the very state of California! The one which mandates more housing, not facilitating the construction of a mere 35 homes! How about water for the rest of the homes the state has mandated for American Canyon or any locality up and down the state?

The predictable water wars have begun! The one between American Canyon and Vallejo is between municipalities, but how about the state involvement itself which enacts laws without looking a few yards ahead? And specifically in wine country, how about looming wars between agriculture (the largest users) and urban dwellers who will have to subsidize it with higher rates lest the economy collapses? How about the future of agriculture as the largest holder of lands, much of it along transportation corridors? The future of the Ag Preserve?

The mandate for new housing must be examined holistically, considering and safeguarding the precious diversity of the state’s localities with its implications on the health of the environment, and its effect on each local specific economy, history, culture and resources.

State laws cannot be overridden by local initiatives. We expect our local senators to pick up the ball and get into action in the legislation. That failing, only a statewide ballot measure will do the job. We cannot allow California’s local cityscapes ?" indeed their diverse local economies ?" to be upended and fall victim to myopic state housing-zealot legislators who have a duty to get this right but refuse to do the arduous job.

NVR LTE version 7/23/22: The predictable water wars have begun

Pacaso in your backyard on: Tourism Issues

Bill Hocker - Jul 5,22  expand...  Share

NVR 7/5/22: Pacaso causes stir in rural Napa County neighborhood

Pacaso, like Airbnb before it, is quickly becoming the scourge of communities worldwide that are desirable places to live. Time share ownership of luxury homes and estates used occasionally during the year, like Airbnb rentals, reduce the number of residents in a community that have a long term stake in what happens there. The sense of neighborhood disappears. Local businesses that serve real communities disappear in favor of transient oriented goods and services. And, like Airbnb on a more grandiose scale, they are apt to serve as party venues for tenants who see themselves as being on vacation and want to have a good time, an unfortunate addition to any neighborhood. Pacaso is just one more symptom of the disintegration of real life in the county being replaced by a tourism economy. It should be resisted at every opportunity and I'm glad that this neighborhood has organized to fight an unwelcome intrusion into their backyard.

But that is not what makes the story interesting to me. The chief antagonist in this case is Paul Bartelt, a civil engineer involved in the development of numerous wineries in the county, several of which have been contested by their neighborhoods, including the Mountain Peak Winery in my backyard. Not that I wish him ill -- he seems normally congenial and professional -- but I must confess, it is of some ironic comfort to see that someone so instrumental in enabling the intrusion of unwanted tourism into rural communities should now cry foul when it is his community affected.

Stanly Ranch on: The Hotel Binge

Bill Hocker - Jun 10,22  expand...  Share

The site plan seems to have become much more dense as the project has progressed.
Update 6/10/22
NVR 6/10/22: Napa's Stanly Ranch resort welcomes guests

Homes: $6-12mil
Rooms: min $1250/night
Spa day-pass for locals: $350

Update 3/14/21
Gary Margadant sends this link to Stanly Ranch's hiring page. As noted in the EIR for the project, Stanly Ranch anticipates hiring some 500 people to staff the resort. In most economies, creating jobs and expanding the population to fill them is a sign of capitalism at work increasing prosperity. But such a prosperity scenario has always had a corollary: increased urbanization. In a county that has nominally resisted urbanization to protect its agriculture-based principal product, such job growth dogma, and the cascade of urban development that follows in its wake, will continue to erode the longevity of that product.

Update 10/29/21
NVR 10/29/21: $4 million Stanly Ranch homes debut in south Napa: Auberge Resorts launch sales

No doubt this is just one of many high-end gated communities that will fill in the vineyards as the valley suburbanizes in the coming decades.

It is the second resort to bury totally rural vineyards with suburban development: Taking a trip to Calistoga last year I was blown away to see a housing tract on the east side of the Silverado Trail - the Four Seasons Resort. The shock of confronting such a project on the pristine "rural" side of the Trail made it all too clear that the battle for the rural soul of Napa has been lost to developers' frantic lust to turn this place into Walnut Creek.

For decades the wine industry fought like hell to limit the housing tracts that threatened the survival of their vines and their rural lifestyles. Now, with the industry wedded to the entertainment industry, call it a resort and there's no problem.

Update 11/5/20
NVR 11/5/20: Amid rolling vineyards, a new luxury resort is rising in south Napa

There is a difference between agriculture and tourism.

Napa Valley then and now

Update 2/26/20
NVR 2/26/20: Second phase of Stanly Ranch Resort approved by Napa's Planning Commission
NVR 10/3/19: Napa city to review designs for Stanly Ranch resort residences
NVR 9/23/19: Napa's Stanly Ranch resort starts construction

Update 8/16/18
NVR 5/9/15: New $45 million investment for a planned Stanly Ranch resort in south Napa

Stanly Ranch returns from funding limbo. The project would add another 500 low wage employees looking for affordable housing. It would also contribute $4.4 million to the city's affordable housing fund. The cost of 50 units of affordable housing in Napa was just pegged at $24 million. By that standard the $4.4 million will be enough for 9 affordable housing units, enough to house perhaps 18 of the 500 employees. The continuing imbalance of jobs and housing in Napa County, increased with each new development project, is not sustainable.

This is also another example of the trend toward the winery hotel that will eventually be demanded in the unincorporated areas just as restaurant wineries are now.

Original Post 5/7/17
Update 5/7/17: Only recently, after stumbling upon these documents, have I become attuned to the third mega-project that will be urbanizing the agricultural entry to the county just south of the Hwy 29 and 121 junction in Carneros. It is a housing project and resort known as Stanly Ranch. The resort project was approved by the City of Napa in 2010. Sometimes, until you see a site plan, the numbers representing the project in a table don't have an impact. A big chunk of vineyards at the approach to the Valley is to become suburbanized and another bit of Napa's forlorn effort to maintain a greenbelt separating the city from the sprawl moving up from American Canyon will disappear.

The property was annexed to the City of Napa in 1964 for future use, in an age when suburban expansion was the anticipated fate of all Bay Area counties. As a far-removed extension of the subsequently-created urban-rural lines in the county, it can now be seen as a historical artifact, like the property proposed for the Oak Knoll Hotel, that violates the separation between existing urban and rural uses that the county and cities have been committed to since the ag preserve and Measure J were enacted. It could be rezoned back to agricultural use if there was a will, but it is another example that zoning changes only go in one direction - toward urban development.

NVR 2/17/21: Napa gives go-ahead for Stanly Ranch luxury hotel
NVR 12/20/15: City gives thumbs-up for luxury hotel at Stanly Ranch
NVR 11/2/15: Stanly Ranch receives recycled water go-ahead
NVR 5/9/15: Stanly Ranch resort developer promises 'authenticity'
NVR 11/19/13: Pipeline project to bring water to Carneros area
NVR 11/6/10: Settlement says St. Regis developer must support affordable housing
NVR 1/23/10: Critics blast St. Regis project, but city touts revenues; more hearings ahead
NVR 4/17/05: Merryvale set to begin Stanly Ranch renovation this summer

2009 City of Napa Stanly Ranch EIR project description

The 2022 campaign for Napa's soul on: Campaign 2022

Bill Hocker - Jun 7,22  expand...  Share

Update 6/7/22
Napa County June 7, 2022 Primary Election Complete Coverage

It appears that Anne Cottrell and Joelle Gallagher have substantial leads in their respective districts, which is good news for the preservationist faction of the county. It still remains to be seen if either reaches the 50% needed to avoid a runoff in November.

Update 4/21/22
Lisa Seran LTE 4/21/22: Follow the money in political races
NVR 2/4/22: Truchard the top fundraiser for Napa County supervisor races

In each election we get an accounting of the power of Napa's wine oligarchy and the weight of their patronage in Napa county politics. The patronage seems to be spreading into elected office beyond the Supervisor's chambers. It is also interesting that Sup. Pedroza, the prime conduit for development interests in the county since taking over Bill Dodd's seat 8 years ago, is raking in substantial campaign contributions two years away from his next run for political office, whatever office that might be.

Update 3/28/22
NV2050 3/28/22: Napa County BOS Candidates: We Asked. They Answered.
NVR 3/18/22: Napa County races set for June election

Original post 2/20/21
NVR 2/20/21: High stakes 2022 election to shape Napa County wine country

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 the process 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 threatens the continuation of the county's rural legacy.

In 2016, the loss by Mark Luce to Ryan Gregory for District 2 Supervisor created a majority on the Napa County Board of Supervisors that marked a shift from the Ag Preserve agenda that began in 1968, 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 mirage of more government revenue. (The movement toward an urban growth agenda in Napa County took off with the election of of Bill Dodd in 2000, replacing preservationist Kathryn Winter.)

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 7 years, they have become the main voices weighing development decisions against the desire to preserve an economy based on agriculture. That concern is now seldom the highest consideration in board decisions.

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 winery experiences than the wine itself. 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. But tourism, real estate and construction interests are now dominant forces in the county, as well as a wine industry that continues to embrace ever increasing tourism as its salvation, and the battle will be hard fought and costly.

Benjamin Ranch Appeal on: Benjamin Ranch Winery

Bill Hocker - Jun 2,22  expand...  Share

Another 9 acres of vineyard land gone?
Update 6/12/22
NVR 6/11/22: Napa County returns Benjamin Ranch winery to Planning Commission

Update 6/2/22
In perhaps a first, an approved project under appeal at the Board of Supervisors is being voluntarily remanded back to the Planning Commission with the consent of all concerned. From the BOS 6/7/22 agenda:


From the Staff Agenda Letter:

    "Staff, Appellant and Applicant jointly request a remand to the Commission for purposes of preparation of an advisory report addressing: 1) changes proposed by the Applicant to the winery’s design and operational characteristics; (2) consideration of the new BAAQMD Air Quality and GHG Guidelines that took effect in April 2022; and (3) consideration of the Governor’s recent Executive Order pertaining to well permits and the extreme drought. The Commission’s advisory report will be considered by the Board prior to rendering a decision on the appeal. Upon issuance of the Commission’s advisory report, the appeal hearing will be publicly noticed at least fifteen days in advance of the hearing before the Board.

It seems there will be a public Commission hearing to air all concerns on the new design, but that the PC (perhaps to their relief) won't actually vote on the revised design. It's an odd tweak to the normal course of things, which, along with a look at how new state regulations will impact all winery approvals going forward, will make for an interesting process.

Update 6/2/21
NV2050 6/2/22: The Appeal: Benjamin Ranch

After being continued last Nov., the Benjamin Ranch Winery appeal will apparently be heard by the BOS on 6/7/22, although no notice has yet been sent by the County.

The new owner, Treasury Wine Estates, is proposing a reduction in visitation and production output in a letter to the BOS: 87,150 vis/yr down to 37,000, and 475,000 gal/yr down to 300,000.

No mention is made of downsizing the physical facility proportional to the reduction, or of the 61 employees needed to operate it. While it may be that a smaller operation is closer to Treasury's vision, it has become almost routine that developers come in at the last minute with a reduction in visitation to make approval more palatable, while doing nothing to reduce the physical size of the project. Will the 9 acres of arable land removed remain the same? Requesting changes in visitation or output capacity in the future becomes a much easier lift when the physical capacity is there to accommodate it.

The project is being opposed by the community group Keep Rutherford Rural, led by Micheal Honig. They are asking for an EIR on the project (as is now required for Mountain Peak). A request for a continuation would not be a surprise given the changes to consider.

The County's project documents are here (changes not yet reflected)

Even with the reductions, this will probably be the largest new winery in the Ag Preserve in two decades. It has become incumbent upon the BOS, in an era already experiencing water shortages in the Napa Valley sub-basin, already experiencing the disastrous effects of climate change that are the product of continuing urban expansion, to be much more diligent in vetting the impacts of new development than they have been in the past. A negative declaration of environmental impact by county staff is not enough. An EIR should be required for all new projects and expansions in the County, and doubly so for a project of this scale.

There is a case to be made that to survive the climate catastrophe humanity faces, all GHG-producing development should be put on hold until a solution is found. A more thorough vetting of the impacts of each development should be the very least that our civic leaders do to show due diligence in confronting the environmental Armageddon that lies ahead.

Update 11/18/21
NVR 11/18/21: Treasury Wine Estates to acquire Frank Family Vineyards
Press Release 11/17/21: Treasury Wine Estates Announces Acquisition of Frank Family Vineyards
Variety 11/17/21: Rich Frank’s Frank Family Vineyards Sold for $315 Million to Treasury Americas

What to make of this surprise? Negotiations for the sale of the property were obviously happening at the same time as the the project was coming up before the Planning Commission, if not before. So much for testimonials of character witnesses at planning commission hearings.

What does it mean for the Benjamin Ranch Winery? Treasury already has ±760,000 visitor slots/yr and ±8 million gal/yr of capacity in its better-known Beaulieu, Beringer, Stirling and Etude Wineries. Another Napa brand may be an added profit source, but spending $20+ million on another venue to add a bit more capacity or a few more tourists to its Napa holdings could be a questionable investment. No mention of physical expansion, only brand addition, in the press release. Will the appeal still be contested in March? Stay tuned.

What it does show is the ongoing absorption of Napa brands under large corporate ownership, and the further erosion of any "local" authenticity to the Napa name as the industry continues to move toward a wine-themed Las Vegas named "NAPA!". Most buyers won't know or care that a wine and its glitzy winery are owned by an Australian Corporation. But oenophiles will probably see it as a bit more tarnish on the Napa brand and continue to seek their cult discoveries elsewhere.

Update 11/13/21
NVR 11/12/21: Hearing over proposed, large Napa Valley winery could be delayed
NV2050 on Benjamin Ranch 11/9/21: Here We Go Again: Appeal of the Frank Family/Benjamin Ranch Project in Rutherford is Gaining Support
SCR 11/11/21To the BOS on Benjamin Ranch

Neighbors are appealing the approval of the Benjamin Ranch Winery by the planning commission last May. The appeal will be heard by the Board of Supervisors on 9/14/21 [now continued to 11/16/21].
Notice of Appeal Hearing
Appeal Document (from KRR website)

It would seem that all of the submissions to the administrative record needed for the Benjamin Ranch appeal were made in the first of the two Planning Commission hearings and that further presentation at the second was seen as unnecessary.

Given the Board's pro-development makeup (see how dismissively the Board treated the resident-farmers surrounding the Scarlett Winery), opponents of the Benjamin Ranch Winery must also be anticipating an appeal loss and, hopefully, already preparing their CEQA litigation.

Will this be the project that finally convinces the "responsible" but silent resident growers and vintners of Napa County that their way of life is also threatened by the tourism expansion that much of the wine industry and the county government have embraced, a conviction long felt by the rural residents not tied to the wine-tourism economy? Probably not.

In any case, much like global warming, it is a bit late to undo the urban development trajectory undertaken in the county over the last 20 years. The hundreds of approved, as-yet-unbuilt projects will continue to bring more workers and tourists needing ever more housing, infrastructure, commercial and hospitality development. Urbanization, like global warming, is a cyclical process with each individual event amplifying the occurrence of future events.

Which is not to negate the obligation that each individual community has to resist the urban development that threatens the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their neighborhood.

Climate Action Committee on: Climate Action Plan

Bill Hocker - Jun 1,22  expand...  Share

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.

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.

5/31/22: Old Fire at Soda Canyon on: Fire Issues

Bill Hocker - May 31,22  expand...  Share
From Sugarloaf Ridge 5/31/22 5:18pm

Once again we are reminded how inappropriate it is to consider increasing development and tourism in the box canyon of Soda Canyon Road. The one additional condition imposed on the Mountain Peak project following the court-ordered remand to the BOS over fire safety issues was that no events or tastings would be allowed on red flag days. The county was not on a red flag alert on the day of this fire. The only thing that kept the fire from again engulfing the road (it reached the eastern edge of the road) and moving up the canyon was the wind direction.

Update 6/3/22
NVR 6/3/22: Cal Fire investigating whether PG&E power line potentially sparked Old Fire

Update 6/2/22
Nixel Alert 11:50am
    Road closure at Soda Canyon Road & Silverado Trail is now lifted. Evacuation Orders in the area are also lifted. Please use caution in the area as crews continue to work.

Update 6/1/22 7:00am
Nixel Alert 11:50pm
    Napa County residents previously issued an evacuation order are permitted to return home. Only residents of the area are permitted access at this time.
    Please use extreme caution when returning as there is emergency personnel still assigned to the incident.

    Crosswalk Community Church evacuation center has been closed.


Update 9:00pm
SR Press Democrat 5/31/22: Old fire grows to 570 acres north of Napa, evacuation center opens

From the 7:40pm Nixle alert:
    Due to ongoing wild-land fire activity, Napa County has opened an evacuation center for individuals and households affected by the Old Fire currently active at 2300 Old Soda Springs Rd. Evacuation Orders are still in effect for 1300 Soda Canyon Rd to the dead end.
    The Evacuation Center is located at Crosswalk Community Church, 2590 First Street, Napa, CA 94558.
    Evacuees in need of food, water, or charging stations are welcome to utilize the Napa County evacuation center. Accommodations for overnight shelter may be announced, if needed.

A community member also sends this information:
    In case it's helpful to anyone.... Meritage Hotel has a very nice evacuation rate. they have $99 rooms and 50% off other room categories when you mention the fire and power outage rate.

NVR 5/31/22: UPDATE: Mandatory evacuations orders issued for all of Old Soda Canyon Road due to fire activity

Everyone talks about the traffic... on: Traffic Issues

Bill Hocker - May 26,22  expand...  Share

South County Big Map of Everything:
and the numbers
Update 5/26/22
NVR 5/26/22: Napa County parallel Highway 29 route celebrated

Update 4/20/20
NVR 4/6/20: Napa creates $500 million long-range transportation list

Update 10/5/17
NVR 10/5/19: Caltrans depicts Soscol Junction as big congestion-buster

Update 7/31/17
NVR 7/31/17: Napa transportation leaders try to speed up fix to 29/221 intersection

NVR 7/25/17: South Napa County makes pitch for Highway 29 congestion relief

NVR 7/25/17: Napa transportation leaders agree, disagree with grand jury findings

NVR 7/7/17: Grand jury wants more done to address Napa County congestion

The Napa County Grand Jury has issued a report on the Napa Valley Transportation Agency's "Vision 2040 Plan" and it is not pleased, saying that the $250,000, 2-year effort "did not result in an actionable plan to measure and solve traffic congestion". As if the NVTA had the ability to "solve" congestion problems.

The congestion problems are simply a symptom of the amount of development taking place. As long as building projects continue to be approved in the county, bringing more workers, more deliveries and shipments and more tourists, transport infrastructure projects from trails to bus routes to light rail to freeways, which are expensive and take a very long time to complete, will never keep up with the congestion created. The solution to the congestion problem is to reduce the amount of development, unfortunately well beyond the mandate of the NVTA.

The failure of the Grand Jury report and of the CAC recommendations is that they assume that once congestion reduction measures are implemented that the congestion will be reduced. The example of the widening of Jameson Canyon to 4 lanes is instructive in this regard. As a commuter coming through the Jameson/29 intersection every weekend for the last 23 years I can testify that widening Jameson Canyon to 4 lanes not only did not relieve congestion, it has induced it to become more congested than ever. As traffic researchers know, when measures are taken to ease the flow, more development is induced by the promise that easier access is just around the corner. A vast amount of industrial development has occured in anticipation of the easier link to the central valley which filled the increased capacity even before it was operational. And now the intersection is more congested than it was before the widening.

The NTVA seems to be recognizing this paradox and in its most recent discussions is advocating not doing the proposed widening of Hwy 29 around the Jameson Canyon bottleneck. "If you build a six-lane road, traffic is going to follow," the NTVA director said. "People go where there's capacity."

In this approach they are doing the only thing they can do to relieve the congestion: insure that the congestion will become just bad enough that developers and tourists and businesses will begin going elsewhere. The alternative is that urban development will continue to consume the Napa Valley as it has the rest of the Bay Area. It is stern medicine, but necessary if the patient is to survive.

Unfortunately, without the committment from county governments to curtail development projects (the strategy that allowed the wine industry to survive in the first place), NVTA will not be able to maintain this approach for long, and the demand by those convinced that congestion can be "solved" with more infrastructure, and those who want more infrastructure to enable more development, will force the NVTA to relent. And the flood gates will be opened once again, continuing to drown the vines and open spaces of Napa County in urban sprawl.

Barry Eberling series: Traffic Tales of Napa County
Napa County Travel Behavior Study 2015 Conclusions

District 1 Candidates respond to KNGG on: Campaign 2022

Bill Hocker - May 24,22  expand...  Share

Update 5/24/22
Christiane Robbins sends these KNGG questionaire responses from Supervisor Candidates in District 1.

While KNGG concerns (here) are focused on the Ghlisetta/Horsemans properties, the questions and answers by the candidates cover broader issues of county housing policy.

Residential Development Ordinance on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - May 24,22  expand...  Share

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, or Brian Bordona,

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
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
Benjamin Ranch 6-7
B Cellars 2.5±
Castellucci 3+
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.

Walt Ranch in Court and Beyond on: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - May 17,22  expand...  Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A View of Walt Ranch on: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - May 12,22  expand...  Share

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

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

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

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

Downtown Napa

County Building (after an earthquake)

Skyline Park

Silverado County Club

Milliken Reservoir

Montecello Road

Atlas Peak Road

Walt Ranch decision possible May 17th on: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - May 12,22  expand...  Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campaign 2022: Following the money on: Campaign 2022

Bill Hocker - May 12,22  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:

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 shows who they are.

The solar powered landscape on: Solar Farming

Bill Hocker - Apr 22,22  expand...  Share

Update 4/22/22
A private residential solar panel project is scheduled to appear before the Planning Commission on 5/4/22. The documents are here. It is only on the PC docket because exemptions are needed for construction on slopes over 30%, not because of its visual impact on the environment.

The fuzzy photo at the right shows what the installation (top arrow) might look like from the center of the valley. It may be more or less visible. It might be darker or brighter (especially if the sun reflects off it.) I am not creating it to object to this particular project but to show that solar projects do have a visual impact that are at odds with the natural landscape. It is an impact that should be considered as more and more of these project are proposed. The bottom arrow shows an existing array.

The use of solar power, of course, is necessary if we are to meet climate GHG reduction goals in this climate crisis. But the glut in solar power that already exists shows that the ultimate solution is in large scale storage and distribution rather than more individual solar arrays. And there are impacts in building thousands of private arrays, particularly potential visual impacts in a county that derives some of its income from the appreciation of the natural beauty of its environment. Thus far the discussions on solar power have not highlighted visual impacts.

The county seems at the moment to have shelved the proposed ordinance on renewable energy systems, including individual and large-scale solar arrays, in the county. The last action the BOS took regarding that ordinance was to ban solar farms on ag or residential land until the ordinance could be finalized.

Even if it were in effect, the proposed ordinance does not address the visual implications of projects. This is a negligent omission. At the least they should be regulated specifically under the county's view-shed ordinance which would apply to slopes under 30% as well and require planting to screen the view. Until the county does so, there should also be a moratorium on private deployment as well. (Unfortunately the view-shed ordinance seems to be doing little to prevent visible development defacing hillside views, but that's another discussion...)

In crafting zoning ordinances, there is a government obligation to consider the maximum impact that the zoning will permit. Not to do so is cumulative negligence. As the panoramic wetland and vineyard entry to wine country is now being converted to an alley of warehouses, that negligence is upon us. In the battles over winery development, the County was asked to consider the cumulative-impact question: what if every property that is allowed to have a winery builds a winery. The attitude seemed to be that ain't gonna happen, trust us. As I look at the winery approvals at our Soda Canyon Road junction their blasé attitude is definitely beginning to look like cumulative negligence.

So with solar arrays: what if every homeowner builds a solar array on the hillside above their house. There are implications to the visual character of the bucolic landscape that we and visitors treasure. That implication needs to be vetted before the county begins issuing permits, lest it become another example of cumulative negligence in the county's stewardship.

Update 4/25/18
NVR 4/25/18: Gateway to the city of Napa getting stealth solar farm
Exactly the solution needed for the Rector dam corporation yard!

Update 3/17/18
NVR 3/17/18: State wants half-acre solar array along Napa's Silverado Trail

The Trail is already filling up with garish homes and event centers and parking lots and left turn bumps and now the indignity of an industrial power plant.

It's churlish, and un-PC, to bad-mouth solar power. But we should recognize, as solar power provides more and more of our energy, that solar collectors are attractive only in their novelty and their benefit toward prolonging life on earth. In fact they are little different in appearance than a full parking lot.

As every home and business begins to burden the landscape with an array, the landscape will suffer. We see even now the jarring apparition of arrays climbing the hillsides behind homes and wineries, with little thought about their visual impact, but much admiration for the "green" commitment of their owners. And large solar arrays, as with the half acre at Rector, are significant money makers that will further speed their adoption, particularly in areas with a lot of open space - like Napa. It is really time for a solar array ordinance to "mitigate" (I would prefer "eliminate") their visual impacts and potential consumption of ag land going forward.

About the Rector array: this is an ideal opportunity to propose a 6-8' berm (a modest bit of earthwork perhaps garnished with vines) at the front of the property to hide both the panels and the corporation yard with its industrial detritus. It could be constructed perhaps with a bit of the 1400 acre feet of silt washed down from the vineyard development in the hills that currently diminishes the capacity of the reservoir. A definite win-win for all.

Farm Bureau ignores the weather report on: Growth Issues

Patricia Damery - Apr 21,22  expand...  Share

Farm Bureau President Peter Nissen is correct in his assessment in a recent letter-to-the-editor that “the current climate we find ourselves in does not bode well for the future of agriculture in Napa County...”

Indeed, the current, changing climate is one of increasing heat, fire, continued drought and concerns for water security. We are hotter and drier. Unless we change our ways, and possibly even if we do, agriculture in Napa County is going to be severely impacted.

However, Nissen and the Farm Bureau appear oblivious to the fact that we are deep in a climate emergency and what that means for growers and farmers. Instead, Nissen bemoans that applicants wanting to develop vineyards fear “unjustified attacks,” presumably by those concerned about the larger environment and the changing conditions brought on by exponentially increasing heating. He appears to believe that the “extremely thorough regulatory process” is doing its job to protect our environment.

He is wrong. Our regulatory processes are woefully outdated. After 13 years, we have yet to have a County Climate Action Plan. We are in a time of great transition and changes are needed. Campaign donations appear to have turned our local decision makers into a puppet government for the prevailing industries: wine and tourism. All the while, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued it’s most dire warnings and sounded the alarm that we must lower the emissions of greenhouse gases, and soon, if life on earth will be sustainable.
Yet, Napa County’s General Plan that guides critical land-use decisions, relies on old, historical conditions, not those presented in our new normal, nonlinear heating. And, citing one case, one needs to only study the facts surrounding the shoddy way our county avoided a required EIR for Mountain Peak Winery, incorrectly relying only on the California Natural Diversity Data Base Management Data for the presence of endangered species.

Only when informed citizens who sued, again and again, did the Courts agree an EIR would be required. This lengthy process could have been avoided had the state regulations been followed.

When properly enforced, many of our county regulations work to protect agriculture, our community, and the environment. Sadly, enforcement continues to be an issue. Too often our county will mitigate anything, bypassing regulations and scientific facts. It has become the burden of concerned citizens to address these problems. These are not people wanting all agriculture shut down. Many are growers and vintners themselves. This is public scrutiny to protect agriculture and the environment. Only in a healthy environment can agriculture thrive.

Has the Farm Bureau become only an advocate for those who believe development interests trump the needs of the environment and more generally, the common good?

Since the Valley Ag Preserve has been mostly planted out, as Director David Morrison has stated, now applicants look to the hillsides and the Ag Watershed lands. Very few of these applicants are farmers but investors or individuals “living their dreams” of a vineyard. However, their dreams involve converting land integral to the county’s water security and global climate stabilization efforts. The native vegetation of these hillsides sequesters far more carbon than the vines applicants seek to replace it with, a critical issue and one our current General Plan addresses.

These investors and “dreamers” want to call their dreams agriculture, but unfortunately, their acts commercialize Ag lands and degrade the environment at a time we need to get smarter about managing our wildlands. When you buy land in the Ag Watershed, you are buying watershed. It’s time our county considers this.

My husband and I have been members of the Farm Bureau for years. However, this is not the Farm Bureau that Donald and I knew even ten years ago. This Farm Bureau appears to be controlled by political agendas which threaten to destroy the very environment that could mitigate our survival into the future.

Patricia Damery LTE 4/21/22: Farm Bureau doesn't understand climate impacts of vineyards

Napa Vision 2050 is visionary on: Community Groups

Eve Kahn - Apr 18,22  expand...  Share

This letter is in response to Igor Sill piece. ("Napa Vision 2050 is misguided," April 4, 2022)

Napa Vision 2050 humbly walks in the footsteps of the many “misguided” heroes in Napa Valley. A brief history of the visionaries (whom many at the time labeled misguided) follows:

In 1968 Warren Winiarski led the effort that established an Ag Preserve to stave off commercial growth in Napa Valley. Many pushed back as they felt this was an unwanted turn toward socialism. This deeply controversial issue increased the minimum parcel size from 1 acre to 30 (and ultimately 40 acres.) Warren was successful in selling the idea that vineyards and wineries are good for the valley. The Board of Supervisors agreed and voted 4-0 to approve.

Twenty years later, Volker Eisele saw the destruction of orchards in Santa Clara and wisely stepped forward to create Measure J (extended as Measure P). This initiative moved the decision power from the Board to the voters when developers wanted to re-designate ag land for commercial uses within the Ag Preserve. Measure J passed and prevailed during two court cases.

Ginny Simms, Diane Dillon, and others successfully challenged a developer’s desire to build 1700 homes on the hills above the Southern Crossing (highways 121/29). Measures X and Y gathered 80+% of the votes. Get a Grip on Growth was born and next turned its focus on preventing an 800-home subdivision at Stanly Ranch. Two major gateways were preserved!

Moira Johnston Block, Harry Price, and numerous other community leaders joined forces to challenge the US Army Core of Engineers’ plans for a cemented channel through the city of Napa. The Napa community’s plan was built upon a set of “living river” principles. An unprecedented countywide coalition of political and community leaders, private industry, natural resource agencies, non-profit groups, and private citizens, agreed on a plan providing flood protection in part by connecting the Napa River to its historical floodplain and restoration of over 600 acres to tidal wetland.

Residents throughout the valley strongly supported Measure A to provide additional funding. And the rest is history.

Without these “misguided” heroes, who relied upon appropriate science, facts, and strong intuition, the Napa Valley would not be the world-renowned destination it is today. And where will we be without present-day visionaries who rely upon the democratic process to preserve and protect the land, the water, and the environment during a climate emergency and severe drought?

Napa Vision 2050’s goal is to shine a light on any action that threatens the delicate balance between commerce and quality of life.

Eve Kahn
Napa Vision 2050

LTE Version in NV Register 4/18/22: Napa Vision 2050 is visionary, not misguided

The Hall Winery Hotel on: The Hotel Binge

Bill Hocker - Apr 16,22  expand...  Share

Not your average mobile home
Update 4/20/122
SH Star 12/21/21: St. Helena City Council settles Hall lawsuit over water service

I somehow missed the latest development in the Hall Winery Hotel story.

Presumably the residents of St. Helena, in one way or another, will now be paying the the Halls $950,000 to help them expand their empire. Starting with a glitzy plan for their mega-winery, then the years-long battle over the Walt Ranch vineyard estates, kicking folks out of their mobile homes and now this extraction from St. Helenan pocketbooks, the Halls just can't seem to stop alienating Napa residents with their conspicious, never-quenched ambitions.

The settlement in St. Helena also looms over the Board of Supervisors as the last approval needed for the tree clearing on the Hall's Walt Ranch project to begin is being deliberated. Their decision is unlikely to be based just on the effectiveness of the GHG miitgation plan.

Update 6/28/18
NVR 1/29/19: Hall sues city of St. Helena, demands water for mobile home park site

Update 6/28/18
NVR 6/28/18: St. Helena City Council spells out 'significant concerns' about Hall mobile home park plan
NVR 6/20/18: St. Helena City Council criticizes Hall plan to revamp former mobile home park

SH City Council is on the case!

The Halls have just submitted a request for a development agreement and a "minor" modification of the use permit for the mobile home park that they now own next to their Bunny Foo Foo winery. The property was granted a use permit as a mobile home park in 1961 with 18 spaces and 4 structures and is now largely a vacant piece of property. The minor modification would allow demolition of the existing structures on the property and the addition of 22 "manufactured homes" and a clubhouse building with pool and event areas. 14 of the two story manufactured homes would provide 28 hotel suites. 7 of the manufactured homes would be 3 story town house units, no doubt for short term rental. There is a direct connection to the garden of the adjacent Hall Winery.

Project notice
The county documents are here

The project is called the Vineland Vista Mobile Home Park. This is not a mobile home park. It is a change in use from a grandfathered housing project (affordable housing at that!) in the Ag Preserve to a commercial resort hotel with the obvious increase in staffing, water and daily usage adding to Napa's infrastructure, housing and traffic woes. To treat it as a minor modification of the 1961 use permit, and to claim that it " does not change the overall intensity of use of the Property", is ludicrous. Unfortunately, it is one more indication that the "wine" industry is moving beyond food service and events and into the lodging sector as well (more on hotels in the vineyards here).

While being presented as a planned development of manufactured homes, this is an obvious change from residential use not consistent with the definition of manufactured homes. These are not "designed to be used as a single-family dwelling[s]" as defined by the law. Far beyond a minor modification, the project raises the question of a change in zoning use subject to Measure J/P. And as a new use paradigm, it should be required to have a full EIR.

Once again the Halls are trying to hide major development projects within the parameters of minor change. Walt Ranch is a housing estate development masquerading as agriculture. This is a trend-setting winery hotel project masquerading as a spruced-up mobile home park.

To the Supervisors on Walt Ranch on: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Apr 14,22  expand...  Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

NIMBY on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Apr 8,22  expand...  Share

Update 4/7/22
As I have mentioned elsewhere, the term "NIMBY" is a weaponized slur used by developers to sell the canard that defending one's community and environment against development is less socially worthy than their desire to consume it for profit. In a recent letter protesting the proposed Napa City General Plan update designation of the Ghisetta Ranch for housing and commercial uses, a member of the community organization Keep Napa Gateways Green gave a more nuanced reading of the importance of Nimbyism in the dialog about land use. It is worth repeating.

    I have heard repeatedly the term NIMBY tossed about in various formats with regard to our group's opposition to the current and proposed Land Use Plan for the SW area of Napa; specifically, the properties known as Horseman’s Association and Ghisletta. The term NIMBY, "not in my back yard", has long been used to criticize people who oppose intensified and sprawling development in their communities. Invariably it is used pejoratively and depicts its residents as those who care only for their properties, as hypocrites who want the benefits of a diverse, thriving community without wanting to share their space with others. This couldn't be further from the truth.

    There is nothing wrong with standing up for our own communities and standing with our fellow citizens who want to preserve their quality of life. Not everything about development and growth is worth embracing. We have the right to protect and defend the things we care about. As a matter of fact, it is defeatist not to. This is part of the political process and we proudly stand together to defend this beautiful area of Napa and all areas of Napa that deserve that protection and defense. Of course we are aware of undesirable development in our back yard, just as every neighborhood group is more keenly aware of problems because we are the eyes and ears of this part of Napa. We know this area, we live in this area and we treasure the Horseman's and Ghisletta properties and want to protect them. There is no room for condescension when people are working together to be part of something as important as this is.

    Most so-called NIMBY arguments are actually more about the community as a whole, rather than one singular neighborhood. They are about preserving beauty, and promoting safety and the integrity of communities.

    They are about solving problems (like climate change) without creating serious new ones (such as traffic congestion, pollution, wildfire dangers and costly infrastructure costs to struggling cities) . They are about finding solutions that enrich our lives, support our health, and increase our prosperity.

    Victoria Lancaster"

Original post 6/18/18
Pat Clay LTE regarding Napa Oaks II 6/18/18: Napa Oaks offers many benefits

As is the case in many of the community battles with developers over the last 4 years, Pat Clay invokes "NIMBY" in the editorial. Whenever community members, in their self-interest, attempt to protect the quality of their lives in the face of development projects in their neighborhoods (and often in Napa County they are developments that want to exploit that quality of life for profit) they are labeled as NIMBY's.

Finally I had to look up the etymology. The first printed use of "NIMBY" was made, it seems, in quoting Joe Lieberman in 1979 regarding the opposition to nuclear waste disposal sites holding up development of nuclear power. (This was said one month before the Three Mile Island meltdown.)

In 1980 another author noted is use more broadly in opposition to waste disposal sites:
"People are now thoroughly alert to the dangers of hazardous chemical wastes. The very thought of having even a secure landfill anywhere near them is anathema to most Americans today. It's an attitude referred to in the trade as NIMBY -- "not in my backyard."

"The trade" was a reference to the waste disposal industry but might also be seen as any development industry. "NIMBY" is, as I have always assumed, a term invented by developers to pejoratively label those trying to preserve the quality of their lives in the face of a less desirable future. There is no similar pejorative for those wishing to make money by diminishing that quality. Other than "developer".

The intent of a pejorative label, raised to an art form by our current [now past] developer president, is to ridicule the target and divide them from the support of their otherwise similar peers. Who wants to be associated with someone who is "crooked" or "crazy". It is the prime weapon of every 10 year old schoolyard bully.

While the term "NIMBY" is usually invoked by developers against those impacted by the project to discount their opposition, it is also commonly invoked by non-impacted residents who support, in principle, the concept of “property rights” or else of urban development as a sign of prosperity from which they may benefit. That is, until a project is proposed in their back yard.

Amber Manfree on Mountain Peak on: Mountain Peak Winery

Bill Hocker - Apr 5,22  expand...  Share

The building site
Napavision 2050's Patricia Damery has interviewed Amber Manfree, environmental scientist, lifetime Soda Canyon Road resident and former supervisorial candidate, about the eight years of community opposition to the proposed Mountain Peak winery project. Amber is speaking in the wake of a court ruling sending the project back to the county planning department to be evaluated with an Environmental Impact Report. That ruling was based principally on Amber's presentation of the impacts to biological resources that the project might create . The ruling may still be appealed, one more step in a very long process undertaken to protect the quality of the natural environment and rural way of life in Napa County.

Mountain Peak Winery: Interview with Amber Manfree

Napa County has 'heads in the sand' over climate change on: Watershed Issues

Lisa Hirayama - Mar 30,22  expand...  Share

On Feb. 28, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report said that climate change is impacting the world much faster than scientists had anticipated. There's a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future on this planet.

It says we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because if we don't, it's going to be catastrophic.

On March 18, a report came out that the eastern Antarctic ice sheet was 50 to 90 degrees above normal temps and scientists are stunned. This is the coldest location on earth, and that week it experienced an episode of warm weather that has never occurred before.

Parts of eastern Antarctica had seen temperatures hover 70 degrees above normal for three days plus, and at the same time, the Arctic had temperatures 50 degrees above normal. Researchers are likening the Antarctic event to last June's heat wave in the Pacific Northwest which scientists concluded would have been virtually impossible without human-caused climate change.

Reports have now come out that the 450 square-mile eastern Antarctic Conger ice shelf collapsed in mid-March during the heat wave. The loss of a shelf can allow faster movement of the glaciers behind it which can lead to more rapid ice sheet loss and greater sea level rise.

These are "canary in the coal mine" reports, and we should be heeding their warnings.

Given that ominous forecast, how does Napa County justify allowing over 14,000 mature oak trees to be cut down to plant vineyards on Walt Ranch?

Those destroyed trees and the carbon they sequester can never be replaced. How profitable will those vineyards be in 10 to 20 years when Napa will be too hot to allow those grapes to thrive?

There are already reports that Napa Valley may become less suitable for premium wine grapes as our climate changes. 2021 was the world's 6th hottest year on record and those trees need to be protected now in this global climate crisis.

Yes, I know it's private property and plenty of people will tell me to buy Walt Ranch if I want to save those trees ?" that's their mantra. My response: why are multi-millionaires who claim to be concerned about the environment so driven to do such environmental destruction all in the name of wine, which they already have plenty of?

On March 24th, the Register published "Napa County raises red flags on groundwater." For the last five out of seven years, the county has already exceeded the sustainable yield of 15,000 acre feet being pumped out of the subbasin. The watersheds help replenish the subbasin if we have rain, but we're now heading into another year of drought with no signs of it letting up during this time of mega drought.

Again, why do multi-millionaires want to destroy the watersheds that we need to replenish the subbasin for all of Napa Valley?

The Napa Schools for Climate Action's presentation by Emily Bit at the March 8 Napa County Board of Supervisor's meeting told us that one mature oak tree can store 1.3 metric tons of carbon in its trunk, branches and roots. Students with Napa's Resource Conservation District Acorns to Oaks program found that out of 5,525 acorns planted over eight years, only 936 seedlings have survived (17% survival rate), and all those combined only sequester half the carbon of one mature tree.

Napa County is claiming that 17,582 seedlings will make up for the more than 14,000 mature oaks that will be destroyed on Walt Ranch. By my calculations, those seedlings will only replace 9.5 mature oak trees, and that's only if every one of them survive, which isn't reality.

The county's greenhouse gas numbers are absolutely inadequate and amount to fake mitigation, especially under current environmental conditions.

Tell me how the amount of carbon 9.5 oak trees will sequester equals the more than 14,000 carbon sequestering trees that will be destroyed for vineyards. This doesn't even take into account the carbon sequestration that was lost in the more than 50,000 acres of oak woodland habitat that was damaged or destroyed in the Atlas and LNU wildfires.

Now, more than ever, the County's Planning Director and Supervisors need to take immediate action to respond to the undeniable fact that climate change has created a "house on fire" emergency in Napa Valley.

Emily and her classmates are the generation that will inherit this planet from us, and they already know that we must stop killing our old oaks. They're asking for Napa County's help, and the county knows what it needs to do.

We have eight years left to get down to net zero emissions annually to stop the worst effects of climate change. We can't plant our way out of this. Tough decisions need to be made now. The planet is on fire, and Napa County is sticking their heads in the sand.

NVR LTE version 3/30/22: Napa County has 'heads in the sand' over climate change

Mountain Peak back in Court on: Mountain Peak Winery

Bill Hocker - Mar 23,22  expand...  Share

Update 3/23/22
NVR 3/27/22: Judge requires EIR for Napa County's Mountain Peak winery

A final judgement has been made in the case of Soda Canyon Group vs. County of Napa et al:
"Based on the foregoing, the Petition is GRANTED. Let a peremptory writ of mandate issue directing the Respondent to set aside its actions adopting a Negative Declaration and
approving Use Permit No. P13-00320-UP and exception to the County’s Road and Street
Standards for the Project and further directing Respondent to prepare an Environmental Impact Report for the Project prior to any subsequent approval.

The Court decision is here.

If an expected appeal is denied, the use permit process for the Mountain Peak Winery will begin anew.

Update 1/21/22
NVR 1/21/22: Tentative Napa court decision would require Mountain Peak winery EIR

The Tentative Decision is here

1/20/22 The CEQA Court Hearing on Mountain Peak

Date: January 20, 2022
Location: Napa Superior Court, 825 Brown St, Napa
Judge: Hon. Cynthia Smith (Department A)

On January 20, 2022 residents of Soda Canyon Road will return to the Napa Superior Court for the final hearing to challenge the County's re-approval of the oversized Mountain Peak Winery development located at the remote end of Soda Canyon Road. Prior to approval, the County conducted an in-house, cursory review of the project and its potential impacts on the community and environment, and, ultimately found that the project would have a "less-than-significant" impact. In returning to Court, opponents of the project seek a more thorough assessment of the project, through an Environmental Impact Report, which would be conducted by an independent third-party. Given the size and scope of the project, and what appear to be obvious adverse impacts on the community and environment, such an independent review must be conducted.

The issues raised by the project to be presented in court include the increased traffic that it will bring to an already dangerous road, the environmental danger of moving millions of cubic feet of earth within feet of two blue line creeks, a lack of biologic resource analysis, insufficient and inaccurate analysis of groundwater extraction, a disputed analysis of noise impacts, and insufficient consideration of the fire danger on a long dead-end road in a remote area.

The project is for a 100,000 gal/yr winery, 33,400 sf of caves, 28 parking spaces, 19 full-time employees, and an above ground 8000 sf tasting room. About 3 acres of vines will be permanently removed. Visitation will include 275 visitors/wk, plus 2 - 75 person and 1 - 125 person events/yr. The total amounts to 21,510 tourist/employee users on the site each year (59 people avg per day) and 120 vehicle trips on the road each day, which amounts to ~44,000 trips/yr. The winery is located approximately 6 winding, dead-end miles from the Silverado Trail.

The Use Permit was approved by the Planning Commission on Jan 4, 2017, and an appeal of the Planning Commission decision was denied by the Supervisors on May 23, 2017 (finalized August 17, 2017). A suit against the County to compel an EIR for the project was filed by project opponents Sep 20, 2017.

As part of the lawsuit, residents had already requested that the project be reconsidered by the Board of Supervisors in light of the evidence of the 2017 Atlas Fire which occurred after the project was approved. (On October 8, 2017, the Atlas Fire quickly engulfed lower Soda Canyon Road. A fallen tree blocked traffic coming down the road and fire trucks coming up as the fire burned on all sides. A frantic effort cleared the road just enough to let the line of cars get by. Dozens of residents, unable to make it down through the fire, had to be precariously evacuated by helicopter in 60+ mph crosswinds. 134 of the 163 residences (82%) on Soda Canyon Road were damaged or destroyed, 118 of them a complete loss. Tragically, two lives were lost.) In June 2020 the Judge in the case agreed that fire danger had been unconsidered in light of this evidence and remanded the project back to the BOS for reconsideration.

The Judge on Mountain Peak was not alone in highlighting the ever-increasing fire danger now experienced by wildland development. Courts and the California Attorney General have acted on the increased danger such development brings to existing and new residents in remote and rural areas like upper Soda Canyon, including (1) the luxury Guenoc Valley Development in the wine region of Lake County, (2) a major housing development in a fire prone area of San Diego and (3) another major housing development at the north edge of Los Angeles County.

In the BOS remand hearing on May 18, 2021 (see pg. 19), the Supervisors again found, incredibly given the evidence of a second devastating wildfire season in 2020, that the potential impacts of fire to the safety of a much larger daily population on the road were still less-than-significant, and voted 3-2 to re-approve the Project.

The impacts that may be considered under CEQA are primarily quantifiable environmental and public safety-related impacts. And they will be diligently and forcefully presented. But for those of us who live on the road, the introduction of daily tourists and large number of employees at the winery will also be a quantum change to the remote, quiet, and dark isolation that has made this place so special in an urbanized world. The increased traffic and daily presence of visitors will mean the death of another remote rural place. The loss of something so increasingly rare is impossible to quantify.

Soda Canyon residents are not alone in recognizing the threat that development is bringing to agriculture, the environment, the rural and small-town character of Napa County. In the eight years that this project has been contested, numerous community groups have formed to oppose development projects that threaten their community's character and safety. Municipal and county governments have turned a deaf ear to their pleas, anxious for the increased revenues to be made as the hospitality industry slowly eclipses the wine industry in Napa County.

At one point in Napa history, the interests of residents and the wine industry coincided; the growers and vintners that built the industry were also residents with a commitment to preserve the place they wanted to live. But the industry has moved on to corporate and investment ownership with less interest in a preservation ethos that stands in the way of economic expansion and increased profits. Unfortunately, when it comes to land use policy, the county government seems more interested in protecting the economic interests of tourism and real estate developers than the quality-of-life and public safety interests of residents, and in so doing have abandoned the commitment to "the rural character that we treasure" that a previous generation of leaders embraced. Residents must now turn to the courts in an attempt to preserve that legacy.

Micro-Winery Ordinance on: The Winery Glut

Bill Hocker - Mar 23,22  expand...  Share

Update 4/22/22
NVR 4/22/22: After push for micro-winery law, the permitting process begins for small-scale Napa County grape growers

Update 3/23/22 Ordinance Approved
NVR 3/24/22: Napa County endorses micro-winery law

Supervisors approve the Micro-winery ordinance.
Hearing Video (see Item 13A)
Micro-Winery Ordinance

When a suggestion was made by Amber Manfree that the micro-winery permit should be revoked when the property is sold, the Planning Director responded with the oft-repeated County mantra that use-permits go with the land not the owner. But there is no reason that use-permits cannot be given a time limit after which they must be renewed, perhaps at a time of changed development priorities.

The problem with use permits granted in perpetuity is that urban development becomes a one way street. The use permit permanently raises the value of the property. A new buyer wishing to revoke the permit will probably be outbid by someone wishing to expand the permit to pay for the increased value of the land. More development is inevitable. The owner of the Napa Soda Springs property on Soda Canyon Road wishes to sell the property for $50 million, based, no doubt, on its potential as a resort, despite the fact that no paying guest has been on the property for over 100 years. Other parcels in the county, such as the Oak Knoll Hotel site, should have reverted to agricultural use with the lapse of commercial activity, but instead is allowed to be massively urbanized. Property in the rest of the world is often developed on the basis of a time limited lease, and there is no reason that development in Napa county, which purports to protect its agricultural lands, should not adopt that model, particularly on low impact projects like micro-wineries in which the reconversion to non-commercial use is feasible. The effort to maintain an agriculture-based economy is doomed if every non-farming use permitted at some point in time can only be expanded and never removed.

Update 2/3/22
NVR 2/3/22: Napa County Planning Commission endorses micro-winery law
Hearing video

The MIcro Winery Ordinance was be presented to the Planning Commission and the ALUC on 2/2/2022. The Hearing Notice is here.

Update 12/7/21
NVR 12/7/21: Napa County ponders a new question - how small can a winery be?

Update 9/28/21
NVR 2/18/21: Napa County polishing proposed micro-winery law

Update 7/30/21
Draft Micro-Winery Ordinance
(redline includes its own new seciton to County code and additions to other sections)
Notice and explanation

Comments on the Draft Ordinance are being solicited by Planning Director David Morrison, at, with a comment deadline of 9/3/21. The the Draft Ordinance and comments will be presented to the Board of Supervisors at a public workshop on 9/14/21.

The Micro-Winery Ordinance follows the Small Winery Ordinance enacted in Feb. 2020. The two ordinances are an effort to make it easier for normal people to get into the winery business in Napa County. The standard process of approving new and modified winery use permits has become so torturous and expensive that only well-heeled plutocrats or corporations have been able to outlast and outspend the community opposition that that can bog down the approvals. That opposition is, of course, due to the potential change that a tourist attraction will bring to the peace and enjoyment of a community living in a rural place. Virtually all requests for new or modified use permits involve hefty amounts of winery visitation and events.

The question is whether additional quantities of small- and micro-wineries will resurect of the low-key authenticity inherent in the Napa wine industry in the 1970's, potentially acceptable to residents adjacent to 4500 rural properties suitable for micro-winery development; or will they be an initially-more-palatable step-by-step establishment of the community-destructive, mass-tourism event centers that now define the Napa wine industry. In either case, the winery glut and the commercialization of, and tourism industry expansion into, Napa's rural communities shows no sign of abating.

Update 3/8/21
NVR 3/8/21: Nape County will develop rules to allow micro-wineries to offer wine tasting
Video of the 3/1/21 BOS meeting (discussion begins at 1:33:15)

It was good to hear that the proposal has changed in the last 2 years to stay clear of the WDO. The details, unknown at present, will be critical to insure that these permits won't just provide a cheaper gateway for the wine-tourism commercialization of the rural communities whose residents support agriculture but not the conversion of their neighborhoods into tourist destinations. In a previous proposal both capacity (30,000 gal/yr) and visitation (25 vis/day) allowed were well above the medians for real wineries in Napa County,

The supervisors in their comments seemed to recognize that the impacts of such tourism intensification should be an important consideration in the drafting fo the ordinance. Sup. Dillon also pointed out the danger of homes being built as micro-wineries and how development standards for homes should also be part of the discussion.

The essence of the ordinance will be to allow home visitation and sales. But the purpose of the visitation should be to sell wine, not to profit off tasting and event fees. I think this is an opportunity to analyze, perhaps for the industry as a whole, how much visitation is actually necessary to sell, say, 5000 gallons of wine a year taking into consideration wine club sales and the increasing use of online sales. There should be a direct quantifiable relationship between the level of visition and the amount of wine produced. Dir. Morrison's Proposal X at APAC was one indirect attempt at defining that relationship -- it was shot down by a wine industry that knows that the profit to be made from tasting and event fees is a revenue source quite independent from actual wine sales.

Update 1/3/21
NVR 1/3/21: Save the Family Farms makes wine-tasting pitch to Napa County

Update 8/10/20
Several Letters to the Editor from "Save the family farms" folks in the last year:

8/12/20 Leslie Hoopes LTE: The major issues small family farms face in Napa County
NVR LTE 4/6/20: How the pandemic is affecting small family farms
12/11/19 Dylan Rahn LTE: Blood, earth, and legacy
8/6/19 George O'Meara LTE: Your Turn: Leadership, Legacy and Napa's all-star leadership team
7/5/19 Hayley Hossfield LTE: Small family farmers the true legacy of Napa Valley
6/12/20 Ken Nerlove LTE: Why I support “Save the Family Farms”
5/8/19 George O'Meara LTE: Your Turn: “Napaland” - How Napa may become the next Disneyland

Update 11/4/19
NVR 11/3/19: Small winemakers pitch 'Save the Family Farms' to Napa supervisors

Save the Family Farm seems like one more end run around protections of the Ag Preserve and the WDO meant to speed up the conversion of an agricultural economy into a more profitable tourism economy, just as is the Winery Streamlining Ordinance considered by the Supes in October (item 10A here).

NVR 12/19/18: Napa Supervisors surprised by deluge of comments on family farm woes and winery rules

Save the Family Farms facebook page
Save the Family Farms on
Save the Family Farms Committee statement

At the Strategic Plan hearing before the BOS on 12/19/18 several people got up to describe how difficult it was as for small winemakers to survive: those vintners that had a small number of acres of vines that they processed at a custom crush facility or in their barn, but had no means, in an age of consolidated distributers needing large quantities, of actually selling the wine other than inviting people to their farm. The cost of getting a use permit for a winery, a multi-year process at the County, and the cost of actually building a commercial winery was way beyond their means.

The refrain of the small family winery being priced out of the Napa Valley has been fairly constant since APAC and before, with the discussion about the CEQA small winery exception. Apparently there are many winemakers out there that have been operating completely off the grid of official county statistics for some time.

The County's winery database of use permits now has some 500 wineries, not even half of Dave Thompson's Napa Wine Project database of 1100 Napa commercial wine makers, most of which he has visited and written excellent reviews about.

For me, and perhaps the Supervisors, this is much like the issue of winery use-permit non-compliance which turned out to be a much more widespread than first thought. The emphasis on the plight of the small family winemakers, operating without a winery permit and depending on "home" tours and tasting to sell their product may be just as big. And now that the County is cracking down on winery non-compliance with a deadline of 3/29/19 for wineries to register to recognize the conditions of their use permits, the many sub-permit wine makers may be getting nervous.

It seems unlikely that the County doesn't know about number of commercial wineries documented in the Napa Wine Project, regardless the Supes surprise as the small winemakers are coming forward. But it is probably safe to say that the impact of those wine makers on their neighborhoods and on the metrics of traffic generation and housing need have thus far been ignorable. Until now.

The Save the Family Farms Committee has produced their own definition of the Small Family Winery. There are good aspects to the proposal, but the 30,000 gallon limit represents a 50% increase on the median size of existing use-permitted wineries in remote areas, not really small by Napa standards. And the 25 visitors every day is 4 times the median visitation in remote areas and would present a noticeable commercial presence in most rural (or urban!) neighborhoods.

In 2017 The county floated a Limited Winery Ordinance but tabled it because of likely pushback. With the county approving one new winery a month, developing a fast-track method of administrative winery approvals didn't seem like a good idea. The specs were even further above the existing median Napa winery than the Small Family Winery.

Actually, the County already has a Small Winery definition on the books for old existing wineries. It would seem a reasonable template to fit the needs of "Save the Family Farm" petitioners, with the removal of the word "existing". It prohibits tours and tastings, a deal breaker for the Committee I'm sure. But it is worth noting that Screaming Eagle, Coglin, Scarecrow and other very pricey Napa cult wines are all in compliance with this definition - >20,000 gal/yr, no tours, tastings or events. It is possible for a small winemaker to be successful based on the quality of the wine rather than the quantity of the experiences.

In 2014, the first year of doing this website, I proposed a series of solutions attempting to stall the urbanization of the county. One was a "true" family winery ordinance of my own. The overriding considerations were that such small wineries have minimal impacts and that they not be expandable - that they are meant to allow a proof of concept for budding winemakers and an authentic tasting experience for a limited number of aficionados. If the wine maker wishes to expand, it is time to move additional production and visitation out of the hills. The most important aspect of the proposal was that the permit is given to the owner of the land. If the owner left the land, the permit ended. And that it be the only type of winery allowed in the watersheds going forward, so that these permits are not simply a cheap and easy way to start a large event center project. Protecting the watersheds from corporate and plutocratic overdevelopment is the goal. And prohibiting tourism development of the watersheds means that the properties that are available are less expensive for small family farms. It is a workable proposal for just the vintners that are coming forward now.

One of the other "solutions" that gets at the issue of marketing small brands might be appropriate to mention here: The development of public wine markets in each of the municipalities specifically to sell the county's small labels, with a boutique stall for each of the winemakers. The TOT would be used to subsidize, or pay entirely, for the cost of rent on the stalls. The marketing of wine by dragging ever more visitors into the rural areas of the County is not a sustainable approach - in terms of protecting that rural character or of dealing with the VMT issues of climate change and global tourism. But small family farms are sustainable - if they remain small family farms.

The labor shortage on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Mar 22,22  expand...  Share

Update 3/22/22
NVR 3/21/22: The Meritage & Vista Collina Resorts host job fair March 30, offer gas reimbursement

Black gold has an expanded meaning: you can use it for signing bonuses. The fact that it would be offered here is an admission that the hundreds of workers being hired for Napa's accelerating resort industry (500 more are proposed to be added to Stanly Ranch just up the road) still cannot afford to live here - and gas will be expected to eat a big chunk of their salary.

Update 4/8/19
Wine-searcher 4/7/19: Napa Staff Shortages Hurting Wineries

A Glenn Schreuder forwards this article commenting that "It would appear that our county's tourism-based economy is coming under significant economic stress and any new development only further exacerbates the fundamental problem.

It has continued to baffle me why the supervisors have been so (myopically)
interested in supporting new winery development projects when they needed to
be encouraging significant diversification of the local economy away from a
tourism-based economy."

This article follows by a day another Wine-searcher article with a similar concern about Napa's current worker woes, coming from a Measure C angle.
Wine-searcher 4/6/19: Napa's Problem is Cars, Not Drought

Update 12/1/18
Just on heels of his insights on the meaning of the opening of The Prisoner Winery, the Register's food and wine writer Tim Carl has done a deep dive, with statistics, into Napa's labor shortage.

NVR12/1/18: A staffing shortages clouds the future of Napa Valley restaurants

Update 5/29/17
Glenn Schreuder send this link:
SF Chronicle 5/29/18: Wine Country institution Terra to close after 30 years in St. Helena
"The reason for the closure, said Doumani, who owns the restaurant with husband Sone, isn't profitability. 'We're making money (but) we can't get staff,' she says."

Update 3/17/17
Two articles point to big problems for the agriculture and and tourism industries:

LA Times 3/17/17: Wages rise on California farms. Americans still don't want the job
NVR 3/15/17: Napa hospitality businesses collaborate in new ways to find workers

NVR 11/19/16: Napa restaurants making extra effort to find workers

Glenn Schreuder just sent this article in the North Bay Business Journal:
NBBJ 9/30/16: Record Napa Valley hospitality job openings challenge employers

A main argument propounded on this site is that the hundreds of construction projects being approved in the county will create more commuting employees, requiring more urban infrastructure and services and place greater pressure for housing development in a never ending cycle of urbanization that will leave Napa county looking like the rest of the Bay Area in the next generation.

Based on the above article, I may have been wrong. Given the jobs boom occurring everywhere at present, the hassle of commuting to Napa Valley to work is apparently not worth it. And as I've said before, affordable housing in Napa is a pipe dream.

This lack of desire on the part of employees to work in Napa may presage another trend that has also been mentioned before: the incredible expansion of tourism venues now approved and scheduled to be built in the next decade may suffer the same reluctance by visitors who also don't want the hassle of gridlocked traffic and overpriced digs.

Napa County, thinking the attractive charm of a rural agricultural community can be visited by the world without the charm being destroyed, is rapidly building itself into a box. It appears we are headed for the worst possible outcome - turning a rural environment and way of life that has proven economically viable into an urban environment that can't support itself.

Oxbow District on: The Hotel Binge

Bill Hocker - Mar 8,22  expand...  Share

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 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.

Quarter percent sales tax to fund fire suppression? on: Fire Issues

Bill Hocker - Mar 5,22  expand...  Share

At 1:30pm in their Mar.8, 2022 meeting (agenda here) the Board of Supervisors will be considering the placement of a ballot initiative on the June 7 ballot to increase sales tax in Napa County by a quarter percent to add to fire suppression funding. It might fund measures such as vegetation clearing and other hardening of rural homes, a potential boon to residents on the wildland interface like those on Soda Canyon Road, but not necessarily to other residents of the county. Amber Manfree, no stranger to the threats faced by rural residents, has sent along her thoughts on the initiative and a call to look at two other items on the agenda:

7I. A drought emergency declaration - will this have any effect on new project approvals or expansions, or is it business as usual?

9:30am 13A. Napa Schools for Climate Action presents "Fossil Free Future." Something to support and encourage.

1:30pm 13C. Consideration of a June 7th ballot measure to ask voters to approve a quarter-cent sales tax to fund fire suppression (would raise ~$10M/year).

1. Biggest question: If we had adopted this 10 years ago and done a whole bunch of fuel management before 2017, would things have gone very differently? Personally, I doubt it. That's because conditions driving megafires are the problem.

Home hardening is good, and homeowners who wish to live in the Wildland-Urban interface should take the lead. There are grant funds available to landowners. There's no need for massive fundraising through a sales tax.

What we need to be spending public time, money, and energy on is eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels, and saving what's left of our carbon-sequestering wildlands. There is no other way out of the climate crisis. Funding landscape-scale fire suppression with a sales tax will likely make things worse in the long run, because we could have been funding things that mattered much more.

2. Fire suppression is an outdated policy that can lead to more severe fires after fuels have built up over time - it is largely considered to increase overall risk by those who understand the science on fire management. While the ordinance does allow for fuel management, it does not allow for control burns of the landscape or cultural burns - both of which are critical tools for managing our landscapes.

3. Who pays, and who benefits? Asking the general public to fund a 10-year sales tax that will mainly benefit rural landowners creates an unfair distribution of resources. Climate change brings many risks. If passed, this will reduce the tolerance of voters to approve additional taxes that would benefit lower income people and the general public, like sea level rise adaptation, flood management, heat wave mitigation, and Parks and Open Space.

4. When was the last time the BOS put something on the ballot? Why this, why now?

5. Why is the BOS keen on taxing the general public to suppress fire, and opposed to protecting public water supplies and carbon sequestering forests? The BOS dismissed calls to put the Watershed and Oak Woodlands Initiative (or something similar) on the ballot after it was determined that the signatures collected were not valid because of a technicality in the way they were collected. Instead, they designed and adopted a policy that looks good on paper, but is meaningless on the ground.

6. How are the proceeds to be allocated, after they go to the county and cities? Will we get full and transparent accounting of where the money goes? If funds go to Firewise, they are not subject to Public Records Act rules, and we may not be able to track expenditures.

7. Will Volunteer Fire Departments be supported? The Ordinance states, "Under no circumstances shall revenues be used for fire departments that are not operated or managed by a public agency," so it sounds like they will not receive funds. Volunteer Fire departments respond faster and have more local knowledge than CalFire. Let's find ways to support them.

8. Will there be a "Fire Czar"?

9. Is this funding needed? The state has been pouring money into coordinated fire-related management. Why should residents tax themselves for what should be a state-wide effort?

Pop-up Tourism on Soda Canyon Road on: Soda Canyon Road

Bill Hocker - Feb 25,22  expand...  Share

Two faits accomplis have occurred on Soda Canyon Road in the last month moving us ever closer to that kiss of death for any community wishing to just be a normal place to live: becoming a tourist destination.

First there is this announcement from Antica Napa Valley Winery, the 600-acre gorilla at the end of the road that has, over the last 35 years, been a good neighbor in eschewing the tourism lust that has consumed other vintners in the county. But now, construction of a new tasting room is almost complete.

Obviously the change in the use-permit (the approval letter is here) needed to allow a tasting room to be built (in lieu of a permitted office building) would seem to require more than just an un-notified administrative decision, especially given the grief that road residents have shown the County over the last 8 years. Charlene Gallina explained the County's decision to grant the change thus:

    Mr. Hocker,

    I found in our records for the property the attached Very Minor Modification that was submitted in December 2018 and authorized in August 2019 which did not require a public notice to be sent out. It was authorized administratively under the PBES Director authorization (under our previous modification process).

The note "(under our previous modificaton process)" required some investigation to discover that, under the previous process, a use permit change could be granted without notification for "very minor, non-controversial" modifications. Of course without notification how would one know if a request was controversial. In this case, I can reliably say that there would have been some controversy, as the County well knew. In the current process un-notified "very minor" modifications are only allowed for non-winery permits. The full text of my email exchange with Ms. Gallina is here.

Belaboring a water-under-the-bridge issue didn't make much sense, of course, but I also asked for a verification that Antica's use-permit was still for a maximum of 5200 visitors per year, and that Antica would have to go through a notified major-mod process to increase it. I have yet to hear back.

Unfortunately, the un-notified use-permit change is just one more example of County indifference to the concerns of residents when it comes to the expansion of the tourism industry.

Second, fhe newly paved lower portion of the road, now a silky smooth ride, has become, with symbols every 100 ft and white stripes to tell us where the edge of the road is, a designated bicycle route, now a familiar site in suburbs everywhere. SInce it is fairly unlikely that road residents will now decide to cycle to work (although always a possibility) and even less likely that the vineyard workers will cycle up the grade to work every day, one can only assume that the county has decided to make rural Soda Canyon Road an official tourist attraction to lure ever more people into the remote byways of the county for recreation. One more thumb in the eye of pesky NIMBYS.

Feeling 'angry, let down and used' on: Walt Ranch

Daniel Mufson - Feb 19,22  expand...  Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watershed protection not the only issue on: Watershed Issues

Bill Hocker - Feb 18,22  expand...  Share

Scott Sedgley et al LTE 2/16/22: Protect our local watershed

It is significant that civic leaders in each of the municipalities have penned an editorial asking the county to stop development in the county watersheds, an underlying recognition, in an era of drought, that water used for agriculture there will impact their municipal water supplies. (The timing of the editorial may also relate to a growing sense that development in the unincorporated county may not be entirely uninfluenced by the financial interests of county politicians). Of course I agree with the need to stop development in the watersheds. It is the genesis of this website. But, while touched upon in the editorial, more attention should be brought the cities' own culpability for the water problems they face.

Napa municipalities, like the rural county, have been on a growth binge for the last 2 decades. It has largely centered around tourism, an industry with a bad water footprint. In Napa City, street life has become a tourist-centric shopping mall. A vast number of hotel projects and one vineyard-consuming resort in the works will move it even further toward a 24-hour tourist attraction and the complete death of an authentic small town community. In Calistoga, resort projects are proposed and being built, clearing forests and paving vineyards, in a never ending quest to cajole tourists up through the traffic jams in American Canyon and St. Helena. Yountville has become a potemkin village devoted entirely to tourism uses. Only St. Helena, at the epicenter of the tourism kill zone in the valley, has gamely fought to retain its authentic small town character. But there is only so much that can be done to slow the community decimation wrought by Airbnb, and the increased profitability of tourist-serving businesses. American Canyon has become, as intended, the suburban bedroom community to supply the workforce needed for the economic growth in the rest of the county, paving over wetlands and vineyards in the process. But it has not been enough, and housing projects are springing up all over Napa City in a nominal and futile attempt to reduce commuter traffic. (Napa Pipe will generate more new workers needing housing than the 180 affordable units, the nominal purpose of the project's creation, can supply.)

Also, since Bill Dodd's successful effort to widen Jameson Canyon, "growth" has also meant the conversion of the county's southern wetlands into warehouse subdivisions in both the unincorporated airport area and in American Canyon. Those workers, and the wineries that take up residence in the warehouses, are also adding to the water woes in the county and their traffic adding to the climate crisis.

I commend municipal officials who see vineyard, vineyard estate and winery development in the watersheds as a threat to the holistic and sustainable entity of Napa County as a rural, agricultural, small town enclave in the greater Bay Area. But if their solution does not also include a similar moritorium on the current development trajectory in the municipalities, then no amount of water conservation or other mitigation will solve the problem of living in an ever drying world. Only with a strong effort to curtail development in the watersheds and in the municipalities, and to formally abandon the "fairytales of eternal economic growth", will we be able to counter the perils of a changing climate.

Lake Tahoe in the News on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Feb 17,22  expand...  Share

Update 2/18/22
SFGate 2/17/22: Court halts development of 760 luxury homes in Tahoe, a win for grassroots activists

The negative environmental impacts of building projects in the state's wildlands, in an age of devestating wildfires, is being rethought one court case at a time. This Tahoe project, in addition to the Olympic Village expansion, are two of several locally approved development projects in the news recently that have been stalled by State Courts. Others include the luxury Guenoc Valley Development in the wine region of Lake County, a major housing development in a fire prone area of San Diego and another major housing development at the north edge of Los Angeles County

It is perhaps an indictment of the friction between democracy and capitalism that the courts are now routinely required to sort out public interest from private greed because government entities, and the public servants that comprise them, are consistantly more beholden to development money than to the common well being of society.

Original post 9/3/21
No, not that news.

George Caloyannidis sends this article about a recent court victory in CEQA litigation brought by the conservation organization Sierra Watch against a massive expansion of the Village at Squaw Valley.

The conclusion in the ruling is that building projects can have regional impacts and those must be clearly spelled out in EIR documets before the projects are approved. The Court, following comments by the US Supreme Court in another case, claimed Lake Tahoe as a "national treasure" and that more care needs to be taken in assesing the threats of individual developemnts to that regional character. The Court held that overall traffic, water availability, water quality and fire danger impacts were inadequately considered.

SierraSun 8/27/21: Sierra Watch blocks Squaw Valley development
Sierra Watch Appeal
Ruling by 3rd District Court of Appeals
Placer County FEIR for the Project
Sierra Watch Website Tahoe Trukee True page

George broaches the concept of designating the Napa Valley as a "national treasure":

    Now that I read [the Court's decision], what seems to have made a significant overall impact on the Court’s decision is the fact that the County’s EIR failed to take into account and view its findings through the prism of the prior Supreme Court’s decision which had identified the Lake Tahoe Basin as "uniquely beautiful"and a "national treasure".

    Accordingly, the Court wrote that, "special emphasis should be placed on environmental resources that are rare and unique to that region and would be affected by the project". The County EIR failed to do so. The same can be argued about the Napa Valley, though I am not aware that it has been officially recognized as a national treasure.

The private non-profit National Trust for Historic Preservation does have a nomination process for "National Treasure" status. The federal government also has a National Registry of Historical Places. And there is the State Register of Historical Resources, which seems like the most logical, in fact necessary, place to begin the "national treasure" process. And our State Senator, Bill Dodd, would be the logical person to shepherd such a designation.

But therein lies the problem. The intention of labeling Napa a "national treasure" is to protect it against the kind urbanizing growth, represented in winery attractions, housing development, infrastructure upgrades, estate development and industrial development that Senator Dodd has championed since he was elected Supervisor in 2000, and that his replacement, Supervisor Pedroza, continues to support. A designation that would add an extra layer of review on to the approval of development projects is anathema to the wine, warehouse, and tourism industries that are their principal constituents. Whatever steps might be taken to officially recognize the unique historical importance of an "agricultural preserve" in an urban region would no doubt be fought tooth and nail by our government and industry representatives at the county and state level.

The concept has been discussed (and acted upon) before, in the context of supporting th Napa County Open Space District. Together with the Land Trust, enormous good has been done in protecting great swathes of Napa County. But in the valley at present those protections are a patchwork of properties that may endure as parks while building projects continue to fill the agricultural land and open space in between. The panoramic character of the agricultural eden that the valley presents will be gone. Unfortunately, some think it already is, and considering the hundreds of building projects approved and in the pipeline, soon to litter the hillsides and valley floor, so do I.

Lake County Guenoc Valley Project on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Jan 6,22  expand...  Share

Update 1/6/22
CA Atty Gen press release: Attorney General Bonta Secures Court Decision Vacating Approval of Lake County Development Project in Area That Has Burned Repeatedly

From the press release:
"Local governments and developers have a responsibility to take a hard look at projects that exacerbate wildfire risk and endanger our communities."

The Court's decision is here

From the Court decision:
"The project's impacts to community evacuation routes, however, must be analysed in the EIR.".

"The County concluded the impacts to existing evacuation plans would be less than significant. The evidence supporting this conclusion are composed primarily of opinions from traffic engineers and fire and law enforcement personel. Those opinions were not based on any identifiable facts."

"The conclusion reached by the County as it relates to emergency evacuation plans is based on unsubstantiated expert opinion. The evidence is legally insufficient to qualify as
substantial evidence under CEQA."

SacramentoBee 1/6/22: Judge halts mega-resort in California wildfire zone, says residents could die trying to flee

It is tempting to view this ruling in relation to our situation with the Mountain Peak Winery on Soda Canyon Road. Both involve the potential to add more people to the logjam of residents attempting to escape a major fire on constricted access routes. There is, of course, a difference is of scale. 4000 added people fleeing the Guenoc valley is a lot more than 200 extra people fleeing down Soda Canyon Road. (Of course our long one-way road is a much stricter constraint than the multiple directions Guenoc valley residents might take).

But the real difference lies in the Judge's recognition that the approval was "not based on identifiable fact". Both were approved by county governments obviously more interested in the real promise of economic benefit than the hypothetical of community safety. Both relied on theoretical "mitigations" to claim the danger posed by wildfires would be "less-than-significant". Both relied on "opinions from traffic engineers and fire and law enforcement personel". The difference here is that the decision in Mountain Peak was made in spite of identifiable facts that contradicted the expert opinion: namely that residents were trapped by a fallen tree at a critical moment, and that residents had to be evacuated by helicopter from the end of the road. Another 200 workers and visitors wanting out would have greatly endangered the lives of the several dozen residents that endured the harrowing evacuations on that fiercely windy night.

Update 2/4/21
SH Star 2/3/21: State seeks to join lawsuit against Lake County resort approval
SR PressDemocrat 2/6/21: California enters legal fight over massive Lake County resort, housing project

Attorney General's press release on motion
State's Motion to Intervene

Update 9/7/20
SH Star 9/7/20: Environmental group sues over approval of major Lake County resort

Update 7/21/20
NVR 7/201/20: Major Lake County resort development approved

Considering the two month turnaround between the Draft EIR presentation and the FEIR approval, given the massive scale of a project that will change the character of both southern Lake County and northern Napa County forever, this looks like a brazen example of a wealthy international investor squeezing a small county government to quickly rubber stamp a major project with the lubricant and promise of big, easy money.

Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR)
Lotusland Guenoc Valley website
Lotusland Investment website: The connection to Soda Canyon Road: Howard Backen, the lead architect on the Guenoc project, is also the architect of the Mountain Peak Project (another international investment) as well as of a nearby $13.5 million estate prominently featured on the Lotusland website.

Update 7/16/20
SH Star 7/16/20: Second public hearing set for Guenoc Valley project, massive resort development

7/7/20 Lake County BOS agenda and documents
6/25/20 Lake County Planning Commission Agenda and Documents

Center for Biological Diversity Letter
Calif State DOJ Fire concerns letter
Other response letters here

Some 4400 vehicle trips a day will be added to Napa Valley's traffic by the project, all passing thorugh Napa CIty and many probably passing through Angwin (rather than the longer route through Calistoga and Tubbs Lane), and yet Napa county governments or their affected citizens seem to have no real influence beyond letters of concern. As the FEIR states, "It should be noted that no project components or related improvements would occur within Napa County." Butt out.

SH Star 6/9/20: Massive resort development planned in southern Lake County

16,000 acre development
850 hotel and resort rental units
golf course
1400 residential vineyard estates
500 worker SRO's on site
50 unit workforce houses off site
865,395 sf commercial/retail
spa, entertainment, equestrian, camping facilities
850,000 gal/yr wineries
2 heliports!

14783 trips/day generated
4434 trips/day through the Napa Valley, the only access from the Bay Area

Lake County Guenoc Valley Mixed-Use Planned Development Project
EIR Notice of availability
Final EIR for the Project

Lake County News 5/16/17: Middletown Area Town Hall hears update on Guenoc Valley project

Keep big money out of local politics on: Walt Ranch

Elaine de Man - Dec 17,21  expand...  Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elaine de Man

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

Soda Canyon Fire Safe Council News on: PRN Posts

Barbara Guggia - Nov 26,21  expand...  Share

Happy Thanksgiving Soda Canyon Neighbors

As we celebrate Thanksgiving and approach the Christmas holiday season, I am thankful Napa County has begun to take a proactive approach to fire issues. Financial resources are being directed to fire prevention projects from public and privates sources. For example the Atlas Peak AVA has donated substantial resources fuel reduction, fire breaks, and for the installation of an IQ Fire Watch camera. I would like to share with you the following updates regarding fire prevention that will impact Napa Valley and our Soda Canyon Fire Safe Council District.
  1. The Board of Supervisors awarded $1 million to the Napa Communities Firewise Foundation for fuel mitigation to be used by June 2021. The Board also awarded $5.4 million for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
  2. The Napa Communities Firewise Foundation was successful in obtaining a $5,855,215 grant from CalFire and will be used to reduce hazardous fuels from the five recent large fires over the last four years: Atlas-Lightning, Angwin Glass, Nuns, and Tubbs-Glass. There will be funding available for local fire safe councils’ projects.
  3. This year the Countywide Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) was completed and developed a wildfire protection plan for the entire county. Regarding Soda Canyon’s CWPP, it was originally written in 2012 and needed to be updated. I have recently received a draft copy from our consultant and anticipate sharing the proposed projects with the Soda Canyon community members in the next few months, receiving feedback, and as a community, setting priorities. We have quite a few hoops to jump through; however, I am hopefully our updated CWPP will be completed by May 2022.
  4. If you would like to sign up for the free Napa County Chipping program, the last day to sign up this Friday, November 26th. Sign-ups will resume in Spring 2022, sometime around April, dependent upon the weather. If you are interested, you can sign up at the Napa County website:
  5. Senator Bill Dodd has named the Napa Communities Firewise Foundation as the beneficiary of his annual holiday fundraiser on December 3rd and although it is sold out, you can still bid on silent and live auction lots. Check out the information below if you are interested.

    If you plan to bid on silent or buy-a-spot auction lots, please register by clicking this link:

    SILENT AUCTION: Once you’re registered to bid, you can bid on silent lots online until the silent auction closes at 7:30pm PST December 3.

    LIVE AUCTION: You don’t have to attend the event to bid on live auction lots. Simply complete the attached proxy bidding form and email it back to Sean Dempsey at You must be registered and your bidding representative must be in attendance at the event and must have a bidder number, there are no exceptions.

    Click this link to preview the lots. The online auction will go live Friday, November 26 at 8AM.
    Alternatively, to access “register to bid” or to “view auction catalog”, visit and scroll down to the middle of the landing page.

Thank you for your time and interest and enjoy a safe holiday season,

Barbara Guggia
Soda Canyon Fire Safe Council.

To the BOS on Benjamin Ranch on: Benjamin Ranch Winery

Bill Hocker - Nov 11,21  expand...  Share

[Letter sent to the BOS for the 10/16/21 Benjamin Ranch appeal hearing which was continued at the last minute]

Nov 11, 2021


Geographer Amber Manfree has recently produced a map (not done for this project) showing building projects on Ag Preserve lands since 1993. I have reproduced a screenshot of her Google Earth interactive map with the Benjamin Ranch development area overlayed.

Building Projects in the Ag Preserve since 1993

The intent here is not to show that the project is larger than other recent building projects, (although at 10 acres of development area it is one of the largest), but to show that as you continue to approve building development in the Ag Preserve you are creating exactly the situation that your predecessors were concerned about in crafting the legislation to protect an agricultural economy from urbanization. It is also a concern often heard in your public discussions, somewhat ingenuously I must say, while you continue to approve building projects now.

From the findings of the Winery Definition Ordinance, 1990:
    "(e) Napa County is one of the smallest counties in California and within the County areas suitable for quality vineyards are limited and irreplaceable. Any project that directly or indirectly results in the removal of existing or potential vineyard land from use depletes the inventory of such land forever.

    (f) The cumulative effect of such projects if far greater than the sum of individual projects. The interspersing of non-agricultural structures and activities throughout agricultural areas in excess of what already exists will result in a significant increase in the problems and costs of maintaining vineyards and discourage the continued use of the land for agricultural purposes."

From the findings of Measure J, Agricultural Lands Preservation Initiative, 1990:
    "Uncontrolled urban encroachment into agricultural and watershed areas will impair agriculture and threaten the public health, safety and welfare by causing increased traffic congestion, associated air pollution and potentially serious water problems, such as pollution, depletion and sedimentation of available water resources."

From the vision statement of the Napa General Plan, 2008:
    "While other Bay Area counties have experienced unprecedented development and urban infrastructure expansion over the last four decades, Napa County's citizens have conscientiously preserved the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure."

From Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, 2016:
    "Once our open space is gone, it's gone."

The appellants of the Benjamin Ranch Winery approval are asking that the project be evaluated with a full Environmental Impact Report. That is the least you should require. It is curious that every vineyard conversion in the county over 100 acres routinely requires an EIR to assess its impacts. But for a winery that would theoreticaly need an additional 700 acres of vines to fill its tanks (or those of the wineries that will lose production to this facility), while paving over some 10 acres of the best vineyard land in the county, a neg dec from the planning department is deemed sufficient. It is not.

The total scale of this project, 475,000 gal/yr, 86,000 visitors/yr, 61 new employees, and all of the traffic, service, resource and accommmodation impacts throughout the county that such quantities present, has not happened in the Ag Preserve in the last decade, if not much longer. A more thorough airing of its impacts and the trajectory of building development on the valley floor that it represents and portends, with a full EIR, is the least you can responsibly do in this case.

But you should do more. It is beyond time for you to realistically consider the impacts of a building project on every 10+ acre parcel allowed under current zoning. It is well beyond time for you to begin to live up to the lofty words quoted above and stop the urbanization that threatens the rural character, resources, community harmony and long term survival of agriculture and open space in Napa County.

This particular project is on some of the most valuable arable land in the world. Preserve it. Don't pave it over as some ritual sacrifice to "economic growth." Napa can easily remain a successful economy if it maintains the natural resources necessary for great wines. It doesn't need more tourist attractions.

Please, stop pandering to a tourism industry or donor class whose only interest is in the profit or conceit to be had from a building on each and every allowable parcel in the county. Start listening to neighbors and residents, many also members of the wine industry, whose interest is in maintaining the rural environment that makes Napa a desirable place to live and a viable place to grow crops in the urban Bay Area.

You have a responsibility to previous public servants and citizens who, over the last fifty years, have resisted a tidal wave of development pressure in protecting the agricultural lands and open space that still remain. Deny this project while considering the dozens if not hundreds of projects that might come after it, and work to end the ongoing urbanization of Napa County. You owe it to your predecessors, to your constituents and to posterity.

Bill Hocker

More comments on the Benjamin Ranch Project are here
Notes on Amber Manfree's Urbanization Map of the Ag Preserve are here

The Urbanization of the Ag Preserve on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Nov 6,21  expand...  Share
Up valley building projects in the Ag Preserve since 1993

    "Once our open space is gone, it's gone." -- Sup. Alfredo Pedroza

Geographer Amber Manfree has given us a birds-eye look• at land in the "Ag Preserve" lost to building development since 1993, some 793 acres. It represents a 60% increase in urbanized land in the AP from that date. This map shows the entire urbanized area of the Ag Preserve.

Since 2010 alone about 80 new wineries have been approved, the majority within the AR (valley floor) zone. A sampling of the projects and the loss of existing or potential vineyard land that each represents:

ProjectAcres lost
Girard 3.5
Benjamin Ranch 6-7
B Cellars 2.5±
Castellucci 3+
LMR Rutherford 2-3
Corona WInery 2.5±
Beautiful Day
Darms Lane 4.4
Washington St2

Despite a stated desire at almost every opportunity by county officials to laud their committment to the sanctity of agriculture as the highest and best use of land, protected under the Agricultural Preserve Ordinance since 1968, the reality is that those officials approve, month after month, building projects that pave over that land forever. While many, including this website, have pointed to the acreage of vines removed to accommodate the buildings and parking lots needed for ever more tourist attractions over the last few years (like the 3.5 acres on Girard or the 10 acres on Benjamin Ranch, as examples), it is only when the pattern of vineyard loss becomes visible on a map that we can see the impact of urbanization in action.

The map that Amber has assembled shows development since 1993, a point when the wine industry was already successful and capable of maintaining its position as a world leader in wine as long as the forces of urbanization that threaten its agricultural resource could be held at bay. The mass-market tourism industry, however, was just was beginning its development, and most of these projects were the response.

The yellow areas show actual building sites, the land permanently removed from potential agricultural use, not the total properties they are on. The map doesn't show the dozens of projects that have been approved but not yet constructed. Nor does it show the dozens that are currently in the planning department awaiting review.

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

The map consists of two files*, one for building sites and another for the ag preserve boundaries, which must be downloaded to your computer and then both must be opened (File -> Open...) with the Google Earth app.

Click to download building sites file (yellow)

Click to download Ag Preserve file (red)

Down valley building projects in the Ag Preserve since 1993

* Note that Napa County is the source for raw data:
Zoning data for the ag preserve are found here:
Land cover data are available by request from Napa County; they were created by UC Davis Information Center for the Environment (James Thorne and associates)

County Supervisor Redistricting Process on: Campaign 2022

Bill Hocker - Nov 1,21  expand...  Share

Napa Draft Redistricting Map (click for PDF)
NVR 11/8/21: Napa County supervisors don't favor radical district remakes

Napa County is inviting residents to participate in workshops on drawing new county supervisor districts for the next decade using updated data from the 2020 U.S. Census.

The next workshop will be held on Tues, 11/16/21, 10:00am-12:00pm both in-person at the Board of Supervisors chambers in Napa (1195 3rd St, Napa) and as a zoom meeting online.

A Draft Map is being shown on the redistricting calendar for Nov 16:
Draft Map (districtr format)
Draft Map (pdf format)
(The Draft Map is good in that it allocates more vineyard land to District 2, and the disection of Napa City seems more straightforward than before.)

County redistricting page is here
County draw-it-yourself mapping tool page
As usual, the County's GIS widgets don't seem to work on some older browsers. With the right browser, once you figure out how to use the widget it is really fun to play around with, especially for puzzle nerds.
My own map in the widget (may not work on older browsers)

Existing County Districts Map

The Hunter subdivision on: St. Helena

Bill Hocker - Oct 30,21  expand...  Share

17 more acres of prime Napa farmland to be paved over
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.

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.

Bomb Cyclone on Soda Canyon Road on: Soda Canyon Road

Amber Manfree - Oct 30,21  expand...  Share

Soda Canyon Road on 10/24/21 about 2:00pm

Planning Commission or Zoning Administrator? on: The Winery Glut

Bill Hocker - Oct 26,21  expand...  Share

Update 10/25/21 Tamber Bey
Things seem to be getting really strange in the winery review process. The Tamber Bey Winery is up for review at the Planning Commission on 11/3/21. Tamber Bey seems to be asking for a modest revision to permitted production from 60,000 to 80,000 gal/yr. And they are asking for changes to their t&t and marketing events which seem to add a modest 600-850 visitor slots/yr. This request is going through the normal, public planning commission process. (The neighbor does have believable compaints, however.)

The Amizetta Winery, described below, while more modest in production request, is immensly larger and more impactful in its other requests: over 11,000 more visitors/yr than originally permitted, a new tasting room building, expansion of caves and winery, 12 more parking spaces, a commercial kitchen, more employees, setback variances and driveway exceptions, new well and water system, a long dead-end, sub-standard road in a high fire severity zone. Yet it was approved by the less informal and less scrutinized Zoning Administrator process.

The Small Winery Ordinance, aka the "Streamlining Ordinance", is the reason the projects are treated so differently, despite the impacts created by changes to the "small" winery being so much greater than those of the "larger" winery. A large percentage of the 500+ "official" wineries in the county fit into the definition of "small" wineries. Many other "unofficial" wineries may now apply for under the "streamlining" process. All will attempt to max out their visitation and employees within the limits of the 40 trips/day standard (30,000 gal/yr, 11,500 vis/yr, 5 employees) to be approved under the lowered scrutiny and expense of the Zoning Adminsitrator. The cumulative impacts will be significant.

9/25/21 Amizetta Winery
NVR 9/25/21: Two Napa wineries clean up use permit violations

On 9/22/21 the County Zoning Administrator reviewed the proposal for a recognize-allow-expand request for the Amizetta Winery on the remote end of Greenfield Rd. The winery was granted a small winery exemption use-permit in 1986 for 12000 gal/yr and 0 visitation. This request will legalize 8000 more gal/yr, 11090 vis/yr, a new tasting room, expansion of winery and caves, 12 new parking spaces, food service, commercial kitchen, 2 more employees, setback variance, at least 8 driveway exceptions, all at the end of a heavily forested, mostly one-lane, dead-end road 6.3 miles from the Trail. Approving this amount of tourism in such a remote, inaccessable location, and such clear deviations from county road and street standards in such a high-fire hazard zone should be a clear abuse not just of discretion but of common sense.

This is the kind of small-scale, truely "family" winery that is the Napa ideal. But it is now a public accommodation hosting 30 people a day on a long sub-standard road, up an extremely substandard driveway, in a high-fire-risk area, all not envisioned when first approved. The fact that the owners have increased production, expanded facilities and hosted that amount of visitation for some time is not a reason for the county to just say, oh well, I guess it's OK. It needs a public discussion, and more input than just an administrative sign off from a county staff who seems willing to bend or break any of their own standards and ordinances in order to promote the tourism economy. Considering that the Planning Commission just nixed the 3120 visitor/yr expansion on the much less remote Pickett Road Winery, having the ZA just wave through 11,000 visitors/ yr seems a very inconsistent approach to zoning.

Agenda and Documents

More glamping in the East County on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Oct 20,21  expand...  Share

Update 11/29/21
NVR 11/29/21: Napa County looks at Berryessa Point resort redevelopment

NVR 10/20/21: Lake Berryessa resort vision details emerge
Lake Berryessa News: Napa County Releases Sun Commuities Development Plan

The Development Proposals

Call me touristically naive, but I had never heard the word "glamping" until viewing an episode of "Escape to the Chateau" a few months ago. Now I see it everywhere, especially in Napa County. Following the Aetna Springs developer's glamping proposal in Pope Valley, we now have the Lake Berryessa proposal to become a glamping mecca.

While I'm not keen that Napa tourism will be expanded by another 680 overnight groups and ever more day trippers, it is a relief that Lake Berryessa may not yet be headed toward a wine county version of South Lake Tahoe. I hope.

Medical Emergency: Our Spine Is Broken on: Watershed Issues

Daniel Mufson - Sep 28,21  expand...  Share

The Register reports that the Napa River is dry above Trancas Street. The river that has sustained life of plants, animals and man here forever is dry. Can you imagine that? Where does a fox go for a drink of water? We drive up and down the valley oblivious to the tragedy.

Dry means no fish, no frogs, no turtles, no bugs, no birds -- no life that is part of that ecosystem. We know there’s a drought but why no water in the river? Are we sharing the water we have? Is it all being held in reservoirs? Has it been depleted by over pumping of adjacent ground water?

What does it mean to boast about a thousand fish-friendly vineyards when there are no fish? The Napa County Groundwater Sustainability Advisory Committee held a public meeting on Thursday and in answer to questions about the lack of water in the river we were told that this “was not a river plan it’s a groundwater plan.”

What? Surely the two are interconnected. I thought the plan was to be for the welfare of all users of water in the subbasin. What does that mean when the river, our spine, is broken? Can we continue to permit more buildings/expansions? Can the body long survive with a broken spine?

Will history record that the people who lived in this valley in 2021 destroyed it forever?

Register LTE version: Our Spine is Broken

Water Audit California on: Watershed Issues

Bill Hocker - Sep 28,21  expand...  Share

Update 9/28/21
Karrigan Bork and Amber Manfree have recently published an article in ABA's Environment, Energy and Resources Section sumerizing the efforts of Water Audit California to compel sufficient water flow in the Napa River system to insure the survival of native fish species.

Rewatering Napa's Rivers

After laying out the legal environment that Water Audit is operating within and the value of public trust doctrine litigation, the outcome is that re-watering the Napa river has been augmented not by reducing water for other uses, but regulating the the timing of water releases from the system's dams. Of course it took science-based litigation and public involvement, to encourage water managers to implement the solution.

In an age of warming weather and diminishing water resources, this will probably be a temporary fix if the water resources of the county continue to be depleted by more development. Knowing that, Water Audit California has also sued the County of Napa over the groundwater pumping that enables the winery and vineyard conversion projects they continue to approve.

The saga of the County's effort to produce a Groundwater Sustainability Plan is here. (Public Meetings to present the Plan are being held on 9/22/21, 9/29/21 and 10/6/21. Register here.)

Update 6/23/21
St. Helena lawsuit
Water Audit CA LTE 6/23/21: Water issues require decisive action
SH Star 6/19/21: Water Audit California sues St. Helena over water management
Water Audit Calif 6/17/21: Water Audit Sues St. Helena Over Alleged Failure to Uphold Public Trust

County lawsuit
NVR 6/3/21: Napa County sued over care of Napa River
Water Audit CA 6/2/21: Water Audit files suit against Napa County(Text of Lawsuit)

The lawsuit calls out numerous projects approved just in the last year that it feels did not receive appropriate groundwater review, Mountain Peak among them, and enumerates the other 200+ projects waiting in the planning department queue. It gives a specific breakdown of the water use for one example project, The Inn at the Abbey. The example seemed quite apt, because the project represents winery hotels as the new direction in vineyard buildout. The site for the hotel is ±5 acres counting parking. The project will use 21.68 acre feet of water, over 4 acre ft per acre per year. The County assumes a water availability of 1 acre ft per year per acre for vineyard property on the valley floor. Hotels are incredibly water intensive uses (second only hospitals) , and this particular example shows how the continuing shift from agriculture to tourism might impact water resources in Napa. My screed on on the potential "Balination" of Napa is here.

Update 6/22/20 2020 Water Forum
Water Audit CA: The Napa Water Forum and The Refugia Project Update

Update 2/10/20
NVR 2/10/20: Watershed forum looks to defuse Napa County water issues

Water Audit CA, a public benefit corporation that has filed numerous lawsuits against water agencies in the state of California for failure to provide enough water to maintain fish habitats, has served notice of potential legal action to the Napa County Board of Supervisors to court over a new winery streamlining ordinance that will induce development of additional vineyard and winery estates.

Water Audit California Notice of Intended Litigation
(from this Napavision2050 article)
SCR on the Streamlining ordinance

Water Audit has also sued the Kimball and Bell Reservoir agencies.
Issues about the Rector Reservoir outflow and the Water Audit lawsuit are here.

Aetna Springs Resort, Estate and "Glamping" Development on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Sep 14,21  expand...  Share

click to enlarge
A developer has apparently been cozying up to former General Manager of the Napa Open Space District for several years with a proposal to develop up to 80 "glamping" units in partnership with the NOSD, promising big tax returns on investment and more land into conservation easements for NOSD use.

The project was pitched before the NOSD board on 9/13/21. The staff, in their wording of the staff report to introduce the project to the board, seemed less than enthusiastic in their task. They probably saw that a proposal for a profit-driven high-end open-air luxury hotel, would be a fairly radical departure from the down-market cabins and mission of the District to provide publicly available parklands and campsites.

Beyond this, the developer, David Wickline of Aetna Springs Resorts LLC, is proposing to build housing units for 60 "staff" adjacent to the glamping site, rebuild the Aetna Springs Resort with another 80 hotel units and golf course and develop a 15-parcel luxury estate project.

The total project, on 3 separate sites in the Pope Valley, would be on the route to the Guenoc Valley mega development in Lake County and would undoubtedly induce further development along the corridor, exposing much more of the county to urbanization. The tidal wave of good-life development lust already having consumed the rural character of Napa Valley is now moving outward. How soon will Las Vegas hotels come to Lake Berryessa one wonders? Or to our own Soda Springs Resort now for sale and ripe for significant redevelopment?

Aetna Springs Development Staff Report
Turkey Hill Glamping Proposal
NOSD 9/13/21 meeting agenda page
DeMan, Perez, Kahn opposition letters

NVR 9/14/21: Pope Valley luxury campsite proposal hits snag
NVR 12/20/18: Napa County's famed Aetna Springs has new owner with resort plans

Pickett Road Winery on: Watershed Issues

Bill Hocker - Sep 14,21  expand...  Share

one of many water trucks on Pickett Rd
Update 9/16/21
NVR 9/16/21: Napa County balks at Fleming winery visitor increase

The Planning Commission approved most of the "recognize and allow" requests for existing conditions but refused to grant the increase in visitation requested beyond that. Later in the day the Planning Commission also denied the much larger visitation expansion beyond existing conditions for the Elhers Winery. Is this a trend? It would certainly be a step up if these many "regcognize and allow" requests were just that, and requests for expansions beyond existing conditions must wait until wineries are found to be compliant with their modified use permits.

Unfortunately, in both cases the amount of "expanded" visitation was only a small amount more that the amount of "existing" visitation being recognized. So how is that existing visitation determined? What it is was in the last year or last week? Whatever the applicant says it is? Did the applicants actually keep records of their illegal visitation over the years? Oddly the Planning Commission never asks those questions - has the PBES ever explained how that determination is made?

NVR 6/8/21: Napa County needs more time with a winery proposal at the end of a mile-long narrow road

A requested expansion of the Pickett Road Wine Company Winery in Calistoga is up before the County Planning Commission on 9/15/21. It was continued from a 6/2/21 meeting. It is one of far too many wineries now applying for recognition and allowance of violations of their existing use permits under the County's Code Compliance Program, applications which are almost always granted, and, as is also usual, includes a request for a hefty increase in intensity above the illegal conditions just allowed. And, as is happening all over the county, the project is being opposed by neighbors whose rural quality of life is being destroyed by a tourism economy and a threat to water availability by ever-expanding development in an ever-drying climate.

The request is somewhat modest by current standards: an increase in yearly visitation of about 4000 visitors and 5 more employees beyond existing use permit conditions. But there is a significant question about the county's continuing zealous promotion of winery and tourism development in the the face dwindling water supplies. To that end Norma Tofanelli, former president of the Napa County Farm Bureau, vocal opponent of the Girard Winery and downstream neighbor, has written a great letter to the Planning Commission in opposition. It speaks to issues beyond this particular project:

Napa County Planning Commission:

How can your conscience allow any more winery/vineyard/water-use expansion in the Simmons Canyon Creek Watershed?

The Emperor has no clothes. Simmons Canyon Creek watershed is dead. No matter how much “reassurance” from “experts” of abundant water when seeking permits or “blessing” of permit violations, the water just ain’t here, no mo’. Our wells are dry. Water trucks roll constantly up and down Pickett and Rosedale (4 trucks daily just for Treasury!). Have for years. Pickett Road Wine Company’s own wells evidence the decline. All the flowery words to obfuscate and confuse can’t “water down” the reality - water’s gone. Simmons Creek has been murdered, RIP - September 2020. Our well, RIP - September 2020. Neighbor’s well, RIP - September 2020.

A week before Glass fire, for the very first time in the 100 years that we have sustainably farmed the Simmons’ watershed, Simmons stopped flowing. Stopped moving. Dead. Disconnected little pools of water, filled with algae, scummy, stinky. Dead fish? Thank you Napa County officials for dewatering Simmons Creek and harming every living creature within its watershed. And then, our well went dry.

My creek - Simmons Canyon Creek, an incredibly lush blueline stream; yes, “teeming” with fish, wildlife, trees, flowers, the Tofanelli kids and WATER! State docs refer to Simmons as “Intermittent” because, in summer months, it historically undergrounds before it gets to the Silverado Trail, then resurfaces several hundred feet to the west, along the historic Tucker property, then continues to the Napa River. Desk jocky-techs would never know that - have to walk the creek. Until last September, it flowed EVERY day, for the last 100 years, all along our property and the Calistoga Waste Water Ponds to the Napa River. Not “intermittent”.

We lived in the creek all summer after working in the vineyard. We swam, rafted, tubed, fished, splashed - every warm afternoon. Then Simmons would flood in winter, filling the basement. One year, mom tied my brother’s raft to the back steps as the creek kept rising - she was sure we’d have to float out. My family has lived sustainably in the Simmons watershed for almost 100 years. Our creek was the sole source of domestic water for our property until we drilled the well in 1954. Then the creek kept watering the gardens and orchards.

But NOT the vines. Grape vines do not require irrigation. Water equals tonnage, tonnage equals gallons, gallons equal money. Real old-vine, dry-farmed wines are the most intense and the most sought after - and naturally limited. But there’s an even bigger market for millions more gallons - watered-down or not. Little known is the fact that most of the wine produced in Napa County, using our water and other resources, is not made from grapes grown here. Per 2015 crush data, less than 1/3 of all grapes crushed here are grown here. Almost 70% (68.5%) of all grapes crushed in Napa County were trucked in - so they can print a prestigious Napa address on the label, which brings way more consumer cash.

In 1968, the Board of Supervisors approved then-controversial regulation to create the nation’s first, and now much-revered (in name), Agricultural Preserve. Their intent was to save the land from being paved over at a time when so much prime ag land was being lost to shopping malls and subdivisions and Napa Valley was just starting to be carved up. At that time, our number one ag product was CATTLE! Animals and animal feed were worth four (4) Times (400%) what Napa grapes were worth. Four (4) times!

Their intent was not to create a tourist industry that would become so successful for some that it now threatens that which we originally sought to preserve. They sought, instead, to secure the public trust by saving our rich soils for future food production. Unintended consequences.
As former Supervisor Mark Luce pointed out: “I don’t think we protect agriculture because it’s an economic engine. We protect agriculture because it’s a principle that we protect agriculture and I think that’s what we did in 1968. I don’t think it was that the Board said ‘we’re going to get rich by protecting agriculture’. It was just saying that agriculture is important to feeding people and supporting the world.”

So how did we get here? and why? We used to elect/appoint officials who understood their fiduciary duty to the public trust - brave enough to fight for then-controversial protections. Now forgotten, the battles were legendary.

But how did we get here, now? Money. Greed. We now elect officials who are beholden to the wine/tourist industry. The industry has even managed to change the legal definition of “agriculture” in Napa County to now include sales (parties! events! = highest and best use of the land!). No amount of evidence of aquifer overdraft presented by the public, and/or experts hired by the public, is ever deemed credible by the county, which advocates solely for the project applicant. So all wineries (except one!) and vineyards are approved. No matter how remote, steep, dangerous or dry (Mountain Peak?). And no matter how much water is trucked in. (Or waste hauled out, but that’s a story for another day.)

Napa County applies a groundwater formula that basically allocates 1 acre-foot of water annually per 1 acre of valley-floor land (whether water is really there, or not). So, a 12-acre winery is assumed to be able to draw 12 acre-feet of water annually without impact. What grand fiction! Ask winery owner Kirk Venge. Built his winery in 2010, (permitted per the county’s “1 acre = 1 acre-foot” formula), he had to immediately truck water in. Then, despite all the public testimony about area dry wells and neighbors forced to truck water as well as the fact that the former owners (an older couple with no lawns or pools) needed 4 wells, he proceeded to sue the widowed former owner, apparently for not disclosing water problems!

Where does the water come from? Truck after truck, grinding pavement down, clogging roads, hauling water to remote locations that should never be “farmed”. Most of it from city hydrants that really pipe it from the Sacramento Delta via that good ol’ fixer, the North Bay Aquaduct! Treasury alone hauls 4 trucks almost every day into Pickett/Rosedale. Neighbors curse the trucks up and down, up and down, all day, eating pavement - many apparently going right into the subject winery.

So, while city residents with no other option are rationed, vineyard managers just load up at city hydrants and truck all that water (that the residents are prohibited from using - rationing, right?) out to irrigated vineyards planted on dry land. As our well is now dry, we’re also forced to buy Napa city water - for as long as Napa city will allow. When will Napa shut down the vineyard hydrants to protect their residents? I’ve attended meetings where this is seriously discussed.

Ever since the Ag Preserve was created forces have determined to defeat its intent. And they have succeeded. Napa County’s “Agricultural Preserve” has nothing to do with preserving real, sustainable agriculture - but it’s a great marketing slogan. Monuments to it are all over the county. And Napa County officials, over the years, have knowingly and willingly violated their fiduciary duty to the public trust by allowing continuous overdraft of the ground water aquifer for private benefit. Without water we cannot grow food.

“Under the Public Trust Doctrine, the trust property is the environment. The government is the trustee of these natural resources and must manage them subject to fiduciary duties, for the benefit of both present and future generations, who are the beneficiaries of the public trust.”1

1. Quirke, Douglas, The Public Trust Doctrine: A Primer (University of Oregon School of Law Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center, 2016), 2.

Norma J. Tofanelli
4th-generation Napa County farmer
Napa County Farm Bureau President 2013-16

PS: Common sense demands NO VISITATION during PSPS or RED FLAG days...

I have been “witnessing” and warning for 40 years of the dewatering of our watershed. I incorporate by reference files which are too large for email: all water documentation that I have submitted to the County of Napa at various public hearings, from 1984 forward, on the following winery use permits and issues: Clos Pegase, Girard, Pavitt, Venge, Fisher, Paoletti, Canard; water data submitted to the 1990 WDO FEIR by Napa County Environmental Engineer Jill Pahl; 1990 WDO FEIR, Dunaweal Lane area well logs/legend, 2016 Ag definition hearings.

And when did Simons Creek fall ill? When Cab was first planted along Simmons/Pickett and then expanded into Eisele Vineyard in 1969. That’s when the creek first started to suffer. It dramatically declined through ’70’s - ’80’s. More wineries and irrigated vineyards reduced it to a mere trickle - finally stopped September 2020. Revived a bit with rains over winter. Trickling now - but in a few days it will die again.

During those years, dry farming was forced to change. We never before had to irrigate new plantings. Ground water level was so high, the roots easily extended without initial watering. Now, we have to water (by manually-placed drip or bucket) for 2 years or the little cuttings die. Very obvious evidence of withdrawal of aquifer. Very expensive, labor intensive; replant costs may be prohibitive for many small farmers.

And the ultimate pain for a 100-year Napa County sustainable dry-farmer? Despite all our efforts and warnings, we have no water. We are forced to bring in storage tanks and truck water from Napa City hydrants. Not to mention adding necessary water filtration systems - never needed before. Very costly in ways not often considered.

Tofanelli well / drilled 1954 / 120’ deep Static level: 2/14 = 12’
Static level: 9/20 = 120’
Static level: 2/21 = 100’
sited about 50’ from Simmons’ bank

Only he can understand what a farm is, what a country is, who shall have sacrificed part of himself to his farm or country, fought to save it, struggled to make it beautiful. Only then will the love of farm or country fill his heart.

Hotel explosion rocks Napa on: The Hotel Binge

Bill Hocker - Sep 14,21  expand...  Share

Update 2/21/21
NVR 2/21/22: 'Hotel California' approved by Napa planners

Update 10/14/21
NVR 10/14/21: Cambria Hotel Napa Valley now open

Many more on the way.

Update 7/12/20 Franklin Station Hotel
More Here

Update 1/21/20 Westin Expansion
NVR 1/21/20: Napa Planning Commission endorses Westin Verasa expansion plans

Update 12/27/18
NVR 12/27/18: No. 5 Story of 2018: Hotels growth and housing prices sparked a Napa County debate

The answer: a few. Napa, as a high-end retreat for the wealthy (i.e. Meadowwood and Auberge du Soleil) is already losing its luster as the number of tourists keeps increasing and the marketing of food and wine through winery experiences becomes a mass market entertainment. (And as the traffic jams increase and the natural beauty of the landscape is diminished by building projects). In the short term, as long as the tourism numbers keep expanding there will be a percentage that can be convinced to spend $1000 a night for their image of the good life. The question is whether the construction of pricey hotel rooms will outpace the ability of Visit Napa Valley to sell the region's exclusiveness while marketing to the masses as well. If not, as all of the rooms come online, the prices will probably begin to fall to a rate in line with the rest of the world's tourist destinations.

Update 8/25/18
SR press Democtat 8/25/18: Healdsburg set to limit future downtown hotels, require affordable housing offsets on new projects

Healdsburg leads the way. Of course, as usual, government has acted to solve problems when the problems are already beyond being solved. The already-approved doubling of hotel rooms will give Healdsburg the feeling of a 24-hour tourist trap, and future affordable housing requirements will not ease the existing or approved shortfalls. Unless the affordable housing offsets are actually sufficient to house the employees of the hotels in question, new hotels will continue increase the burden on the city to provide affordable housing and the problem will never be solved, only exacerbated.

Update 6/2/18 Gasser Hotel
More Here

Update 6/1/18 Marriot AC Hotel
More Here

Update: 5/15/18
Peter Mott LTE 5/15/18: Time for a hotel moratorium

It is great to see that even some of those members of our county governments that have been supporters of tourism development have begun to believe that continued expansion of the tourism industry is unsustainable if the goal is to retain the rural small-town character that draws tourists here and makes this a desirable place to live. There needs to be a limit of tourism activity in relation to real life or real life ceases to exist. Many already feel that line has already been crossed, and the vast increase in hotel rooms in the municipalities and wineries in the county already in the pipeline means that the tourism impacts we already feel will only get worse. But If more of our officials, like Mr. Mott, are willing to begin opposing tourism urbanization now, and begin thinking in terms of a sustainable stable economy rather than a unsustainable growth economy, there may still be some hope for the survival of a quality of life treasured by both visitors and residents in the future.

Update 1/6/18 Wine Train Hotel
More Here

Update: 12/04/17
Dan Mufson sends this article from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat regarding hotel development in Healdsburg:

SR Press Democrat 12/2/17: Healdsburg City Council to discuss limits on future downtown hotels

While it's hard to compare the nebulous disorganization of Napa's downtown with the iconic organization of Healdsburg's town plaza, the impacts here of rampant tourism development will likewise wipe out any sense of "small town" character that Napa does possess as 5 and 6 story hotels, and the throngs of their patrons, begin to dominate the Napa streetscape.

Update: 11/31/17
NVR 11/28/17: Downtown Napa's newest luxury hotel opens its doors

Kudos to Mr. Johnstone for telling it like it is: "You walk in and you think you're in New York." and "How many hotels does downtown need? I hope we're not overdoing it."

Update: 9/29/17
NVR 9/29/17: Meritage Resort's massive expansion takes shape in south Napa

Update 9/6/17
NVR 9/06/17: Napa, developer start talks on new City Hall, housing and hotel

Update: 8/14/17
City report on the hotel explosion this Tuesday

Napa Vision 2050 has just sent out this notice about a staff report to be presented to the Napa City Council on Aug 15th, 3:00pm about the various hotel projects going on in the city. You are encouraged to attend.

Update 7/14/17 Black Elk Hotel
More Here

Update: 7/2/17
NVR 7/2/217: As hotels increase, do Napa residents benefit? Readers, officials weigh in

Howard Yune, Napa city reporter for the Register, had to previously ask readers what they thought about Napa's hotel explosion, and he gives some of the responses in the above article. He had to ask because the Register, in a blow to the free exchange of ideas in a democracy, decided to discontinue the ability to comment online to news articles last year. There were, no doubt, legitimate concerns leading to the discontinuance. But for those seriously interested in issues in Napa county, like the explosion of hotel development, citizen reaction to the news is an important part of the story. The problems that the paper experienced with responses, I think, had much to do with the anonymity of the posts and the freedom that gives to be irresponsible in posting. Require real names and let the comments continue.

Update: 6/20/17
It's hard to keep up with this issue:
NVR 6/25/17: Downtown Napa hotel plan calls for merging Zeller's and former post office sites
NVR 6/22/17: Surging hotel taxes become a larger part of the new Napa city budget
NVR 6/20/17: How many hotels are enough -- or too much? Contact the Register

The hotel explosion raises several issues.

First, the loss of a community. Hotels not only bring in more tourists, but they increase the 24-hour tourist population. At some point, as the ratio of tourists to residents increases, and as jobs, commercial activity and housing continue to shift from resident-serving to tourist-serving, the sense of normal, small-town community life will be lost to the collective endevour of catering to, and being the local color for, the tourism experience. And the real town and its community will disappear. (St. Helena is at the forefront of this phenomenon.)

Second, a financing dependency. TOT revenue and other in-lieu fees are welcomed as a quick fix for the deferred infrastructure and service costs needed to mitigate the impacts of previous urban development. But low wage jobs are created by the hundreds and the money isn't there for affordable housing. Traffic and parking problems explode. The increased tourism and employee population require additional infrastructure and services which then encourage more new project approvals and so on. Ultimately the place becomes a dense tourist trap, devoid of residents, and, much like Oxbow is now, packed with people wondering what's so special about Napa.

Third, the loss of Napa's rural soul. The number of hotel projects, like the amount of traffic, is a symptom of a community losing it's resitance to development pressure. That pressure was was contained in Napa for the last 40 years by a combination of politicians and citizenry with a clear vision of an un-urbanized future, and an industry dependent on an agricultural product. But as the landscape and vineyards are slowly filled with buildings to exploit the expanding tourist population, the vision of a rural enclave in the urban Bay Area is harder for politicians and their citizens to imagine, and the industry is finding that more money is to be made by providing wine-related experiences than from making wine. The importance of agriculture fades beyond its use as a stageset for TOT-paying visitors.

Update: 6/17/17
A neighbor just sent over a link to the latest Napa Life, Paul Fransons's weekly "insiders guide to the Napa Valley." The June 19th, 2017 issue is here. Scroll down to the section on "Lodging News". Below the summaries of the latest hotel projects in the Register he has a list of the projects currently in the approval and proposal pipelines. While I struggle to keep up on this site, as an insider he has a much better handle on these things. And it is a bit freightening.

Most freightening of all is the mention of a Ted Hall 80 room hotel in South St Helena (described in this 2015 NVR article). Ted Hall (recent profile here) is perhaps the most revered grower-vintner in the county, one of the few statesman in an industry filled with entrepreneurs. Each trip to the planning commission to present his winery projects turns into a lovefest (just as the hotel project did). He will probabaly make the most sensitive, ecological integration of agriculture and overnight accommodation it is possible to make. And he will set the precident for lesser lights to follow for the next phase of the "wine" industry in its transition to an entertainment industry. Now that the winery restaurant is firmly established as an acceptable "incidental and subordinate" use allowed at wineries, it is only a matter of time before the winery b&b begins to make its way into the definition of "agriculture" as well. A euphanism will have to be invented - "immersive agricultural experience" perhaps - to make sure no one would mistake a winery for a hotel. But with the precedent set by this most solid citizen of the County, every good-life entrepreneur will now want a hotel-of-their-own to go along with their winery.

Update: 6/8/17

Cohn LTE 6/8/17: Slow the stampede of development and his petition
And the concurrences:
Don and Arlene Townsend LTE 6/16/17: When is enough enough?
Lynn Korn LTE 6/12/17: Enough already
Barbara Cioppone LTE 6/8/17: All for the rich people

A lot of proposed Napa hotel projects in the news:
NVR 6/8/17: Cambria Hotel coming to Napa's Soscol Avenue (And subsequent sale)
NVR 6/5/17: Napa Valley Wine Train owners plan $100 million resort development
NVR 6/2/17: Design of south Napa Marriott hotel leaves city planners cold
NVR 5/17/17: Altamira family reviving plans for a winery/hotel project on Silverado Trail
And other projects:
NVR 6/14/17: Napa approves 4-story building for Bounty Hunter wine bar, restaurant

Original Post 2/20/17
NVR 2/20/17: Napa asks, How many hotel rooms are enough?
NY Times 2/1/17: A Waking Giant or a Monster? Developers Eye Once-Sleepy Napa

In the Times article Napa Vision 2050 is recognized nationally for its efforts to slow the urbanization of Napa County. Kudos to Harris Nussbaum and Patricia Damery.

Jim Wilson on the Napa Vision 2050 Economic Forum
It's exactly the effect we heard is coming at George Caloyannidis' Tourism Economy Forum in April of last year:

Samuel Mendlinger:
  • Tourism accelerates the polarization between the population and the very wealthy.
  • Polarization begins when businesses begin to cater to tourists and affluent locals at the expense of townsfolk.
  • Now a major social revolution: small group of elderly people and few young people.

    Q: Whose town is this anyway? What can community do so the power doesn't get concentrated in the hands of a few?
    A: There are a few only. Locals are usually the last to get a voice in tourism development. Usually money does the talking. Local leaders who are wise enough know that the local people need to be part of the process. Most people don't really know what their long-term needs are. Community groups need to have experience.

    Know what they're doing, how to get things done, like NV2050. It's what attracted me to this event in Napa. Hospitality is about cheap labor. Tourism is about value added.

    Q: Local schools close and students are sent out of town?
    A: Imbalance. Older population crowds out the younger people. Mis-managed tourism.. Petersborough losing its school system,, and its vertical, complete society. Declining school enrollment is a sign that either young adults don't want to have children, or they don't see a future in the town.

    Q: How do you organize the population?
    A: NV2050 is a great example. You're anxious over the future, you're organizing through people who can organize, and have the time and ability to see things through. Then expand! It's bottom up. Top down is very rare.

    Q: How do you recommend citizens get involved in decisions on smart tourism?
    A: Mendlinger: What is motivation for County and City political leaders to get involved? Do they want more development or a higher quality of life for citizens? If interested in business they won't listen. But if you have wise leadership you'll do the part of the job that improves the quality of life. Especially in Napa you have a great pool of experience and wisdom. It's cosmopolitan not provincial. Political leadership has to listen to well-organized citizens who understand how real life works. Citizens can go far. Like this meeting where you have political leadership plus informed citizens. I traveled fro Boston to see how Napa is doing, and I am encouraged by the possibilities. Rural areas - resource extraction areas when industry pulls out there's not much reason for community to be there.

    Q: Advice on blasting open 'iron triangle' government/agencies/industry?
    A: Mendlinger; How to develop experienced and wise leaders and citizens is the question. I just don't know how.

Eben Fodor:
  • In an economic impact study, costs are just as important as revenues.
  • Too much tourism can overwhelm a community.
  • Impact studies usually tout all the benefits of a development. Fiscal impacts are often overlooked and no multipliers are used.
  • The reports that go out make the development look great but it's not. There's no balanced perspective with costs to the community.

Napa Vision 2050 Economic Forum: Understanding the tourism driven economy
George Caloyannidis' articles on growth and tourism
More on Napa City development here
More on Napa Growth Issues here


Harris Nussbaum - Jul 10, 2017 7:27AM

[Statement to Napa City Planning Commission 7-6-17 Black Elk Hotel ]

Thank you for listening. I have a few questions.
1) How will you know when there are to many hotels downtown and what will be the impact when all the commercial development in progress is completed?
2) What will be the impact as more and more tall buildings are built?
3) When do you think we will have to many cars in, out, and around Napa? (pause)

Almost everyone I talk with who lives here feels we have reached that point and worry about the future of Napa and their quality of life.
We often don't think about the impact on our schools. Enrollment is declining because many people with children can't afford to live here. Staff is being significantly reduced, schools are closing, and over 100 teachers are being laid off this year alone and it will continue. How will this affect your children or grand children?

I'm sure it looks good if you can get more occupancy taxes, but it cost more than you are getting. If you haven't read James Conway's article in which he says Napa's current level of development is not economically supportable due to the requirements of infrastructure and on going maintenance, please read it.
You talk about the need for housing, but keep building hotels and other businesses that employ people who can't afford to live here. Local businesses are closing because they can't afford the rent.

There is so much to say about the problems being created by traffic, parking, police, fire, and all the other services needed to run a city. Here is a copy of the letter to the editor I recently wrote. Please read it.

I'm not anti business, but I know to much of anything is a problem and will destroy this jewel called Napa. You are our friends. Please do what you are meant to do and protect us. Take a step back and see where we are. Consider the cumulative impact and what infrastructure is needed before any more hotels or large businesses are approved. Work with the County to solve these problems, because what each of you do affects the other.

And finally, create venues where the people feel they are really heard and have equal opportunities to speak.

Thank you!

Glenn & Judy Schreuder - Feb 2, 2017 9:07AM

Add another negative consequence to the list of all this economic progress.

SF already has a very low rate of families with kids. Looks like Napa is headed the same way. Maybe I'll drive to the

central valley to watch a little league game in my retirement years. All this raises the question if Napa is really a good place to call home anymore. Where did all the little ones go?

Higher housing prices will trigger greater enrollment declines in Napa schools

Carl Bunch - Feb 1, 2017 5:37AM

Well, for a very limited time in our lives (all to change as a result of the Presidential election) a government agency is treating its citizens fairly and appropriately and a major newspaper is highlighting the work of a citizens' group on the environment. This, to the great advantage to the citizens who reside here.

The St. Helena City Council, by a 3-2 vote (according to the Napa Valley Register) has actually rejected an application by a winery for expansion of its business. This City Council recently seated, due to a majority vote of St. Helena citizens, two new Council members, including Geoff Ellsworth, a leader in the fight to control the rampant approvals of virtually anything having to do with winery uses of Napa Valley land for the profits of its owners and stakeholders.

The New York Times, in a most important article, featured the work of Napa Vision 2050 regarding environmental issues raised by for-profit corporations and others and which seriously affect critical matters pertinent to Napa citizens, including, among others, watersheds, tree deforestation, and various matters tending to make the Napa Valley one of the world's most desirable places to live.

CONGRATULATIONS!! This has been a long time in coming and we can only hope it's a harbinger of better things to follow.

Shelle Wolfe - Feb 1, 2017 5:36AM

Vision 2050, among others, made the NY Times today. Interesting assessment of our situation. It would have been great if the article mentioned the traffic along with the other issues like parking.

Great comment by Patricia Damery; this is what we need to be communicating.

Ms. Damery said "I'm not anti-development," she said. "I am for balanced development. Downtown is wonderful and so much better than before, but we have to invest in quality-of-life things like mass transit and housing."

Daniel Mufson - Feb 1, 2017 4:04AM

Napa Vision 2050 was asked for perspective on the
state of development in Napa,
as detailed in a story for the New York Times.

Hello Napa Vision 2050 supporters,

Thank you for interest in the mission of Napa Vision 2050.
This past year, Napa Vision 2050 worked for a more effective and organized public voice with wider distribution. We did this to help get the perspective of those who live in our county, to be heard by those who are making decisions on growth and development in Napa County. Well, we are being heard nationally!
I'm attaching an article about Napa downtown just published in the New York Times. Napa Vision 2050's Harris Nussbaum and Patricia Damery are quoted while several more of our coalition members had been interviewed.

It is so satisfying that the article has a link to the Napa Vision 2050 webpage. Please share this with your contacts, and keep our momentum growing!
If only my Mom could see that: A boy from the Bronx makes the Times for doing something good!!

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