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

This website was intended to create an online resource for the residents of Soda Canyon Road and its tributaries Loma Vista Drive, Soda Springs Road, Ridge Road and Chimney Rock Road, located in Napa County, California. It was born out of the threat of a large tourism-winery project proposed at the top of our remote and winding road.

But that project is only 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. And Napans are not alone. The negative impacts of wine tourism on rural agricultural communities are being contested by residents all over the state and the nation.

While some vineyard acreage has been added 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.

But expanding tourism is only one facet of the ongoing urban developement, and this site has also begun to recognize 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 grapegrower 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, Feb 2, 2022

County Planning Commission

Micro WInery Ordance presented to PC and ACLU
SCR on Micro Winery Ordinance

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.

Mountain Peak back in Court January 20 on: Mountain Peak Winery

Bill Hocker - Jan 11,22  expand...  Share

Date: January 20, 2022
Time: 10:00am
Location: Napa Superior Court, 825 Brown St, Napa
Judge: Hon. Cynthia Smith (Department A)

To express your support for the protection of our rural Soda Canyon community, we encourage you to please:
    1: Show up at court on January 20.
    2: Donate to Protect Rural Napa. No matter how small, your financial support is of supreme importance to continue the fight to save our rural community.

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.

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 Decision

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

Board of Forestry Fire Safe Regulations on: Fire Issues

Bill Hocker - Jan 3,22  expand...  Share

Responders backed up by an accident on McFadden's curve.
Update 1/14/22
NVR 1/14/22: Proposed state wildfire rules worry Napa County

Update 1/2/22
The rulemaking 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 disincentivize 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 innefficient, 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 wildlands. 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 wildlands 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 wildland 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 ridgelines. 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 oversite 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 anyting, 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 vigourously 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 redline 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 modificaton 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 infrasturcture 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.)

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 developent.

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

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 absoulute 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 mitigatible 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 regualtions.

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 argumemt was firmly rejected by the State Atorney 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 assocaition. 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.

Walt Ranch in Court and Beyond on: Walt Ranch

Bill Hocker - Dec 18,21  expand...  Share

Protest on Dec 14th
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 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 contributers. 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 potenital 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 builidng the infrastructure needed to develop a housing project in the name of agricultual 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 nominally is 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

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

Napa Groundwater Sustainability Plan on: Watershed Issues

Bill Hocker - Dec 10,21  expand...  Share

Click for executive summary of plan
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 memebers 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 upvalley 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 Availablity 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 Scallimini (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, dewatering of the Napa River and streams, salt water intrusion, land subsidence; all of which are occurring now, on-going and re-occuring 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.
  • mischaracterizes 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 dewatering 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"

Micro-Winery Ordinance on: The Winery Glut

Bill Hocker - Dec 7,21  expand...  Share

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.

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.

ABAG RHNA allocations for 2023-2031 on: Affordable Housing

Bill Hocker - Nov 23,21  expand...  Share

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 allottment 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 committment 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 houisng requirement, called Regional Housing Needs Allocations (RHNA), for counties and municipalities with in its jurisdication, 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 Commission 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 Genreal 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 consturction.

This time around, ABAG is alloting 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 alloted, but still not built, from the 2015 to 2023 requirment. And Napa Pipe is no longer an eligable site. How much additional urban development of Napa's open space, the legacy of a committment to agriculture by a previous generation of citizens and politians, will be necessary to accomodate the next RHNA allotment? Something four and half times the size of Napa Pipe, perhaps.

Benjamin Ranch Appeal on: Benjamin Ranch Winery

Bill Hocker - Nov 13,21  expand...  Share

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 Bengamin 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 threatend 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 occurance 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.

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

Stanly Ranch on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Oct 29,21  expand...  Share

The site plan seems to have become much more dense as the project has progressed.
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 Auberge 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 Solange 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

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.

Residential Development Ordinance on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Oct 18,21  expand...  Share

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 Ordinnance 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 bounderies 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 acerage has hardly budged. The producing acerage 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 Ammendments
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 viewshed 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 accomodation 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 accomodate 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 accomodate 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 subordinant 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 Viewshed 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 viewshed ordinance that doesn't seem to have prevented the county's most prominent ridgelines 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.

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 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!!

Lake Tahoe in the News on: Growth Issues

Bill Hocker - Sep 3,21  expand...  Share

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.

The Monopole on Soda Canyon Road on: Fire Issues

Bill Hocker - Aug 31,21  expand...  Share

Update 10/13/21
NVR 10/12/21: High-tech fire cameras to make Napa County debut

NVR 8/25/21: Napa County moves ahead with early wildfire detection system

8/24/21 BOS agenda and documents (page 10)
Napa County monopole project page

The phony-tree monopole that now graces the intersection of Soda Canyon Road and the Trail (soon to be joined by a fenced generator) will remain a vestige of an attempt to build a series of private communications towers with a public service function added: a siren and fire detection camera. The system was proposed by Illumation Technologies and its CEO Chris Canning, who is also the mayor of Calistoga. The installation would be free to the county in return for the use of public rights-of-way for the towers which would also be commercial cell phone towers.

The problem was that the initial proposal for 32 towers would ring the valley floor, where communication towers are easy to build and reach a large number of paying customers. But the warning system is really needed in the more expensive-to-build remote areas of the county where cell phone coverage is bad to non-existant and the number of people buying into the system would be small.

Following resident protest, and a cost benefit analysis on the part of the contractor, the monopole project was retooled and the county pushed ahead with an installation by the same contractor, of 3 "IQ Firewatch" cameras located on highpoints in the county similar to the Alert Wildfire North Bay mountaintop cameras.

Since there is no siren function and no intention to add to cell phone service, it is unclear how much more effective they would be in a fast moving event than the existing Alert WIldfire cameras. While we may be getting another camera on the Atlas Peak tower, the best solution to a wildfire warning system for areas like upper Soda Canyon Road that have no cell phone reception is a government commitment to provide cell phone service to all residents in the woefully underserved remote areas of the county.

Valery Wolfe LTE 7/16/21: A better approach on emergency warning system
NVR 6/6/21: Napa County takes deeper look at cell towers, early fire warning towers
NVR 5/25/20: Illumination Technologies pitches emergency sirens to Napa County

The Scarlett Winery on: The Winery Glut

Bill Hocker - Aug 13,21  expand...  Share

Ponti Rd
Update 8/26/21
NVR 8/26/21: Napa County OKs Scarlett winery despite opposition from rural neighbors
Video of 8/24/21 BOS meeting

Another rural community is sacrificed to Napa's tourism industry; another 2 acres of prime vineyard land are urbanized with a building project. As defined by the Board Chair, this is just agriculture in the 21st century; get over it.

As with the Mountain Peak appeal, Chair Pedroza was a martinet in enforcing procedures and timelines to the disadvantage of the appellants, rejecting any effort to augment the record with new revelant material unavailable at the time of the PC hearing. His disdain for the neighbors, with the audacity to value the privacy of their rural community over the promotion of winery tourism, was palpable.

    "And when I drove by I just looked at the neighborhood and these are homes in ag zoning, folks that made a choice to live around vineyards. That was the choice everyone made and I have all the expectation that the neighbors should be respectful -- those that are doing business whether vineyard or a winery. Same thing for those that choose to have a residence in those areas. Facts matter and I just quickly look at the size of these homes, some of these homes are bigger than the hospitality building for the winery. So again we just need to be mindful of the balance we're trying to strike especially in the ag zoning. You can build a home anywhere in the world. There's very little place where you can have a winery and a vineyard. "

All of the neighbors are grape growers. No one's debating about living around vineyards here. The message from the Chair was "If you don't like your farm community being converted to a tourist attraction, move somewhere else".

Update 8/6/21
The appeal to the BOS of the Planning Commission's project approval will be held on 8/24/21. Given the thoroughness of the CEQA presentation at the Planning Commission, it seems unlikely that the project will not be litigated if the appeal is denied by the Board.
Notice for the BOS appeal hearing
Appeal documents

The documents from the PC hearing are here.

Update 1/20/20
NVR 1/20/20: Scarlett winery approved over neighbors' objections to a narrow road
1/15/20 PC Agenda and documents
1/15/20 PC video

Donna Oldford: "Wineries and residents have existed copacetically. They’ve co-existed in the Napa Valley quite nicely for decades.” Of course it's only in the last decade (chronicled here) that the County and the wine industry have decided that the only way to sell wine is to bring mass market tourism down small country roads and into the lives of residents who thought they lived in a rural paradise away from the urban chaos of the rest of the Bay Area.

The Scarlett Winery, a new 30,000 gal/y facility, came up for review at the Planning Commission on Oct 2, 2109. While the Ellman Winery approval at the same hearing was a loveliest, there was considerable community pushback against Scarlett including 175+ pages of documentation, letters and public comments from most of the roads residents, and a complete CEQA challenge from the Shute, Mihaly, Weinberger law firm representing one resident. Public comment was taken and the project was continued to give staff and commissioners time to digest the document submittal.

It is on the narrow Ponti Road, a road not meeting the county's road and street standards for winery access, which should be enough to deny the project. The property backs up onto the Trail, and residents of Ponti Road argued that access off the Trail was much more logical. There is a modest grade differential from the trail, but less than many of the other wineries along this section of the highway. That change should be a no-brainer.

The neighbors complaints about water drawdown, increased traffic and noise from a event center were backed up with expert witness reports contradicting the usual less-than-significant-impact claims of the applicant's consultants. Unfortunately, as we know from every contested project, the County gives short shrift to the opinions of outside consultants.

I was pleased to see that that Ellison Folk in the Shute Mihaly argument brought up the much broader issue of the cumulative impacts that are changing the character of life in Napa Valley as more and more tourism generating projects are approved.

From the SMW letter:
1. There Is a Fair Argument that the Project-Specific and Cumulative Traffic Impacts Would Be Significant.

The County repeatedly evades its legal obligation under CEQA to look at the cumulative impacts of its multiple project approvals in favor of relying on the EIR supporting the 2008 General Plan. However, the 2008 General Plan EIR’s cumulative traffic impact analysis did not adequately address the impacts of winery-related traffic. ...

In addition, the County has experienced an explosion in expanded winery marketing and increased events in recent years. From just 2013 to the present, the County approved more than 90 permit applications with 40 permit modifications for existing wineries, many of which involve significant increases in marketing and hospitality activities. See, attached spreadsheet of recent County winery approvals, included as Attachment E. The General Plan EIR did not analyze winery expansions, and the County has failed to consider the additional Project-specific and cumulative traffic and other impacts of these approvals.

Environmental Impact Reports were done for the two major documents that underlie landuse policies in Napa County: the Winery Definition Ordinance EIR done in 1989 and the Update of the General Plan EIR done in 2007. The continued reliance on negative declarations in approving wineries is conditioned on the projections of vineyard and winery development made in those 2 EIR's.

The 1989 WDO EIR did, in fact, consider the impacts of increased tourism at wineries. In doing so it presented an extensive list of mitigations that would be required to create less-than-significant impacts from the creation of the ordinance. The list is long, and it should be noted that the vast majority of the mitigations were not mentioned in the WDO and have never been realized.

While the 2007 General Plan EIR posits a rate of new winery creation, it is silent on the impacts of winery expansions and even more silent on the expanded use of wineries as tourism venues. There is no analysis of the direct-to-consumer trend in wine marketing that has exploded since its writing, a trend that is at the heart of most requests for new and expanded wineries taking place. 2010 changes to the WDO codified this expansion of tourism uses to help the industry move from 3-tier to d-t-c marketing, but no EIR was done to analyze what environmental impacts those changes would create.

The impacts of the direct-to-consumer event-center business model are far different than the impacts of wineries as production facilities. The increase in visitors and the employees needed to cater to them create a demand for road and utility expansions, restaurants, shops, hotels, employee housing and services, i.e. a level of urbanization that is at odds with the General Plans stated desire to maintain an agricultural economy and a rural way of life.

In the last 12 years the number of producing vineyard acres in Napa County has not increased. Yet in that time the county has approved over 150 new and expanded wineries, not to process a nonexistent new supply of grapes, but to process an ever increasing supply of visitors. Unfortunately the environmental impacts of that expanding visitor population were not subjected to an analysis on a county-wide basis. The increased traffic, the demand for affordable housing for the growing workforce, the loss of existing housing and resident-serving shops to more profitable tourism uses are all impacts of prioritizing tourism over an interest in maintaining a rural, small-town quality of life.

The battle by residents to defend the rural character in Napa County, as the residents of Ponti Road are doing, has been repeated over and over as wineries have come up for approval in the last 5 years. In the face of an exploding tourism industry and the flood of goodlife entrepreneurs, and of a County government that has embraced the "fairy tale of eternal economic growth" residents are losing the battle.

Develop a Napa Wine Online portal on: Solutions

Bill Hocker - Aug 9,21  expand...  Share

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

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

Update 8/21/20
Paul Mabray, the online wine sales evangelist, made another presentation to the Napa County Planning Commission on 8/19/20. It is the way forward in creating a viable wine industry that doesn't depend on the environmentally and culturally destructive use of tourism as a marketing vehicle. Will the County or the wine industry listen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Give me water or give me death" on: Watershed Issues

Daniel Mufson - Jul 30,21  expand...  Share

The drought is worsening across California. Here in Napa, the reservoirs are low and the state has said they’d only supply 5% of the water they planned to deliver to Napa’s cities from the State Water Project. The cities are responding by asking for citizens to deepen their cuts to water usage. As I write this, American Canyon, whose only water source is the state pipeline, is cutting back residential (“health and safety”) use by 20%, giving it priority over commercial uses and promises deeper cuts.

Recently, the city of Napa acted to reduce the amount of water to be made available for trucking to residences and “interruptible” Ag users outside the city in the county. This makes sense for the city but exposes county residents with dry wells to a health disaster. To date, the county hasn’t acted in response to the public health problem but only talks of the gazillion gallons of water in the valley floor (sub-basin) and the need to maintain its “sustainability.”

There is no action regarding all those who live in the watershed hills whose wells are drying. For those of us living in the hills, it is hard to describe the unease of wondering just how much water we have in our well.

Ultimately this is all about fair sharing. Therefore, the county and municipal governments need to act together to coordinate sharing to deal with this public health emergency-the best place for that planning would seem to be the Flood Control District, the only agency where all constituencies are represented: cities and county.

For starters, I recommend that the county purchase some of the water conveyed by the state pipeline and contract with Napa city to treat it and transport it to specified hydrants for trucking to needy county residents. Difficult? Never been done? Well, now is the time to act as was done to vaccinate most of the population against the pandemic. This is a public health emergency and needs to be dealt with as such.

As the drought tightens it makes sense that the cities begin to tap into the groundwater sub-basin that has traditionally been reserved for Ag. Difficult? Never been done? Well, now is the time to act. After all, the Water Code as Section 106.3, the state statutorily recognizes that “every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.”

At some point, there will not be enough water for all of us, our visitors, and industry. Isn’t it time to place a hold on development of new housing and hotel projects? Longer-term fixes will involve metering all water use in the county and increased use of recycled water. We need cooperation and coordination to provide some measure of water security to all of our residents.

NVR LTE version 7/29/21: "Give me water or give me death"

The Ellman Winery on: Soda Canyon Road

Bill Hocker - Jul 23,21  expand...  Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Water Wars have begun on: Watershed Issues

Patricia Damery - Jul 17,21  expand...  Share

Those of us who attended the city of Napa's Zoom meeting outlining the proposed changes to the hydrant meter usage starting Aug. 1, 2021 (to be voted on at the Napa City Council on July 20), witnessed the beginning of what promises to become a contentious and challenging transition into water rationing.

We agree with the city's clear-eyed attention to the water emergency in our county, planning to meet the needs of city residents. However, we are alarmed at the county's apparent blind eye to the needs of residents outside of the city.

Since 2009, the trucking of water to rural customers from the city of Napa hydrants has increased. Rural wells have become underperforming or dry due to increased development, the drilling of more wells, and climate changes and drought. This year trucking reached an all-time high. Between January and June, the amount of water trucked has doubled from the same period last year, going from 24 acre-feet (AF) in 2020 to 47 AF in 2021.

Napa city gets 59% of its water from the North Bay Aqueduct, reserving Lake Hennessy reservoir for use should the city need this water in coming years. Currently, the lake is at 63% capacity. Last season's low rainfall added only 1,000 AF to the reservoir. The city of Napa has asked city residents to reduce water by 15% voluntarily, but usage has increased. To make up for this, residents must reduce water usage by 20% from August through October or until the rains begin. Irrigation of landscaping will be further restricted. A goal is to keep Lake Hennessy at 54% of capacity by November 2021 as insurance against another dry winter.

But what does the county plan for our water emergency? What about those whose wells have been heavily impacted by the county's addiction to development and the permitting of more and more wells, resulting in the need for trucked water? As of Aug. 1, rural residents will be limited to 4,000 gallons of trucked water a month for indoor purposes only. Outdoor irrigation with trucked water is prohibited. For a family of four, the 4,000 gallon limit per month means 33 gallons a day each. The average person uses 80-100 gallons a day. There is no leeway for farm animals.

When confronted with this situation, Napa County Director of Planning, Building, and Environment David Morrison stated that those living in rural areas must accept that we don't have the amenities of those living within the city limits -- like sidewalks -- implying access to drinking water is an amenity.

Director Morrison, access to water is not an amenity. It is a right. And the county is culpable. In too many cases, our wells have been dried by the county's refusing to consider the cumulative impact of development and well drilling in areas where neighbors report water problems. These reports are effectively ignored and dismissed as anecdotal. Groundwater is a complex issue, Director Morrison asserts. The lack of it, though, is not complex. Maybe it’s time for a moratorium on development until the complexities of groundwater are figured out.

Rural residents are not the only ones who are impacted. Trucked water may not be used for commercial purposes or for construction on property outside Napa city limits. There will be a cap on the amount of water a trucking company can haul. Those vineyards and wineries receiving "interruptible Ag water" will be required to cut back by 20% of 2020 usage. And while all of this is going on, the Groundwater Sustainability Agency Advisory Committee is trying to prove that there is no overdraft of the Napa County sub-basin.

Please, isn’t it time we look at the larger picture? In the June 9 meeting, Director Morrison stated there are 70-some water providers within Napa County. Napa city and American Canyon both purchase water from the North Bay Aqueduct, which the state has cut back to 5% of the usual allotment. Will there come a time when Napa city also needs to draw on groundwater? Isn't it time we have an agency that coordinates all the water in Napa County? All of us will be making sacrifices and learning to live within our water budget, but let’s get our planners and builders on board as well. Otherwise, we will not all have adequate access to drinking water.

NVR LTE version 7/15/21: The Water Wars have begun

'Overtourism' could create consequences for Calistoga on: Calistoga & North Napa Co

Donald Williams - Jul 13,21  expand...  Share

Tourism declined in 2020. Now, when tourist destinations are rebuilding their market, it’s not too soon to anticipate: Could the tourist resurgence become a deluge?

I googled “overtourism” to learn more. Overtourism is an excess of tourists. It is a malady to which “world-class” destinations are particularly susceptible. The risk is that they will adversely affect the quality of local life, or of their own experience, and that Calistoga will lose its original intrinsic appeal and exist mainly to attract tourists.

Cornell University issued a sobering report, “Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism” (2019). It described tourism’s hidden costs (the “invisible burden”), warning that failing to protect and manage destinations “puts ecosystems, cultural wonders, and community life at increasing risk, and places the tourism industry on a weak foundation that could crack under its own weight.” The report cites possible costs such as infrastructure upgrades for water and sewer services; environmental degradation from traffic; higher costs of living; displacement of services for locals; and undermined community values.

Without attention to overtourism, we in Napa County could join company with the mayor in Paris who expressed “deep qualms about having so many visitors directly in their midst. . . Mass tourism is driving away locals with higher prices, higher rents and sheer inconvenience.”

Still, dazzled by the revenue, our local governments approve permits for more visitors and events at rural wineries, and spend still more money to encourage people to come. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, until the winery on your lane wants to triple its visitors, or you’re navigating tiresome traffic in “rural” Napa.

During the pandemic, a becalmed Calistoga reminded some residents of their quieter community of years past. For mature communities, too wise to sacrifice quality by endlessly chasing dollars, inviting ruin by overtourism would be hard to understand.

NVR LTE version 7/12/21: 'Overtourism' could create consequences for Calistoga


Anthem Goes to court on: Anthem Winery

Bill Hocker - Jul 12,21  expand...  Share

Imagine an 8' Ambulance rather than a 6'-6" delivery van
NVR7/10/21: Napa County's Anthem winery approval goes to court, driveway exceptions challenged

The approval of the winery's 1500' long, 17' wide access road ending in a one lane bridge will be litigated in court. The county will be required to justify ignoring of all of its own county road and street standards as well as California State fire safe regulations to insure that one more tourist attraction can be inflicted on the rural residents of the counry.

BOS Mountain Peak remand hearing May 18, 2021 on: Mountain Peak Winery

Bill Hocker - Jul 10,21  expand...  Share

Update 7/13/21
The Board of Supervisors finalized their approval of the project on a 3-1 vote with the addition of Sup. Wageknecht's Red Flag Day prohibition to the Conditions of Approval.
7/13/21 BOS video
Agenda and documents
The redlined COA's

The Supervisors again approved a project in the face of years of community opposition and of the proven danger in locating tourist attractions in remote, fire-prone rural areas of the county, a danger to visitors and employees themselves and increased evacuation danger for residents.

It was a disappointment that Sup. Ramos was not there to cast the "no" vote that she had previewed to dramatic effect in the previous BOS hearing on the project. A 3-2 loss would have been more heartening than a 3-1 loss. Again kudos to Sup. Dillon for remaining true to the belief throughout that this project is not appropriate for this remote location, now with the evidence of the fire to back up that belief. And also for not buckling under the pressure to approve projects just so the county will not face additional lawsuits from disgruntled applicants.

Update 5/26/21
Mufson Letter to BOS: Redarding Mountain Peak Development
Akersloot LTE 5/28/21: Appalling lack of concern for environment and safety
NV 2050 5/25/21: Mountain Peak: Location, Location, Location
Wilson LTE 5/22/21: Napa supervisors failed to hear warnings of risky winery project
Caloyannidis LTE 5/23/21: The Napa County supervisors’ disconnect

NVR 2/26/21: Denied property insurance, Napa Valley wineries 'extremely vulnerable' this fire season
Insurance companies do not seem to be as sanguine about the fire dangers facing wineries as most of the Supervisors are.

Update 5/18/21 Remand Hearing Postmortem
NVR 5/19/21: Napa County affirms its 2017 Mountain Peak winery decision by 3-2 vote
5/18/21 BOS Video (Remand hearing begins at 3:24:30 on the video)

It had always seemed inevitable that the project would be reapproved by the BOS on remand. At best we might have the support of two supervisors: Sup. Dillon, who was away for the 4-0 approval in 2017 had expressed concern in retrospect that the visitation was out of line for a winery removed from the valley floor; and Sup. Wagenknech, who a couple of times in county meetings wondered why we needed all these wineries in the watersheds..

Sup. Wagenknecht led the Supe's discussion by immediately proposing the developer's mitigation of rescheduling red flag day visitation, an easy concession now used to bat down fire concerns (and a mitigation that will be on all hillside projects going forward). It seemed an unusually decisive move for a supervisor often circuitous in voicing his opinions and proposals.

Sup. Gregory, noting that the issue of homes as well as wineries in remote areas needed to be considered, advanced the don't-make-policy-with-a-single-project argument, simultaneously supporting an unwise development while suggesting he wants to do something to limit it down the road. Down the road may be coming soon, he noted, with the board scheduled to discuss the development impacts of the State's new Fire Safe Regulations on June 8th. (It is a bit of humorous irony that Sup. Gregeoy's campaign posters featured homes on hilltops.)

Sup. Dillon, with a history of concern over the appropriateness of the project, noted that residents had said in planning commission and appeal hearings what they thought will happen in a fire, and their predictions proved true. She declared her intent to deny and made a motion to that effect.

Next a bit of a shock, at least to opponents of the project: Sup. Ramos simply declared that she had a change of view, particularly after the devastating fire, and would now reverse her original vote and deny. An muted gasp from many and a cheer from one member of the audience.

Sup. Pedroza then soothingly voiced concern for the harrowing residents' fire stories, but, citing Sup Gregory's homes-and-wineries dodge, and Sup. Wagenknecht's red flag mitigation, declared that, logicallly, he would still need to approve the project. The logic of approving a fire-risk project now that might not be allowed in the future, beyond just as a favor to the developer, escaped me. The vote was taken, 3-2 to uphold approval.

Obviously Sup. Ramos was the heroine of the day, and such a contrite, public switch to the preservationist side may do much to soften her pro-development image. Her decision could have just been related to the compelling specifics of this project or to other personal experiences, but I'm sure that many rural residents are hopeful to have a more sympathetic ear in the future.

And, obviously, Sup. Wagenknecht was the HUGE disappointment of the day. In 2017 he stated "I'm very concerned with wineries that are going out in the middle of nowhere. And I'm not seeing a huge reason for them. " In denying the Hard Six Cellars appeal last year he said, "I don’t know if in my conscience, I am willing to approve this application knowing that people could lose their lives". The right moment had suddenly arrived to do something about a winery in the middle of nowhere and the threat to lives in his approval -- and he gave it a pass.

Anthony Arger's presentation of our case was nothing short of stunning, given covid protocols, the amount of material to be covered and the punitively short period of 20 minutes to present it, under the hostile gavel of Chair Pedroza. The remand was the result of two reviews in Superior court and three reviews in Appellate Court, dozens of hours of petition and testamony, all of which backed the significance of returning the project ot the Board. In setting such a short time limit for the presentation of evidence, the Board seemed to be contemptuous of the Court's decision and vindictive toward the residents

23 speakers contributed public comments, all but 1 urging denial. The residents who lived through the fire read their declarations as redacted by the court. Diane Shepp gave a very emotional recount of their harrowing experience that had not been part of the court documents. All of the commenters spoke to a range of issues about fire danger in remote areas, causing frequent interruption by county council with officious reminders to the Board that this hearing was about presenting very specific passages of witness testimony for their consideration.

Some comments stuck with me: Mike Hackett who called out, in normal blunt terms, the "new kids" that have created the "pro-development" board and a staff now "trained" to favor developers over citizens; Harris Nussbaum, who, despite extremely frail health and 3 years away from the chamber, wanted to tell the Board in person that they had a moral responsibility to the health and safety of people using the road; and James Hinton, whose rants at almost every public hearing make one cringe, but here gave a sedate and careful plea to reconsider the wisdom of having "sales floors" in remote areas of the county.

The fact that approval has now gone from 4-0 in 2017 to 3-2 in 2021 is a small but significant step in recognizing the innappropriateness of this project in this location. We now move on to the CEQA litigation against the County for it's abuse of discretion in approving such an environmentally problematic project in 2017.

The final text of the Board's decision will be certifiied on July 11, 2021.

Mountain Peak site after the fire
NVR 5/14/21: Napa County to further review Mountain Peak, Staglin winery cases
NV2050 5/25/21: Mountain Peak Winery Remand Hearing, May 18, 2021

The Mountain Peak Winery approval has been remanded by the Napa County Superior Court back to the Board of Supervisors to re-evaluate their approval of the remote winery project in light of the evidence of the 2017 Atlas fire. The fire closed access in and out of Soda Canyon Road and required residents in the area surrounding the proposed winery site to be evacuated by helicopter. The BOS approval of the project was contingent on the appeal finding that "In the event of a fire that results in mass evacuations from this area, the road has sufficient capacity and roadway width to accommodate all outgoing traffic while allowing incoming fire response units." (see "Tenth Ground of Appeal...Findings and Decision" on pg. 15 here.) The fire proved them mistaken in this finding.

In justifying the need for the remand, the Court concluded "- the catastrophic nature of the Atlas Fire, and in particulr the mass evacuations, many by helicopter, that resulted from the fire constitute truly new evidence of emergent facts that were not presented to the Board."

The hearing will take place Tuesday, May 18, 2021 at 2:00 pm in the BOS Chamber, 1195 3rd St, Napa. The number of seats in the board room will be somewhat limited, but there will be an "overflow" room as well.

The agenda and documents are here (page 19) [oddly no announcement or link for this BOS meeting has been published by the county]
Virtual attendance guidelines are here.
Mike Hackett email reminder (with a good summary of the issues)

The proceedure for the hearing:
  1. Board disclosures and staff presentation re 2017 Atlas Fire.
  2. Soda Canyon Group presentation (Supervisor Pedroza has limited us to 20 minutes; I will plan to handle the presentation, which will include a PowerPoint).
  3. Public Comment: This is the time when any members of the public, including declarants, can be heard. Time limited to 3 minutes. Again, we strongly encourage everyone to attend and speak in-person, as it is simply more powerful to be able to look your Supervisors in the eye and share your experience from the 2017 Atlas Fire.
  4. MPV presentation (also limited to 20 minutes).
  5. Soda Canyon Group rebuttal (time permitting).
  6. Chair closes public hearing, board deliberations.


Hearing Statements:

The county and the developer appealed the Superior Court's remand three times in Apellate Court and lost each time, underscoring the importance and credibility of the new evidence Forced to do so, it appears that they are hoping to ignore the intent of the remand, go through a show of due diligence and be done with it.

The Notice already proposes a preemptive finding of sorts: "The Board adopted a Negative Declaration for this Project, which has been certified. The Court’s Order remanding the matter to the Board has no effect on the previous environmental analysis. Therefore, no further environmental review is necessary." The environmental review done by the County was obviously deficient when it came to potential evacuation danger. One wonders what was the point of the Court's remand order if not to reconsider that environment analysis in light of the reality of contrary evidence. What mitigations could be made to counter the increased danger of adding 150 people needing to be protected or evacuated if the road is blocked. None are being proposed. The suggestion in the Staff report that those people might shelter in the project cave or vinyards completely ignores the very real dangers of those solutions or of the chaotic situation that actually happened as people followed their immediate instinct, just as guests and employees at the project would, to drive down the road.

More complete comments on the Remand are here

This hearing comes at the same time that the State Board of Forestry is revising their Fire Safe Regulations for Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones like upper Soda Canyon Road. The intention of the change in the State's regulations is to slow the expansion of development -- for example, a project that brings 60 visitors and 19 employees each day -- into high fire hazard areas. More information on the Board of Forestry regulation update process is here. A hearing on the draft of new regulations will take place on June 22, 2021. The county wishes it could ignore that process as well. The County's response letter is here.

So long, vineyards on: Napa Pipe & South Napa County

Bill Hocker - Jun 18,21  expand...  Share
Hess property to be turned into warehouses
Update 5/22/21 Hess-Laird vineyard conversion at the BOS
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 unanamously 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 redesignation 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 ot 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 Supervsors meeting on Jun 22nd and the swift passage of the project through the County meatgrinder.

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 meglapolis 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 vinyards, 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 unbuilt 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 bucholic 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 tiltup 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?

Small Winery Ordinance in action on: The Winery Glut

Bill Hocker - Jun 18,21  expand...  Share

Since June 2020 many permit issues are be handled by the Napa County Zoning Administrator rather then the Planning Commission. These are administrative approvals done in a public hearing roughly once a month on Wednesdays when the Planning Commission is not in session.

Zoning Administrator Agenda and Hearing page

While many of the zoning administrator decisions involve viewshed or exceptions for private residences, winery projects and modifications are also being reviewed and approved by the zoning administrator under the Small Winery Ordinance approved on 2/4/20.

1/27/21 Sodhani WInery (4400 vis/yr, 8000 more gal/yr, 4750sf bldgs) [approved]
6/30/21 White Rock Winery (7300 vis/yr,4 emp)
6/30/21 Melka Winery (4300 more vis/yr)

Syar back on the agenda on: Syar Expansion

Bill Hocker - Jun 10,21  expand...  Share

Ag land or one big hole?
Update 6/10/21 Syar 5-yr review
(5 years already?!) Under the Conditions of Approval for Syar's 2016 expansion Surface Mining Permit, monitoring data must be presented to the PC every 5 years. That review is upon us and will be heard by the Planning Commission on June 23, 2021.

Syar Monitoring Documents

Update 6/2/19
NVR 6/28/19: Tentative Napa County court ruling favors expansion of Syar quarry
NVR 6/2/19: Napa judge hears more arguments on Syar quarry expansion

NVR 5/23/19: Napa Court releases Syar tentative ruling

The Tentative Ruling is here

From the judge's ruling:
"One of the principal project locations is the so-called Pasini Parcel, which has a General Plan designation of Agricultural, Watershed, and Open Space (AWOS). Of note, it appears as though the EIR contains no discussion of the apparent inconsistency between the General Plan's stated goal of preserving agricultural land use, and the conversion of this parcel into use for mining operations."

It's becoming clear that residents have valid legal complaints about the development that Napa County has been pursuing in the last few years. There are impacts that have not been properly considered in the approval process, flagged by residents in the numerous hearings that vet projects, with Supervisors ignoring those concerns as being less-than-significant in order to move the projects ahead. In the past, residents may have been intimidated by the business and government forces arrayed against them. But the level of impact that development is beginning to have on the rural character that residents treasure is no longer possible to ignore, and appeals and lawsuits are becoming the norm.

In this case the judge has highlighted a primary inconsistency not properly discussed in the EIR as required by CEQA: the County is nominally committed in its General Plan to the protection of agriculture, but at the same time has approved a project that is not agriculture on land zoned for agriculture. (like the AmCan solar farm) The judge is not saying that the two are incompatible; only that the EIR failed to discuss and mitigate the conflicting attitude about mining operations on ag land.

If only it were possible to reconsider the same inconsistency of using agricultural lands for entertainment venues and housing estates.

Water diversion for Napa County vineyards harm Napa city residents on: Watershed Issues

Kellie Anderson - Jun 8,21  expand...  Share

Among the nearly one hundred development projects pending on the county of Napa Current Projects website comes a sleeper of a project likely to go unnoticed by Napa city residents and businesses who will be most negatively impacted.

The remote vineyard development project, (Hyperion Vineyard Holdings LLC. AKA KJS Investment Properties and Sorrento Inc. ECOA #17-00432-ECPA) proposed deep in the headwaters above Lake Hennessey, seeks to clear 156.8 acres of existing vegetation including oak woodlands, foothill pine communities, and grasslands in order to construct a vineyard in the Conn Creek/Lake Hennessey watershed.

The project proposes increased diversion of surface water and development of a 48-acre-foot off-stream reservoir. Hardly a blip on the radar of most city of Napa Water users, and a routine rubber stamp for the county of Napa planners tasked with grinding out yet another development approval (within a do nothing set of meaningless environmental regulations 100% guaranteed to never be implemented by those very agencies tasked with protections of biological, riparian, air quality, surface and groundwater resources).

For decades, countless vineyard and winery projects have been approved in an automaton fashion by the county of Napa, cumulatively impacting not only fisheries and wildlife, forest stability, and fire safety but also the human need for safe and reliable drinking water.

Faced with extreme drought and restrictions on domestic water use, groundwater depletion, wildland, and urban interface mega-fires, collapse of upland forest resources and decimation of the Napa River and its many tributaries, Napa city water users dependent upon Lake Hennessey, may wish to reach out to their elected City Council members and ask why the continued destruction of their watershed is permitted without notice to Napa city residents? City of Napa water users could, for example, request city staff provide a quarterly report, publicly noticed through the agenda process of all vineyard, winery, hotel/resort projects proposed by the county of Napa that are within any city of Napa municipal watershed.

While environmental justice and access to clean, affordable water may seem the stuff of wretched San Joaquin Valley towns, city of Napa residents too are victims of water inequities under the current Napa County Board of Supervisors “agricultural development above all” policies, which according to the county of Napa General Plan, denote virtually every single acre of land in the Lake Hennessey watershed to be open for vineyard and winery development.

The State Water Resource Control Board notes "Environmental Justice principles call for the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income, in the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of all environmental laws, regulations, and policies that affect every community’s natural surroundings, and the places people live, work, play, and learn."

If you have no idea what development projects are proposed in your watersheds, if you have no access to project documents, if the county of Napa Current Projects website is broken or project documents are missing or incomplete, or you as a water user are harmed by county of Napa Project approvals reducing your water security, you may feel compelled to have your elected Napa City Council take on the uncomfortable task of defending your watersheds from development. It’s their job.

City of Napa water users of all economic levels has subsidized the Hyperion Vineyard Holdings LLC. AKA KJS Investment Properties and Sorrento Inc.’s of the world for decades. Napa County misguidedly perceives a benefit, city of Napa residents are however are the losers. It’s beyond time to intervene. It’s beyond time to demand environmental justice.

NVR LTE version 6/8/21: Water diversion for Napa County vineyards harm Napa city residents

Sonoma County Winery Events Ordinance on: Sonoma County

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

An email from the community organization Preserve Rural Sonoma County encourages residents to attend the virtual Sonoma County Planning Commission hearing on a proposed Winery Events Ordinance.

The Planning Commisssion June 3, 2021 Agenda.
The packet of documents relating to the ordinance.

Without digging too much into the weeds of the ordinance, it does at first glance bear a resemblance to the process that Napa went through with APAC and the Tree Protection ordinance. Both of those processes were initiated by citizen concern, in Napa's case over the proliferation of wineries and of woodland conversion to vineyards respectively. Both ended up being little more than a further codification of the current development trajectory with no provisions that might bend the curve. In fact, the outcome of APAC resulted in a process to legitimize the illegal behavior wineries had been engaging in, a fast-track winery ordinance and an ordinance to allow custom crush vintners to offer tastings in their homes.

The ability of developers, with money and consultants and close government ties, to channel citizen concern into non-threatening or even enabeling legislation has been a very dispiriting aspect of the fight waged over the last 8 years.

The Winery Event Ordinance in Sonoma seems from the outside to be the result of a similar fight. The setback, noise or other provisions of the code will be mitigated into insignificance by developers' consultants. The import of the legislation is that it codifies the pattern of development already taking place that citizens had initially hoped to restrict, allowing government to be able to say that they have given serious consideration to address citizens' concerns. The tourism development destroying the peaceful character of Sonoma's rural communities can now continue.

The Supervisor's disconnect on: Growth Issues

George Caloyannidis - May 20,21  expand...  Share

The long saga of the Mountain Peak application for a new 100,000-gallon winery with 14,500 annual visitors including mega events at the end of the densely forested, 6.5-mile-long, dead end Soda Canyon Road, a non-conforming Napa County Standards Road, was approved on May 18, 2021.

It was a second review of one previously approved by the Supervisors just before the 2017 Atlas Peak fire. This review ordered by the Napa Superior Court asked the Supervisors to consider the effects of these fires which destroyed 134 of the 163 homes in the immediate area and claimed lives.

In granting their second approval, the Supervisors determined that the fires provided no data compelling them to change their minds in spite of testimony after testimony by residents who could not escape because the single, flame-engulfed escape route was blocked by fallen trees while many more were airlifted by helicopters because they were trapped. If this were not enough, they disregarded the 1-mile-long limit Napa County standard for a cull-de-sac six times over!
The Supervisors were willing to ignore scientific data adopted by the National Academy of Science which show that 84% of all fires are caused by human activity. Common sense would dictate that the more people are introduced in our fire-prone areas, the higher the likelihood of fire. But it didn’t.

A few months ago, these same Supervisors approved the Anthem Winery expansion on Redwood Road, including more visitors and events. They were undeterred by its 8 wells which successively kept running dry as were those of the neighboring residents. If this were not enough, they also granted 16 variances to the long driveway, trumping all Napa County standards for driveways.
By any evidentiary standard, these decisions by the Board, endanger public safety. And while residents are facing mandatory water conservation orders, the BoS increases visitors by the tens of thousands, increases demand for low-wage industry earners for housing by enacting policies which increase water usage and deplete resident’s wells, an indication that our water table is being impaired.

None of these hair-raising actions by the Board make common sense which poses the question: Why do these well-educated people make these kinds of decisions?

Many increasingly angry citizens accuse them of being in the pockets of the “industry”, others have even accused them of being immoral. I refuse to ascribe sinister motives to these people for actions which by all reasonable standards endanger the wellbeing of the public. My explanation is that they are acting under the duress of mounting costs to services and infrastructure which they are compelled to fund through more and more development fees.

Here is why this model puts us deeper and deeper into long term deficits to our infrastructure of water, sewer, emergency services, fire protection, roads, power grid, workforce housing, schools, new personnel, pensions etc.

Eight years ago, I sponsored a public forum on growth. Three experts - two of them university professors - on tourism, traffic and resort development determined that what used to be an agricultural economy has morphed (thanks to our Supervisors) into a tourist economy. As the panel showed (Eben Fodor: The Cost of Growth in Oregon, 1998), each new home or resort unit leaves an uncollected long-term deficit of $ 26,500 -- at least double that today multiplied by the hundreds of new hotel rooms and workforce housing units -- in terms of long-term infrastructure costs.

The development fees collected by the County are means to keep County finances afloat in the short-term while the long-term costs keep mounting exponentially. If we need proof, it is the fact that we keep approving funding propositions for schools and roads one after the other. And they are a drop in the bucket.

Some may characterize the ever-increasing reliance on development fees as; “the Supervisors being in the pockets of the industry”. Who can blame them when they see the Supervisors at first turning a blind eye on violators of their own well-intentioned winery use permit rules, then “bringing them into compliance” by simply legalizing them, when they approve wineries in fire-prone areas where they should not be, when they grant variances on set-backs, road and cul-de-sac standards, allow increased water uses in the face of water shortages and unconscionably disregarding the need for safe evacuation routes, when they see the culture of watering down standards -- even ethical ones - becoming ever more permissive.

On the other hand, just as the starving man who steels a slice of pizza, what else can these five people do once they have boarded the train they built over the past 20 years from which they cannot get off (taking us with them) until it eventually crashes?

Worse, getting off it becomes increasingly difficult by the continuous actions they keep taking.

NVR 5/23/21 LTE: The Napa County supervisors’ disconnect

Benjamin Ranch at the Planning Commission on: Benjamin Ranch Winery

Bill Hocker - May 19,21  expand...  Share

The Planning Commission approved the Benjamin Ranch Winery on 5/19/21 to complete the approval of the 6 wineries that came up last fall. The developer had dropped the visitation numbers from 154,000/yr to 87,000/yr even before the project was continued in Sept. The vote here was 3-2 with Comms. Cottrell and Joelle opposed. Given the opposition to the project at the first hearing including from activist organizatons, significant wine industry names with lawyers, CEQA letters and peer traffic reports, it was a bit odd that the project had so little opposition in this hearing. Only two individual neighbors spoke. Where did that opposition go? What gives?

Agenda and documents
Video of hearing

One interesting public comment made in support of the project was from a friend of Mr. Frank, who traveled the world a lot, and wanted to support Napa Valley wherever he could. He said "I will say to you that one of our biggest challenges going forward is to repolish the brand that we all call Napa Valley. We need to take that challenge very very seriously." I haven't heard compliants about the quality of Napa wines. Perhaps the bottle price. Or perhaps the cost of staying and eating here. Or the traffic to be endured getting here. There is much that should be done to polish the brand, but I'm not sure how the 87,000 more visitors a year, and the traffic they will add, will do it. In fact, the last thing needed now is another mega-tourist attraction hoping to turn Napa into a wine-themed Branson or Las Vegas. Perhaps the tarnish the speaker felt while trying to boost the Valley in his world travels, was the transition the world knows as "napafication": the process of draining a wine region of its authenticity by turning it into a tourist attraction. One more ride in the amusement park won't help.

286,000 new winery visitors/yr sought at Planning Commission on: The Winery Glut

Bill Hocker - May 19,21  expand...  Share

Click for the Benjamin Ranch page
Update 5/19/21 Benjamin Ranch
Agenda and documents
Video of hearing

The Planning Commission approved the Benjamin Ranch Winery on 5/19/21 to complete the approval of the 6 wineries that came up last fall. The developer had dropped the visitation numbers from 154,000/yr to 87,000/yr even before the project was continued in Sept. The vote here was 3-2 with Comms. Cottrell and Joelle opposed. THis is not the end of the Benjamin Ranch story and I will continue to cover it here:

Benjamin Ranch Mega-Winery page

The total number of visitation slots added to the to the county each year after the 6 approvals (see the final figures below in this post) thus amounted to roughly 203,000. The number of additional visitor slots added for other winery approvals, not including those 6, between Sept of last year and now is 116,000. The winery approval list is here.

Update 9/19/20
NVR 9/19/20: Napa County balks at amplified music request by St. Helena winery
NVR 9/23/20: Nickel and Nickel winery will restore its farmstead history

Update 9/15/20
NVR 9/17/20: Proposed 475,000-gallon Napa Valley winery raises size concerns
The 9/16/20 PC meeting video is here

The Planning Commission has completed its review of 6 wineries in the last month. The most controversial of them was continued to a date uncertain (the Commission's polite kiss of death). The other 5 were approved unanimously and added 150,000 more winery visits per year to the county.

The controversial one, the 475,000 Benjamin Ranch Winery ran into pre-CEQA-appeal resistance from neighbor Michael Honig and pushback from the one industry group that seems to be taking on the unlimited growth agenda of the wine&tourism industrial complex, the Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture. (More on the G/VRA here.) Both opposition and support for the project was made by other well known names. It also ran into a planning commission unwilling to pass at one sitting a new mega event center in the heart of the valley.

The developer, Hollywood mogul Rich Frank, is expanding the wine empire he established with the purchase of Larkmead Winery in 1993. The initial ask on Benjamin was for 146,000 visitors/yr but the ask was dropped prior to the hearing to about 87,000/yr in the hopes of pushing the project through - to no avail. Like some other entrepreneurs in the valley, the Franks expressed their frustration with a bureaucratic process that stands in the way of such entrepreneurial spirit.

Update 9/14/20
The 9/16/20 meeting of the County Planning Commission will be reviewing use permit requests from 3 more wineries. Together, the 3 will be asking for almost 198,000 more visitor slots/yr, with the bulk, 146,000/yr for one new winery in the heart of the valley. (A continuance has been asked for.) If all are approved, it would be a significant 1 day increase in the wine tourism industry in Napa County. In the last two Planning Commission meetings a total of about 68,000 more visitor slots/yr have been approved to add to the tourism load, potentially adding 260,000 more winery visits/yr in 1 month of approvals.

Update 9/7/20
NVR 9/7/20: Napa County approves more visitors for 2 wineries

Update 8/20/20
The 8/19/20 Planning Commission Meeting

The first of the projects, a Saintsbury Winery request for 36,000 more visitors/yr was approved by the Planning Commission on 8/19/20 after horse-trading brought the number down to about 24,000 more vis/yr. (NVR article) After his vote to bring more tourism into the county, during a workshop on winery comparison charts later in the day, Comm. Whitmer made a somewhat stirring exortation of Planning Commission purpose:

"A major focus about how we implement the entitlements, particularly how they relate to things like accessory uses [winery tourism], I am still hung up on the idea that the major focus of our county and this commission should be on agricultural preservation, and I mean growing of crops, and to the extent that we don't consider ag preservation as kind of a lead in these discussions, it's troubling. Because we've got a really fragile agricultural industry. A lot of people would look at it and say, wow, this is a tremendous thing, and everybody we know wants a piece of it. But its fragile. And we have the potential if we go too far, to kill the goose that's laying the golden egg. And one of the biggest challenges I think for the planning department and for this commission and for the board is to try and balance those issues of allowing for economically viable and sustainable businesses while not creating an environment that changes the bucolic nature here, that speaks to the beauty thats exists here, the fundamental agrarian and agricultural base that we have."

Bravo! ... But then, perhaps looking out at the wine industry lobbyist in the audience, he deflated his own lofty rhetoric:

"So part of the sustainability model is economic viability, and I don't want to gloss over that, that's important in this discussion. We're hearing from wineries that these uses are important to them for the economic vitality of their businesses. So its clear we need to be focused on that as well."

A few minutes later, that lobbyist, Michelle Benvenuto of the cliquish Winergrowers, got up to remind the Commisssion who they worked for:

"We appreciate you guys bringing the item [the revision of winery comparison charts] forward for discussion and, as has been noted, it has evolved over time into a more formal table -- but with limited input from stakeholders, the public, or the board. There were no stakeholder meetings, all discussion has been in a formal session. The Board of Supervisors has consistently agreed that this is a tool and not intended to be definitive. Commissioners familiar with APAC know that there is a Proposal X that was a metric that the Board of Supervisors chose not to proceed with. Additionally the staff report notes that "this item is not intended to solicit input related to changes in policy" yet no mention as to what that policy is. The Board has made clear as recently as your joint meeting, that each winery needed to be judged on its own individual merits and decided on a case by case basis. Attempting to create a document that is more definitive or, in layman terms, more black and white would be change in policy. The process is discretionary and the commission must use their discretion in making decisions."

My interpretation of her statement is that important decisions in Napa County [policy decisions] are made by the moneyed interests [stakeholders] behind closed doors directly with the supervisors [stakeholder meetings] and not debated in public [formal session] at the PC level. As everywhere, unfortunately, public policy is crafted by businesses to promote their own economic interests.

The referenced APAC hearings, begun in an effort to address citizen concerns over winery proliferation, is good example. The public APAC committee came up with a list of recommendations which tried to incorporate public concerns, although still watered down by the large majority of "stakeholder" representatives on the committee. The Planning Commission, in their public review of the recommendations again restored some citizen concerns into the recommendations. But eventually the Supervisors, perhaps after some "stakeholder meetings", "honed" (I would say eviscerated) the recommendations in their final actions. The result was to create a policy that allowed wineries to legalize and expand their previously illegal activities. Another policy created a fast track policy for the approval of smaller wineries. Nothing was done to limit winery development or the continuing tourism urbanization that results. The resulting policies only made winery proliferation easier.

(Similar stakeholder meetings, following the 2008 meltdown, led to 2010 "clarifications" of the 1990 WDO to allow food service and non-wine-related events at wineries, vastly expanding their use for tourism. Considering them "changes" in WDO policy would have involved a much more public process.)

The resistance to creating any "black and white" policies that seek to control future development, the original intent of convening the APAC Commission, is a bugaboo for the wine industry that knows they will be more successful in getting what they want without clear cut development rules. And what they want is more tourism development.

The Mabray presentation

The planning commission meeting of 8/19/20 was quite remarkable. The first item on the agenda was a presentation by Paul Mabray, the online wine sales evangelist. His message is that a marketing strategy that attempts to sell wine through tourism is ultimately a futile and environmentally unfriendly business model and that wineries, in the internet era, must become more effective at moving their goods though online sales rather than brick-and-mortar (literally for some wineries!) outlets -- just like the rest of the world's economy.

As Dir. Morrison later pointed out, the previous Mabray presentation to the commission happened 6 years ago, just at the beginning of winery development becoming a more controversial topic. He hoped this presentation would not be a harbinger or omen of more to come. Paul Mabray is proposing a solution, in Comm. Whitmer's words, "allowing for economically viable and sustainable businesses while not creating an environment that changes the bucolic nature here." Is the County or the wine industry listening any more now than they were 6 years ago? (More on Paul Mabray here.)

Coming to the Planning Commission

At the Napa County Planning Commission In the month between Aug 19 and Sep 16, 2020, 5 winery expansions and one new winery are requesting use permit approvals. Together they are seeking to add 286,000 visitor slots per year, and 137 more employees. By my calculations:
Add'l visitors/yr
Add'l Emp'ees
Saintsbury Winery30,795 (23,900 aprvd)9approved
Hyde Winery39,700 (23,660 aprvd)5approved
Ballentine Winery22,835 (20-21,000 aprvd)5approved
Bengamin Ranch Winery146,000(reduced to 87,000)61continued (approved 5/19/21)
Nickel & Nickel Winery46,00046approved

If approved, eventually a cascade of urban development will be needed to accommodate the new people that make those projects profitable. More hotels, more houses, more restaurants and commercial areas, wider roads, enlarged sewers and more water.

There are dozens of new or expanded wineries behind these 6 projects, awaiting their day at the Planning Commission. The laborious PC hearings (and BOS appeals of the PC decisions) have done little in the last 6 years to change the trajectory of approvals and their eventual impacts on us all. There are marginal reductions in visitation, moderation of requested visiting hours, notifications required for events. The effort to exercise planning oversight, in staff, applicant and citizen time and money, is disproportionate to the actual impact on development. It is the figleaf of due diligence, nibbling at the edges, while allowing the urban development to continue as it would unscrutinized.

The Mountain Peak Remand on: Mountain Peak Winery

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

On Tuesday, May 18, 2021 the Board of Supervisors will reconsider their approval of the Mountain Peak Winery, on the order of the Napa County Superior Court, in light of evidence presented by the 2017 Atlas fire. The Agenda is here.

Concerning the fire

On Aug 22, 2017 the Board approved the use permit for the 19-employee, 14,575-visitor/year Mountain Peak Winery 6 miles up the dead-end Soda Canyon Road. Soda Canyon residents had presented ample first-hand experience and data-based assessments of fire danger on Soda Canyon Road at Planning Commission and BOS appeal hearings for the project. Yet the Board dismissed those concerns in their findings. They found that "In the event of a fire that results in mass evacuations from this area, the road has sufficient capacity and roadway width to accommodate all outgoing traffic while allowing incoming fire response units."

Six weeks later, on Oct 8th, the Atlas fire erupted in fierce winds and 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. Fire trucks were unable to continue up the road. Dozens of residents, unable to make it down through the fire, had to be evacuated by helicopter from the top of the road. 134 of the 163 residences on Soda Canyon Road were damaged or destroyed, 118 of them a complete loss. Tragically two lives were lost. Resident declarations vividly present the chaos of the night.

Following the fire, residents petitioned Napa Superior Court to include the new, relevant evidence the fire as part of their CEQA case against the approval of the project. The Court agreed and ordered that the project be sent back to the Board, noting that the possibility of "the complete inaccessibility of Soda Canyon Road during a fire and resulting helicopter evacuations of stranded individuals" had not been considered in approving the project. It was "truly new evidence of emergent facts."

There has been much said in government meetings about the need for evidence-based decision-making. Unfortunately, rather than confront an approval based on findings countered by evidence, the County and the developer challenged the Court's remand order three times in Appellate Court trying to avoid reconsideration of the approval in light of the fire evidence. The Appellate Court rejected all three appeal attempts, underscoring the importance and credibility of the new evidence

Concerning the staff report

In the staff report for this hearing, unfortunately, Staff is apparently recommending that the Board just ignore the remand, and once again dismiss the import of residents harrowing fire experiences that highlight the inadequacy of the original finding. Staff does not address the intent of the remand: to consider project impacts and mitigations in a future fire-related blockage of the road and required evacuation. Staff does not recommend reducing the size and scope of the project or its visitation plan appropriate to the dangers of its constrained access. Instead they suggest, somewhat casually, that 125 guests and 19 employees might shelter in the vineyards or in the cave. Neither is an instinctive or reliably safe response. Caves can become smoke-filled and oxygen-depleted. Vineyards DO burn.

As the declarations of residents fleeing the fire make quite clear, the first instinct in confronting a wildfire would be to drive down the road. As happened in this fire, Cal-Fire helicopters would alredy be blaring a message over loudspeakers to evacuate immediately. Employees and guests would already be in their cars adding to the vehicles of residents and vineyard workers trying to escape. And the escape scenarios that residents so vividly described in their declarations would again play out, only this time with 150 additional people, perhaps 70 vehicles, trying to excape. The one way the project can avoid adding to the dangers of a mass evacuation is to not have people there in the first place, either by not allowing visitation during fire season or not building a tourist attraction in such a high-fire risk area in the first place.

Staff concludes that the road, with fewer trees, some new paving and guardrails, NOW has "sufficient capacity and roadway width". But the road is now no wider, straighter, or flatter than before. The physical conditions and access constraints remain. There are still many hundreds of trees with road blocking potential. And there are now more dead and climate weakened trees and waiting to fall. New underbrush will soon be denser than the old. Fire events seem to be increasing in severity. Power lines can still come down. And, by continuing to add vehicles that need to be evacuated, the danger of a road blocking accident in the fiery, smoky chaos of an evacuation on the blind curves, steep grade and narrow stretches of the road increases.

Staff concludes that "No credible evidence established that the addition of another winery along Soda Canyon Road would significantly increase the risk of fire or significantly hinder rescue efforts". As if the additional thousands of people and vehicles the project will bring into the canyon each year will not statistically increase risk of fire mishap or mischief. As if trying to evacuate several dozen additional vehicles or asking helicopter pilots to risk their lives for an additional 150 people would not exacerbate rescue efforts. This is another finding awaiting contradictory, and perhaps tragic, evidence in a future fire.

Staff also notes the project's compliance with the State Fire Safe Regulations for high fire hazard zones like Soda Canyon Road. Those regulations put severe limits on the length of dead-end "local" roads: 1 mile for existing roads, 1/2 mile for new roads, knowing that both road length and width impact fire safety. But the County has labeled Soda Canyon Road a "collector", thus avoiding a consideration of its 6 mile length. Unfortunately fires do not 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 wreak havoc to block access is a significant factor in its safety. Also, as a "collector", Soda Canyon Road is substandard in width, curve radii and grade slope, measured by the County's own Road and Street Standards. And it even fails the lesser 20' State regulation in some stretches. Being labeled a "collector", as the fire showed, does not mean it's safe.

And finally, Staff analyzes the 19.4% service ramp under the State Fire Safe Regulations, finding that it "nearly" complies but doesn't actually comply. The 400' ramp of 19.4% required an exception under previously used NCRSS standards. It totally fails under the new FSR 300' limit for a 19.4% ramp. Fire trucks may or may not be able to negotiate it. Experts more objective than local officials and consultants, who routinely approve and justify exceptions in deference to wine industy non-compliance, should review the ramp design. (In a personal note: the ramp will tower 20 ft above and 30+ ft away from one of my property lines before its ski-jump descent onto the crush pad. It, and the water tanks and sewage treatment plant pushed up against another property line, is a further indication of a project too big for its site.)

Concerning remote tourism venues

As residents have argued for years now, the scale and scope of this project have never been appropriate for this remote site. The Supervisors recognized, in their guidence to Planning Commissioners in 2010, that they should "consider the remoteness of location" and "ensure a direct relationship between access constraints and on-site marketing and visitation programs". The access constraints on Soda Canyon Road were made painfully clear on the night of Oct 8, 2017.

There are reasons, aside from fire danger, why Mountain Peak is inappropriate in its location: 60 visitors and 19 employees a day and 125-person nighttime events will only add to the traffic dangers of an already dangerous road; and the precedent of this first tourist attraction in the Foss Valley will only encourage more tourism development, more traffic risk, more buildings to be defended in a fire; and, given the project's massive cave, the excavation and movement of millions of cubic feet of earth on the small site within feet of two blue line streams feeding Rector Reservoir will pose potential risks to ecology of the canyon and siltation to the reservoir.

And there are also reasons, aside from fire danger, why tourist attractions in general don't belong in many rural areas of the county: their presence damages the quality of life of residents who treasure the quiet enjoyment of a rural place; their disruptive potential engenders animosity from residents (including vintners and growers) against the tourism-based wine industry, fueling many battles in recent years; building projects and the commercialization of rural areas hasten the urbanization of the county as a whole, diminishing farming as a viable activity - not to mention the vineyard acerage the projects eliminate; and a mass-tourism business model that transports large numbers of people to the remote areas of the county each day (including now apparently to tasting rooms in private homes), and attracts large numbers of tourists to the county each year, will continue to add to Napa's carbon footprint in this age of global warming. (It is also a business model that needs to change for economic reasons, according to Rob McMillan)

But obviously the potential loss of life when concentrating people in fire prone areas, in an age when raging wildfires have become all too common, should be a significant concern to County officias as they make their decisions to sanction these venues. The remand is an opportunity to reconsider the substantial evidence recent fires have presented of the dangers of further building development in the watersheds. It would be unfortunate if the County fails to take this opportunity to begin to reduce their promotion of tourist attractions in the high fire-hazard areas of the county.

Greenbelt Memories on: City of Napa

Bill Hocker - Apr 26,21  expand...  Share
Update 7/26/21
NVR 7/25/21: Memory Lane: The Ghislettas and their dairy

Update 4/26/21
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

That hillside along Hwy 29 coming into the Napa Valley, which I now know as the Ghisletta diary farm, with its picturesque barns, farmhouse and ecalyptus trees 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 bucholic 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 goodlife 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 consitituted 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 boundry 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 we are reduced to talking about a greenbelt separateing urban Napa from western rural Napa rather than the relentless suburbanization coming from the south, already having consumed what should have been Napa's real greenbelt. 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 faded memory.

Napa County Wildfire Protection Plan on: Fire Issues

Bill Hocker - Apr 7,21  expand...  Share

NVR 4/8/21: Napa County asked to spend $42 million to reduce wildfire threat

The Napa County Community WIldfire Protection Plan was presented to the Board of Supervisors on 4/7/21. The video of the meeting is here beginning at 3:21:00 on the video. The Plan website was prerepared by Napa Communities Firewise Foundation and represents an incredible amount of work portraying and analyzing the fire situation in Napa County with specific preparedness recommendations, projects and a heafty budget request to match.

Napa County Community WIldfire Protection Plan(CWPP)

Unfortunately, while the amount of data presented on the CWPP website is probably extraordinary, the site is quite wonky and disorienting and requires an up-to-date browser, a big screen and a robust amount of clicking to get at revelant information. Using the site is akin to learning a new computer program (this one) rather than browsing a website. The site designers have provided a video to show you how to use it.

Mui and I have spent the last 26 years keeping ourselves fit by clearing broom and brush and raising tree hemlines on our property just for the beauty of the park-like setting that is the result. Little did we think there might be another reason to do the work.

Staglin Winery adds more tourists on: The Winery Glut

Bill Hocker - Apr 2,21  expand...  Share

1.2 miles at the end of Bella Oaks Lane
Update 9/15/21
Staglin Appeal was was settled prior hearing with approved conditions remaining.

Update 5/28/21
An timely appeal was filed on the Staglin WInery approval by the Planning Commisssion. The Board of Supervisors set a hearing date on the apeal for June 15, 2021. All parties have requested a continuance of the hearing which will now be held on Sept. 28, 2021, 2:00pm. The notice is here.

NVR 5/14/21: Napa County to further review Mountain Peak, Staglin winery cases

Update 4/2/21
SFChronicle 4/2/21: Napa's prestigious Staglin winery says it needs more visitors to succeed. Its wealthy neighbors are fighting back

NVR 3/4/21: Napa County tries to find Staglin winery visitor balance

3/3/21 Planning Commission Agenda
3/3/21 Meeting Video

On Feb 3rd the County Planning Commission approved the visitation expansion of the Staglin Winery on Bella Oaks Lane, owned by one of the "Old Land, New Money" generation of winemakers roasted by James Conaway in the "The Far Side of Eden".

The project generated an unusual, and organized, amount of neighborhood opposition (20 some neighbors) in a short period of time. This was a one month turaround from the shock notice that the county sends out warning neighbors of pending destruction of their bucholic lives. Most end up having at least a few months and sometimes years to assemble their defense.

As often happens, the commission fell into horse-trading on the tourism numbers, probably leaving both sides unhappy. Visitation went from 2980 to (about) 10800 vis/yr. Given the full blown legal brief filed by neighbors (see here), there is a good chance that the project will be appealed to the BOS seeking an EIR.

The proposal had nothing to do with wine production - it was strictly a request to increase tourism and tourism hours at the winery. After 34 vintages the winery doesn't see survival possible without more visitors. It is another indication of the fall in demand for $100-$350 bottles of wine as The Wine Advocate connoisseurs die off and well-heeled millennials turn to less pretentious and more eclectic quaffs. For the Napa wine industry as a whole, pursuing more visitors rather than expanding internet sales advocated by Rob McMillan earlier in the day (beginning at 43:00 in the meeting video) to offset the demographic change will probably doom many small wineries to expensive and futile tasting room competition, and the physical environment of the county will continue to degrade, as more and more tourism venues spring up desperately hoping for tourism as their salvation.

In each of the neighbor-opposed projects that have come to the commission over the last 7 years, I keep wondering why more residents (including growers and vintners) only see tourism as a problem when it shows up in their backyard -- at which point it is a battle over the technical nitty-gritty of a proposal rather than the "big picture" issue of tourism degrading the quality of life of every rural county resident. The Supervisors in 2015, with Sup. Luce still on the Board, tried to take on the issue after hundreds of residents showed up for a meeting to address winery proliferation. The result was the creation of the APAC commission which ultimately, under industry pressure, did nothing to reduce winery proliferation, but instead lead to the creation of a process to exonerate and legitimize wineries already operating well above their permit limits. Since then a small winery ordinance has been added to make proliferation easier, and now there is mention of a micro-winery ordinance probably to encourage tourism to winemakers not yet owning a permitted winery.

Most residents bemoan the baleful impacts of increased tourism, but until those impacts finally get to their front door there is no effort to do something about it. Activism led by Napavision2050, and the diligent NVR reporting of Barry Eberling on the issue never seem to lead to another surge among the public to act. After 7 years of obsessing about this issue, it is a bit depressing that the battle is still being fought, quite ineffectively, one impacted community at a time.

Re: Gallo Stagecoach North ECP on: The Rector Watershed

Bill Hocker - Mar 29,21  expand...  Share

Response letter, typos and misspellings included, sent regarding the Stagecoach North DEIR

29 Mar 2021

Donald Barrella, Planner III
Napa County Planning, Building, and Environmental Services Department
1195 Third Street Suite 210
Napa, CA 94559

Re: Stagecoach North Vineyard Conversion
Erosion Control Plan Application #P18-00446-ECPA
Draft Environmental Impact Report

Mr. Barrella,

Many thanks of the opportunity to respond to the Stagecoach North DEIR.

The No Project Alternative

I would like to express opposition to the project and ask you to consider accepting the No Project Alternative to the proposal. It is, at least in my mind, the superior environmental alternative.

The DEIR states more clearly than I could why this alternative should be considered. I will take the liberty of repeating some of the conclusions here:

"Unlike the proposed project, the No Project Alternative would not require construction equipment and materials, vehicles, and crews; ground-disturbing construction activities; or operation and maintenance activities. For this reason, the No Project Alternative would result in less severe impacts than the proposed project related to air quality and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, biological resources, cultural and tribal cultural resources, geology and soils, hazards and hazardous materials, hydrology and water quality, land use and planning, noise, and transportation. Mitigation measures identified for the proposed project also would not apply to the No Project Alternative.

Vegetation removal, implementation of the Erosion Control Plan, and vineyard conversion would not occur under the No Project Alternative. The environmental setting would remain identical to conditions that existed at the time of the Notice of Preparation.

Unlike the proposed project, the No Project Alternative would not generate project construction emissions or result in a cumulatively considerable net increase in criteria pollutants, and this alternative would be consistent with the 2017 Clean Air Plan. Therefore, the No Project Alternative would not require implementation of Mitigation Measures 3.2-1a through 3.2-1c or the open burning condition of approval, as identified for the proposed project, to reduce impacts on air quality to less-than-significant levels. The No Project Alternative would not include activities that would expose sensitive receptors to substantial pollutant concentrations or result in other emissions (such as those leading to odors), adversely affecting a substantial number of people.

In addition, because this alternative would not involve any construction work or operation and maintenance activities, the No Project Alternative would not generate GHG emissions that would have a significant impact on the environment or conflict with an applicable plan, policy, or regulation adopted for reducing GHGs. No impacts would occur in these areas under the No Project Alternative, compared to the less-than-significant impacts that would result from the proposed project.

Because ground-disturbing activities would not occur under the No Project Alternative, impacts on biological resources, potential impacts on previously unrecorded cultural and tribal cultural resources, and conflicts with applicable sections of the Napa County Code and Napa County General Plan would not occur. The approximately 75.17 acres that provide habitat for approximately 1,912 holly‐leaved ceanothus individuals, consisting of chamise alliance (48.85 acres), mixed manzanita (3.77 acres), and scrub interior live oak (22.55 acres), would remain on the project site. Populations of Franciscan onion, narrow-flowered California brodiaea, small-flowered calycadenia, two-carpellate western flax, nodding harmonia, Napa lomatium, and green monardella on the project site would not be removed and/or replanted. The 31.63 acres of California bay forest and 0.75 acre of black oak forest would remain on the project site. The approximately 2,790 total trees on the project site with a stem diameter at breast height of 5 inches or more would remain undisturbed. Therefore, the No Project Alternative would not require implementation of Mitigation Measures 3.3-1a through 3.3-k, 3.3-2a, 3.3-2b, 3.3-3, 3.3-4, 3.3-5, 3.4-1a, 3.4-1b, 3.4-2, and 3.4-3 as identified for the proposed project to reduce impacts on biological resources, cultural and tribal cultural resources, and land use and planning to less-than-significant levels.

With the No Project Alternative, proposed erosion and runoff control measures would not be implemented. Therefore, unlike the proposed project, this alternative would not cause a reduction in soil loss of approximately 29.78 percent (160.01 tons) or a net decrease in peak- flow rates relative to existing conditions. The No Project Alternative would not affect water quality and groundwater supplies.

Because construction and maintenance activities for the vineyard would not occur, the No Project Alternative would avoid potential impacts of the proposed project related to hazards and the use of hazardous materials on the project site and temporary, less-than-significant impacts associated with noise and transportation-related construction activities."

A better case to protect an environment would be hard to make. Additionally, there are a few other impacts the No Project Alternative would avoid:
No cars would be added to the 50 or so that caravan up and down the road each day, increasing the danger of its blind curves and backing up the junction at the Trail. Traffic on the road, which has more than doubled since 2014, would not be increased further.

No more service vehicles, large dump trucks, grape trucks, or other large equipment would add to the danger and the maintenance of an already dangerous road and grade. Nor would the No Project Alternative add to the number of large vehicles that tend to get stuck trying to make it up the grade.

In the No Project Alternative, wildfire danger in this high wildfire severity zone would not be increased by the addition of more people and vehicles, (and possibly power lines if other wells are developed). Nor would it add to the number of people needing to evacuated by helicopter in the event of another fire, like that in 2017, blocking the exit down the road.

At the macro scale, the No Project Alternative would not add to the need for more affordable housing and infrastructure to accommodate a larger work force. Nor would it add to the glut of grapes that the industry seems to be experiencing.

For all the positive benefits to the environment that the No Project Alternative would sustain, the one negative that it posits is the larger amount of siltation that would occur by not doing anything. Perhaps. But the DEIR seems to assume normal rain events and a retention system that must be maintained in perpetuity. In 1997-8 an exceptionally rainy season caused massive amounts of sediment from the newly begun Stagecoach vineyard to wash down canyon walls into Rector reservoir causing filtration failure and substantial repairs. Despite the DEIR’s many pages of elaborate calculations, the notion that churning up 42-60 inches of topsoil and rock over 100 acres of land, and the ongoing use of farming equipment on miles of new block perimeters, will result in an ultimate decrease of soil erosion seems very hopeful engineering. Forgive me for being skeptical.

Perhaps an alternative could be proposed that would stem the most egregious current erosion, replanting unused roads for example, while retaining the other environmental benefits of the No Project Alternative.

Rector Watershed Development

It is late now to get worked up over another vineyard diminishing the remaining natural landscape in the Rector watershed. The fire that ravished the project site last year even reduces some concern about the potential loss of the natural landscape. And certainly new vineyards are far superior to housing tracts, vineyard estate development or winery tourist attractions. But a look at the amount of acreage developed on the Rector plateau shows that the entire watershed is coming closer to being completely developed. It is already the most heavily developed watershed in the county by far. The Stagecoach North project is the first to push up to the ridge that surrounds the watershed, and a harbinger for further development along the ridge lines.

In that regard the county should again address the potential cumulative impacts of further development of the watershed. It is a shame that developers are forced to spend over $300,000 on a report that is predetermined to conclude that what the developer’s proposal will have less-than-significant impacts.

The money would be better spent on a study of the impacts as a watershed area is maxed out in vines. The Rector watershed, and the Stagecoach vineyard occupying a very hefty portion of it, would be the perfect subject for a case study in changes in water availability, siltation, animal habitat and traffic generation from its inception in 1995 though the present. It would give everyone a data-based view of the continuing efforts throughout the county to convert raw land to more profitable uses.

Suggested project inclusions

Whichever alternative is finally decided upon, I would like to see two issues considered in the final EIR for the project:
First that a vanpool arrangement be included not just for the proposed project but for Stagecoach as a whole, so that it might set a precedent in reducing GHG’s and dangers on the road through a more environmentally-friendly worker transport system.

Second, that an additional northern access road to Stagecoach Vineyards be established connecting it to Hwy. 128, both as a fire security measure and to reduce the traffic load on Soda Canyon Road.


It should be mentioned, with or without this project, that Gallo will remain by far the largest producer of wine in the world. Its revenues, with the acquisition of Constellation, are now over 60 times greater than its next closest competitor. There is a point at which the growth mentality of capitalism begins to defy the logic of maintaining a livable world, indeed of maintaining our species. Oil companies will always want 100 more acres of tundra, cattle companies 100 more acres of rainforest, and in Napa, warehouse builders 100 more acres of wetlands or gravel companies 100 more acres of wooded knolls.

For all of the “less severe impacts” listed in the No Project Alternative, it is beyond time to recognize that the natural world is not just an infinite resource to be consumed for financial growth. And for those same reasons, it is beyond time that governments begin to accept the No Project Alternatives in front of them, and I ask you to do so here.

Again thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Rd
Napa, CA

Gallo Stagecoach North ECP/EIR on: The Rector Watershed

Bill Hocker - Mar 23,21  expand...  Share

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

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

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

Manfree 7 page synopsis of the 300+ page DEIR

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

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

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

Again, questions or comments regarding the project may be addressed to County Planner Donald Barilla at

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

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

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

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

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

The County documents page is here.

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

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

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

Stuck on Soda Canyon Road on: Soda Canyon Road

Bill Hocker - Mar 21,21  expand...  Share

Update 3/31/21
Shelle Wolfe, in her letter to the Planning Department regarding the Stagecoach North DEIR included a group of photos which, taken together gives a sobering view of the perils of driving on the road:

Update 3/29/21

Across from the fire station.
Glenn Schreuder sends along another accident along the road this week (in addition to the blue dump truck and red car at the bridge shown above):

And Amber Manfree adds some of her photos:

Another tourist van stuck on the grade and a car over the edge at Mike's culvert

Update 3/21/21

Glenn Schreuder sends along this tale:

A few minutes ago, I just learned from one of our neighbors exactly what happened on the grade on Soda Canyon Road on Monday March 8th and you won’t believe it:

According to the account I just heard, apparently two trucks from Oaxaca, Mexico carrying finished case goods of Mescal were given an incorrect delivery address in upper Soda Canyon by a large local trucking company that was, in some way, involved in this trucking shipment.

The first tractor/trailer got stuck on the “S” curve just below the Martucci’s driveway around 9am.

That driver tried to radio the driver of the second tractor/trailer to let him know not to come up here but the message was not received or perhaps not heeded (unknown).

The second truck got stuck and rolled backwards into the hill just below the driveway of the property formerly owned by the Dixon family (driveway just before Martucci coming up the grade).

Thankfully by the grace of God he didn’t roll backward and down the steep ravine and into Soda Creek. Probably a heads up play by the driver. must have terrifying for him/her.

The back of the trailer of the second truck was badly damages and, sadly, some bottles of Mescal were lost forever…But at least the driver and anyone else nearby was not injured.

If you need more details we can follow up with the neighbor. Attached are the pictures.

Judy took the one at 9am (first truck that got stuck on the grade). I took the pictures of the second truck at about 11:45am again on Monday, March 8th.

Update 9/6/19

The latest examples of the driving rigors on this most problematic road. One, a narrow escape on a very steep section of the grade; and another, a tourist highlight as wine barrels end up scattered across the landscape near the blind curve beyond the Soda Springs gate. Glen writes about the upper photo:

    "took this photo at about 8:30am PDT 09/10/2019. That guy is very lucky. Would like to know how his truck ended up in that position. Could have started a fire, could have rolled down to the creek, could easily have been seriously injured or worse. I keep saying SCR is not a fundamentally safe roadway for increasing traffic loads. Fully pave it and people will start hauling ass increasing the frequency (and severity) of vehicular accidents. Only workable solution: Stop treating Soda Canyon road like it's an appropriate place for more and more commercial development."

Update 7/13/18
Shelle Wolfe sends this video of un-notified paving of our gravel road, which given the ever increasing amount traffic, may be a noise and dust reducer for those on the road.

But another bit of rural Napa is paved over.
Since we are here only 2 days a week and only have a short stretch of the gravel road to traverse and are removed from the dust thrown up, we have little right to complain. But I will anyway.

As with the loss of the mailboxes, the paving of the road is just one more step in the conversion of a truly rural place into a suburb.

Old man MacCabe talked about the time that neighbors got together to regrade the runoff wash that was the access to houses here, into the gravel road we know. "It was the worst $400 I ever spent." The gentrification continues.

I agree with Yeoryios' email response to the news. Improved access is generally a harbinger of further development.

Also, as the video also annoyingly demonstrates, 2 years of daily backup-beeps and rumbling machinery while the Mountain Peak project is being built will be pure hell this remote and quiet place.

Update 10/25/17
Lauren Griffiths writes: Two vehicle accident off into the creek at the McFadden curve on 10/25/17. The first responders arrived in force, not taking any chances.

After the fire, just at harvest, the road is busier than I have ever seen it. There are the grape trucks, repair trucks servicing fire damaged properties, utility trucks, and residents in what amounts to an almost continuous stream (by Soda Canyon standards) of vehicles on the road. It will not end anytime soon. All of this activity will be supplanted first by debris loading and hauling equipment and then by construction vehicles as residents rebuild in the coming years. As in the argument concerning tourism traffic, with each new vehicle on the road the potential for accidents on the blind curves and rises increases.

Update 4/19/17
Some of the members of the Soda Canyon community on their way to the hearing on the very inaccessible Caves at Soda Canyon winery almost didn't arrive because of a typical example of inaccessibility on our road.

Update 3/27/17
Just another day on the road.

Update 2/15/17
Residents send along these photos of an encounter that may become all too familiar along the grade: stranded tour buses awaiting reinforcements in their assault on the Rector plateau. And the final indignity: being towed from in front of the Mountain Peak site (probably the first place they were able to turn around after being hauled up the grade?).

It appears that the van was headed to the Beau Vine vineyard as part of a release party at their nascent winery on the Trail at Soda Canyon Road. Approval of modification to the Beau Vingne winery just happened at the planning commission (the hearing is item 9B here) in what one could only consider as a love-fest about what Napa "family" wineries should be about.

The visit to the vineyard in conjunction to a event at the winery does raise a question that I have always had about visitation to vineyards as opposed to wineries. Visitation to wineries is regulated to the nth degree, implying that unpermitted tourism visitation to vineyards might be illegal. Is that true? Even as an opponent of tourism to remote areas of the county, if the allowance of vineyard visitation defuses the need to build wineries in remote vineyards, that is a much preferable alternative. Provided that visits to vineyards don't become events, with food service and large quantities of people, there should be some codification of the process which does not now exist. (Of course, containing the extent of a privilege once codified has been at the heart of problems now confronting the county.)

It begins again, our first for 2015, overloaded vineyard truck dead on last curve, had to be towed with tractor.

Napa City's Oak Woodlands on: City of Napa

Bill Hocker - Mar 16,21  expand...  Share

Napa woodland slated for urban development
Update 11/16/21
The site of the Napa Oaks II proposal is currently zoned "Resource Area". The legal battle the developer has waged and lost a couple of times is to get the resource designation changed to allow residential development. The City of Napa is now going through the General Plan 2040 Update process, and lo-and-behold, there was a proposal to change the zoning to residential. As the comments indicate, the residents who have been fighting so hard to keep the ridge from being developed were not happy. The plan now seems to reflect that the property will remain resource area.

Update 10/27/20
Wakoh Shannon Hickey LTE 10/27/20: Annexing rural lands can only be a last resort

An eloquent retort to the charge of NIMBY-ism from the son of James Hickey, County Planning Director from 1970 to 1989 who oversaw much of the rural legacy still tresured (by most) in the county today.

Update 9/21/20
NVR 9/21/20: Debate over Napa's future development turns toward future of Foster Road

A pro-developer councilman raised the spectre of "NIMBY-ism" in the concern over protecting the hills west of Napa City from development. In this case, of course, those hills, like all of the hills surrounding the valley, are in the back yard of everyone who lives here.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, the term was invented by developers to denigrate residents' self-interest in protecting the character of their communities. There is no similar distillation of developers' self-interest in profiting from the destruction of that character.

It is up to government to decide whose self-interest is the more important, and since most governments revere wealth creation (for the few) over quality of life (for the many), residents are most often pushed into a more urban future than they would prefer. Given the lipservice that government officials often bestow on Napa's rural heritage and natural envirnoment, one would hope that it would be different here. But as is evident in the hundreds of projects that have been approved in the 6 years this site has existed, a rate that shows no sign of lessening despite climate change, pandemic and the vociferous and legal efforts of conservationists, the urbanization of Napa County continues apace.

The General Plan 2040 documents are here

Update 9/9/20
NVR 9/9/20: Timberhill, Napa Oaks, Foster Road residents oppose intensive homebuilding in Napa's future general plan

Update 2/25/20
NVR 2/25/20: Neighbors fear return of Napa Oaks threat to western hills

Update 6/19/19
The City Council has voted 3 to 2 to deny the request to rezone the Napa Oaks property, thus rejecting the Napa Oaks II proposal.

NVR 6/20/18: City Council narrowly rejects Napa Oaks II homes, 16 years after first veto

Update 6/16/18
Chris Benz LTE 6/18/18: Let's protect Napa city's oaks
Kevin Teague LTE 6/18/18: Why I believe in Napa Oaks
Pat Clay LTE 6/18/18: Napa Oaks offers many benefits

Update 6/16/18
Lisa Batto LTE 6/16/18: Weak argument for luxury housing by the Napa Chamber of Commerce
Sharon Macklin LTE 6/16/18: Chamber should advocate for affordable housing
Napa CofC LTE 6/16/18: Can we decide without divide?
Davidson Homes LTE 6/16/18: We have worked closely with the community on Napa Oaks

Update 6/14/18
NVR 6/14/18: City Council set to resolve battle over Napa Oaks II housing development
Florence Linstrom LTE 6/14/18: Don't approve Napa Oaks II
Suzanne Truchard LTE 6/14/18: Chamber shouldn't take position on Napa Oaks
Carol Barge LTE 6/14/18: The one thing Napa Oaks II can't mitigate
Keith Lindstrom LTE 6/14/18: No to Napa Oaks - report proves we have plenty of existing land zoned for housing.

Update 5/25/18
Stop Napa Oaks has sent out this reminder that the Napa City Council will be deciding the fate of the Napa Oaks II project on Tuesday, June 19th at 6:30pm.

Napa City Council Set to Vote on Napa Oaks II

Update 5/3/18
Christina Bettencourt LTE 5/3/18: Kill Napa Oaks for good
NVR 1/31/18: Council vote on Napa Oaks II homes delayed after release of new quake maps
Duane Cronk (last) LTE 12/28/17: For the right reasons
NVR 12/21/17: City planners narrowly vote against Napa Oaks II homes
SNO 12/21/17: Planning Commissioners vote in a 3-2 split in our favor!

Update 12/7/17
After public testimony the 12/7/17 hearing was continued to 12/21/17 at 5:30pm
SNO update
NVR 12/8/17: Foes of Napa Oaks II housing turn out in force; city planners delay verdict

Tony Truchard: Napa Oaks project will destroy our scenic gateway
Chuck Dresel: Opposed to Napa Oaks, then and now
Eve Kahn: Do we want to destroy our hillsides?

Update 12/5/17
NVR 12/4/17: Battle over Napa Oaks II homes to go before city planners

Napa City Planning Commission meeting on the project, this thursday Dec 7th, 2017. Stop Napa Oaks requests your support and presence here

Update 11/29/17 Meeting Report
NVR 11/28/17: Napa Oaks II developers revise housing plan; neighbors still push back
SNO counterpoints to developer's presentation

Stop Napa Oaks sends this notice after the 11/28/17 presentation hosted by the developers of the 53 unit Napa Oaks housing subdivision slated to replace the oak-covered hillside on the west side of town (pictured). The project will be heard by the Napa City Planning Commission on Dec 7th 2017, with a decision on the project to be rendered in the new year.

The Final EIR describing the project is here (All less-than-significant impacts of course.)

Update 5/4/17
NVR 5/4/17: Possible Truchard winery, Napa Oaks subdivision developers clash
[The Truchard winery was approved on 9/20/17 at this planning commission meeting.]

A clash between tourism urbanization and housing urbanization: The natural landscape of the county loses both ways. The Napa Oaks site should never have been incorporated into the city limits and the housing project is the infinitely more egregious insult to the rural character of the county. The site plan, which shows the tops of the hills being sheared off for building pads, is truly heartbreaking. Let's pray they lose the coming battle with their city neighbors to the east and the Truchards (who seem to be the county ideal of the family farm vintner) to the west. The housing developer's letter does just look like harassment in retaliation for the Truchard's opposition to their project. (The Truchard's opposition letter (at the bottom here), however, is a dead ringer for all of the letters we have written opposing tourism wineries these last 3 years). The best outcome, of course, would be for both to abandon their development plans in order to preserve "the sheer natural beauty of this place".

Napa Oaks II DEIR
Truchard documents Item 8B here

Update 3/1/17: Napa Oaks Development
The Greenbelt Alliance, an organization dedicated to preserving open space in an urbanizing world for 60 years, has just issued a 2017 report At Risk: The Bay Area Green Belt which features the Napa Oaks Project as open space under threat of development. (No mention of Walt Ranch?) More here from the Stop Napa Oaks group.

Stop Napa Oaks petition
Stop Napa Oaks Facebook Page

LTE 6/10/16: Development will have huge impact
LTE 5/4/16; A test of character
LTE 5/3/16: Don't destroy gateway to Napa
LTE 4/18/16: Development would scar the land
NVR 5/3/16: Homebuilder revives plans for rejected Napa development
Napa Oaks II DEIR
NVR 8/1/12: Neighbors demand study of Napa Oaks II hillside subdivision

In true developer fashion this project is named for the environment it destroys. (I grew up in an LA suburb called Sherman Oaks, none of which remained). A part of the oak studded hills that define the rural character of the Napa Valley is to be littered with suburban McMansions. The immediate question when looking at Google maps is why this parcel is within the city limits, surrounded as it is on 3 sides by identical county open space. Not as bad as the absurd Napa gerrymander of Stanly Ranch, but still one of those unfortunate bumps in the urban-rural line that just invites urban expansion into the countryside.

The battles of communities throughout the county these last two years to maintain what is left of Napa's rural character in the face of a resurgence in developer zeal and money has been both heartening, because the desire still exists to retain this place as separate from the rest of the suburban sprawl of the bay area, and discouraging in that governments seem ever more willing to sacrifice that character to developers' interests.

9/4/16: Andersen Ranch Development

Now a second housing project, by the same developer pursuing the Napa Oaks project, is proposed to carve up more of the few remaining Oak Hillsides within the city:
NVR 9/4/16: Planners endorse 37 east Napa homes despite privacy, tree concerns

Fire now Ice on: Soda Canyon Road

Lauren Griffiths - Mar 11,21  expand...  Share

I thought you might enjoy seeing pictures of upper Soda Canyon yesterday. We had a hail storm that lasted for quite awhile!

End of an era? on: Campaign 2022

Bill Hocker - Mar 4,21  expand...  Share

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

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 govenments - how to create ever more jobs, housing, infrasturcture and the mirage of more government revenue.

The two Napa County supervisors retiring prior to the coming 2022 election, District 3 Supervisor Diane Dillon and District 1 Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, are the vestages of the prerservation agenda. Uncoincidentally their districts contain the vast bulk of vineyard acerage 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.

The Caves at Soda Canyon wants more tourism on: The Caves at Soda Canyon

Bill Hocker - Feb 19,21  expand...  Share

A County courtesy notice has just been sent out for a proposed major modification of the use permit for The Caves of Soda Canyon. The notice is here.

The request is to increase visitation for seven months of the year from 70/140* vis/wk to 250 vis/wk, and visitation for the rest of the year from 70/140* vis/wk to 80 vis/wk, add 7 parking places, add 7 more employees, and a continuation of the road and street exceptions for its very substandard driveway.

The winery is an icon in the county for its chutzpah incrementalism, use-permit non-compliance and neighbor aggravaiton on a remote and difficult-to-access site that should never have been used for a custom crush facility.

* Note there is some concern at to why the allowed visitation was increased from 70 to 140 vis/wk at the time that the appeal of the generator issue was resolved on 2/27/18, desite no request to increase visitation. I'll have more once the county has clarified what happened.

Anthem Winery Appeal at the BOS on: Anthem Winery

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

Update 1/28/21
NVR 1/28/21: Anthem winery wins Napa County approvals in winery growth battle

Another loss for rural residents in their battles against the pernicious impacts of the wealthy pursuing their dreams of being goodlife impresarios.

It is perhaps a coincidence that the article on Sup. Dillon's decision not to run for re-election, happened one day after the Anthem hearing in which she was the one supervisor to vote against its approval. "I have a suspicion that there will be [at least] three votes to approve this," she said near the beginning of her comments. There was a wearyiness as she enumerated her concerns about the project, the verifiable and obvious lack of water, the fire danger posed by such a substandard access route in an age of fire, and the use of exceptions to (i.e violations of) county ordinances to make the project feasable.

The two events are not directly related, of course, but one could easily imagine a link. She is the one member of the board that rose out of the battles to prevent agrictural land and open space from being developed. That battle is being lost with each new tourist attraction, warehouse, hotel, housing and deforestation project that the growth-centric board majority now supports. Those projects will induce more development and the cascade of urbanization -- unrestrained by the preservationist ideals that created and defended the Ag Preserve -- will eventually dominate the life and environment of the county. The slow demise of Napa's vineyards and woodlands will not be a pretty sight. To remain on the board with that inevitability, would be a wearying prospect, indeed. On the other hand, it is a better position from which to protect the ag legacy than from the sidelines.

The owner of Anthem is a member of Coalition Napa Valley, the small group of winery owners and developers who wish to abandon the limitations on winery visitation in county ordinances and general plan that hobble their ambitions. The group's (so far only) champion on the Board seems to be its current chair, Sup. Pedroza. It is a group so fervent in their tourism ambitions that even the wine industry 'stakeholders' who created the tourism carveouts in Napa's unique definition of agriculture are not yet on board. The group is led by Dario Sattui, developer and major-domo of Castello di Amorosa, Napa's biggest tourist attraction. It is possible that someone from the group, perhaps the aggressive Mr. Sattui himself, will run for Sup. Dillon's seat in 2022. That is also a wearysome prospect.

One other dissuasion from seeking re-election: having to listen to 3 minutes of truly ugly vitriol from James Hinton at each meeting.

Unfortunately, the Board majority's lack of concern about the fire dangers of Anthem's access constraints does not bode well for our own Soda Canyon goodlife dream project when it returns to the board for review sometime this year.

Update 1/24/21
The Anthem Winery appeal is coming up before the Board of Supervisors this Tues., Jan. 26, 2021.

After approval by the Planning Commission one year ago, the appeal of that decision by neighbors is being heard by the Board of Supervisors.

Appeal Documents
BOS 1/26/21 agenda
Staff letter for Appeal
Hearing Notice
Project Appeal Documents
Video of 2/5/20 PC Meeting
Agenda for 2/5/20 PC Meeting

One appellant has forwrded this list of specific issues on the Anthem project:

Some Areas of Concern

Water security. Almost every property surrounding Anthem has wells that have gone dry and now need to truck water or have low performing wells. Both Dry Creek Road and Redwood Road are designated by the County as “areas of interest”, meaning they have scarce groundwater. If you are one of these neighbors, please report on your water situation. I request the County delay the erosion control plan for new vines for three years until it is clear there is enough water to run the winery as well as to irrigate the vines they already have.

Driveway: The proposed driveway and bridge do not conform to Cal Fire Board of Forestry fire safety standards. The Board of Forestry requires that a driveway be a minimum of 20 feet wide so an exiting vehicle can pass a fire truck in the case of fire. The County has approved 1700 lineal feet of the driveway, which is 14 to 18 feet wide, a proposed one-way bridge with no required turnouts on either side, and there are further exceptions for the substandard 18 to 20% grades. The fire consulting engineering firm REAX , retained by appellants Jeff Atlas and Paul Rowe, has recommended that no more than 50 people be at any one event. The winery has been permitted for one 100 person event. They are also planning to build another 650 feet of driveway on a steep hillside in which they will need to cut about 60 trees and grade soils prone to landslide and erosion. Appellants are telling the County and Anthem: the driveway does not fit.

Oak savanna: Anthem decided to ignore and redefine the meaning of the legally recorded tree easement protecting ancient valley oaks by planting the savanna. They are also threatening the trees' survival by planting too close to the dripline and drilling wells within the savanna’s midst.

Caves: One of the largest caves in the County for a 30,000-gallon winery, the winery already permitted for far more wine than they can grow grapes on site. The plans for disposing of the tailings appear to be erroneous.

Please see the attached last page of the staff report for the September 1, 2020 meeting. The last paragraph says it all. "given the local context of the winery site, site constraints, water supply, the extent the site would need to be manipulated to provide adequate access and accommodate an expanded winery and visitation levels, and the requests and exceptions necessary to accommodate the expanded winery, this site may not be appropriate for a winery of the requested size and visitation level. "

Anthem is one of numurous winery projects that have been vehemently opposed over the last 7 years by rural communities who's quality-of-life is threatened by a winery event center in their neighborhood: Yountvile Hill, our own Mountain Peak, Woolls Ranch, Girard, Raymond, Hard Six, Aloft, Caldwell, Scarlett and others. In addition, in that period, are the mega projects, Walt Ranch and Syar Quarry that have galvanized neighbors intent on protecting their rural communities. Each project has been legally argued on the basis of very specific impacts, necessitating the involvment of lawyers and consultants to show that the project will comply with or violate some aspect of county code. Never are they argued on the basis of the loss of rural tranquility that has attracted many to live in the county.

County ordinances are created with developer underwriting to codify the conditions that will allow development to happen, never to codify the value of undeveloped land. It is the development threat to Napa's agricultural, small town quality-of-life that is at the center of resident concern about every project in this 7 years -- as it was to the establishment of Napa as an agricultural preserve 50 years ago. Since the election of Bill Dodd as Supervisor 20 years ago, that commitment to preservation over development has been losing ground, figuratively and literaly, "Once it's gone, it's gone", Sup. Pedroza reminded us about the agricultural-watershed-open-space land protected by a previous generation of county leaders. With each new development project he and other Supervisor approve, it continues to go.

Anthem Appeal letter on: Anthem Winery

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


I would ask you to reconsider the approval of the Anthem Winery project by the Planning Commission and uphold the appeal of neighbors who will be impacted by imposition of this public facility in the midst of their rural community.

There are technical grounds to uphold the appeal; at the end of the Staff letter to you, while recommending support of the Planning Commission decision, Staff also leavened their advice with this contradictory qualification:

"[G]ven the local context of the winery site, site constraints, water supply, the extent the site would need to be manipulated to provide adequate access and accommodate an expanded winery and visitation levels, and the requests and exceptions necessary to accommodate the expanded winery, this site may not be appropriate for a winery of the requested size and visitation level."

For those of us on Soda Canyon Road, the question of access constraints became very real during the 2017 Atlas fire. Just before the fire, the Board approved findings for a similar winery project proposed near the end of road. The findings concluded that emergency ingress and egress on the road would not be a problem in the event of an emergency. A downed tree at the start of the fire quickly gave lie to that finding. Emergency vehicles could not move up the road. Residents could not exit as the fire surrounded the road. It was a near catastrophe.

In the Anthem project, one look at the one-lane bridge and the 17' wide driveway leading to it on the site plan, and at the 20% grade to be surmounted on the route, should be enough to question the wisdom of accommodating dozens of vehicles for events and visitation and for the passage of heavy trucks needed for production and response vehicles needed for emergencies. The narrowness of the driveway, and its steep gradient, is testimony that this access to the site was never intended for commercial and industrial traffic. It is a driveway for a private residential estate.

The findings for the project indicate that the exceptions in road width, road gradient, bridge width, turnout accommodation, are all acceptable because of a fairly elaborate system of electronic and static signs use to direct one-way traffic and to limit road usage in the event of an emergency. Also necessary is the training of employees in how to operate and implement the system.

Can an emergency evacuation really be so predictably choreographed? People fleeing in fear of their lives are unlikely to pay attention to signs. Employees in the midst of a chaotic event may have limited experience, information, time and concentration to implement the optimal evacuation plan. And external events -- a power outage, a stalled vehicle, a downed tree as happened on Soda Canyon Road, may instantly foil any emergency plan.

The findings for the Anthem road exceptions are not a simple as finding the county's RSS's to be an acceptable level of safety, even though those standards proved inadequate in the Atlas fire. In this case, the Board must find that the various exceptions and mitigations -- accommodating a sub-standard road width, accepting a sub-standard road gradient, use of a one-lane bridge, use of an elaborate electronic signage system, the use of staff to make evacuation decisions -- will insure the safety of visitors and staff in an emergency. It is, in fact, taking a leap of faith that all will go as planned in a severe event, and the county will bear some responsibility if things do not go as planned.

As Staff noted in its qualification, it is not just the question of safe ingress and egress that makes this project problematic. There are numerous reasons to question its approval. (Unstated, of course, is the issue at the heart of all projects that eventually end up before you: the impact that tourism -- as opposed to real agriculture -- poses to the quality of life treasured by rural residents.)

But given the increasing frequency of fires, now an inherent part of living and doing business in the county, the issue of fire safety for the general public in the approval of commercial building sites should be of paramount concern. Hopefully, you will begin to revisit your interest in promoting tourism attractions in the fire prone areas of the county. You should start with this project.

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Road

Tourism going up on: Tourism Issues

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

Update 3/13/21
NVR 3/13/21: Privacy's group sues Napa County over hot air balloon launch increase

Update 1/15/21
NVR 1/15/21: Napa supervisors grant Balloons Above the Valley more launches

The Board split along its pro-development faultlines with Sups. Pedroza, Ramos and Gregory supporting more tourism and Sups. Dillon and Wagenknecht pushing back on the ever increasing commercial business use of lands zoned for agriculture. The problem is that once you officially define tourism as an essential element of the wine industry, as has happened in Napa County, it's difficult to exclude those tourism uses that go beyond the restaurants, event venues and amusement parks (like Castello di Amorosa) currently allowed on ag zoned lands.

NVR 1/11/21: Once thought decided, winery and hot air balloon issues are having new life in Napa County

Barry Eberling, reporting in the Register about the upcoming "Balloons Above the Valley" appeal hearing at the Board of Supervisors on Jan 12, 2021 (item 13B here), links to other projects coming before the Board which, taken together, represent a broad issue: the pushback of residents trying to to prevent the commercialization of their communities in a county now more devoted to urban development than rural protection. Each project, like the remote Mountain Peak winery proposal on our fire ravaged road, has its own specific issues that have brought them to the Board, a couple with a detour through the courts that question the Board's previous approvals. But since these legal battles must be fought on very specific issues, the more general issue of loss of community quality of life that each development represents often goes unsaid. Yet it is at the core of the anger makes residents willing to spend the vast amount of time and money needed to fight them. Unlike developers, residents get no tax writeoff for their efforts or the promise of money returned on their investment. Their only reward is the maintenance of the quality of life that they feel they have found in rural Napa County, "the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure" in the words of the Napa County General Plan vision statement. In its rush to promote tourism, housing and industrial development in the name of "growth", the Board of Supervisors no longer embodies that vision.

While each new year I feel like giving up on this quixotic effort to document the progression of urbanization in Napa (and thereby feel I'm doing what I can), an article like Mr. Eberling's comes out, or the Planning Commission makes a good decision like "Balloons", or the Board steps back from its development zeal, just enough to show that the ideal of retaining Napa county as a rural refuge in the greater bay area still has some currency; and I go on adding to the site.

The Lost Cause on: Growth Issues

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

It has been almost 7 years since the letter-of-doom showed up in our mailboxes at the top of Soda Canyon Road. Someone wants to build a tourist attraction at the center of our remote, rural paradise. The letter began a crash course in Napa's land use polices, past, present and future. And in the byzantine workings of the county government. And of CEQA law and of lawyers and consultants and the meanings of "less than significant" and "mitigation" and the county's bizarre definition of "agriculture".

We are still at it on our particular project. Depending on court rulings our battle may be over soon, or it may drag on for another couple of years. But the attempt, in the many battles over the last 7 years chronicled in this blog, to keep Napa from becoming the Las Vegas of wine has probably failed. For the concerned citizens that have shown up at Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings, and have funded and presented costly project appeals, and have protested and signed petitions and written letters and worked to elect officials and pass initiatives all aimed at slowing ongoing urbanization in a county nominally committed to rural preservation, it is too little too late. It has been like filling sandbags to protect against a tsunami of development lust washing into the County wanting to fill up the open space and cash in on the rural heritage left by 50 years of preservation policy.

In that 7 years, the visual changes have been noticeable but not overwhelming. A few more wineries occupying the vineyards, more buildings poking out of ridgelines. A few more bare patches in the forested hillsides for vineyard estates. More noticeable are the warehouses taking over the southern wetlands and acres of vineyards taking over the southern rolling oak woodlands; the urban areas beginning to fill up with apartment buildings and shopping centers; downtowns increasingly ceded to a transient population; the increasing loss of affordable housing and local businesses when the tourist dollar sets the price of everything; and, of course, the traffic.

But for all that has been built up in the last 7 years, the real end of Napa as a rural place is in the projects approved, or in the pipeline, yet to be realized. Perhaps 100 new winery-event centers. 3000 hotel rooms. 4000 housing units. 4 million sf of commercial space. Coming soon.

At one point in the history of Napa County, the interests of residents and the "wine industry" coincided; the growers and wine makers that built the industry were also residents with a committment to the place they wanted to live. In approving the Ag Preserve Ordinance of 1968 a supervisor stated that the ordinance reflected the wish of the people "to create the environment in which they wish to live, and for future generations."

But as the industry has become an economic powerhouse it has moved to corporate and plutocratic ownership with less interest in a preservation ethic that stands in the way of economic expansion and increased profits. As perhaps with every other local government on earth, Napa County now protects the economic interests of developers over the quality-of-life interests of its residents. Residents now look in vain to the hollow rhetoric of the Napa County General Plan enacted by that previous generation to preserve "the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure." The concept of the Ag Preserve, as becomes more apparent with each new building project approved by the Planning Commission, is history.

Coalition Napa Valley on: The Winery Glut

Bill Hocker - Dec 10,20  expand...  Share

Update 12/18/20
NVR 12/18/20: Napa supervisors won't consider major winery rule changes
NV2050 LTE 12/15/20: Don't use pandemic to erode winery regulations

It seemed as if Sup Pedroza was the only Board member supportive of the effort by Coalition Napa Valley (most of its members having generously supported him for reelection) to gut the winery regulations that have attempted to keep winery tourism from dominating the wine industry for 30 years. Even the traditional "stakeholders", NVV, Winegrowers, Farm Bureau and Grapegrowers, normally not inhibited when it comes to direct-to-consumer marketing, were unwilling to back the suspension of the WDO that they had spent so many years negotiating. Is there a renewed recognition in the industry that there may be a downside to opening the tourism development floodgates on an agriculture based economy? Is it a recognition, as others have suggested, that the industry needs to find a different method of marketing their wares than the boom-and-bust strategy of at-winery sales? Unlikely. Coming out of the pandemic there will be enormous pressue from the industry to loosen the WDO, just as happened after the 2008 recession, to allow more tourism to make up for a lost year of revenues. This seems more like a battle over who will be controlling the process.

In a notable intrusion to the proceeding, Save the Family Farm members phoned in to make their case for winery-less visitation and sales on their properties. A financial mechanism, supported by the government, does need to be found to allow independent small winemakers and their farms to survive. They represent the authenticity that has been lost in the corporate-plutocrat-tourism model that the wine industry has become. Unfortunately, relying on bringing even more tourists each year into the county, and into every private rural neighborhood, should not the answer. The Supes seem reluctant to even listen to their concerns, perhaps a recognition of just how locked in they are to the stakeholder view of the industry.

Update 12/10/20
At their 12/15/20 meeting, the County Board of Supervisors will take up the proposal of Coalitiion Napa Valley to essentially eliminate the regulation of visitation that has been in place since 1990. They seek an unlimited restriction of the Napa's tourism-based marketing model in the future in response to the collapse of the tourism industry today. (Item 10A here) Planning Director Morrison has presented a chart of actions that would be required to change the ordinances and the General Plan to accomodate the group's wish list -- a mere 895 hours of staff time and the decimation of the preservationist soul of the county defined in the battle between agriculture and tourism for the last 5 decades.

It has become fairly obvious that those trying to preserve the rural character of Napa County have been losing the battle as building developments and tourism expansions continue to be approved. Enacting the Coalition Napa Valley wish list would represent one more concession to development interests that have already become the norm from the Planning Commission and the Board. At best it would be an accelation of the evisceration of the county's preservation policies. At worst it might be eventually be seen as the coup de grâce to Napa's rural agricultural protections.

Update 12/2/20
George Caloyannidis LTE 12/1/20: Wineries seeking advantage in a crisis

In a related development, Castello di Amorosa, Dario Sattui's mega-tourist trap, has recently submitted a request for a modification of its use permit that would allow
"Recognition of visitation levels exceeding previously permitted levels; recognition of employee levels exceeding previously permitted levels; recognition of conversion of the farm management office and barn for winery use; recognition of conversion of areas of the winery originally approved for production use to hospitality use; recognition of parking spaces exceeding previously permitted levels and add additional parking spaces; permit on-premises consumption."

This has to be the poster child for the "recognize and allow" process established by the BOS after APAC (recommendation 4 here) to legalize production, visitation and construction beyond the limits of existing use permits, with no penalty and often with an approval to expand operations even beyond those being done illegally. The county has for years, apparently, turned a blind eye to the flouting of use permit restrictions, even for wineries as hard to ignore as the Castello di Amorosa.

Update 11/17/20
Patricia Damery LTE 11/17/20: Don't loosen the rules that protect our environment

G/VRA response 11/4/20: Loosening restrictions on hospitality industry would be a mistake
NVR 10/22/20: Hurt by the pandemic and wildfires, some Napa Valley vintners request loosening of winery regulations

Much like the recession of 2008 which decimated the market for $100 bottles of wine, the pandemic and fires of 2020 have decimated the tourism market created to mitigate the recession's losses. In both cases vintners have lobbied to ease restrictions on tourism marketing to improve their profitablility. Oddly the pandemic has caused a spike in retail and online wine sales, but the Napa Wine industry having spent all its energies in the last 12 years trying to promote tourism as their business model rather than promoting a strong retail presence elsewhere, is suffering.

The eternal battle between tourism development and agriculture in Napa Valley has recently produced two wine industry groups specifically to represent each side in the debate. Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture (G/VRA) represents the side of the industry attempting to restrain tourism, woodland conversion and climate change that they feel poses a theat to the rural heritage and agricutural viability of Napa County. Coalition Napa Valley (CNV) sees the future of the wine industry in the unfettered expansion of vineyard acerage and the development of tourism as the means to market wine. The two groups coalesced in the fight over woodland protection vs. vineyard development in Measure C.

But the tourism stances draw on the personal experiences of the founders. Mega-grapegrower Andy Beckstoffer, of the G/VRA, had to confront, just like many residents in the county, the prospect of tourism revelry in his backyard with the expansion of the Raymnond Winery by the bon-vivant wine impresario Jean-Charles Boisette.

Members of the CNV have roots in their own grievances with neighbors over their event center ambitions and with the county over their disinterest in staying within the law. Chuck Wagner was fined by the county for exceeding his production capacitiies. Ryan Waugh was reprimanded by the county over illegal construction. Dario Sattui is quite literally trying to turn Napa Valley into Disneyland, and Stuart Smith just can't bear government meddling in his property rights. A couple of other members have been stalled for years in battles with neighbors over their winery ambitions.

But like Measure C, it is a fight beyond personalities. It is the fight over the future character of Napa County: either a world reknowned wine making region for the ages tightly regulated, as the wine regions of France are, to prevent urban development, or else, in the American style, a Las Vegas of wine where the principal industry is tourism and vineyards survive only as photo backdrops in travel agency brochures. It is a fight, unfortunately, that I am more and more certain has already been won by developers and entrepreneurs seeking a better return on investment from the land than agriculture can provide.

Gary Margadant writes:
Coalition Napa Valley - WHO are they and what do they want?

Last week, the GSA (BOS) had a discussion and action where they realized a problem of membership on the Advisory Committee when Harvest Duhig submitted a resignation letter. Harvest was the sole representative of the Coalition Napa Valley on the Advisory Committee. The letter was not made public, but the contents were recounted in the Staff Report stating that Harvest requested Jeri Hansen (Gill) replace her as the CNV rep.
Some complications quickly boiled to the surface as recounted in the Staff Report, so the Bylaws needed changing in 2 areas, 1) to designate 5 seats specifically earmarked for 5 industry groups, and 2) direct member replacement of an agency or group.

Before the change, the GSA was not required to replace an in kind member of an agency or group. OOPS , we gotta change the rules, to avoid confusing the public with any possibility of their choice coming under consideration.

This Kerfuffle led to questions of CNV ---- Who are they and what are they advocating for? David Morrison said he has met with CNV before but would NOT name the members of the coalition. No responses of clarification from any supervisors, although Diane Dillion later admitted she knew who they were but would not reveal their names.

This is a real muddy pool of transparency. I searched for information on CNV and only found 2 documents. The 2018 white paper to the BOS from CNV following the culmination of the BOS Strategic Plan and their suggestions for issues of the SP. This document lists the membership of the CVN at that time.

The second doc, the CA 461 (Major Donor and Independent Expenditure Committee Campaign Statement) from 6/5/18 show the group listed as an Association (but not a business entity) with no 410 (statement of Organization) filed with the CA SOS office. The responsible Officer of the CNV is Tom Davies, the CEO of V Sattui Winery

So who within the Association doled out the $ to make the $50,000 contribution to the Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture on the 461. The donors are hidden within the Association.

I have spoken with the CA FPPC and been advised that Napa County should receive a courtesy copy of any 410. I need to follow up next week.

CNV White paper summary
GSPAC bylaws changes to accomodate CNV
CNV White paper for the 12/16/18 Napa Strategic Plan

share this page