County General Plan Circulation Element Update
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Bill Hocker | Feb 3, 2019

Update 2/5/19
NVR 2/5/19: Napa County wants to protect Upvalley from wider roads

After a last minute flurry of text changes to appease Napa Valley Vine Trail and Napa County Bicycle Coalition lobbyists, the General Plan Circulation Element Update was approved by the Supervisors.

I think that the Vine Trail, and the promotion of bicycling as one more recreational experience in the Valley, may benefit some residents hardy enough to walk or bike or scooter (or golf cart!) a distance to work or who seek an alternative to the gym. But, imagining the number of families encouraged to drive here from afar in SUVs loaded with bicycles solely to enjoy such a well promoted attraction, I fear the effort will do little to reduce the county's traffic congestion or GHG's. Nor will the other modest policies and mitigations of the Update, that largly encourage more urban development as a cure for the traffic impacts of previous urbanization.

Update 2/3/19
NVR 2/3/19: Napa County supervisors to tackle traffic issues
BOS meeting on the issue Tues, Feb 5, 2019, 9:00am

Update 12/19/18
The Circulation Element was approved by the Planning Commission and found to be consistant with the ALUC Plan.
The video of the 12/19/18 hearing is here
The markup Circulation Element is here showing changes
Public Comments

The most interesting of the public comments is the Department of Transportation letter. While the wine industry keeps touting their "data" that only 20% of Napa's traffic goes in and out of winery driveways, the Department of Transportation has a less sanguine view of impact of tourism traffic to the Napa Valley. Their comments on tourism, the most extensive of the letter are worth noting:
"Wine tourism produces significant economic benefits for the County and State but is also a significant contributor to VMT and other transportation impacts. We are concerned about the direct and cumulative impacts from the expansion of the wine industry and related tourism sector, and that without significant mitigative action, the County's policy goals will not be reachable ...

The County should study implementing both a fast, convenient transit service from San Francisco to Napa, so tourists aren't forced to rent cars to reach their destinations, and a bus/transit loop that stops at the most visited wine and hospitality destinations. This could be modeled on the hop on/off bus services that run in most major cities. Such a service could also benefit the employees of wineries and hospitality sites, especially if paired with express bus service from residential areas."

Their suggestions obviously posit a concentration of wine tourism activities, as do other letters. Policy CIR-3 recommends urbanized areas for new commercial development, but since the County refuses to consider winery tourism to be a commercial activity, it has no policy on their placement. The County's lack of a policy, in fact, encourages new wineries that disperse visitors and hospitality employees into areas of the county more remote and less costly than the main tourism zone. Not only does that substantially increase VMT to access tourism venues, but when visitors or employees must travel the last miles on remote hilly roads not served by public transport, they are unlikely to choose alternative transport to get to Napa in the first place.

Update 12/6/18
The Update to the Circulation Element of the Napa County General Plan is going through its next public review process. On Dec 19, 2018 it will be presented to the Planning Commission at 9:00am, and then to the Airport Land Use Commission at 11:00am.

Meeting agenda and documents
Redline markup of Circulation Element
Public comments on the May 8 meeting

Comments may be submitted from Sat, Dec 8 through Tues, Dec 18 2018 to John McDowell at

A Supplement to the EIR for the update gives the broad outline of its intent:
"In general, the revised text in the current Draft Circulation Element reflects the recent shift in transportation planning principles, wherein less emphasis is placed on modifying the roadway network to optimize automobile movement. Instead, emphasis is placed on maintaining the existing system; ensuring adequate and safe transportation options for all users, regardless of income level, age or physical ability; and enhancing the efficiency of the transportation network by reducing single-occupant automobile trips. Cascading benefits of reduced vehicle trips include improvements in air quality and public health, as air pollutants from vehicle emissions are reduced and people are provided better opportunities to utilize more active transportation options (walking and bicycling)."

Restating the concept that growth of the road system is to be shunned in favor of other transport alternatives is good. But it ignores the reality of the situation. 90% of the movement in the county happens over roadways. Reducing Napa's road traffic to, say, 80%, equivalent to the rest of the Bay Area with it's greater density and BART service, would be a laudable goal and a miracle if it actually happened. That still means that the vast majority of new traffic, that created by the enormous quantity of approved but as yet unbuilt building projects in the county (including at least 150 winery projects), will be adding to a road system that is already annoyingly congested. And neither the County nor the Municipalities have given any indication that they are going to curtail the rate at which new projects are being approved.

Where are the new zoning policies, like the original Ag Preserve, in which the goal is to slow development and population growth to "protect the County's rural character"? Instead all of the County's zoning restrictions have been relaxed to allow ever more construction and jobs and people on "agriculturally" zoned land. The commitment to hold the line on roadway enlargement, while a decent goal, rings hollow in the absence of real effort to slow the traffic-generating urban growth that drives the need for road enlargement.

One of the most significant changes in analysis presented in the Update is the change from LOS to VMT in looking at the traffic impacts of projects, a change based on new CEQA guidelines regarding VMT. Rather than concentrating on the congestion created by the project at particular times at intersections (and the mind-numbing atomization of traffic to a particular hour on a particular day), now the total vehicle trips generated by a project becomes the critical element in the analysis. (How the miles traveled in each trip are calculated seems still to be defined.) Policies CIR-37, CIR-38 and CIR-39 all present a commitment to evaluate and to reduce VMT on a project basis.

One argument advanced in the Mountain Peak hearings highlighted the 44,000 6-mile long trips (now down to 36,000) to the winery from the Trail each year which would generate 260,000 VMT, 10 trips around the earth. Much more if the distance from the owner's tasting room in downtown Napa is used. The argument didn't seem to have an impact.

Winery development now taking place is most often driven by their utility (and profitability) as tourism venues rather than processing plants. The use of VMT as a development metric should highlight the wisdom of an approach to tourism planning that is based on transporting guests and employees to even the most remote corners of the county to taste wine and have lunch, rather than concentrating those activities in a more GHG friendly central locations. Is such a distributed development pattern justified when reducing VMT becomes a prime goal in the County's Circulation Element?

POLICY CIR-37 indicates that "the County will support measures that eliminate or reduce the length of vehicle trips." To do that, the policy suggests building more housing so employees can live in-county, shuttles, shared parking with other development, mitigation fees to fund alternative transport. Will new affordable housing actually reduce VMT? Affordable housing funding is dependent on a large increase in overall urban development, as Napa Pipe shows, which brings even greater transport impacts. New market rate homes might be affordable for some workers, but they might also become weekend retreats, Airb&b venues, or bedrooms for SF commuters adding to overall VMT. Shuttles, or an expanded VINE system, may help if they're free (paid for by mitigation fees and TOT perhaps) to compensate for the loss of automobile flexibility. Shared parking lots - little impact. And how much must be charged in mitigation fees to make a difference on the major transportation infrastructure projects ultimately needed to change driving habits. The amount raised would likely be insufficient to fund station signs in a mass transit system.

POLICY CIR-38 asks that proposed projects evaluate their VMT with the aim of reducing that number by at least 15%. "Evaluate their VMT" means that metrics will be established for a standard VMT per project and then that standard will be reduced by mitigations like van-pooling or bicycle racks or charging stations. But how are the standards set? Anything above zero VMT is adding to the problems of climate change. This increases rather than reduces the problem. (And naturally there will be an incentive for consultants to inflate the initial VMT numbers in order to present subsequent reductions.)

What the County's VMT-reduction policies don't consider is a change in zoning to discourage development. The list of potential development projects in the zoning code for AP and AWOS properties is extensive. (Now including Solar Farms!). The best way to reduce VMT is to reduce the potential that development projects will be proposed in areas away from major transport corridors. By limiting even further the potential for building development in the AWOS areas (perhaps by redefining "agriculture" in County code back to its dictionary definition) not only is Napa County doing its bit to curb VMT GHG's, but it is also providing further protection against urbanization so that Napa may remain an agricultural economy for the next 50 years, a goal explicit in the visions of the General Plan and its Elements, but ignored in the planning approval process which concentrates on (often meaningless) mitigations to allow building development to proceed in the face of obvious degradation of those visions.

SCR on the GHG's of Remote Winery Tourism

Original Post 5/9/18
NVR 5/9/18: Imagining a Napa County future of uncluttered roadways? Think again.

The County Planning Commission was given an introduction to the first draft of the new Circulation Element that will eventually replace the current one in the General Plan. Public comments may be submitted to the county staff through June 1st after which the staff will address the comments and produce another draft of the element by this summer. And then there will be planning commission hearings on that draft.

Video and docs of 5/2/18 PC meeting
Existing Circulation Element (2008)
The new Draft Circulation Element
NCTPA Vision2040 Report (2015) with Fehr & Peers study

From the staff presentation it seems that the new circulation element will emphasize policy aimed at reducing Greenhouse gas emissions, and as such will work in tandem with the county's stalled Climate Action Plan which may be taken up by the commission in June.

Commission discussion ranged from more electric charging stations to public transport to more affordable housing and the need for regional solutions. The discussion seemed focused at mitigations for problems we already experience or that can be expected in the future. No one talked about reducing the root cause of traffic increases, i.e. the amount and type of tourism and industrial development occurring in the county that generates more traffic and encourages visitor and employee travel. No one ever discusses the possibility of moving from a growth mentality that assumes an ever larger economy with ever more development to the consideration of policies for a stable economy with a finite limit on growth that gives the opportunity to stabilize emissions and then perhaps find ways to reduce them. Reductions in existing GHGs are hard, production of new GHGs from more development and population importation are way too easy, and a net reduction in GHG production will never be achieved as long as "growth" rather than stability is the goal.

In public comments after the discussion Dave Whitmir, who will shortly be replacing Comm. Basayne on the planning commission, spoke about some initial suggestions in looking at the new policies. Despite a concern over his opposition to measure C, one issue he brought up made caught my attention:
"Regarding Circulation policy CIR 36 (pg 20 here): Should there be an action item for this policy to review the new development approvals and insure that roads are adequate for the demands placed upon them? And I would specifically call out some recent approvals on Soda Canyon and Atlas Peak and the concerns of resident in those areas about whether or not those roads are safe to handle that kind of traffic."

The wording doesn't quite make clear whether he is calling for re-thinking further commercial development on problematic rural roads, or for improving the roads so that these rural areas can be further urbanized. I want to believe the former.

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