Bill Hocker | Jan 11, 2022
Date: January 20, 2022
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.