Bill Hocker | May 12, 2022
On May 17, 2020 the BOS may dismantle the last legal roadblock that has kept the bulldozers out of Walt Ranch. It is unknown what impact the project will have on dwindling water resources, the habitat and movement of wildlife, or for the promotion of more goodlife development in the county's eastern wildlands. It is a very big piece of Napa County and no environmental impact report will every convince many that its impacts are less-than-significant.
Since 2019, in response to concerns raised by Measure C,
Napa County Revised its conservation regulations
the amount of woodland land that can be converted into agricultural use from 40% of a propertiy's area to 30%. The remaining 70% of woodland must be left undeveloped. Also a minimum of 40% of scrubland must remain undeveloped.
Geographer Amber Manfree has argued that there is a loophole. The county looks at contiguous individual parcels under the same ownership as one piece of property when assessing the "70/40 rule" during development. Some of those parcels may retain less of the natural landscape as long as the balance for the aggregated property fits within the 70/40 rule. It is thus an advantage to have or to buy adjacent parcels that are not developed, to be able to max out other parcels that are. The loophole is that once the development is approved, there is little oversite on a per-parcel basis as to which particular acerage was to be restricted from conversion. Years later, particular parcels may be resold and their new owners will submit ECP's to convert land that was protected to allow for over-conversion on other parcels. Or the same owner will submit a new plan for a specific parcel having conveniently forgotten that it was supposed to remain undeveloped.
The latest propossed expansion of Stagecoach Vineyards on Soda Canyon Road by its new owner, Gallo, represents the reality. Many of the parcels that make up Stagecoach are developed well beyond 40% allowed in the 1991 Conservation Regulations. But adjacent parcels not developed were no doubt used as an offset in the 1990's to allow the over-development. Now Gallo is planning to develop some of those parcels.
Walt Ranch is another example. The chart below shows that several of the 35 parcels that make up the project have exceeded the 70/40 rule on a per-parcel basis, though below the limits on the total project. Unlike Stagecoach, Walt Ranch, as I think everyone knows in their heart despite denials, is an estate development project, not a vineyard project. That is what the Halls do to make money
. Wine is a glamorous side business. Once the parcels are sold off to new owners the opportunity for each of them to develop to the 70/40 limit will be difficult to police.
The chart below shows the breakdown by vegetation type and parcel. It is a bit confusing to figure out. Basically 4 of the 35 parcels exceed the 70/40 limit on development area.
Dr. Manfree has also argued in this report
presented during the 2019 Con Reg discussions, that a part of any watershed parcel may already be "undevelopable" because of other con regulations, including setbacks from streams, reservoirs and prohibitions on slopes over 30%. The 70/40 rule should be applied on the "developable area", not to the entire property. She has presented a breakdown of woodland and scrubland for each of the 35 parcels.