To Promote the Health, Welfare and Safety of our Communities by Advocating for Responsible Planning
to Insure Sustainability of the Finite Resources of Napa County.

Welcome to Napa Vision 2050 News

Napa Vision 2050 is a coalition of 14 affiliates in Napa County that have joined together to lobby local governments on current development policies and practices.

As an IRC 501(C)(4) public benefit corporation, it is our mission to Promote the Health, Welfare and Safety of our Communities by Advocating for Responsible Planning to Insure Sustainability of the Finite Resources of Napa County.

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38 posts 

The Caymus Letter

Bill Hocker - May 24, 2017   View on SCR  |    Share

3 days prior to the Mountain Peak appeal hearing before the Board of Supervisors, Chuck Wagner, of Caymus Vineyards, sent this letter to the Board offering his encouragement to deny the appeals. Considering the very slim chance that the appeals would be upheld it was probably an unnecessary gesture, but it represented a chance to perpetuate yet again (see here) a canard that has become widespread among development interests: that a small vocal group of residents was out to kill the wine industry.

As was stated in this response to Rex Stults' similar statement, nothing could be further from the truth. And the truth needs to be reiterated here: residents that oppose these projects are not against the "wine" industry; they are against the non-agricultural urban development that the wine industry is adopting to increase profits from the much more lucrative tourism and real estate industries. The development of wineries as tourism venues and of vineyards as part of housing estates have major impacts on residents and on the county infrastructure way beyond the practice of crop raising and processing.

If tourism and estate development is claimed necessary to the survival of the wine industry we need to see the facts to back up that claim. Many vintners, some of the best in fact, seem to survive in the high end wine business with little or no visitation at all. What percentage of total Napa winery revenues are attributable to at-winery sales, and is that percentage worth the impacts of urbanization, diminished quality of life and high costs resulting from tourism and real estate speculation that the Ag Preserve, Measure J and the WDO were originally intended to counter.

There are many people in the county who are concerned about the changing nature of the wine industry, and the impact of that change on the rural character of the county and the quality of their lives, and that have no interest in "taking down the wine industry". They recognize that the wine industry, built by resident vintners and growers that valued not only the success of their industry but the preservation of their rural communities, has always had the respect of the other rural residents that benefit from the maintenance of a rural environment and small town life that was its product.

But the industry, as the industry itself constantly mentions, is changing. And the nature of that change is toxic to residents who treasure the bucholic pleasure of an agricultural economy. It is difficult to know whether the wine industry is becoming, or is just acting as a cover for, the tourism, entertainment, real estate and consturction interests that are beginning to engulf us all with development. Traffic is only a symptom of a development boom that is filling the vineyards with buildings and parking lots, and clearcutting hillsides for estates, resorts and more vineyards to replace those paved over on the valley floor, and for the tourism conversion of the municipalities that eliminates affordable housing, local businesses and decimates the sense of small-town community life. And for the mining of parklands to build it all.

In a previous generation the wine industry fought the urbanizing trajectory that those industries represent. Urbanization is the death of agriculture. One is left to wonder why now, after 40 some years of the wine industry being the defender of a rural environment, it is now up to the residents, against all odds including the bullying of the wine industry, to try to save the rural environment which an agricultural economy needs to exist.

A couple of years ago, the Napa Valley Vintners launched a PR campaign dubbed Our Napa Valley, casting the urban impacts as solvable with more transport infrastructure and more housing, i.e. more development. Until the wine industry returns to the notion that curbing development is in its own best long-term interest, as well as the interest of all citizens concerned about preserving the rural character of this place, resident anger against the industry and the government that continues to do its bidding will only increase.

Healing Walk on April 29th

NV2050 Admin - Apr 24, 2017   Share

Yes! There is something you can do! Napa Vision 2050 and Napa Climate NOW! are partnering with Healing Walk Napa Valley this Saturday, Saturday, April 29, 2017:

Walk in solidarity with the People’s Climate Marches in Washington DC and around the world!

The walk is a “peaceful pilgrimage rooted in the indigenous philosophy of invoking sacred space to heal the land and its people.”

You have several options: Walk the whole distance (about 9 miles), beginning at 8:30 am, at Yountville Memorial Park, 6453 Washington Street. Sign in and Indigenous Water Blessing Ceremony. 9:00 am depart on 5 mile walk to Las Flores Park. Bring your lunch and drinking water.

Or: Join Healing Walk at Las Flores Park, 11:30 am, 2235 Las Flores Park. 12 noon depart for 4 mile final leg of Healing Walk.

Or: Join walkers at 2:00 pm at Napa Veterans Memorial Park, Main and Third downtown Napa and walk across river to Oxbow Commons.

Or simply join us for Oxbow Commons Healing Walk Rally at McKinstry Street, Napa, for indigenous drumming ceremony, prayer dances and short talks on local watershed and climate justice issues.

For more information:
Or visit on Facebook

Thinking Globally: United Nations Harmony with Nature Project
While our federal government has decided to officially back out of addressing Climate Change, making decisions that will increase global warming, the United Nations and We, the People, have not!

On Friday, April 21, 2017, the results of reports from experts around the world on mitigating the physical, social, and ethical challenges of changing climate were broadcast and are available on demand here.
Learn the universal recommendations to protect the rights of the Earth and her living inhabitants. Information regarding the Dialogue can be found here.

Thank all of you who visited our booth at Earth Day, April 22, 2017!

Napa Vision 2050 supports our County efforts to protect our watersheds, our water, our people! Join us in this coming year to work for a healthy environment in Napa County.

Why You Should Care About the Definition of Agriculture (updated)

Eve Kahn - Mar 20, 2017   View on SCR  |    Share

Update 3/16/17: Editor's note: On Mar 21st 2017 the Board of Supervisors will consider changes to the County Code of Ordinances to reflect 2008 changes to the General Plan which include agricultural processing, tourism processing (marketing) and farmworker housing projects all as part of the definition of agriculture. (item 9H here)

[letter first published in this NapaVision2050 newsletter in Dec 2016]

Prior to the 2008 County General Plan (GP) update, the definition of Agriculture in our County ordinance was quite simple: Agriculture is the growing of crops, trees, and livestock. Many other uses may be permitted/allowed but must remain related, subordinate, and incidental to the main use.

We are a county that has valued our Ag lands. In 1968 the Napa County Board of Supervisors (BOS) put in place the Ag Preserve, the first ever in United States, which protects most of our lands outside of cities and towns from development.

However, the huge success of the Napa wine industry during the 80’s necessitated an ordinance to keep winery development consistent with the protection of Ag Preserve. On January 23, 1990, the Board of Supervisors (BOS) approved the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO). This ordinance defined a winery as an “agricultural processing facility” for “the fermenting and processing of grape juice into wine.” The ordinance also allowed for wineries to sell and market wine, but such marketing activity must be “accessory” and subordinate to production.


Every 10 years the Napa County General Plan (GP) is updated. The Steering Committee for the 2008 update was comprised mostly of industry representatives and winery owners eager to expand their business options. The updated GP, approved by the Board of Supervisors on June 3, 2008, expanded the definition of Agriculture to include not only the raising of crops, trees, and livestock, but also the production and processing of agricultural products and related marketing, sales and other accessory uses. Agriculture now also includes farm management and farmworker housing.

The second event began with the economic downturn of 2008. The wine industry pressured the BOS to include direct marketing as an accessory use of agriculture. The BOS approved this in 2010. This means that VISITATION, WINE AND FOOD PAIRINGS, AND RELATED EVENTS, are consistent with “accessory use of agriculture”.


For parcels zoned Ag Preserve (AP) or Ag Watershed (AW), agriculture is a use “by right” (without a use permit). And the Right-to-Farm ordinance (signed by everyone buying property in Napa County) states that the County will not consider the inconveniences or discomforts arising from agricultural operations to be a nuisance. If you live next to a vineyard or winery, you have to accept the noise, odors, dust, chemicals, and operation of machinery which go along with agriculture. If you object, your alternative is to go to court.


What happens, then, when visitation, wine and food pairings, often four or five course meals, and outdoor marketing events are included in the Definition of Agriculture— not just accessory uses?

Are these marketing events provided the same level of protection under the Right-to-Farm as those of actually farming? Are these uses consistent with the protections of Measure J, the 1990 initiative amending the Napa County general plan that sought to preserve all agriculturally designated land? Any change in agricultural land use must be with voter approval. RESTAURANTS ARE SPECIFICALLY CITED AS GROWTH THAT HAS TO GO INTO THE CITIES OR ONE OF THE VERY SMALL URBAN NODES IN THE UNINCORPORATED AREA, UNLESS VOTERS ARE WILLING TO ALLOW AN EXCEPTION.

What about Housing on Ag lands in this Change of Definition of Agriculture? Who really qualifies as a Farmworker – often called Agricultural Workers? Are the chefs or kitchen/wait staff at wineries and event centers the new Farmworkers? Can high-density housing be built on our Ag Preserve and Ag Watershed lands to accommodate them?

Changing agricultural lands to include expanded commercial uses (by right) violates the intensity of uses and protections under Measure P, which extends Measure J’s protections until 2058.

One of the key phrases in Measure P: to protect the County's agricultural, watershed, and open space lands, to strengthen the local agricultural community and preserve the County's rural way of life. By expanding what is allowed (whether by right or by permit), the rural way of life is/can be destroyed. The number of unintended consequences is significant.

This issue will be coming to the Board of Supervisors soon. Please contact your Supervisor requesting that the definition to Agriculture not be modified until all the unintended consequences are understood.

Diane Dillon
Alfredo Pedrosa
Ryan Gregory
Brad Wagenknecht
Belia Ramos

Highway improvements increase traffic (updated)

George Caloyannidis - Mar 16, 2017   View on SCR  |    Share

Katy Freeway, Huston - never wide enough

Update Editor's note: NVR 3/16/17: Napa officials talk about scrapping Hwy 29 widening in American Canyon

This is one of the few government acknowledgements that road widening doesn't relieve traffic congestion, it enables future development and induces traffic increases to fill the lanes available, a fact already known to traffic researchers. This comes one day after the City of American Canyon presented their plans to widen Hwy 29 to encourage more development. The NVTA director then took issue with the reporting on this article in an editorial here. Kudos to the NVTA.

Dignitaries always flock to ribbon-cutting photo ops, but established traffic findings throw a damper on the champagne.

Research at UC Davis -- one of the best in the nation on traffic studies -- has shown that the widening of traffic arteries does not alleviate traffic congestion. In fact, as Professor Susan Handy who was a contributor to that research explained during her last April's presentation at the NV2050 Forum on the Tourism Economy, the widening of traffic arteries alleviates traffic congestion for between one and two years and then makes congestion even worse than it was before. Though Caltrans has not yet adopted that policy, it has posted it on its website. In the face of overwhelming evidence, it will surely follow in time.

That the widening of arteries alleviates traffic congestion is intuitive but the reason why it makes it worse is more complicated.

During the congestion easing phase, all traffic increasing projects which undergo CEQA review evaluate current traffic conditions and are given a green light on their traffic impacts which they might not have gotten had those improvements not taken place. In other words, more traffic-increasing projects are approved than would have been otherwise. This facilitates more traffic until the previous saturation point is reached. But the net effect is that more traffic is dumped on the side streets of communities and overall congestion gets worse. Not to mention increased parking requirements.

A great example of this pattern is the Highway 29/Trancas Street underpass. For those who remember traffic conditions before those improvements more than a decade ago, there was a bottleneck at that location but nowhere else further Upvalley. That ribbon cutting celebrated the easing of traffic congestion. But here we are today, the percentage of pass-through traffic remains at less than 10 percent, but additional development was facilitated by valid CEQA review and here we are with the intolerable conditions of today.

It is great that the eyesore utilities have been placed underground and that the easier left turns will facilitate better traffic flow for a while, but overall traffic will increase because of them. When the rest of the developed world is abandoning traffic lights in favor of roundabouts, St. Helena will get one more of those traffic-delaying relics to facilitate an unwise development project. Make no mistake; even more development will slip under the CEQA radar during the coveted window and the quality of life of local up-valley communities will suffer.

Sip the bubbly with caution!

Weekly Calistogan 10/4/16: Highway improvements will increase traffic

Concerns over water plan

Stephen J Donoviel - Feb 26, 2017   View on SCR  |    Share

On Dec. 19, 2016, the Register carried on article, "County Touts Water Plans," summarizing the Board of Supervisors' approval of the GSP-Alt plan which (in order to meet the requirements of the California Groundwater Management Act of 2014) is to be submitted to the State Department of Water Resources in lieu of forming a groundwater sustainability agency.

This act, which was designed to prevent unbridled over-draughting of ground water and to afford greater transparency and opportunity for public input, also allowed the procedure chosen by Napa, when various requirements were met. It provided a time period for the public's input, which ended Feb. 14.

Over the past several years, Napa Valley has experienced an ever-increasing growth in the number of vineyards and wineries accompanied by a proliferation in the numbers of wells and demands on ground water as more and more projects have shifted away from dry farming. Also, as proper farm land on the valley floor has been exhausted, more and more parties have sought and received approval by the planning commission and board of supervisors to farm the woodland hillsides which has resulted in the removal of untold numbers (undoubtedly in the hundreds of thousands) of centuries-old oaks from the watershed which in turn affects groundwater.

The presentation on which the Supervisors acted in December stressed that "a central feature of the Act (SGMA) is the recognition that groundwater management in California is best accomplished locally." I think the validity of this assumption is contradicted by the disastrous results in many of California counties, e.g., land sinking up to two inches a month in the Central Valley caused by massive over-draught of its aquifers and a poignant article in the August 2016 issue of the National Geographic, which chronicled the disastrous results for many communities across the entire central portion of our county, caused by the over-draught of the Ogallala/High Plains aquifer. Undue self-interest, greed and political pressure too often override good judgment and scientific analysis when decisions for all citizens are considered.

If one accepts that one of the intents of SGMA was to include the concerns, input and suggested solutions of affected citizens, I think that, despite the hard work and helpfulness of some civil servants, this intent was not met in Napa. Most of the data and conclusions required extensive review of relevant materials for the public to be able to understand and interact in a cogent fashion, which was not possible due to its very restricted availability.

Public meetings were announced with short notice; documents to be discussed and analyzed were in short supply, if available at all, and there was never time (3 minutes usually) for the affected citizenry to engage in meaningful dialog. It was not difficult to leave the meetings/hearings with the feeling that decisions had been made much earlier and the outcome had been a forgone decision.

A major concern involves an issue raised at a meeting of WICC, when one of the commissioners questioned the validity/reliability of the data presented by the consultants and used to support the Alt-Plan, viz., conclusions based on data collected from a very small sample of wells clustered near the Napa River raising the question of "cherry picking" the data.

Another requirement for an Alt-Plan to be acceptable requires evidence of 10 years of sustainable yield of groundwater. It appears this conclusion is not met because it was drawn by intermingling data from different wells across time, which, again, amounts to a major sampling error.

Another issue raised at the WICC meeting continued the use of drain-tile systems and its impact on ground water supplies. The handout indicated they had no data on the subject. However, casual observation suggests that huge amounts of ground water are being pumped into drainage ditches that flow to the Napa River, unlike earlier times when farmers pumped that water into mini-reservoirs/ponds for use during the summer.

The consultants' reports, other documents and presentations at the Board of Supervisors meeting made it clear that GSP-Alt does not apply to all the people living/farming, etc., in the entire county. It excludes our watershed and known locations with poor ground water. In my opinion, this creates a rather bizarre and untenable situation of how our elected officials can provide for necessary and expected governmental services to a large number of residents by excluding them from the plan while, at the same time, despite water rationing, cities and the county continue to "sell" water to certain businesses. Wineries and vineyards continue to be approved despite protests by neighbors -- often numbering in the hundreds -- noting their negative impact on ground water and water-related issues affecting the long-term residents making the rational for such decisions unclear and difficult to understand.

Donoviel NVR LTE version 2/26/17: Concerns over water plan

Concerns over Milliken Dam

Chris Malan - Feb 14, 2017   View on SCR  |    Share

Holes in Milliken Dam

NVR 2/14/17: Holes are the key to protecting concrete dam outside Napa

From: Chris Malan
Date: Mon, Feb 13, 2017 at 8:50 AM
Subject: Milliken Dam
To: Mary Luros, Juliana Inman, Peter Mott , Jill Techel, Keith Caldwell, Alfredo Pedroza, Brad Wagenknecht, Diane Dillon, Ryan Gregory, Belia Ramos, Scott Sedgley

Orville Dam failure reminds us of our own aging Milliken Dam and it’s lack of full structural integrity since 1924.

Several years ago, the State Division of Dams and Safety (SDDS) ordered the owner of Milliken Dam, the City of Napa, to lower the water surface level in the reservoir such that the pressure against the dam would be reduced due to unacceptable long term ‘cracking' in the dam’s concrete structure.

It took many years for the engineers to come up with a design remedy short of lowering or removing the dam itself. The State engineers accepted the City of Napa’s remedy to bore 5 holes in the face of dam in hopes of keeping the water surface level 16 feet below the rim of the dam.

Given the winter storms and the earthquake in Angwin a few days ago I have these questions about Milliken Dam:

  1. How long has the dam been spilling this year? If so, for how long? Do you expect the dam to spill if it hasn’t yet? If so, when?
  2. Are the 5 holes bored in the dam efficiently keeping up with the volume of water coming into the reservoir such that the water surface elevation is kept the required 15 feet below the dam’s concrete rim to reach as required by the SDDS
  3. Are there any new structural failures of the dam? If so, what are they?
  4. When was the last time the Division of Dams and Safety inspected Milliken Dam? When was the last time new recommendations were made? If so, what were they?
  5. Who is the official at the SDDS that inspects Milliken Dam? When did SDDS last inspect the dam? Are the SDDS’s monitoring reports available to the public? If so, please provide a link.

Above Milliken Reservoir
These questions should be answered in a publicly noticed town hall meeting or put on the Napa City Council’s regular agenda.

Not only is public safety of utmost concern, but there is unique and valuable aquatic habitat below the dam. Both interests must be protected ahead of any dam failure possibility.

Given climate change (deluge to drought), increased erosion and runoff from watershed degradation (vineyards in the hills above Milliken Dam), and the age of this defective Dam, I would like to request that this issue be put on the City Council’s agenda for full public disclosure about the status of Milliken Dam.

Please advise.

Thank You,
Chris Malan
Institute for Conservation Advocacy, Research and Education,

Executive Director

Stand up for your rights

Mike Hackett - Jan 29, 2017   View on SCR  |    Share

    "The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any." - Alice Walker

At the women’s rights and anti-Trump rally on Jan. 21, we were all energized by the size, unity and spirit of the assembled citizens. When our congressman, Mike Thompson, spoke of conviction, courage and determination that this is the time to “stand up,” we all roared with strong approval and understanding. We were there to stand up for the rights of women to control their own bodies, the right to adequate health care for all Americans, the right to marry whomever one may choose and the right for all people, of all colors, ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs and socio-economic status to determine their own future; in other words, the right to self-determination without influence from the corrupt and small greedy segment of the one-percenters. These rights are bestowed to all our citizens from the basic structure of our bill of rights and our democratic system of government. They should include every race, gender and class.

I feel compelled to point out that the balance of power is off-kilter not only in Washington, but right here at home in the Napa Valley. I was shocked to read that a wine industry lobby spokesman felt compelled to call Forge Pizza with a “courtesy call,” to tell the owners they shouldn’t be getting in the middle of a dispute between Napa Vision 2050 and the Napa wine industry.

Yes, Vision 2050 is providing the needed resistance to expansion of vineyards into our hillsides, where the future of our water will be determined by whether we can enact and enforce sufficient protections for our watersheds. The environmental groups that comprise Napa Vision 2050 are totally supportive of the wine and tourism industry, but not at the expense of the citizen’s rights to a healthy, sustainable and quality future.

Vision 2050 understands that with climate change, we don’t have the time to allow any more mistakes. 2016 was the hottest year on record, for the third year in a row. If we want to ensure that there’s adequate water supply in the future, we must protect our County’s watersheds at all cost, even if that means capping the allowable deforestation on our hills for more wine grape production.

Portions of the wine industry lobby are, unfortunately, led by that small greedy segment of the very wealthy; by the same kind of bullies that many of us feel are stealing our rights at the national level. The wine industry creates thousands of jobs and donates millions to needy causes. But now some in the industry are turning a blind eye to residents’ rights and are seemingly interested in turning Mother Earth into a toxic, unlivable planet in the name of quarterly profits.

Is our level of democracy at risk right here at home? Yes it is. Last year, when the Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative was drafted and more than 6,300 citizens “stood up” to get it on the ballot, County Counsel mandated it be pulled at the last minute due to a supposed “small legal technicality.”

Most disturbing is that the other two measures that the county actually helped get to the voters, contain these same “legal technicalities.” Why was the watershed initiative jerked from the ballot? It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that the long arm of the bully segment within the wine industry reaches deeply into our county political machine, perhaps because some within the industry saw this initiative as a real threat to their continued vineyard expansion into our hillsides, at the expense of our watersheds. The issue will be decided in the Court of Appeal this summer.

One need look no further than the friends who have filed in support of the watershed initiative to understand what’s at stake: California Native Plant Society, California Wildlife Foundation, Corporate Ethics International, Environmental Defense Center, Forest Forever, Forest Unlimited, Greenbelt Alliance, Save the Bay, Planning and Conservation League, Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks, Environmental Protection Information Center and Sierra Nevada Alliance.

This watershed initiative example and the fundraiser show that democracy is in trouble in Napa County. If a small group dedicated to a sustainable future can’t even hold a fundraiser without being attacked by big business, we need to “stand up.” Local businesses should not be forced to pick a side when it comes to supporting a sustainable future for Napa County. Why would holding a fundraiser for a small community group alienate the wine industry lobby?

This is a clear illustration of the over-sized influence this industry has in our community. Local residents have a right to organize and share information about a sustainable vision for our community. What’s at stake on the national level is exactly what’s at stake here at home. So let’s all “stand up,” right here, right now, to ensure our democracy shines with a brilliance never seen before.

NVR LTE version 1/29/17: Stand up for your rights

American Canyon Under the Bus

George Caloyannidis - Jan 1, 2017   View on SCR  |    Share

Where your Napa Valley experience begins

For some time now, many of us have been pointing out both in the press and in testimony at the Board of Supervisors what is now evident to anyone living in the Napa valley that the protections mandated by the State throughthe California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) have been falsely applied byNapa County and our up-valley cities in as much as they have consistently been applying very limited radius of impacts and neglecting to observe the mandated cumulative impacts of "future, likely projects" labeling them as"speculative". How speculative is it that one day someone will build a home,a winery, a hotel on an appropriately zoned property they own when a neighboring property has received similar approvals?

Anyone doubting the effects of this failure, can experience the nightmare of Napa valley traffic as compared to just a decade ago. And yet, though through-traffic has remained steady below 10%, our officials have been telling the public that all the projects they have been approving from winery visitations to resorts and hotels have "less than significant"impacts or that their impacts have been mitigated. At this point, only ourSupervisors continue to live under this illusion. And it is not just traffic. This extends to less obvious impacts on the rest of the general infrastructure which will come home to roost at the cost of tens and hundreds of millions.

From a wider county-wide perspective, the motivation is also that of any given jurisdiction bullying itself to infrastructure share advantage. Which brings us to the victimization of American Canyon.

As an example, just the two approved Calistoga resorts will generate 2,900 daily vehicle trips, added to the County's bit by bit tens of thousands of winery and events visitors. These approvals never cared to factor in their impacts on American Canyon as they should have. Now a mere 6,300 peak hour vehicle trips the three American Canyon projects will generate, pose almost insurmountable CEQA mitigations thanks to years of myopic government policies.

If one were to roll back the clock by several decades and had considered where most residential, commercial and industrial development in the county ought to have been, it is obvious American Canyon would have been the choice, leaving agricultural lands in true conservation status and the three small up-valley towns as true to character as possible. Most large commercial activity as the Napa Airport Corporate Center and the Napa Logistics Park and the 1,250 homes and apartments at Watson Ranch and space for others for affordable housing in sufficient numbers, would be in the least impacting location. That model would have required leadership towards some revenue sharing, a leadership we never got.

Now as late comer to the game, American Canyon realizes it has been duped by the up-valley gradual, massive accumulation of fake "less than significant impacts" now strangling its ability to develop regionally wise projects, all of which diversify the vulnerable, fluctuating, monoculture-tourist economy we rely on and provide much better paying jobs than it does.

Where has visionary government been?

When will County policies stop being beholden to the wine-tourism special interests? Who will take the lead to develop the comprehensive vision which will safeguard the remaining resource? The already compromised quality of life? Who will muster the courage to say "yes" to the right projects and "no" to the ones CEQA is supposed to insure us against?

The sad reality is, we have run out of infrastructure capacity. Building it out to the 6-lane freeway to Yountville and 4-lane freeway to Calistoga and re-designing dozens of dysfunctional intersections as the County Draft EIR predicted years ago with the full knowledge of the Supervisors, will not only cost hundreds of millions but will deliver the final blow to the Napa valley. This will seal the legacy of decades of county governments.

NVR LTE version 1/4/17: Considering the Impacts

Deforestation in the time of drought

George Caloyannidis - Nov 21, 2016   View on SCR  |    Share

[Letter sent to Napa County Board of Supervisors 11/21/16]

Dear Napa County Supervisors:

I am sure you are aware of the November 18, 2016 U.S. Forest Service Report (attached here) regarding the alarming disappearance of trees in the state of California due to the drought. Not only is the number of 102 million trees lost staggering but even more alarming is the accelerated rate by which this is occurring: "62 million in 2016, a more that 100% increase over 2015 with; millions of additional trees weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years".

The Report goes on to state that "With public safety as its most pressing concern, the U.S. Forest Service has committed significant resources to help impacted forests, including reprioritizing $43 million in California in fiscal year 2016 to conduct safety-focused restoration along roads, trails and recreation sites".

This reality brings up once again the issue on which I have alerted you before: The tools by which projects are analyzed and evaluated in Napa county (CEQA / EIR) are inadequate in assessing the true impacts of projects as they are casting a very limited radius of impacts.

The Napa Land Trust, an organization whose mission and work is appreciated by us all, has saved 57,000 trees through land acquisitions and is supported by the voluntary financial contributions of many of our citizens, and the U.S. Forest Service is supported by the taxpaying public. Yet Napa Cities' and County policies are working in the exact opposite direction, having consistently approved or set to approve the clear cutting of some 30,000 trees in the past two years.

As the most egregious examples, the City of Calistoga approved the cutting over 10,000 mature trees (over and above the approx. 2,500 trees cut through a prior THP for roads) and the Walt Ranch project now before you is seeking to cut another 14,000 trees.

It is obvious that the County's policies are working against rather than in accord with state public policy and ignoring a statewide alarm.

It is imperative that Napa County adopt a more responsible and wider reaching radius and network of impacts when considering projects. That the current myopic tools are inadequate can be experienced daily by all of us - including you - in regards to the disastrous cumulative impacts on traffic as a result of the series of what you have been willing to accept as "less than significant impacts" as certified by the limited CECA and EIR findings and alleged mitigations. Impacts such as the rise of cheap commuting labor demand and the rise of CO2 levels due to stop and go traffic have never been addressed by the findings you deemed credible and have resulted to where we are today.

When the alarming loss of trees in California causes the U.S. Forest Service to raise the alarm in terms of public safety, it is irresponsible for the County to keep approving massive deforestation projects such as Walt Ranch with the sole purpose of accommodating the financial interest of a corporate entity. There are no effective mitigation measures for deforestation.


George Caloyannidis

Walt Ranch BOS appeal and protest Nov 18th

Jim Wilson - Nov 9, 2016   View on SCR  |    Share

NVR 11/15/16: Napa's Walt Ranch vineyard controversy goes to supervisors

Napa County citizens will rally in front of the County Administration Building at noon on Friday, November 18th. The appeal of the approval of the Walt Ranch Erosion Control Plan to the Board of Supervisor will begin at 9:00am

This occasion is the first day of hearings on the appeal against the Walt Ranch project. This project has aroused more ardent public protest than any in our county’s recent history.

The county wants to ignore us-- let's make it harder for them to do so. We'll have signs on hand, or bring your own.

Napa's Sustainable Groundwater alternate

Bill Hocker - Nov 3, 2016   View on SCR  |    Share

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]. [Sorry, but I only received this email after the workshop.]


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"

Is a restaurant agriculture?

George Caloyannidis - Oct 6, 2016   View on SCR  |    Share

Is a restaurant agriculture?

At least this is what Napa County wants them to become.

In the current Napa County Code, "Agriculture and Right to Farm," defines Agricultural Operation to "Include but not limited to...the production, cultivation, growing, breeding, harvesting or processing of any living organism having value as an agricultural commodity or product and any commercial practices performed incident to or in conjunction with such operations on the site where the agricultural product is being produced (emphasis mine), including preparation for market, delivery to storage or to market, or to carriers for transportation to market.”

Hinging on the words "but not limited to,” the County amended this definition in 2010 to include winery on-site sales and events in response to winery claims that marketing conditions had changed. The definition of Agriculture as it was and as it has evolved, makes all subsequent changes in what agricultural operations are, also a right. Quite of note is that any changes in that definition, also become part of the "Disclosure Prior to Transfer of Real Property" which states that: "No person shall transfer real property of or adjacent to agricultural lands without following disclosure as defined (in the Code)…"

Under the guise of "Agriculture,” the alcohol-tourism model has evolved -- whether we like it or not -- with all its associated problems from the lowest wages paid by it and by the booming hospitality industry, to commuters and traffic congestion, water rationing and exorbitant rates, insufficient sewer capacities, all increased infrastructure costs ultimately borne by the public.

Now we are faced with a new wave of changes in the code initiated by pressure from the alcohol-tourism industrial complex.

The most serious changes included in the proposed language as a right are: "The production and processing of agricultural products and related marketing, sales and accessory uses.” Note that the "on-site" agricultural product requirement is removed. Included in the new definition is also "farm worker housing.”

Two issues arise:

1) Housing developments are only permitted in the cities. If we allow farm worker housing in the Ag Preserve, the demand is in the thousands. Apartment buildings in the hills? Sorry, you were warned in the Transfer Disclosure Statement. And who exactly is a farmworker? One who works during harvest with a family of four and stays here employed elsewhere the rest for the year? Make no mistake, this is a backdoor to affordable housing in the Ag Preserve because the cities have consistently stonewalled it.

2) Now that the on-site production of agricultural products will no longer be required, beef, tomatoes or any agricultural product may be imported from anywhere, processed and sold here. Why not the manufacturing and sale of qualifying beauty products, leather goods or even biofuels? Staff argues that the price of land guarantees this will not happen. But relying on "the likelihood of something happening" is not a credible criterion by which narrowly defined activities would be inserted in the Code, which is what an ordinance does.

Which brings us to the certainty of restaurants in the Ag Preserve. What are they if not facilities that "process agricultural products" even though they may be imported from every corner of the earth? And that will be by right.

While the county's use permit process may modify or condition a right, I doubt it has the ability to deny it altogether. Undoubtedly, the courts will have a field day.

The supervisors and everyone living in the Napa valley ought to be apprehensive of opening Pandora's Ag Box of widening the permitted uses with their incremental degradation. It will be the second death nail in six years to the coffin of our Valley as we know it.

NVR 10/6/16: Is a restaurant agriculture?

Between art and reality on oak woodlands

Stephen J Donoviel - Aug 29, 2016   View on SCR  |    Share

Like others, two of the front-page articles in the Aug. 17 edition related to Napa Valley's oak woodlands caught my attention. One concerned "The Memory of a Tree” ("Oak-themed 'Memory of a Tree' mural to adorn Yountville gateway"), about the Yountville residents' wise choice to use the design by artists Sofia Lacin and Hennessy Christophel for murals to grace the Highway 29 underpass and the authorities for providing the resources to complete them.

It appears the artists' conceptual framework recognizes the history and significance of the mighty oaks to Napa Valley as well as their markedly diminishing numbers. This will, I hope, remind all of us, residents and passing tourists alike, of the significant role these disappearing giants play in our well-being by filtering the water we drink and the air we breathe as well as lending beauty to our surroundings.

The second article ("City of Napa, Walt Ranch reach agreement on water quality") centered around one of the major causes of the ongoing and increasing diminution of the oak woodlands, namely destruction/clear-cutting of significant numbers of trees (think filters) to make way for various entrepreneurial projects, e.g., the Walt Ranch (an operation reportedly held by Hall Brambletree Associates from Texas), which is not the only project, but certainly one, if not the biggest due to its size and widespread destruction/alteration of all or at least most aspects of the environment across the huge property.

It seems there is general agreement that the watersheds, particularly the Milliken, which delivers water to the residents of Napa city that is described as "pristine" (water currently being filtered by the mighty oak and other vegetation, the composition and configuration of the geological environment and relative absence of impact of man-generated pollutants), may be negatively impacted if Walt Ranch is allowed to proceed. The article references prior documents that indicated that to maintain the quality of the city water supply fouled by the project, filters costing an estimated $20 million would be necessary and the expense would be passed on to existing water customers.

Reportedly, Walt Ranch officials balked at picking up the tab. It's not clear if this would be a one-time expense or a periodic necessity like replacing the filter on a Brita home filter. For whatever reason, these details/concerns were dropped and city officials agreed to sign off on the project if the county includes requirements that Walt Ranch "monitor runoff water at nine locations and take steps to deal with problems that might arise."

I'm sorry but this seems like a very poor deal for the environment and everyone in it, except those directly connected to the Walt Ranch, because once the geology is disturbed and the tens of thousands of trees are destroyed, there is no going back to nature's filtration systems (not for generations to come) and residents are left with the bill for the filters.

If anyone is interested in seeing the speciousness of the argument that planting saplings (welcome as they are) will mitigate clear-cutting of mature oaks, they can judge for themselves by walking parts of our new bike path, or wander along the Yountville drainage collector outfalls where 10 to 15 years ago county flood control officials planted filling-in saplings along the banks. While they appear to be doing well, having been planted on creek banks, I think no one would argue that they even come close to approaching the size or filtering/soil stabilizing/shade capacity of a mature oak.

Another issue of significant concern, that of the pumping of hundreds of millions of gallons of water from our aquifers, was brought into sharp focus by an article in the August volume of National Geographic titled "To the Last Drop" authored by Laura Parker. The article chronicles in poignant fashion the draining of what is said to be North America's largest aquifer, the Ogallala that spans several central states. Reasons she identifies include the farmers' expansionistic over-farming in the quest for more income (an example, of what I think some politicians refer to as "growth" when occurring with businesses, communities, states, etc.), their unwillingness to self-regulate the amount of water they were pumping, even with the knowledge that, despite rain/snow fall of 50 to 100 percent above average, the aquifer did not recharge to previous levels and wells ran dry, as well as their officials' unwillingness to impose limits.

Maybe Napa County and the rest of the state -- certainly the Central Valley, which is already sinking -- have reached the tipping point where too much of a good thing leads to a disaster like that in the states served by the Ogallala aquifer. As a friend recently queried, "When is enough enough?" If subscribers have not read Ms. Parker's article, perhaps you can find the time to do so and hopefully we will treat "Yountville Tree Mural" with more respect and care than we have been doing with the real ones.

Napa's tourism revenue - the other side

George Caloyannidis - Aug 28, 2016   View on SCR  |    Share

Earlier this year, I visited Florence - generally regarded as one for the most beautiful cities in the world - for the third time since 1965. Its hotels, restaurants and stores are packed with tourists - 14 million of them. Its metropolitan area has a population of 1.4 million but all tourists descend only on its historic core where 380,000 make it their home.

One would think that with all its revenue, the city would be thriving, but the lawns and landscaping of the Boboli Gardens of the Pitti Palace ($16 entry fee) are brown, the giant 150-year old cypresses in the Santa Maria Novella court yard are dying because, though the Arno river runs through it, Florence is running out of water. Many of its narrow streets smell of raw sewage, indicating that its sewer treatment capacity has exceeded its limits. And the ability of its roads to carry its traffic was compromised decades ago.

Obviously, the massive revenue created by tourism is not enough to maintain its magnificent buildings and monuments, its slowly decaying sandstone columns, widow surrounds and railings of its historic bridges. Yet these are the assets that make Florence the attractive city that it is. The fiscal equation, while sufficient for providing immediately needed services to 10 times the people who live there, falls short in the long term capital costs they create.

Florence is not alone. The same fate is evident in all of the most attractive places in Europe including Ibiza - part of the Balearic islands - which professor Mendlinger had touted as one of the few successful models of a tourist economy at last April's Napa Valley forum on the tourist economy. But as Spain's minister of tourism recently reported, Ibiza has reached the limit of a variety of resources, including water.

If you ask the people who live in Florence, Ibiza, Santorini or Bruge whether they like it, they answer: "No, but this is where we make our living"!

Switching to the Napa Valley; if we are not there yet, we are awfully close. The percentage of tourist revenue the cities and county receive is somewhat in the order of a paltry 10 percent. All additional costs to maintain and expand the infrastructure its 3.5 million visitors require (25 per resident), in roads, sewer capacity, water treatment, administration, police, emergency services, cleanup, trash disposal etc. fall on the general population in the form of taxes, bonds and never ending funding measures. Despite the $50 million in Transit Occupancy Taxes, and more in sales taxes, we keep falling behind.

Calistoga and St. Helena are under orders to update their sewer plants, water is diverted from streams having to be defended in lawsuits, water and sewer rates are getting higher and everyone is aware of the sad condition of our roads, sidewalks and some 80 intersections at service level C or worse.

The reality is that the major winners of the tourist economy are the very few international corporations who have discovered the Napa Valley golden goose with their multi-million-dollar hotels and resorts but take their profits elsewhere, leaving behind the associated costs of services, the staggering long-term costs of infrastructure maintenance and expansion, the lowest paying jobs ($22,000 median for a single person) which create commuters and subsidized services - including grants for affordable housing - all spread among the wider population.

This is an unfair equation that satisfies mostly self-created immediate needs and ignores long-term costs. It is an ingenious cost-shifting vortex impossible to escape from.

There is no question that tourism is highly beneficial on many levels up to a certain point, but over-reliance on it has devastating fiscal, environmental and social impacts.

Because reliance on a tourism-based economy can never be scaled back until it reaches the point of collapse, I once again urge the county and the cities to commission a joint study before we get there.

NVR 8/28/16: Napa's tourism revenue - the other side

Reject Walt Ranch

Stephen J Donoviel - Jul 18, 2016   View on SCR  |    Share

Reading the article “County approves Walt Ranch" (June 14) immediately brought to mind two comments: one, the response by one of the so-called "Original Ten" vineyard and winery owners during the late 1960s to a question about planting vineyards on the surrounding mountains, to which he replied: "The valley's for farming, the hills are for the deer." The second was a comment I often heard my mother say, "My, oh my, what money can buy!"

David Morrison, director of Planning, Building and Environment, stated in the article that all of the numerous concerns addressed in the EIR analyses for the above project could be mitigated and would not reach the level of "Significant." I disagree.

These concerns involve the entire ecosystem, including soil erosion, draw-down of tens of millions of gallons of water and damage to the water supply affecting local residences as well as necessitating costly improvements to the city of Napa water system; traffic issues, including road damage and increased pressure on recreational and residential mobility; threats to wildlife; geological threats to the adjacent community of Circles Oaks and many other families living in the surrounding area; various forms of noise pollution generated by heavy equipment, increased numbers of vehicles of all types, demolition explosions, etc.; and the potential risks to the health of these citizens (as well as the construction workers needed for the project) by possible exposure to carcinogenic dust being blasted into the atmosphere.

These degradations would result from the domino effects stemming from the extensive alterations to the landscape, and to conclude that all these can be satisfactorily mitigated does not, in my opinion, meet the smell or common sense test -- notwithstanding the numerous analyses and consultants that have been employed.

Central to many of the issues is the cutting of old-growth forest and there is no possible mitigation for time lost, i.e., the many decades to regrow the estimated 24,000 trees and vegetation to be destroyed and the resultant effects on the ecosystem. If we think of the trees as healers of the environment, e.g., removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, stabilizing soil and stream beds, providing cover for fauna, etc., the work provided by 24,000 trees cannot be compensated by the remaining forest regardless of their numbers or ratios.

Planting saplings, while a good idea, will take years and years to equal the healing capacity of what was destroyed. I think it paradoxical that approximately two weeks after indicating that the removal of 24,000 trees did not have a significant environmental impact, Mr. Morrison in a Napa Register article on July 4, concerning Napa's responsibilities to deal with the counties' carbon load, noted that one aspect of the plan could include planting 2,500 trees annually.

Anyone who has driven behind earth/rock-moving trucks (which have relatively tight covers over the load) knows that considerable dust escapes. Four years of construction noise may not seem "significant" when gauged from sound measurement techniques, however the effect undoubtedly would be deemed otherwise by local residents. Unlike the project developers and their staff and those public officials making determinations about the risks of this project, the citizens living nearby will face an estimated four years of daily direct exposure to the noise and air pollution from explosions needed to destroy mountains, cutting trees, constant rumbling of heavy construction equipment, workers vehicles, etc,.

I am puzzled why the owners who, when they opened the Hall Winery in St. Helena, touted it as a "green" enterprise, are now promoting a project that is the antithesis to that concept with the destruction of every conceivable aspect of the environment and all for no apparent good reason -- certainly not to put food on their table, clothes on their backs or grow grapes in an environmentally sound fashion. Looking at the plot maps, this looks more like a plan for multiple ranchettes than a farming operation.

I urge the supervisors to reject the totality of this project and, instead, encourage the owners to deed this bit of earth to future generations, which, as others have pointed out, would prove to be a much greater legacy, a la Warren Buffett, the Zuckerbergs, the Gates, and so on.

If this and other such projects that have negative impacts on the many to financially benefit a few get approved, it seems there are very few options left for us, one of which would be to seek redress through the courts. Obviously such an action would require the resources and clout that an organization such as the Sierra Club has. However they would need our support and I urge everyone who is not currently a member to join the Sierra Club since this project would have lasting negative consequences, in varying degrees, on all of us.

Stop Napa's watershed deforestation July 15th

Mike Hackett - Jul 13, 2016   View on SCR  |    Share

Recent widespread news reports concerning controversy over a San Luis Obispo County wine company bulldozing hundreds of acres of oak trees to plant vineyards have left many Napa County residents scratching their heads: The same devastation is taking place in Napa, much faster and on a far greater scale.

This deforestation project by Justin Wines in Central California is heartbreaking, and should help bring awareness to the current onslaught in Napa County.

We are right now confronting project after project calling for deforestation in our watersheds, and residents are alarmed — our county officials have yet to act.

Consequently, a coalition of Napa County citizens has drawn up and collected more than 6,300 signatures on a voter initiative for the Nov. 8 ballot — the Napa County Water, Forest and Oak Woodlands Protection Initiative of 2016.

Its primary aim is to safeguard the county’s watersheds, water sources and forests. We need this ballot measure to restore balance between the wine tourism industry and the rights of local residents and communities, and to provide long-term protections for our oak woodlands and our water future.

This should concern residents of the Bay Area as well. The Napa River is the second-largest freshwater source emptying into the bay—a water body shared by millions. The Napa River has been impaired for decades and we need protections for the water sources that drain into it.

Napa County Planning Department records show nearly 3 million gallons of additional wine will be needed to satisfy the myriad winery expansions on file with the county. That would require an estimated 5,000 additional acres of new vineyards, sacrificing much of the county’s water supply and natural beauty—its forested hillsides and watersheds—to meet the demand.

Right now, we have at least 29 erosion control/vineyard conversion applications on file awaiting approval, according to Jim Wilson, vice-president of Defenders of East Napa Watersheds. “We don’t have any current protections for our oak woodlands, so we need the Initiative for a healthy eco-system,” he said.

“California has lost more than a million acres of oak-related lands in recent decades. These oak woodlands,” he said, “are responsible for water purification and replenishment and are essential to the environment and watershed health. Napa has the highest concentration of oak woodlands of any county in California, and this iconic ecosystem is disappearing at an alarming rate. This is significant because two thirds of Napa County’s drinking water comes from its oak-dotted watersheds.“

Joy Eldredge, Napa City Water Department general manager, has written: “The county should prevent the shifting of vineyard development impacts onto the city and its public drinking water customers.” The water manager goes on to state that “the City has seen a 400 percent increase in the level of effort required to treat Hennessey Reservoir for algae problems.”

This water quality degradation is due to vineyard development and run-off above the reservoir’s watershed. At times, 70 percent of Napa city’s water supply comes from Lake Hennessey.

Large vineyard developments above water reservoirs could require taxpayer money to clean up these reservoirs, if such developments take place.

Napa’s other reservoir faces a large vineyard development above it called Walt Ranch, associated with Hall Winery, which would cut and clear 24,000 trees, and the City of Napa water manager believes it could cost the taxpayers up to $20 million to clean up the reservoir’s water if this project is approved.

“The juggernaut of the wine industry’s encroachment into hillside forests threatens to bring serious impacts for humans, animals and the environment and after five years of drought, it’s only going to get worse,” says Wilson.

Napa Valley, is noted for its ideal terroir and climate for grape growing. More than 40 years ago, visionary Napa County activists such as Volker Eisele pushed through farsighted policies to protect the valley floor for what was considered its highest and best use—agriculture, including wine grape production.

Now, however, the accelerating demand from international corporations and wealthy individuals to convert thousands more forested acres to vineyards is pushing development onto sensitive hillsides and natural areas, threatening Napa County’s microclimates and future water security.

Although the Napa County Water, Forest and Oak Woodlands Protection Initiative recently garnered more than 6,300 petition signatures to qualify for the November ballot, it is currently held up by the county over an alleged minor technical issue.

A lawsuit filed by initiative proponents will be heard in Napa County Superior Court on July 15 and a favorable ruling would allow the measure to go forward on schedule. In the case of an unfavorable ruling, the matter will be appealed to a higher court.

The Superior Court hearing is set for Friday, July 15 at 9 a.m. at 1111 Third St. in Napa.

More information is here

Public Health: Is Napa Valley on the road to Flint?

Kathy Felch - Feb 2, 2016   View on SCR  |    Share

Napa, California. Napa citizens raised “Flint-like” public health concerns to the Napa County Board of Supervisors as Napa has the highest incidence of cancer in whites and children, and the number two incidence in Hispanic adults, in the state. We have particular concerns about air borne toxins due to mining, vineyard and traffic-related emissions,” said Daniel Mufson, of

The Napa Valley Register ran a Washington Post story (1/31/16) “The staggering economic cost of air pollution” which highlighted that the bulk of the cost of this pollution is the result of health impacts on morbidity and mortality. “The more info we have about what sources of pollution are responsible for those deaths—who’s emitting them, where they’re emitted, and what can be done to clean them up—the more likely you are going to have interventions that have their intended effect.”

Kathy Felch, of, asked the county HHS to explain why the levels of cancer are so high and trending upward; what the levels of respiratory disease are in the Imola community; and then asked the county to establish airborne monitoring programs.

Contact: Kathy Felch, Dan Mufson

NapaVision2050 Presentation : The poisioning of an American city

Video clip of the Powerpoint Presentation to the BOS, 2/2/16:
the full BOS meeting video - the clip begins at 00:19:00 into the video

Is our county government unethical?

George Caloyannidis - Jan 14, 2016   View on SCR  |    Share

A few years ago, we noticed a slight sagging on a roof portion of a house we own. We engaged a carpenter to expose the structure below so that we could determine the extent of the underlying damage and obtain the appropriate permits. While this work was going on, a county building inspector happened to pass by. Contending that a re-roofing permit was required, he red-tagged the job and sent the carpenter home.

Such stories are common in this county where regular homeowners are red-tagged for failure to obtain building permits for minor projects, even when parking an R.V. on a prohibited portion of their property. As petty as such conduct may seem, modern societies can only function when all citizens obey their laws.

And most of them do; unless that is, they belong to the Napa Valley’s privileged cast the Supervisors have created: That of violating winery owners. For them, justice is allowed to peek under her blindfold.

Only a few weeks ago, the supervisors gave their blessings to a winery of which much has been written about by legalizing its violations involving converting buildings to other uses, spreading cave tailings on hillsides without grading and erosion control plans and building on stream setbacks, for which ordinary citizens would face fines if not criminal charges.

If this were not enough, this winery had also doubled its production and increased its visitations many times over for many years without permits. During the entire hearings, the winery’s ready buyer was allowed to remain anonymous. Shockingly and as morally offensive as this may be, the county bade the violator farewell by adding millions to his sale.

With such an egregious case receiving the blessing of our supervisors, the floodgates are wide open. So as not to miss the opportunity, another winery north of Calistoga has illegally converted a 2,350-square-foot home into a tasting room and another, south of St. Helena has done so with over 10,000 square feet of structures approved for other uses. No red tags there!

Dozens more are in the pipeline of absolution. The culture of rampant winery lawlessness and unfair competition is thriving in the fertile ground the Supervisors have nurtured.

The county calls this process: “bringing wineries into compliance,” which any normal person in good faith believes to mean: “Compel wineries to adhere to their use permits.”

But to the county in a twisted way, it means: “adjust use permits to fit the violations.” To justify this practice, the Supervisors publicly state that their hands are tied based on the “existing policy of forgiveness” embodied in its March 10, 1998 adopted Manual of Policies and Procedures. The problem is that bowing to public pressure, this policy no longer exists. It was rescinded by them on Dec. 13, 2005 as resolution No. 05-229 but only in name, because they continue to hide behind it and disingenuously justify the approval of violations claiming that this policy of forgiveness is still in force. Two of the sitting supervisors are ones who had signed that rescission.

The suggested violation remedies from the Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee, currently under review by the county, are mere window-dressing designed to silence the outrage because, as incredible as this sounds, some supervisors have publicly stated that compelling wineries to adhere to their existing use permits is: “Out of the question”! What kind of government is one that states that obeying its own laws is out of the question?

Here is a tip: Join the scofflaw cast and invest in “winery violation bonds.” They are the most lucrative risk-free investment, backed by the fully guaranteed of Napa County. Unfortunately, law-abiding citizens need not apply.

More troubling is a conversation gaining traction at private gatherings and dinner tables of ordinary residents. When supervisors accommodate an ethically outrageous culture, offensive to every law-abiding citizen, when the identities of principals are allowed to remain secret, at least to the public, making the vetting of potential improper political contributions impossible, citizens have legitimate reasons to question whether corruption has crept into our political process.

The supervisors must show that they can regain the moral authority to govern and restore faith in a fair and moral political process. The cast system of scofflaws they have created that elevates them to preferential treatment status has place in other societies, not ones we wish to emulate. The supervisors’ seemingly legal acrobatics to justify some of their policies are being exposed. Let the public judge them for what they are.

NVR version 1/13/16: Is our county government unethical?

A time for mutual respect

Eve Kahn - Dec 16, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

[Statement made to the Board Of Supervisors on December 15, 2015]

I’m here to discuss a few observations on the last week’s APAC agenda item.
I was distressed that Planning Staff & Planning Commission were ‘thrown under the bus’. Thankfully, Chair Dillon said later in the day – we need to give them the tools and direction to do their jobs.

These are your staff and your appointees! And their jobs, just like the wine industry itself, has changed. The location and impact of wineries has changed as well. I relate many of these projects in similar fashion and impact to infill within the city limits.

When the City of Napa chose to expand downtown development they created a masterplan – a plan that took the needs of the hospitality and retail businesses along with neighbors and neighborhoods into consideration. We don’t have anything remotely similar in the unincorporated/ County area. Yet, new and expanding wineries are increasingly located in previously rural residential areas [Mt. Veeder, Atlas Peak, Soda Canyon…]. Last week, you heard many complaints that the rules are changing. And I say, maybe that’s totally appropriate.

Let’s not forget the silent majority (yes also the ones who want concerts & weddings at wineries – despite the fact that these violate the WDO). What about the silent majority who deeply care about the need to preserve the agricultural landscapes and rural character of Napa County. They are losing their quality of rural life one parcel, and one decision at a time.

As an APAC member there was no perspective, direction, or implication that singling any one of the APAC recommendations puts the County at peril. That’s a bit drastic. Proposals came from APAC members and the public - but we are not the experts. The Planning Commission and staff added some relevant context to a few. And their suggestions should not be summarily discarded or ignored. I view these proposals as a starting point, not a final, untouchable result.

Lastly, the wine industry made it clear they will oppose any effort to restrict or limit winery development, activities and events. They feel that legitimate questions and concerns amount to lies and misinformation. Those of us who question the intensity, scale, and concentration of visitor servicing businesses are not the enemy of the wine industry. Land use conflicts and impacts are real. And now is the time to balance the needs of the residents and the wine industry. Now is the time for mutual respect.

Hodja's Donkey in Napa traffic

George Caloyannidis - Dec 13, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

I could never have imagined as a 7-year-old that my grandmother's story of "Feeding the Donkey,” one of some 500, by the 13th-century Sufi populist philosopher Nasreddin Hodja, would someday grant me a look under the cover of the Napa County planning philosophy.

As the story goes, in order to economize on the amount of oats his donkey ate, Hodja began cutting down on it. Seeing that after a few days, the donkey was doing fine, he continued reducing the amount little by little. One morning, Hodja found his donkey dead in the barn. When neighbors inquired, Hodja wailed: "Ahh, my poor donkey! He died just as he was getting used to hunger!” We are all too aware that incrementally increasing our food intake can kill us just as well.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was enacted to protect us all from the negative effects of projects by mandating mitigation measures to offset them. For any given development impact -- traffic being one of many -- CEQA requires evaluation thresholds ranging from "significant,” to "less than significant,” to "none.” Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors has been employing the reverse Hodja model for decades.

As traffic is allowed to increase little by little by each new project, it elevates the benchmark of volume against which the effect of any new project is being evaluated. When 10 added to 100 in the past was significant, it appears less than significant when added to 1,000 today. This skewed process can be experienced every Tuesday and Wednesday when the supervisors and commissioners meet for the residents' weekly force-feeding sessions of every traffic-contributing winery and event. Exactly what CEQA was supposed to protect them from.

But there are two problems with the county's manipulation of the numbers: The public has paid for a road system designed for anticipated traffic flow capacities appropriate for an agricultural community and sufficient to support a healthy economy. Once this traffic level is exceeded to facilitate overblown economic activity, the poor country donkey of agriculture is being flattened to death under the more than 181,330 cars in and out of the valley each day (Fehr & Peers study, December 2014), all rubber-stamped by a series of disingenuous "less than significant" impacts.

Even more serious: CEQA affords the public additional protections by mandating that "the cumulative impacts of other projects, past, current and probable future ones shall be considered in granting any use permit.” This means that every potential winery with its delivery trucks, visitors and special events allowed under the zoning law, is a potential development that must be factored in CEQA if we want to maintain any semblance of a long-term balance. Not so in this county where ever more is better no matter what.

The truth is that the supervisors never refuse anyone who comes before them arguing that their proposed winery has the same production, visitations and events as the one they approved five years before. In misapplying CEQA, they invoke "precedent,” "existing standards" and "niceness of the applicant" in approving it. They refuse to acknowledge the fact that baseline standards are constantly shifting with every new project.

The arguments they hide behind are not truthful: "We need to keep growing our economy.” But continued growth has reached the point where it comes at too high a cost. Population growth has only been 20 percent in the past 25 years while traffic has increased six-fold.

Their argument, "Traffic increases no matter what we do,” doesn't pass scrutiny either. Only 9 percent of all traffic is pass-through traffic. All 91 percent of it is legislated by them, by increasing number of wineries, visitor attractions, demand for accommodations and low-paid commuters.

CEQA has given the supervisors the tool -- mandated by the state -- to argue that each 50 more cars today are not the same as the 50 more cars of five years ago, that one more 100,000-gallon winery today is not the same as the one of five years ago. By avoiding the difficult decisions, they have paved the road for the drop-by-drop cumulative degradation of the Napa Valley's agricultural environment.

"Ahh, our poor Napa! She died as she was just getting used to binging!"

In the end, maintaining the balance is our collective responsibility and it is high time we do something about it.

NVR 12/13/15: Hodja's Donkey in Napa Traffic

Water for wineries in the pipeline

George Caloyannidis - Dec 4, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

Below is an email to County Planning Director David Morrison 12/4/15 in response the revision sent to the BOS and PC of numbers Dir. Morrison presented to WICC in Nov. The updated numbers show that:

· There are 51 total pending winery applications currently in process;
· Of the 51 applications, 29 are for new wineries and 22 are for major modifications;
· The proposals request a total of 2.9 million gallons of new wine production;
· A total of 567,000 new tasting room visitors are proposed;
· A total of 110,000 new marketing visitors are also proposed.
· There are several clusters of pending wineries, generally located near Calistoga, Pritchard Hill, Yountville, and Soda Canyon.


Dear David:

During the second APAC meeting, I testified that its work ought to begin with a comprehensive review of overall data and that such data be used as the basis for setting its agenda. Although you had presented many of these data at the March 10 town hall meeting, this did not happen.

I am most appreciative of the fact that you now have begun assembling such data on pending application as the ones below. What is now needed is the generation of a second tier of data derived from them which is something I hope you will undertake before the APAC deliberations by the Supervisors are concluded if their decisions are to be based on facts rather than on the agendas of a variety of factions and special interests..

Below I will address just one such process and that is the availability of plantable land and demands of water if the pending applications are approved:

Using the 2.9 million gallons in new production, the applicable 75% rule and a grape yield of 2.5 tons per hillside acre, the acreage which will be required in the Napa valley to satisfy this production is 6,000. I use hillside acre numbers because as we all know, all valley floor acreage has been utilized already. As all grapes grown in the Napa valley are being utilized under current production, there is no doubt that that acreage will be required. As a matter of fact, several thousand additional acres will be required if the unutilized existing use permit production numbers are to come on line. As an example, the Summers winery which produces 32,000 gallons on a use permit of 50,000 gallons is seeking approval for 100,000 gallons.

In order to, determine the amount of water which will be required, for the 2.9 million gallons, we need to calculate it by separating production from vineyards:
6 gallons of water per gallon of production results in 17.4 million gallons of water in the winery, plus 2.2 million gallons in vineyard irrigation at the rate of 110 gallons of water, equals 242 million gallons for a total of 260 million gallons of water.

These staggering numbers are for pending applications only. They are plainly unimaginable going forward even just 5 or 10 years.

A further derivative analysis APAC should have made regarding future water requirements and traffic impacts from the 677,000 visitors and workers (commuters) as well as new hotel accommodations to house the visitors who typically require 2 employees (commuters) per room and generate 12-15 vehicle trips per day per room is imperative if we want to begin to have a serious picture of water requirements and traffic impacts in the immediate future and under current County approval practices. We are looking at perhaps as many as an additional 30 - 50 million gallons of water and staggering traffic numbers.

The above figures alone make it abundantly clear that the APAC recommendations even if all were to be approved, will have no effect on stemming the enormous forces which are on a course to strain the Napa valley resources to the brink. It is time for the Supervisors to face the real challenges by engaging in a new policy model based on numbers as you have laid them out and their derivatives.

Once again, we are talking here of pending applications alone!

George Caloyannidis

Traffic? Don't ask Alice

George Caloyannidis - Nov 12, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

One could easily have expected the results in the search for solutions to our traffic congestion when government and business get together. Expecting two addicts in unison to find ways to treat their addiction has predictable outcomes. Nicotine patches, e-cigarettes, perhaps periodic rehabs are certain to be the types of remedies they would suggest. So, we end up with solutions of the busing, shuttling, traffic impact fee, transit-on-demand variety. Patches!

Is it a wonder that no one had the courage to even suggest the untouchable root of the problem, which is that of curtailing growth? How about instead of prescribing sleeping pills to a smoker, going straight to the cause instead of the symptom? But asking two addicts who find comfort and mutual validation in each other for their addiction to suggest ways to cure what gives them their very euphoria, is too much to ask for.

Traffic congestion may be the one factor most visible at the moment caused exclusively by growth, but growth will have many more and much more serious and expensive ramifications in the not so distant future unless we bite the bullet with bold decisions our leaders carry the responsibility for.

Buses and shuttles will do nothing to solve the problems one third of the valley's additional daily population from the outside is causing in overusing our available resources and capacities, from water to sewer handling facilities. Transit-on-demand will do nothing to add to our limited power grid capacity, nothing to stem the unabated degradation of our water sheds. Traffic impact fees will do nothing to alleviate the shame of a community with people living in its garages.

It is time for a growth forum if we want to get real with our future. But no one has the courage to look into that looking glass. Much easier to step right through it into Alice's Wonderland.

NVR version: Alice's traffic problems
All George Caloyannidis' posts on SCR.

On forests and vineyards

Christine Tittle - Oct 20, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

I do not profess to be an expert on global warming or its causes, nor do I think it is productive to just single it out as the one factor by which to evaluate whether deforestation in favor of vineyards or agriculture is beneficial or detrimental to the environment and the longterm health of communities. But I do know my history. And it is full of examples with plenty of warnings which are downright dangerous, though convenient to ignore.

We can start with today's environmental wasteland we call the Middle East, which is recognized as the cradle of our civilization when it was known by a different name: The Fertile Crescent. It is an area where over the course of 3,000 years, the Phoenicians, Romans, Ottomans and the British managed to virtually wipe out its magnificent 150-foot-tall forests known as the Cedars of Lebanon to build from ships to railroad tracks and convert land to agricultural uses until its changed climate decimated its entire ecosystem not just for these but for all uses. The denuded mountains of the Levant were left to face flash floods with nothing but eroding slopes. In recognition of this environmental catastrophe, an international reforestation program was begun in 1985. Yet here, we are debating whether steadily moving in the opposite direction is the right one.

In his acclaimed book "Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," noted Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond has outlined the socioeconomic collapse of Easter Island due to deforestation, and one need only look at an aerial photograph of the Dominican Republic, a thriving country and its poverty stricken neighbor Haiti to recognize the cause obvious to any thinking person: Thriving forests on the one and a moon landscape on the other, sharply divided from each other by a precise line as if cut by a knife.

Carbon sequestration calculations may be one thing but common sense dictates that rain falling over a forest falls slowly on the ground and shaded by its canopy gets a chance to penetrate into the ground before it evaporates. And common sense dictates that when rain pounds on the soil of leafless, winter vineyards, it runs off before it has a chance to replenish the water table. That run-off, even under the best erosion control practices, carries with it top soil and silt into the streams and ends up in the ocean.

In answer to Supervisor Luce's concern on whether we may be missing something in converting forests to vineyards, we need to admit that we are doing so in support of an economic model. But trying to rationalize this practice as the best option is quite another and it is disingenuous.

The difficult decisions Supervisors are burdened with are ones of right balance, not of rationalizing accommodation of special interests.

The public is beginning to sense that we are at a tipping point and that failure of leadership to stem the steady degradation of the fundamental elements of our ecosystem are beginning to show in our overburdened infrastructure and the deterioration in everyone's quality of life.

NVR version: On forests and vineyards

On Syar expansion: Facts matter

Julia Winiarski - Oct 19, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

The Register articles have consistently failed to accurately report the causes for opposition to the Syar project ("Napa County a victim of CEQA abuse," Oct. 19). The primary problem is the flawed, inadequate EIR (environmental impact report) -- which is based on incomplete or faulty analysis.

It is not just that the opponents want less or no expansion -- what citizens want, and what has yet to happen, in all the years this project has been in the works -- is a comprehensive, accurate and unbiased evaluation of its environmental impact. Such an EIR -- which would truly give citizens and planners a sound basis on which to make decisions affecting Napa for the 35 years of the permit and beyond -- is not the document we have.

The EIR as it stands does not allow a full evaluation of the risks and benefits of the project. Folks who have a lot of experience with these things say it is the worst EIR they have ever seen. Major flaws exist in the areas of traffic, air quality, water, noise and health risk assessment. Opponents have not just "done their own research" as the Register article claims. They have hired experts in these fields and submitted extensive reports that detail the flaws -- undercounting truck trips, misclassifying vehicle trips, missing primary noise reports, impermissible deferment of GHG reduction plans, reducing traffic and air quality impacts by claiming without documentation that 100,000 tons of aggregate are shipped by rail per year within a 14-mile distance.

The list goes on. That citizens have done this on their own dime is an unacknowledged benefit to the county.

Last week, for the first time, county said that the EIR does not have to prove the need for the expansion, flippantly comparing it to requiring a winery having to demonstrate the need to produce more wine. It is difficult to see why the county would make such a statement since Syar has argued from the beginning that its primary objective is to ensure a reliable local source of aggregate. The county echoes these comments, using language in reports and recommendations about meeting the project's objectives of meeting local need. Napa citizens and taxpayers are getting GHG impacts from the project’s impacts on groundwater, air quality, traffic, noise, loss of ag land, loss of a nonrenewable resource in the aggregate.

Responsible analysis requires the production of data on the assertions of local need and analysis of remaining reserves of the existing quarry. Syar could, but will not, provide the weigh tag data to support its arguments.

During the period of the EIR, according to traffic reports, the majority of the aggregate went out of county. Now, Syar states the opposite. Public Records Act requests to the county for weigh tags from the baseline study period 2004-2008 to corroborate this have only yielded incomplete, heavily redacted records for one year – 2014. Syar refuses to release this information now contending it is proprietary -- not open to public inspection. There is no way to independently confirm what Syar claims. Supporters of the quarry expansion who are concerned about length of the CEQA review process should really be asking why this essential information has been withheld.

Opponents of the quarry expansion are accused of being NIMBYs. This is not “my” backyard, this is not “your” backyard. This is OUR backyard, this is our air, our water, our open space, our watersheds.

As with the other issues currently being debated countywide -- where developments threaten community character, drain resources and affect the environment -- the problem here is that the Valley’s finite resources are not being managed wisely. To do so will take a change in the business-as-usual culture of approval by the county.

NVR version: On Syar expansion: Facts matter.

Grandstanding on agricultural sustainabilty

George Caloyannidis - Oct 6, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

It is natural, though hardly constructive, when an industry is criticized for some of its practices for it to hunker down in defense mode. This is the only way I can explain Stuart Smith’s guest commentary in the Napa Valley Register in which he characterized the concerns over the Napa valley’s communal quality of life a “cacophony” and “hypocritical” (“Agricultural sustainability is not possible without economic vitality,” Sept. 14).

I don’t know anyone who does not appreciate the wine industry’s contributions to the Napa Valley; its economy, its charitable activity, its very identity. But there is no industry whose operation is without faults or harm. The question is whether pointing them out is mean-spirited, as Mr. Smith suggests, or constructive.

It is indisputable that the wine industry could not be on a healthier financial footing. If nothing else, the proliferation of luxury cars in this valley is a good barometer. Is it not good enough? I simply do not follow Mr. Smith’s logic of why the industry’s vitality, in fact it’s very survival, relies on its unfettered growth. It seems to me the opposite to be true.

No structure can remain intact under continuous growth. It needs to transform itself beyond certain limits to survive, and therein lies the debate in which we all need to engage. The 2007 Napa County General Plan environmental impact report predicts that if we continue on this growth pattern, by 2030 we will need six lanes from Vallejo to Yountville and a four-lane freeway from Yountville to Calistoga only 15 years from now to maintain acceptable level “C” traffic flow. Caltrans will step in and do it whether we want it or not. Is this our vision of agricultural sustainability?

If the wine industry aspires to maintain its beneficial membership within Napa Valley, it needs to take a hard look at its longstanding support of unfettered growth. And so does the county. We have reached the point where such growth is no longer objected to by local neighborhoods. New wineries and hotels as far upvalley as Calistoga, generate serious problems in St. Helena and as far south as American Canyon with valley-wide ramifications. Is traffic congestion, loss of resources, water, forests, watersheds, a local workforce, our vision of agricultural sustainability?

Collectively, when in harmony, these are the essential elements of a high communal quality of life that are the ultimate attraction for residents and visitors; the very ones who support the wine market.

Here are facts that neither the wine industry nor county policy can no longer mischaracterize or ignore:

More than half the traffic generated in this county is directly attributable to the wine industry and its little sister, the hospitality industry, which relies on it for its lifeblood. According to the recent study, 16 percent of traffic comes from tourism and 25 percent from commuting workforce of these low-paying industries. Mr. Smith tells us that the Napa Valley population doubled during the past 45 years. Fair enough, but he fails to tell us that traffic has increased six-fold during that same period. Blaming it on the 9 percent pass-through traffic will no longer fly as an excuse.

Not to be ignored is a silent local workforce that can only afford to live in crammed quarters. Communal quality of life cacophony?

Moreover, who foots the bill for the subsidies low-paid workers qualify for? Who foots the bill for the high water rates? Who foots the bill for the accelerated deterioration of the local infrastructure, all due to the daily influx of outsiders to the tune of one third of our entire population? The reality is that everyone of us is chipping in to support wine industry profits. Perhaps this is the corollary side of sustainability, even charity.

And then there is this: Imagine if four out of 10 baseball players were using performance-enhancing drugs while the rest of them didn’t. Would the league afford to stand by and condone unfair competition? Would it in the face of the magnitude of abuse legalize drug use? When the honor system was compromised, testing and heavy penalties were introduced to save the very integrity of the game.

Not in Napa County. When wineries are abusing the honor system to the tune of four out of 10 as they do, and the industry remains silent with the help of the county that rewards rather than penalizes the cheaters, we have a problem affecting the very core values of our community generations of the farming community helped build.

And while the wine industry likes to project itself as stewards of a sustainable environment, it remains silent, fully cognizant that every use permit violation is an activity that avoided California Environmental Quality Act review and its protections afforded the community’s quality of life.

Such policies eat at the very heart of fairness and cheating embodied in our traditional moral fabric, which I have, no doubt, every resident of the county embraces. But the vintners and the county are first to circle the wagons when they are exposed and forced to take appropriate action. It seems to me that characterizing as hypocrites the ones who dare sound the alarm on the loss of balance, perspective and honesty is misplaced if not misdirected.

Let’s look at sustainability’s real lifeblood: If we continue to sacrifice our core values in the interest of ever higher profits, we are paving the way for a cynical generation to succeed us. Stewardship? What was that?

Caloyaniddis NVR LTE: Grandstanding on agricultural sustainabilty

Napa County Definition of the Word "Agriculture" Altered

Geoff Ellsworth - Sep 29, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

On Wednesday Sept 30 there will be an important meeting at the Napa County Planning Commission to discuss a change to the meaning of the word “Agriculture” that occurred when the county General Plan was updated in 2008. The original definition was altered in 2008 to include the wording “...related marketing, sales and other accessory uses” as part of the definition of the word Agriculture. In other words, marketing events are now considered equal to the farmer and his tractor as agriculture. This change was not brought to the attention of the public as it was being implemented, and surfaces again now as it is planned to be further embedded into our county codes.

Please take a moment to consider how changing the “meaning” of the word Agriculture changes the entire meaning of the Napa County Agricultural Preserve. The Agricultural Preserve was intended to save the land for farming. The new definition of Agriculture promotes/protects intensified commercial marketing events on Ag lands.This changes the fundamental concept of what it is we we are preserving and leaves an open door to intensified commercial/hospitality impacts and more paving over of our precious farm lands. This is an important meeting to attend if you can be there or please consider writing a letter/email to county officials if you cannot attend. (the meeting begins at 9, however it is difficult to determine exactly what time this item will be discussed)

Napa County Planning Commission
Wednesday Sept. 30 9 AM
Napa County Administration building
1195 Third St.
Napa, Ca 94559 (3rd and Coombs St)

Please feel free to forward or circulate this letter and consider immediately sending an email to County Planning Commission and Supervisors regarding this issue.

The cultivation and farming of tourists

Patricia Damery - Sep 20, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

One of the most environmentally and socially destructive trends in agriculture in the Napa Valley is the recent expansion of the definition of agriculture to include direct marketing.

Since revision of the Winery Definition Ordinance in 2010 to include the activities of direct marketing as "accessory uses" to agriculture in our protected Ag Preserve and Ag Watershed lands, these "protected" lands are now open to such activities as "event centers" with commercial kitchens, visitation, and the selling of tickets for food and wine pairings— effectively including the cultivation and farming of tourists as an accessory use in these once-protected Ag lands.

The unintended consequences are severe: increased traffic choking our main artery roadways, deforestation and destruction of oak woodlands on our hillsides for more vineyards and wineries, decreased ground water due to watershed degradation and irrigation and winery use — which depletes neighboring wells — not to mention the increase of second homes and proliferation of short-term rentals for tourism.

Our county no longer includes tourism as an revenue source but is becoming increasingly dependent on tourists -- a tourism economy. New wineries and vineyard owners are often not farmers of crops, but entrepreneurs having no idea of the local ecology and little or no experience in farming or grape growing. Many are most interested in the investment and lifestyle.

A study of the recent votes in the Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee shows some of the problems. Seventeen committee members were appointed by the Board of Supervisors from various citizen groups: two from environmental groups, two from the community, two from municipalities, two from business, two from the wine industry, two from agriculture, and one from each of the five districts. The effective result weighed in favor of business, hospitality, and the wine industry. Community, environmental, and agriculture members (six of them) often voted for preservation of agricultural lands and watersheds; the other 11 members often voted to support the business of wineries and business economies.

Any vote passing had to have a super majority, or 12 votes. Most of the time, votes did not pass, often dividing on the above lines. Recommendations by supermajority included avoiding the use of variances for achieving compliance with land use regulations (all agreed), establishing guidelines for future winery use permits based on a recommendation of the director of planning (again, all agreed) — and accepting the 2010 WDO working definition of agriculture — which includes the commercial activities of commercial kitchens, visitation, and events (12-4). The four dissenters, of course, were the representative of agriculture, the environment, and the community.

It is critically important that the informed public stay on board and demand that this ill-thought-out provision of including marketing as an accessory use to agriculture be removed from the WDO. The preservation of our agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands is key in making the Napa Valley the beautiful valley it is, but it is also an environment at risk.

Please contact our elected and appointed officials (Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission) who serve the larger public and the commons to ask them to correct this error in the WDO.

NVR version 9/19/15: The cultivation and farming of tourists

Day of action on watersheds: Sept 15th

Jim Wilson - Sep 13, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

Dear Defenders of East Napa Watersheds, and all supporters of healthy municipal watersheds,

Please join us Tuesday, September 15, for a day of action in support of the City's call for greater protections in its sensitive municipal watersheds.  We will be holding signs and speaking during public comment. 

These protections have to come from the County, ultimately by enhancing protections by ordinance.  Our more immediate purpose is to make sure the county is aware that the City is strongly opposed to issuing discretionary permits that will result in so much new pollution in Milliken, that $20MM in new infrastructure would be needed to protect Napa citizens from it.  Our message is, THAT IS WRONG, AND THE PEOPLE DO NOT GIVE PERMISSION. 

Note yesterday's Register report of unsafe drinking water being found in downtown Napa taps.  Milliken's water, according to Eldredge, is by far the City's best water, needing just a "dab" of polymer.  Will we allow it to be destroyed?

Background:  Hall wants to strip 507 acres of native vegetation to net 356 acres of wine grapes, much of it in the Milliken Reservoir headwaters.  We met with Council member Scott Sedgley in June, spoke during public comment at City Council meetings in favor of better protections, got an agenda item for a staff report on the condition of Napa's two municipal watersheds (Hennessey and Milliken).  At the August 18 City Council meeting, the City Council unanimously approved of urgent action to be taken as per Water Division staff recommendations.  Since then, Joy Eldredge has reached out to David Morrison for assistance in implementing her recommendations for strengthening watershed protections. 

Our Tuesday action is for city and county residents to connect this process to the County Supervisors and to make sure they are aware of the City's urgent need of better protection of its municipal watersheds.  It is the BOS who will be hearing our appeals on WALT and Kongsgaard vineyard conversions.  We want them to vote NO against polluters, and YES in favor of healthy people and healthy water supply. 

9:00 AM - Board of Supervisors meeting - public comment in favor of urgently needed protections as per City staff report.  

3:30 PM - City Council meeting - public comment thanking council members for their unanimous support of staff recommendations.

6:30 PM - City Council meeting - same as 3:30 meeting - try to make one or the other...  (at the 6:30 meeting trucked water is on the agenda.)
Below is additional information to support our case, if you like.

I hope you can join us!

Here is the Register article on the August 18 City Council meeting that decided in favor of strengthening watershed protections:
Here is an excerpt from David Morrison's letter (full letter here) to the Mayor before the August 18 City Council meeting:  
    Finally, the staff report concludes by suggesting several long-term implementation items, including the following:

      “Establish a revised County Ordinance to increase restrictions on development in sensitive watershed areas to limit the water quality impacts to the watershed.
      Require development in watershed to monitor the creek water quality upstream and downstream of the project runoff and submit data directly to the Water Division.
      Impose mitigation measures on development in sensitive watershed areas that is shown to degrade water quality in order to contribute to watershed protection investments and water treatment improvements.”

    As the Council knows, the City does not have the land use authority to unilaterally adopt ordinances, condition development, or impose mitigation measures on land use development within the unincorporated area.  However, the County remains open and available for inter-agency discussions on these topics and other areas of mutual interest that impact the broader community. 

Here are comments (from the video) in favor of improved watershed protections we can hang our hat on: 

    I'd like to immediately start working with the County to strengthen their code and discuss appropriate zoning for municipal watersheds.  We are justifiably concerned about our local source of water, and where are we going to go from here?  I support, agree with all of the speakers who mentioned this tonight except maybe with Mr. Reynolds, there might be a few things I disagree with his statements.  It's time we need to move ahead on this and we need to move forward quickly.

    The cumulative impacts of these projects are greatly impacting our community, and I agree with all of the short-term and long-term solutions that were presented tonight. 

    Our Water Department's done a great job over the years really managing our water supply and making sure we make smart critical moves to make sure we have a good water supply.  Part of that is what's being proposed here, and I think these are very prudent moves.  I'm fully supportive of the measures here, and we can talk about the long-term measures and their time frames. 

    Techel:  I was encouraged that we got a memo today from the Planning Director of the County.  And in this letter, he mentions he is open and available to have discussions on this topic.  We're going to need to work with the County, and we're going to have to marry what the City's interests are with the County's processes, because these processes are in the county.  I appreciate your report, I appreciate the different strategies you put out, and I encourage you to make a phone call tomorrow to say yeah, let's start the conversation going forward. 

    The issue of protecting our watersheds - I think we need to take a more proactive - a more aggressive - and I sincerely believe in working with the County and talking to the county and trying to convey to them this urgency in our watersheds, and in a greater sense the county's watersheds in their entirety.  I think a good way to do that is to create a resolution that says we are serious about this and let's get to work on this. 

    Techel:  The phone call tomorrow shows the urgency of how the Council feels about this.  That beats waiting two weeks for a resolution.

    I'm going to argue we're taking the urgent action here.  We're asking our expert what we should do right now and she's given us a list of things to do in the next couple of years.  And I think we should focus on doing these things instead of just saying how we feel [resolution].

 Here are the proposed long term solutions endorsed by Council from this city staff report:

    Hennessey and Milliken Watersheds

    Implement recommendations and update the Watershed Sanitary Survey as required every five years and review baseline data, identify changes to water quality, reasons for water quality changes and make recommendations for mitigating and restoring water quality.

    Establish a revised County Ordinance to increase restrictions on development in sensitive watershed areas to limit the water quality impacts to the watershed.  (emphasis mine)
    Update the Municipal Code to authorize financial penalties for violations of unauthorized watershed recreational uses.
    Require development in watershed to monitor the creek water quality upstream and downstream of the project runoff and submit data directly to the Water Division.

    Impose mitigation measures on development in sensitive watershed areas that is shown to degrade water quality in order to contribute to watershed protection investments and water treatment improvements.

Stop Syar Expansion

Julia Winiarski - Aug 20, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

The name of our group is Stop Syar Expansion (SSE), not Close Down Syar. We acknowledge the need for aggregate, even while we know aggregate mining to be one of the the most destructive and polluting of land uses. However, quarries do close. They extract a material that is non-renewable in human time scale. They grow as far as they can based on surrounding uses, or they run out of rock. The Syar Napa Quarry will not be operating forever.

It is precisely because the rock is a non-renewable resource that it must be properly managed for Napa’s needs. Like groundwater. Although the aggregate is under land that is privately owned, because of its critical nature to many kinds of construction processes, the county is obligated by its exercise on our behalf of management of the public trust. It cannot allow a company to plunder this resource.

Look at the environmental impact report, the document of record for the project, the document that, according to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), is supposed to contain the information necessary for reasoned analysis by the public and county officials, and rational planning decisions by the county officials.The environmental report states: “Currently, the majority of truck trips travel south on SR 221 to SR (Highway) 29 south to SR 12 (Jameson Canyon Road) and access to I-80 or further south to American Canyon and deliver aggregate materials throughout the Bay Area. In discussion with Syar Industries, this pattern is expected to continue in the future.” Taking that scenario to its logical conclusion, we can see that we would soon arrive at the scenario the expansion’s supporters tell us we should fear — that we will run out of rock for Napa.

The quarry, properly managed and right-sized, could continue to serve Napa for many years. But not if it is producing more than what is needed to satisfy local need and exporting that to other counties. This is just one of the many areas of the environmental report is lacking in objective analysis.

Another area of deficiency is with regard to mitigation, which in several key areas is inadequate, impermissibly deferred or lacking proper enforcement mechanisms. As just one example, the formulation of a mitigation plan for greenhouse gas emissions is deferred to at least three years beyond the point where allowable levels are exceeded.

Regarding mitigations and environmental protections more generally, Syar has promised mitigations to such an extent that the expansion is being sold as a net environmental gain. This is, in fact, proof that all that could be done to protect the environment is not being done — despite Syar’s claims in the environmental report that all “best practices” are already being implemented. If the best is already being done, what could be improved? The county acknowledges that the past permits were lacking in environmental and community protections. The question is what is stopping Syar industries from improving the operating conditions now? Why must they wait for a new permit to, for example, upgrade their fleet of mostly tier 0 and tier 1 vehicles—the most polluting?

Our citizen group, Stop Syar Expansion, has submitted expert comments in the areas of traffic, hydrology, noise and air quality, detailing the numerous flaws and inadequacies of the environmental report, and demonstrating why it cannot be certified. We spent a great deal of time and money to gather this information to assist the county and its citizens in making a good decision for the future of Napa.

We have shown that environmental impacts have been systematically and grossly underestimated through basing analysis on faulty data and methodology.

The decision for a 35-year project must be made with a long view, on the basis of sound reasoning and with comprehensive understanding of fundamental facts. Not on the basis of politics, personalities or scare tactics. The planning commission is mandated to evaluate projects for the benefit of local residents—including the environment- as a whole, not to serve business interests. To fully evaluate a project, we all have to know the true price tag. The true price tag of this project, now in its seventh year, is still unknown.

The need for the project is also unknown. When we are about to undertake any project, we have to know: “Why are we doing this?” We have to ask, “What is the need?” Let’s say you are at the grocery store, and someone in your household says, “Let’s get more apples,” don’t you ask, ‘how many do we have at home? How many have we been eating? What are we doing in the next week, and how many will we need?’

For a project that undeniably impacts the environment and our community, how can we not ask the same questions: What are the reserves of the quarry? How much aggregate has Napa actually used? How much will we actually need, based on factual analysis, not hypotheticals, assumptions, or mere assertions.These fundamental questions are missing from the environmental report.

In the interest of space, I won’t repeat here all the analyses provided in the expert comments we have submitted, which are or will shortly be on the county’s website. However, to touch on just one point: The environmental report uses the number of 8.9 tons per year per person for the analysis of county need for aggregate. Where does this number come from? It is an average for the North Bay region from studies carried out from 1960 to 2011. Napa is a slow-growth, agriculturally-based county with an Agricultural Preserve. Even for the larger region, can we possibly believe that the same amount of growth will occur from now forward for 35 years that occurred in the rough half century between 1960 and today? What agricultural ground in Napa are we planning to pave over?

Stop Syar Expansion has looked at the information from weight tags for Syar Napa quarry aggregate use by all county entities for the last 10 years. We do not have access to contractor purchases, but we have seen Public Works purchase orders from all the cities, the township of Yountville and from the county’s Public Works department.

Although it can readily do so, Syar Industries has chosen not to provide the weight tags for the years used to establish the baseline for the environmental report. By not making public the records that actually establish the true need for the quarry’s need to expand, Syar Industries disserves the community and its governing bodies. The amount of Syar Napa Quarry aggregate known publicly to be used in Napa is far lower than the regional average calculated over a time-frame of rapid growth. Furthermore, there are other companies (Cemex, Shamrock, Mark West BoDean, for example) that supply aggregate to Napa County. It is simply not believable that only Syar Industries will be providing all of Napa County’s aggregate needs for the next 35 years instead of sharing the market with other companies as it currently does.

That the county proposes to make a decision affecting the future of Napa for 35 years (a very long time for a permit, given how fast technology, environmental understanding, and community needs can change) without this fundamental information is, frankly, frightening.

What forces are directing our local governments? What influences are guiding their decisions? I fear that the same influences are behind recent thinking and decisions and on large building projects, winery event centers, massive vineyard developments in our watersheds, and a permitting permissiveness that bends over backwards for applicants and rewards violators. If the county continues to serve the few at the expense of the many, we have to get involved and make changes.

Napa is the beautiful place it is because of people who had the wisdom to see the need to protect this agricultural treasure. We need a new wave of champions coming forth to protect the land, air of and water of this valley and to fundamentally reshape the way the county does business. Our new and evolving understanding of the health risks involved, as well as social responsibility, true sustainability, climate change, and social justice demand no less.

Napa Valley Register version: Flaws of Syar process related to other County issues

Who pays the costs of Tourism?

George Caloyannidis - Jul 26, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

I have read with interest the two-part series by Pam Simpson, CEO of the St. Helena Chamber of Commerce, published in the St. Helena Star in which she analyzes the tourist contribution to the valley’s economy. Citing the findings of the recent Visitor Profile study that shows that in 2014 the annual visitor spending per Napa Valley resident was $11,741, she concludes: “This means $11,741 is the amount each Napa Valley resident would have to spend to keep our economy going if visitors were not here”. If it only were that simple.

There are about 147,000 residents in the Napa Valley and they host 3.5 million visitors. Together, they require an entire accommodating physical and service infrastructure including adequate road capacities, utilities, hotels, restaurants and retail stores. Unfortunately, our hospitality and retail section of the economy pay the lowest wages, with a median wage of around $22,000 while the Napa County Self Sufficiency Standard (SSS) for a single person is around $28,000 and the wine industry median wage is around $35,000 below the SSS for two adults with no children, which is around $39,000. This workforce commutes from outside the county and accounts for 25 percent of all traffic adding to the 16 percent of direct visitor traffic. The public pays the difference between the low tourism wages and the SSS through a variety of social programs.

If one interpolates the 2014 Fehr & Peers Travel Behavior Study data, the Napa Valley population increases during season by 1/3 from the influx of visitors and outside workers, and they come with costs in 13 different categories ranging from increased services, to the physical infrastructure: Fire and EMS, public safety and government facilities and services, road transportation, waste water and storm drain systems, water service facilities and increased cost of water. The associated workforce able to earn a decent SSS, requires mandated affordable housing, school system and parks and recreation facilities and not least, it has to cope with visitor caused cost of living increases which pushes the SSS farther out of reach to the spiral freefall of even more commuters.

Unfortunately, there are no studies that have quantified the actual costs of tourism but there are tangential studies regarding the comprehensive costs of resorts in Oregon, which offer strong indication that the $11,741 is likely to move from the positive to the negative side of the ledger.

One such study by Fodor & Associates for the Thornburg Resort in Dechutes County, Oregon (population 157,000)—a large mix of hotel, timeshare, full occupancy homes and golf courses—quantified only 6 of the 13 cost factors. They show a deficit for infrastructure capital improvements (or the proportional shared cost of existing improvements already paid for by the public) of $51 million. On the other hand, it shows a net annual revenue of $466,000 from room and other taxes and fees. When this net revenue is capitalized over 20 years, it still results in a net deficit of $46 million.

Making the matter worse is that by then, the infrastructure will require updating to the tune of several million dollars; one more spiral freefall.

A good local example is the multimillion dollar widening of Highway 29 just south of St. Helena for which every California resident is paying, solely necessitated by the population increase caused by the tourist industry and the types of jobs it creates. According to the 2007 Napa County draft environmental impact report, just to maintain level C road service by 2030, 6 lanes will be required from Vallejo to Yountville and 4 lanes for Yountville to St. Helena, or it will be bumper-to-bumper traffic. Just these costs will eat up not only any fiscal tourist contribution but leave an enormous gap to be borne once again by the public.

Napa County is in urgent need of a comprehensive study on the cost of growth that will calculate the net fiscal impact of the ever increasing visitation model. It is the only rational way by which from a purely fiscal point of view we can determine whether this is the way to, as Ms. Simpson writes, “keep our economy going”.

However, as dubious the fiscal model is, it is not the most important factor to consider, and that is whether we really want this way of “keeping our economy going”. Do we like the urban type traffic congestion in our supposedly agricultural area? The gradual displacement of neighborhoods by part-time residents? The inflationary impact and unsustainable local services? Do we want to end up Bowling Alone in the anonymity caused by the disproportionate influx of visitors in what Robert Putnam in his eponymous seminal book coined as “the loss of social capital”?

In the end, for whom do we keep this economy going?

Napa Valley Register Version 7/24/15: Does tourism really pay for itself?

The Devil's vineyard

George Caloyannidis - Jun 24, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

I just returned from a trip to Europe.

One of the visits was to the island of Sylt on Germany's North Sea. The island is connected to the mainland by bridge with road and train service. Its spectacular 25 mile long sandy beaches have always been the secret playground of the German rich and famous. Beautiful thatched roof homes used to comprise a cohesive country community, always a big part of the attraction.

In the last few decades, tourism discovered Sylt as an opportunity resource for exploitation. The massive proliferation of expensive hotels, second home buyers and Porches for rent have gradually pushed out the local population. The steadily diminishing number of children forced its first elementary school to close a few years ago, then the second one combined classrooms with children of different ages. Recently, the last school was forced to close leaving no alternative for the remaining children but to board the train to the mainland. Local residents complain that they no longer have neighbors they know or to talk to. While the local economy seems to be thriving, the social fabric has been torn to pieces. Low paying jobs are proliferating, the income gap stares one in the face... Stage 3.

The second, the historic city of Bruges in Belgium is as charming a mediaeval city as there is. Lovely steeped roofed brick homes, two incredible cathedrals, cobbled streets and canals bring tour bus after tour bus with 3 million tourists a year on to its 117,000 residents. Chocolate and waffle shops abound, restaurants are packed with tourists. The economy seems to thrive but the income gap widens. One can understand why locals hate living in what has become a Hansel and Gretel Disneyland... Stage 3.

Late last year, a few thousand locals staged massive protests against the onslaught of tourism in Barcelona. The least obscene banners proclaimed, "Don't step on Barcelona" and "Tourists don't trample on us". Similar scenario, with GDP declining and the national economy relying on EU bailouts. No difference in Portugal...Stage 3 1/2.

Greece which completely sold out to tourism after joining the EU, found out that the jobs it brought are the lowest paying ones. Subsidies to supplement them have proliferated and so have government jobs, the only ones paying decent wages. We all know how this bankrupt scenario has played out... Stage 4.

The literature on tourism generally recognizes 5 stages in its trajectory. The first, is purely supplemental and supportive to an existing economic base. Stage 2 leads to the local economy's increasing reliance on tourist dollars and is perceived by local governments and businesses as essential. Stage 3 sees the beginning dislocation of the local population, a gradual tearing of the social fabric, the proliferation of low paying jobs with the associated concentration of outsider investor wealth at the top. With those factors in place, turning back the clock is almost impossible. That process is irreversible by Stage 4. The deficit economy of tourism becomes evident as the 30 to 40-fold wear and tear of the infrastructure requires ever increasing funds for maintenance and further destructive expansion.

By stage 5, the Faustian Deal is complete. Local government has negotiated itself into the corner of no alternative than the vicious circle of even more and more tourism to pay the bill. It never catches up. Finally, tourism having left thriving communities in tatters both in terms of infrastructure and social capital, it moves on little by little to other destinations to devour.

The Napa Valley is steadily approaching the Stage 3 tipping point and the local population is starting to feel it in its bones.

Napa Valley Register version: Tourism's Faustian deal (read the comments)


Sandy Ericson - Jan 14, 2016
R.W. Butler: Tourist area life cycles synopsis and the full article

It just occurred to me that this is the "Platex Strategy" again! In the lingerie garment industry Platex would place a big order from the manufacturer . The company was thrilled and went out and bought machines, rented space and hired workers to make the order -- they could not turn down the order. The next order was for a lower price but the company had debts by then and so had to accept the price. The next order was even lower. Until you can guess the outcome but by then Platex was on to another company. In the industry this was a famous case study in business schools.

Process Grapes Not Tourists

Bill Hocker - Jun 22, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

[Comments made at the June 22, 2015 APAC Meeting]

Chairman Hall, members of the committee, Director Morrison

My name is Bill Hocker. I submitted one of the proposals for this June 22nd APAC meeting. I figured that my proposal was so off topic, or off the wall, that I'd better say something - even though I've got a morbid fear of public speaking.

I'm here because a winery has been proposed next to our place at the top of Soda Canyon Road. I've spent the last year laying awake at night thinking about the project and its impact on the remoteness and quiet we have enjoyed these last 20 years. As a weekender, without an economic stake in the county beyond the property, I know I have little standing to be making proposals to this committee. But as we've found out over the last year, we're not alone in having to face the impacts posed by similar projects.

I talked to the developer about mitigations. His attitude was we can work something out. I then asked about deleting the tourism component. No, that was not negotiable.

It's been clear in almost all of the projects coming up before the planning commission in the last year that it was the tourism component driving the projects, not the need to make wine.

I made my proposal because I've been frustrated that the APAC discussions thus far, while acknowledging a desire to curb winery proliferation, have posed solutions that seem to me marginal to the real cause of that proliferation, their use as tourist venues.

These APEC meetings should be the place to begin to talk about the transfer from an agricultural to a tourist economy that the projects represent, - what that means for the wine industry and the residents.

What do you want this place to be known for 35 years from now? Still a first-tier wine producing region of the world, or a second-tier, perhaps over-the-hill, tourist destination?

The Napa wine industry is finite. New vineyard development is approaching its limits. But the tourism industry can expand indefinitely if allowed. Tourism needs to be a part of the county's economy. But real agriculture will survive only if the tourism industry remains, in the words of the WDO, incidental and subordinate to the wine industry.

Others have pointed out that protecting agriculture is part of a bigger picture than just winery development. Urban development throughout the county, whether for tourism or not, will only increase - not relieve - pressure for the Ag zones to be urbanized. We need a committee to address that probability.

But here you are trying to address a specific piece of that bigger picture - the "interspersing of non-agricultural activities throughout agricultural areas " warned about in the preamble of the 1990 WDO. Short of a moratorium the best way to do that, I think, is to insure that the decision to build a winery is based on the need to process grapes and not on the desire to process tourists.

Urbanization by Over-Visitation

Geoff Ellsworth - Jun 17, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

[Update: NVR version Urbanization by over visitation - lots of comments]

Please look at the chart of suggested Napa County roadway expansions from the 2007 Napa County Draft Environmental Impact Report.
They include:

-Widening much of Silverado Trail to 4 lanes
-Widening much of Highway 29 to 4 and even 6 lanes in places
-Widening of upvalley 2 lane roads such as Deer Park road and Chiles-Pope Valley Road into 4 lane roads

While these expansions are explained as “…inconsistent with the current county General Plan”, they are also noted as the “the necessary roadway improvements that when applied to the 2030 network would mitigate the significant traffic operation impacts at the locations specified” and would “reduce peak hour and daily levels of service to acceptable levels.”

We are already experiencing twice daily gridlock traffic along both Hwy 29 and Silverado Trail. Our currently over-impacted road/traffic situation will degrade further with every new high visitation project approved as more tourism and the hospitality workforce to support that tourism will be required to travel up and down our roads.

Our infrastructure and roadways WILL SIMPLY HAVE TO EXPAND if we continue to accommodate a heavy-visitation tourism based economy and the traffic increases brought on by continued approval of winery and hospitality endeavors.

This infrastructure and roadway expansion will create a further and rapid urbanization of Napa Valley/County, intense pressure on our Agricultural Preserve as well as a threat to the rural character, community fabric and quality of life in Napa County/Valley.

This will be urbanization by over-visitation, the Napa Valley and Napa County will be transformed by the necessary roadway and infrastructure increases to accommodate the increased visitation currently promoted.

While this may seem unthinkable to those that love and care about the rural character of Napa Valley/County, our communities and of protecting our growing/farming lands, it is clear that If we continue adding heavy visitation-oriented development our current two-lane roads or “feeder arteries” will be stressed to the breaking point, and our Ag Preserve/ growing lands will get further paved over to accommodate this visitation/ hospitality/marketing aspect.

We must also consider the effects on our precious grapegrowing microclimate of 1000’s of slow moving cars and trucks idling in our narrow valley, as well as water limitations.

There are over 55 new and expansion projects in the county pipeline waiting for approval. Is this urbanization the future we want for Napa Valley and Napa County? We must stop now and analyze the cumulative impacts of current development before we allow more. We must analyze the carrying capacity of our roads, infrastructure and water availability in relation to the health, welfare and safety of our citizens and community.

The time to stand up is now for those that believe in our Ag Preserve as a Growing/Farming region, for those that wish to protect our communities and the rural nature of our county, We must find the common ground upon which to stand together now.

Please contact all County Supervisors and Planning Commission (below),
write letters to our newspapers, and become involved with groups such as the NapaVision2050 Coalition,
Sooner is better.
Feel free to pass this letter on or to contact mebest,

Napa Valley Register Editor - Sean Scully
St. Helena Star Editor

Brad Wagenknecht
Mark Luce
Diane Dillon
Alfredo Pedroza
Keith Caldwell

Heather Phillips
Michael Basayne
Anne Cottrell
Terry Scott
Matt Pope

Napa Vision 2050
Advocating for Responsible Planning to Insure Sustainability for Napa County's Finite Resources

APAC #4 statement

Geoff Ellsworth - May 28, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

I watched the May 20th 2015 Napa County Planning Commission meeting on video from the county Website. I think it was a really important meeting. I appreciated Ted Hall’s comments about looking at the Big Picture. I think everyone should watch this meeting if you can. The meeting does an excellent job of delineating many of the issues we are talking about here.

We are hearing a lot here about “The Dream”. the Dream people say they have about things like having their own winery someday. I understand that, I really do.

I have a dream too. My dream is to protect Napa County Agriculture and to protect the communities here that allow Napa County Agriculture to exist. I am here to stand up for the citizens who allow Napa County to be a Right-to-Farm County.

The major threat we are seeing, in conjunction with water availability, is over-visitation leading towards urbanization. Our infrastructure and our communities are staining to accommodate this over-visitation and if we keep on this present course, will break. This is urbanization by over-visitation and it will compromise our Ag Preserve growing region and the communities who live here.

This must be a part of every conversation in trying to solve this problem.

(In searching for an analogy I spent this morning looking at pictures of capsized ferry boats. You can only put so many people on these boats before they tip over or sink).

Our two lane roads are the limiting factor in the system. if we overload their capacity, whether the visitation happens in a municipality or in the county, we risk a breakdown of the entire system. We risk breaking the nest Egg that is the Ag Preserve.

When I first got involved in this over a year ago I realized that in order to be effective I had to make the commitment that my actions in this could in no way benefit myself.
That is an ideal. It doesn’t mean it has to be forever but this is such a complex problem that I believe if we all can ALL start looking past how any of this is going to benefit ourselves personally, then we can start looking at the Big Picture of what it’s going to take to protect Napa County Agriculture AND our communities who live here.

The direct-to-consumer boondoggle

George Caloyannidis - Apr 17, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

The Direct to Consumer Sales Model, April, 2015.

The premise that the wine sales model has changed, requiring direct sales for wineries to survive, which the County believes is basically false. For it to be understood in terms of implementing policy, it must be recognized for what it is and separated into its different components.

While in Los Angeles, I spoke to two people in the wine distribution, brokerage, retail and import trade. They have been at it for as long as I have known them; 40 years.
The 3-tier sales system is alive and well. No new laws have changed it.

What is true is that the number of distributors has become smaller due to consolidation and the large distributors prefer large volume wineries. Though fewer, they sell more wine than ever before.

However, the slack has been picked up by many more wine brokers who handle smaller wineries. Scores of them would love to sell the many wines that wineries choose to sell directly to customers.

But, just as before, direct sales are more profitable, eliminating the middle tier costs of storage, commissions etc. Nothing new.

There are two ways to sell wine direct: One is benign and one is destructive.

Direct sales are easier to implement than they have ever been. In addition to winery trade tastings, winemaker dinners at markets around the country, the internet has provided a powerful new tool for developing a direct sales data base and increased winery profits.

Trade tastings and winemaker dinners involve travel and hard work which the new winery owners are not willing to engage. They prefer the easier way and have convinced the County that this is an issue of survival. And the County keeps accommodating them with increased visitation rights. It is a short sighted policy.
Direct sales as such have no direct impact on the valley. Entertainment at the wineries is another story.

The concept of bringing the customer to the winery, instead of taking the winery to the customer is not the result of "the changing marketing reality". It must be recognized for what it is [event related] and the consequences it has for everyone.

More tourist traffic and more hotel rooms, the primary drivers of an accelerating low wage job market, create more commuter traffic, diminished quality of life, more use of the infrastructure and its deficit maintenance/expansion/replacement costs which are borne by the community at large. All for the benefit of very few who are not willing to put in the work.

Any formula which increases the number of winery visitors unleashes this destructive chain. Tying visits to production levels will only increase the applications for increased productions.

This chain of consequences gradually transforms the agricultural character of the valley to one of retail entertainment. It is a slippery slope and it lies at the root of the increased search of new definitions and variances, around what constitutes agricultural or commercial use.

We should not be having this debate.

Sierra Club on APAC

Nancy Tamarisk - Mar 16, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

March 16, 2015

Napa County Board of Supervisors
1195 Third Street, Suite 310
Napa, CA 94559

Re: Agenda Item 10C: Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee, for March 17th meeting.

We are so pleased that the Planning Department and the BOS are acting expeditiously to establish a broad-based stakeholders' committee to examine problems related to winery proliferation and increasingly commercialized non-agricultural offerings at the wineries.

We are concerned that the purview of the Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee seems to be limited to a list of pre-defined topics, which do not reflect fully the scope of problems which speakers brought up during the lengthy public comment period at the development forum.

What we all heard from the Planning Commissioners is that the current WDO regs lack the degree of detail which allows them to determine whether projects brought before them fall within the letter-of-the-law, and that they need more detailed direction in order to make fair decisions.

We have also heard about "creep", for example that simple wine-food pairings are now turning into full-scale meals. Then again there are issues of granting variances with a freedom which seems to violated the legal definition of variance. In a final example, there seems to be little effort to monitor for compliance with winery use permits, and the sanctions, when violations are discovered, seem minimal.

We do not think the community will feel well-served if only new permits are considered, but those who are currently flouting the regulations are allowed to continue business as usual.

We gather that the "visitation matrix" will be developed totally apart from this committee. This seems awkward, as the considerations are so interwoven. How can these processes be drawn into alignment.

We would second Eve Kahn's suggestion that the phrase "to include but not limited to" be added before the list of topics.

We do appreciated the speed with which all of this is being organized. However, if by September 1 the community feels that its concerns have not been adequately addressed, we will be faced with further uproar, and perhaps a redo.

I would add that while Agricultural Protection is indeed central to this committee's work, most of the public seems concerned not just with ag, but with what we might call "rural quality of life", and the committee's work needs to reflect that public issue as well.

Thank you for your consideration.

Nancy Tamarisk
Napa Sierra Club.

Mar 10th 2015 BOS-PC statement: George Caloyannidis

George Caloyannidis - Mar 13, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

Comment to the Napa County Supervisor Hearing on Policy March 10, 2015

Honorable Supervisors:
Not that long ago, as recently perhaps as 20 years ago, the Napa Valley had a healthy infrastructure and a high quality of life.

The county and the cities balance their budgets each year, but as evidenced by their never ending need for revenue and the declining condition of the infrastructure and level of services, the fiscal model by which they address growth is heading in the wrong direction.

While we know what each tourist spends, we do not know what each tourist actually costs, and simple logic tells us that the current long-term equation is negative. It is imperative that we resolve this question because it lies at the heart of any future planning policy.

The overall underlying deficit has reached a point where, with the exception of the very few who are reaping the profits, people are not happy. We are in urgent need of employing fundamentally different models in assessing the comprehensive costs and effects of growth and assign an equitable responsibility for their recovery.

Here are some numbers which we cannot be proud of:

* According to the 2013 California Community Economic Development, 27% of Napa County residents live below the Self Sufficiency Standard (SSS) of $ 27,841 for a single person as do 43% of families with children.

According to the California Employment Development Division:

* The Manufacturing/Winery sector is our largest employer. Its median wages are around $ 35,000 per year, barely above the SSS for a single person but not enough to support a second person (SSS - 39,242). The bad news is that it is expected to grow by 10% over the next 5 years.

* The Accommodation/Food Service sector has the worst median wage record of around $ 22,000 per year - only 56% of the SSS for a single person. Worse yet, this is an even faster growing sector.
While the County has no jurisdiction for the associated development in the cities, it is the County which enables that growth by increasing winery related tourism.

* Other major sectors of our economy, such as Retail, Waste Management and Administrative Support, pay median wages of around $ 27,000 per year, only 70% of the SSS for a single person.

On the other hand, we do not have any data on the income distribution of the Napa valley economy and its trajectory over time; something which needs to be done. In a model of growth from which business owners and developers profit, it would be grossly inequitable to distribute the cost of growth - both in monetary as well is in quality of life terms - on to the general public, including the 27% and 43%, all the way to teachers, police and fire fighters.

We have reached an unsustainable point in our economy which is based on taxpayer support to supplement the shortfall in SSS with various programs for 27,000 employees. Even the cost of affordable housing, which will never be built to a level high enough to make a difference in commuting, is being charged at highly discounted in-lieu fees and therefore relies on tax-payer subsidies.

Because of the low wage environment and the lack of well paying jobs:

* A full 1/4 of jobs in the county are imported and 16% are exported. This means that 32,000 workers commute twice a day outside the county clogging Hwy 29 and the Silverado Trail, degrading everyone's quality of life.

Even worse, the projections are downright frightening:

If current policies continue, the low paying job sector will increase by 10% over the next 5 years and by 45% over the next 15 years. This is a path to a disastrous decline in the quality of life at every level and for every Napa county resident.

According to 2012 Napa Valley Register statistics, hotel rooms in the Napa Valley grew from 3,693 in 2002 to 5,232 in 2012, a 42% increase with 2,000 more in pending applications. These would add some 4,000 of the lowest paying jobs.

The combined cost of the increasingly intense use of the infrastructure and resources is astronomical. According to credible studies, this leads to an ever widening - not a narrowing - gap between revenues from fees, sales taxes, property taxes, TOT and actual costs.

Local governments are caught in a downward spiral having no choice but to grasp at any short-term revenue of the "Deficit Growth Model". As a result, we are piling the enormous and increasingly out of reach costs of growth on to the general public while the profits go to a handful of financial entities. This is not only a fiscally unsustainable model, it is also an unethical one.

Solutions will require workshops of the most diverse and brightest people in the county. The prospect of continuing current policies without systemic changes is frightening.

BY: George Caloyannidis, PhD
Professor Emeritus School of Architecture, University of Southern California
Calistoga, CA 94515

Napa's data-based death spiral

George Caloyannidis - Mar 7, 2015   View on SCR  |    Share

There are some 80,000 jobs in Napa County, which has a population of 140,000. More than half of these jobs serving 3,000,000 visitors are in the low-paying wine/ tourism/retail and waste management sectors.

According to the California Center for Community Economic Development, 27 percent of the county’s population is currently living below the Self Sufficiency Standard. As a result, 25 percent of all low- paying jobs depend on importing workers and 16 percent of our local workforce leaves the county because of our well-paying job deficit. That, in turn, means that 32,000 workers clog highway 29 and the Silverado Trail twice a day commuting from and to other counties.

To make matters worse, the low-paying sector is the fastest growing in the county — 10 percent over the next five years—with overall commuter traffic projected to grow by 9,100, a whopping 45 percent by 2030, according to projections compiled from the U.S. Census, the California Employment Development Division and the Association of Bay Area Governments’ 2013 Projections if current patterns do not change. One would cringe looking at 2050 if we fail to make fundamental adjustments.

Any logical set of solutions in addition to effective public transit is limited to putting the brakes on the accommodation of low-paying jobs at wineries, events and resorts, promoting the creation of high-paying ones and prioritizing the actual building of work-force housing. Napa county has one of the lowest home affordability indexes in the nation at 21 percent, equal to San Francisco’s but given the paltry in-lieu fees charged to developers, land scarcity and the not-in-my-backyard attitude of the general public, it is certain that enough work-force housing to make any appreciable difference on traffic will never be built.

County Supervisors and mayors cringe at the prospect of limiting winery and resort development or putting the brakes on weddings and events at wineries. We need the tax revenue, they will say, or our infrastructure will crumble, essential services will diminish. The problem with this model is that it leads to a downward fiscal spiral.

How is it that our entire nation has reached the point where its roads, bridges, all distribution systems; its entire infrastructure is crumbling requiring staggering amounts of money we don’t have? The urgent need to keep up with the most rudimentary patchwork repairs has led governments at every level to be beholden to any revenue regardless of its consequences.

Multiple studies by Oregon-based consultants Fodor & Associates analyzed the long-term cost of urban growth and compared it with the off-site impact fees municipalities typically charge developers. They found that such fees focus on individual impacts but neglect to account for the mushrooming cumulative ones. While a left-turn lane may be sufficient to mitigate a single development’s impact, the addition of three or four down the line may require miles of road re-surfacing due to increased use, additional lanes, larger schools, fire stations, planning departments, sewer plants, more police, etc. The general public is left holding the bag or suffers from diminished services while the developers reap the profits. This is the fiscal—even ethical—legacy embodied in our current fiscal model, resulting in such public cost-shifting instruments as our recent Measure T or the California Water Bonds — with similar ones sure to follow — because we have surpassed the tipping point of deficit growth.

Fodor’s impact fee analyses for Oregon — California’s fee structure is similar — showed that each additional home in Eugene in 1998 burdened the tax payers with $27,587 in uncollected costs, and that each residential unit in Oregon destination resorts left taxpayers with a deficit of $22,374. The projected extra cost of all proposed Oregon resorts in 2009 was estimated at $747 million. These numbers do not account for the harder-to-monetize deteriorating quality of the environment or that of Oregonians’ lives.

There are approximately 2,000 new homes (including 260 taxpayer- subsidized affordable ones) and 1,400 hotel rooms (creating 2,794 more low-paying commuter jobs) planned in the county. Each one of these projects comes with huge profits for the very few while shifting multi-million dollar costs, hard-to-imagine congestion, water shortages and more no-burn days on to the general public.

Not unexpectedly, Fodor’s methodology has been attacked by special interests. But as the current state of the nationwide infrastructure attests, no competing study has proved that growth has a net positive longterm fiscal effect in our communities. Any growth at this point in history requires a meticulously researched balancing act.

Napa County and its cities are caught in a self-defeating downward spiral in following current growth models favoring the proliferation of low-paying jobs in the wine and hospitality industries. When one considers all factors and asks oneself whether the quality of life in the Napa Valley is better now than it was 15 years ago—the ultimate test of successful governing — if the unlikely answer is “yes”, wait 15 years down the road when “no” will become irreversibly clear to all.

The road ahead involves difficult and courageous decisions — even deeply ethical ones — but in employing new models, the future is not entirely without solutions. Anyone want to be a Supervisor?

Statistical citations for the article
Napa Valley Register version: Anyone want to be a Supervisor?