Here we go, again.

The Napa County Planning Commission is allowing more monolithic, destructive development in the Ag Preserve that both grossly erodes the intentions of the ordinance (a landmark ordinance, and the first of its kind in the US), and promotes commercial venues with high water use, intense traffic impact, erosion of quality of life, and no housing for employees. Do we want, in our rural valley, “Disneyland” size and style tourist attractions? We wish to acknowledge that Commissioners Gallagher and Cottrell, very wisely opposed this project, making it a three to two victory. As in situations such as this, the neighbors are putting up a good fight and have, at much personal cost and time, launched a formal appeal. The appeal is set to be heard at the Board of Supervisors meeting on November 16, 2021.

We commend Michael Honig and a group of concerned neighbors called “Keep Rutherford Rural” who have appealed the Napa County Planning Commission’s approval of an enormous commercial visitor center and winery proposed by the Frank Family/Benjamin Ranch. If ever a project needed your voice, this is one to which we recommend you pay close attention.
– the editors

The Michael Honig/Keep Rutherford Rural appeal cover letter states the following:

“The Planning Commission committed a prejudicial abuse of discretion when it granted Benjamin Ranch Winery’s use permit application (P13-00371-UP) and adopted a mitigated negative declaration in support of the Benjamin Ranch Project. The County has failed to prepare a legally adequate initial study, improperly omitting consideration of potentially significant Project impacts and lacking evidentiary support for claims that Project traffic and flooding impacts would be insignificant. The Revised Mitigated Negative Declaration (RMND) includes inadequate analysis for the Project’s impacts related to traffic, traffic safety, greenhouse gas, noise, water supply and flood hazards. The RMND also fails to analyze the whole of the project, improperly segmenting review of Project bottling. Additionally, the County failed to recirculate the substantially revised RMND and Project. The County was required to recirculate the RMND to the public and to consult with responsible agencies, including Caltrans, regarding the revised Project. Further, the County failed to provide evidence to support the required findings for the approval of a use permit.”

Also, from the Keep Rutherford Rural site, these points:

“As we started looking at the Benjamin Ranch Project, it appears that county policy has changed from protecting our valley, to becoming an advocate for development for those individuals who have the means to partake and who have become influential via monetary donations to political campaigns.

“The Chair of the Napa County Planning Commission, Andrew Mazotti, said that Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) are a waste of time and not needed. Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza wants to develop our Valley to replicate neighboring counties with regard to development.

“At least one of the members of the Napa County Board of Supervisors is being paid by banks and developers for unknown reasons. Please review the state filing documents that ALL candidates are required to file. Anyone with more information about these transactions is encouraged to email us so that our legal team can further investigate. Information can remain confidential if needed. See Schedule a-2 here.”
– from Keep Rutherford Rural’s website

To read the entire legal packet of argument and documents, visit the Keep Rutherford Rural website and look here.

“Our group was created to oppose the construction of the Frank Family’s Benjamin Ranch Project, a “Disneyland” sized winery and visitation center proposed for the Rutherford AVA. The scale and impact of this project exceeds the principles of the Napa Valley Ag Preserve, that was passed in 1968. This landmark set of zoning laws, which encompasses Ag Preserve and Ag Watershed lands, established agriculture as the highest and best use of the land in Napa County, and to protect agriculture for future generations.”
Keep Rutherford Rural

Talking Points and Position Statements of Keep Rutherford Rural’s basis of appeal:
*The proposed winery/visitor center is the largest proposed winery project submitted to Napa in the past 15 years.

*It is too large, and the infrastructure is not in place to support it.

*The project would deplete what remains of the limited water available to the region for frost protection, grape irrigation, winery production and visitor use. [Note from editors: At this time, Napa County does not yet have a Groundwater Sustainability Plan. It is premature to allow such a development under these conditions, and at this time.]

*The proposed visitation allowance (300 guests/day) would create increased traffic on a small rural road, as well as excessive noise.

*The project would incur a loss of vineyard land for a 100K square foot winery, entertainment center, and parking spaces for approximately 100 cars.

*It would also allow thousands of tons of non-Napa grapes being trucked into the valley.

*The project lacks fire mitigation resources.

*The oversize building(s) will obstruct the viewshed.

*Public safety will be affected by the absence of bike lanes and a left turn lane on Rutherford Rd.

*An Environmental Impact Analysis has not been completed to assess the cumulative impact that this project, and all new projects, will have on the Napa Valley.

*In addition, wine production facilities have surpassed capacity of what is needed relative to the amount of wine grapes available in the Napa Valley. Many experts disagree with the statements in the Benjamin Ranch Project proposal, and therefore merits an EIR (Environmental Impact Report).

This is an important one to follow and comment upon. Write, call, or text your county supervisors. Let them know this is not the development we need or want in Napa County. See the list of supervisors and their contact information, here. You can also appear at the Board of Supervisors meeting, in person, or via zoom, on Tuesday, November 16, 2021 when this issue will be heard.

For more information about the appeal, visit the Keep Rutherford Rural website and help in the battle to save our county from this development and the precedent this one could set for the future.