Soda Canyon Group v. County of Napa, et al. Case No.: 17CV001063
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: April 3, 2019
Contacts: Mark Wolfe, Esq. (firstname.lastname@example.org);
Anthony Arger, Esq. (email@example.com), Soda Canyon Group.
STATEMENT OF SODA CANYON GROUP ADDRESSING
NAPA COUNTY’S EFFORTS TO REVERSE A COURT ORDER REQUIRING
THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS TO RECONSIDER APPROVAL OF MOUNTAIN PEAK VINEYARD PROJECT IN LIGHT OF THE 2017 ATLAS FIRE
In August 2017, Napa County and its Board of Supervisors approved the Mountain Peak winery project located near the very end of the 6.5-mile, dead-end Soda Canyon Road. With a 100,000-gallon annual production facility and 14,575 visitors per year event center, the project proposes the largest visitation allowance of any winery in the history of Napa County that is located on a dead-end road, and is the largest project ever proposed in Napa County when considering the remoteness of the location and access constraints. In approving the project, the County made several spurious “Findings of Fact” pertaining to fire danger on Soda Canyon Road such as the following:
“In the event of a fire that results in mass evacuations from this area, the road has sufficient capacity and roadway width to accommodate all outgoing traffic while allowing incoming fire response units.”
“[Neighbors] claim that fire/rescue response efforts will be impeded along Soda Canyon Road if the Project is constructed are unfounded and not supported by factual evidence.”
At approximately 9:52pm on Sunday, October 8, 2017 (less than three weeks after Soda Canyon Group filed its lawsuit against the County and Mountain Peak in September 2017), the Atlas Fire erupted and tore through Soda Canyon at a rate of nearly 70 mph. Numerous residents on lower Soda Canyon Road had only minutes to evacuate and many barely escaped, as a fallen tree blocked the entirety of the road for several precious minutes while the fire closed in on all sides. Tragically, two individuals on lower Soda Canyon did not escape and were taken by the fire. On upper Soda Canyon Road, near the Mountain Peak project site, 60-70 people became completely trapped, as the inferno blocked their only escape route down Soda Canyon. Approximately 40-50 of these individuals were evacuated from upper Soda Canyon Road by CHP helicopters in 60+ mph crosswinds. The fire burned 22,110 acres, including the entirety of lower SCR in less than one day, and within two days burned a total of 42,181 acres. In all, the Atlas Fire damaged or destroyed 82% (134) of the 163 residences on Soda Canyon Road, with 72% (118) of the residences thereon suffering a complete loss.
Following a motion filed by Soda Canyon Group seeking to introduce evidence of the 2017 Atlas Fire, a Napa Superior Court Judge on February 22, 2019 ordered the County’s approval of the Mountain Peak winery project to be remanded to the Board of Supervisors to consider new evidence relating to the October 2017 Atlas Fire. The Court’s order rightfully observes that the new evidence calls into question several of the Board’s “Findings of Fact” supporting its approval of the winery project, noting “the complete inaccessibility of Soda Canyon Road during a fire and resulting helicopter evacuations of stranded individuals.”
Incredibly, on March 28, 2019, the County and Mountain Peak jointly filed a writ of mandate with the Court of Appeal, First Appellate District – effectively an interim appeal – challenging the Napa Superior Court’s order that the County must consider evidence pertaining to the devastating Atlas Fire.
The catastrophic 2017 Atlas Fire was a tragic event, the impacts and consequences of which are still being felt across the entire Soda Canyon, Atlas Peak, and greater Napa-Sonoma communities. Soda Canyon Group believes the Court reached the right decision in remanding this issue to the Supervisors in light of the clear and present fire dangers that have existed in the Soda Canyon, Monticello, and Atlas Peak communities for hundreds of years, and will continue to exist going forward. Sadly, the County disagrees, and has chosen to fight the remand in an appellate court rather than hearing evidence regarding the Atlas Fire and treating this as a unique opportunity to reconsider its prior findings that the Mountain Peak project does not pose any adverse impacts when it comes to access constraints in the event of a fire or other catastrophic emergency.
The County’s decision is even more disappointing and surprising following two meetings held in the fall of 2018 by the Board of Supervisors on the topic of remote and rural wineries, including discussions about fire safety. Several Supervisors questioned their own evaluation and approval process used for winery projects, like Mountain Peak, in Napa’s remote and rural areas, in light of the devastation caused by the 2017 fires. For example, on September 25, 2018, Supervisor Dillon recognized that “[w]e would have had a disaster if there would have been a major event happening of any kind. . . .” at Mountain Peak on the night the Atlas Fire began. On October 16, 2018, Supervisor Wagenknecht closed out the meeting by stating “I’m not seeing a real need for more wineries in the far [h]inter lands of Napa County.”
In light of the Supervisors’ comments last fall regarding access constraints, fire safety, and community impacts of remote wineries in the hillsides, Soda Canyon Group sincerely hoped that the Supervisors would welcome the opportunity to follow the Napa Court’s order and revisit their approval of Mountain Peak in light of irrefutable, factual evidence pertaining to the 2017 Atlas Fire. Unfortunately, the County seems determined to avoid confronting its prior approval of a large-scale winery event center in an inappropriate location more than 6 miles up Soda Canyon Road – one of the most remote, rural, and fire-prone areas in all of Napa.