This is an archived version of the Napavision 2050 website prior to Sept, 2017. Click here for the current website.
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

Our Napa Valley by Hardy Wilson Looking west across the Capell Valley towards Walt Ranch whose ridgetops are to be stripped of trees to make room for grapes.
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.

You are always invited to visit us on facebook for the latest updates as well.

Recent Posts

15 posts 

NV2050 on the erosion of the Ag Preserve

Bill Hocker - Aug 13, 2019   Share

Update 8/13/19
The Aug 12th issue of the Vision 2050 Newsletter discusses the two voter initiatives, Measure J of 1990 and Measure P of 2008, that took the decision of rezoning county lands away from the supervisors and gave it to the electorate - based on the assumption that voters would be better stewards of Napa's agricultural heritage than its elected officials. Given the shift on the County Board of Supervisors in the last 20 years toward an emphasis on tourism, industrial development and now housing growth, the concern was well founded.

Unfortunately, the protections afforded by Measures J and P are not absolute. The supervisors can still agree to annexations of county land by the municipalities, converting ag land to urban use. They have changed the definition of "agriculture" and of "winery" to allow more urban uses on agriculturally zoned lands. And they have expanded non-ag industrial uses, like gravel quarries and solar farms, that consume enormous amounts of ag land.

Also, the voter protections of Measure J and P are not a sure thing. Housing construction in the municipalities, and the county's support of tourism and industrial job creation needing that housing, has increased the urban population in the county and shifted the concerns of the electorate away from the desire to preserve ag land and open space toward a need for more infrastructure, urban amenities, ever more revenue-generating development, and of course more housing in a futile effort to lower housing costs. The electorate is growing ever further from the notion of an agricultural-based economy and the shift only promises future development more in line with the urban expansion of the rest of the bay area. Voters are no less susceptible to the promises of developers than elected officials are, and only modestly more expensive to convince.

For better or worse, the preservation of the rural character of the county will still depend on the vision and guidance of an enlightened majority of supervisors, with their historical understanding of the unique experiment of the ag preserve and its value in an urban world. That majority doesn't currently exist, but there is always hope that enlightened heroes will rise to the challenge once again. Three votes on a given Tuesday created and maintained the ag preserve for 50 years and can do so again - if there is the will.

Update 7/30/19
The July 30th issue of the Napa Vision 2050 newsletter brings a third installment of their look at the history of Napa's agricultural protections, and how the many potential environmental impacts of the 1990 Winery Definition Ordinance and proposed mitigations needed to counter those impacts have been ignored (or buried!) for the last 30 years.

Update 7/24/19
Mike Hackett LTE 7/24/19: Take real action on water and development

Update 7/18/19
The July 18th issue of the Napa Vision 2050 newsletter brings a second installment of their look at the history of Napa's agricultural protections, now currently under threat of a development boom and growth-oriented officials.

In their July 11th newsletter, Napa Vision 2050 is pushing back against the proponents of "Save the Family Farms" wishing to be permitted tourism tastings and events at their rural venues even without a permitted winery.

In doing so, NV2050 is making a much broader case that this is further attempt to introduce commercial non-conforming uses into the agricultural zones of the county, contrary to the county's history and its General Plan commitments to protection of agriculture and open space in the face of urbanizing pressure.

They cite an important document: the 1987-88 Grand Jury concerns about the proliferation of non-conforming and accessory uses at wineries. The report was made just prior to the drafting of the original WDO in 1990. The concept that tourism uses of wineries would lead to general urbanization of the county and threaten its agricultural lands is clearly stated in the report:
    "In recent years there has been a increase in the number of commercial promotional, cultural and entertainment activities occurring in wineries and other facilities located on agriculturally zoned land outside of city limits... The increase in these urban activities underscores the growth of wineries and other facilities as cultural and community centers, and raises questions as to their urbanizing influence...The movement of people from populated urban areas to less populated rural areas opposes the major intent of the [General] Plan creates problems of traffic, sanitation, and other services..."

There is an even more detailed look at the impacts of non-agricultural uses at wineries made in the Environmental Impact Report done for the WDO in 1989. The sections of the WDO EIR are linked here. In particular, comments on the Growth Inducing Impacts and Cumulative Impacts cited in Vol III the EIR (beginning on page A-82) are quite germain to this discussion. The EIR recognizes that "Winery development under the DWDO as proposed, or with mitigation, would cause irreversible and irretrievable environmental effects". (It also states that the profits to be made from winery tourism would be worth it.) The EIR lists some 116 mitigations (beginning on p. A-84) that would ease the negative environmental impacts created by the WDO. It is worth going through the list to see how many (or rather how few) of the mitigations have actually been adhered to.

The Grand Jury Report takes as its base the County General Plan as it was in 1982, in which agriculture still had a dictionary definition and marketing activities were clearly seen as non-conforming uses of an agricultural production facility. (I hope a copy of the 1982 General Plan shows up at some point.) In 1990, the WDO codified tours and tastings and trade marketing events at wineries. In 2008 the Plan was updated to include visitation and marketing as accessory agricultural uses at a winery, and in 2010 the WDO was updated to allow food service with tours and tastings and public marketing events. In 2017 visitation and marketing were officially added to the definition of agriculture in county code, solidifying the county's commitment to legalize the use of agriculturally zoned land for commercial tourism development.

The point in looking at these historical documents is only to see the concern that a previous generation of officials had about the dangers of urban uses proliferating in agricultural areas. It was a level of concern that protected agricultural lands for 50 years. Napa Vision 2050 is to be lauded for bringing this history forward.

Now, under the pressure of a boom in worldwide tourism transforming every charming location and quaint industry on the globe into an urbanized mass-market commodity (destroying the character of the locales in the process), our current officials should be encouraged to look at these documents one last time to see what efforts were made by their predecessors to prevent the urban growth that they now so readily embrace.

Have our Board of Supervisors Gotten Religion?

NV2050 Admin - Sep 13, 2017   Share

NVR 9/13/17: Napa supervisors agree on new winery rule-breaker policies

Morrison LTE 9/11/17: County takes code compliance seriously

NVR 8/30/17: Napa County considers clampdown on rule-breakers, including wineries

"What I see before us is that next step in terms of taking compliance to the next level," county Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said.

Our Board of Supervisors say they are going to set deadlines for after-the-fact applications and get really tough.

We are not holding our collective breaths.

Just a few days before this statement, Sup. Pedroza voted for Raymond Vineyards after-the-fact approvals for several structures and tasting areas, more employees, and to take out vines to create a Highway 29 entrance and visitor center.

What about code compliance there? We have been fighting this behavior over numerous years and numerous projects and in each case the Supervisors have looked the other way while rubber-stamping after-the-fact approvals of code violations: Reverie, Bremmer, Relic, The Caves at Soda Canyon... Who's next?

Talk is cheap. Can our Supervisors kick their habit of forgiving code violations by granting permits? We can only say, we will have to wait and see. The proof is in the pudding. Let's all keep breathing and advocating for meaningful code compliance in the meantime. It could be a long time before we see our supervisors get around to it.

Napa Vision 2050 email version of this post

Recap: NV2050 Town Hall Sep 7th

NV2050 Admin - Sep 12, 2017   Share

SH Star 9/12/17: Napa Vision 2050 holds packed town hall meeting in St. Helena

Nearly 100 Napa County residents, including a few Calistoga and St. Helena city officials, packed the Native Sons Hall in St. Helena Thursday night to discuss the diminishing quality of local life in these troubling, touristy, traffic-filled times. It was a night of genuine community involvement.

NV2050 President Dan Mufson began with good news. The Palmaz proposal for private helicopter use in Napa has just been denied! The audience received the announcement with tremendous enthusiasm.

Mufson also announced two exciting initiatives expected to qualify for the ballot: one that would ban permanently most helicopter use in the county, and another that would save local threatened oak woodlands.

Dan then led discussion and comment about issues such as traffic, tourism, wineries at inappropriate locations, and water, wildlife, and woodlands. He noted how frustration over elected officials' unresponsiveness about these issues has mobilized citizens up and down the valley. And NV2050 continues to grow, as many of those in attendance asked to join our email list and to volunteer for our outreach activities.

Mike Hackett lead the discussion as locals' smart, sensitive comments filled most of the two hour meeting. Besides traffic, they remarked on the county not enforcing its codes; the pernicious effect of quarry dust in Napa; and the lack of worker housing to accompany high-end hotels. We were reminded of the cumulative regional effect of over-commercialization stretching from Calistoga indeed down to Vallejo. These land-use issues affect us all.

To make a difference, we encourage residents to attend public meetings; connect with others like Napa Vision 2050; and to elect supervisors who listen to their constituents rather than their donors!

What is Napa Vision 2050?

Donald Williams - Aug 30, 2017   Share

[Editor's note: Napa Vision 2050 will contribute an occasional column outlining its activities. This is the first such column in the Weekly Callistogan.]

What is Napa Vision 2050?

At least as far back as 1988 a Napa Grand Jury committee affirmed that the intent of the county General Plan "is to preserve agriculture, and concentrate urban uses in existing urban areas." It noted the growing "number of commercial, promotional, cultural, and entertainment activities occurring in wineries . . . on agriculturally zoned land" including "concerts, cooking classes, art shows, benefits, and non-agricultural meetings and seminars," and declared that they "are urban uses and by definition not needed for the . . . growing of crops.'

The Grand Jury then warned, presciently, that "failure to enforce the General Plan can only lead to the" ultimate demise of the Ag Preserve because the uniqueness and international reputation of the Napa Valley will continue to invite development and activities conducive to further blurring of the agricultural/industrial and urban separations."

Recent years, of course, have seen precisely the kind of development the 1988 Grand Jury warned against. In response, in the last few years, in neighborhoods throughout the valley, grass-roots groups sprang up to resist the commercialization and diminution of Napa's rural quality. Mostly they worked in isolation, and against high odds.

Gradually these disparate neighborhood groups realized: they weren't alone! In early 2015 they formed a coalition of groups - Napa Vision 2050.

The neighborhood groups agreed: Napa Vision 2050 advocates for responsible planning and development in Napa County. It works to protect the health, welfare, and safety of our community, because Napa's finite resources cannot support infinite growth.

Napa Vision 2050 Activities

Now, observing the traffic congestion plaguing Napa roads, NV2050 encourages the county to recognize that there are limits to the number of visitors and non-agricultural events that can rationally be permitted in our rural regions. It also encourages the county, when considering applications for additional commercialization in the rural regions of the county, to acknowledge development's cumulative effects on residents.

NV2050 supported the "Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative" that would defend municipal water supplies, and easily gathered twice as many signatures as required. NV2050 also has worked to ban residential heliports. Additionally, NV2050 has insisted the county determine why Napa has among the highest cancer rates in California. Recognizing the skyrocketing impact of tourism on our semi-rural county, NV2050 recently sponsored a well-attended forum, "Understanding the Tourism-based Economy -Benefits and Costs."

Who Can Join?

Napa Vision 2050 welcomes anyone who cares about the quality of life in Napa County. Wherever you live in the county, you can be sure there are supporters of NV2050 nearby.

How is Napa Vision 2050 Funded?

NV2050 is entirely volunteer. There is no paid staff. It's a grass-roots organization. We accept donations to support our efforts to respect the semi-rural character of Napa County. These efforts include: engaging environmental and legal experts regarding land use decisions; supporting advocates respectful of the General Plan; educating the public about dominant local industries and their impact on Napa County.

How Can I Learn More?

This column will answer questions about local environmental work, and describe the grass-roots efforts to understand how the county's land-use decisions affect us all. You can learn more on our website, or write us at P.O. Box 2385, Yountville, CA 94599.

Agriculture in the 21st Century

NV2050 Admin - Aug 17, 2017   Share

[The email version of this post is here]

Another Gross Violator Granted Forgiveness By The BoS?
Is this "Agriculture in the 21st Century"??

“This is not Disneyland. I just think it’s agriculture in the 21st century. I think Napa is fortunate to have experiences that are not one-dimensional.” - Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza


Recently the Napa County Planning Commission approved the permit for expansion of Raymond Vineyards. This decision was appealed to the Board of Supervisors (BoS) by grapegrowers Andy Beckstoffer, Frank Leeds, and Kelleen Sullivan.

Tuesday, August 15, the Board of Supervisors (BoS) voted tentatively, 3-2, to deny this appeal of Raymond Vineyards use permit application.

This is yet another decision by our BoS to grant forgiveness in expanded permits as away of “correcting” code violations. Of the five appeals to the BoS this year, two feature gross code violators who have been granted forgiveness: Raymond Vineyards and The Caves at Soda Canyon.

In an e-mail to the Board before the Raymond Vineyard vote, Norma J. Tofanelli, former president of the Farm Bureau and fourth-generation Calistoga farmer, wrote, “Before denying the appeal of the Raymond Use Permit application, the Board would do well to consider the attached letter from Michael Honig, which appeared in the Napa Register last month...Michael Honig is not only the President of Honig Vineyard & Winery, he is the current chair of the Napa Valley Vintners' Board of Directors.”

“It is not just the "little people" of Napa County who are outraged by the deferential treatment given to winery use permit violators,” Tofanelli said. “The responsible portion of the industry has now spoken out.”

Michael Honig’s letter was short and sharp, entitled, STOP ALLOWING THEM TO ASK FOR FORGIVENESS.
“I hope our county government starts to see the harm these projects are doing to the environment, and indeed our industry, and stops allowing owners the opportunity to ask for forgiveness versus permission,” Honig said.

At the Tuesday hearing, appellant Beckstoffer implored the supervisors to do their duty to protect agriculture.

“Napa County has two choices. One is to have an agricultural economy supported by tourism and the other is to have a tourism economy supported by agriculture,” said Beckstoffer.

“The [Raymond] project makes a mockery of the county’s protections for the agricultural preserve,” the written appeal by the appellants’ law firm, Shute Mihaly & Wineberger said. Raymond Vineyards is known to be particularly glitzy and outrageous.

However, Supervisor Pedrosa sees this differently. “This is not Disneyland. I just think it’s agriculture in the 21st century. I think Napa is fortunate to have experiences that are not one-dimensional.”

Napa Vision 2050 supports the protections afforded by the Ag Preserve. THIS IS NOT AGRICULTURE, but a VIOLATION of the Ag Preserve resulting in the urbanization of our ag lands.



What are They doing to our sense of place?

Daniel Mufson - Aug 8, 2017   Share

There's a deep sadness when we lose a friend. We miss the familiarity and good times we've spent together over many years. Similarly, there's a profound sadness when you no longer recognize what had been your home and your community. You no longer recognize it because it is being taken away from you piece by piece.

Gone are the toy shop, the dance studio, downtown Safeway, Pearl, Cervoni, Zeller, Brewsters -- places where you were welcomed, where you met friends, where your children met friends.

It's all in the name of progress. They (our elected and appointed officials) tell us we need tourist revenue. But We (the people who live here) need our sense of place. We are losing the soul of our Napa.

And now, they have done it again. After almost weekly announcements of the demise of yet another local establishment, They told the model railroad museum at Expo it had to close. This museum was built by our fathers and grandfathers and designed to represent our Napa. But They decided the space is needed for progress. And many residents of Napa are deeply sad; this is a location so many have enjoyed for generations.

Last year, Napa Vision 2050 sponsored a forum on the social and economic costs of tourism. The main message was that unless carefully managed, tourism can irrevocably destroy the essence of place. You have only to look at what has happened in Aspen and Santa Fe and now Barcelona and Venice. A noted book on this subject, "Devil's Bargains," (Rothman, 1998) notes that residents gradually realize, as they seek to preserve the authenticity of their community, that decision-making power has shifted from the community to the newly arrived corporate financiers.

The forum was well attended by county supervisors and city council members from the Napa Valley. We encouraged them to act on this message of responsible, countywide planning by collectively managing the growth path they have been fostering. Not one of them has done so. Instead they are in the counting houses drooling over the increasing Transient Occupancy Tax.

And now -- to add insult to injury -- They are taking away our community model railroad museum. Who would have predicted this move and the wrenching impact it is having on the hearts of many Napans?

NV2050 is holding a community town hall meeting this Thursday evening in Napa (and on Sept. 7 in St. Helena) to hear from you. How do you feel about these changes and what do you recommend we do to bring our community back under control?

Longtime Napan Harris Nussbaum will moderate the discussion at the Horseman's Association, 1200 Foster Road at 7 p.m. Please attend. For details, visit

Dan Mufson, President

NVR LTE version 8/8/17: What are They doing to our sense of place?

Concerns About Napa County's Climate Action Plan (CAP)

Christina Benz - Jun 26, 2017   Share

Concerns about Napa County's Climate Action Plan (CAP)
(see the plan and comments at

The CAP doesn't provide a path for meaningful emissions reductions because:

1. It isn't based on current climate science.
  • The CAP accounting method was selected "to maintain consistency with latest statewide inventory (for 2015) prepared by California Air Resources Board (CARB)."
  • CARB has updated accounting for its Short-Lived Climate Pollutant (SLCP) Reduction Strategy, going into effect January 2018 (SB 1383). (See the report here. )
  • The SLCP Strategy is based on the current scientific understanding (IPCC Assessment Report 5, 2013-14) that in order to slow global warming, reducing SLCP emissions will be the most productive strategy.
  • Of particular importance is its focus on black carbon, now recognized as one of the four most powerful climate pollutants driving global warming. Napa is a source of black carbon pollution from diesel engines, agricultural burning, etc.
  • Additionally, tropospheric ozone is another major contributor to climate change. This short-lived climate pollutant should also be addressed.
  • Let's align Napa's CAP with the latest statewide and regional plans, and the state of climate science. (See Bay Area Air Quality Management District's 2017 Bay Area Clean Air Plan: Spare the Air and Cool the Climate at )

2. Its three top measures for reducing emissions are not seen as feasible by community stakeholders.
  • Measure BE-6: Replacement of residential and commercial gas water heaters with electric or alternatively-powered units.
    ➢ North Bay Association of Realtors (NorBAR) comments: "NorBAR is concerned that, given the potential time delays and costs of adding an electric water heater, homeowners will forgo permits and have the standard water heater installed."
  • Measure AG-3: Replacement of diesel and gas powered farm equipment with electric or alternatively-fueled units.
    ➢ Napa Valley Grapegrowers comment: "Many vineyards have no other need for being serviced by PG&E. In most cases, use of this service will be infrequent, while still incurring extremely high standby costs. This measure seems growth inducing and a poor use of resources."
  • Measure OR-2: Replacing diesel or gas with alternative fuels in recreational watercraft.
    ➢ Feasible??? How much time will be spent regulating and enforcing this?!?!

Napa needs and deserves a CAP that focuses on the following:

1. Reduction of Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (methane, black carbon, tropospheric ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons) with measures such as the following:

  • Reduce methane due to solid waste by installing methane capture systems at food and pomace composting sites.
  • Reduce methane due to wastewater treatment by installing anaerobic digesters at wastewater treatment plants in American Canyon, St. Helena, and Calistoga.
  • Reduce vehicle emissions for hauling winery wastewater by expanding Napa Sanitation plant to handle this wastewater and capturing methane generated (waste-to-energy).
  • Reduce black carbon through incentivizing cleaner diesel engines and alternatives to traditional ag burning methods.
  • Note: The CAP does contain appropriate measures for reducing hydrofluorocarbons (Measures HG-1 and HG-2). We need an accurate inventory of these emissions.

2. Decarbonizing power and transportation
  • The proposed CAP contains several measures toward this goal (BE-9, BE-10, BE-11, TR-13)

3. Reducing and mitigating loss of Carbon Sequestration during land use change in a realistic way
  • Measure LU-1's target of preserving 30% of existing woodlands was "based on feasibility assessments made by county staff." This target is far too low.
  • Instead, let's accurately account for carbon sequestration, then properly mitigate its loss (via replants, carbon farming practices, the use of a carbon "tax", etc.).

The proposed County Climate Action plan will allow the county to check off a General Plan "to do" item -- and that's all. Let's not waste our supervisor's time and tax dollars enacting measures that may be cost-prohibitive, unenforceable, and won't make a difference in reducing global warming. Lets not make residents and businesses pay for measures that won't make a difference.

We are Napa - we don't need to check off a box; we need to do what we're good at "thinking outside the box" and put in place REAL solutions to global warming.


Eve Kahn - Jun 24, 2017   Share

In Memory of Trees
One of the hot topics at VINEXPO 2017 IN BORDEAUX was called FIRE AND RAIN - Climate Change and the Wine Industry.

Climate change and the wine industry: individual efforts to combat emissions are multiplying, but broader industry wide leadership is lacking. Climate change is a critical issue for winemakers and the greater the temperature increase, the higher the cost of adaptation will be. However, while some winemakers have put environmental issues and CO2 reduction at the center of their production strategy, many more have yet to realize how dramatically climate change risks reducing the quality of their wines.

This week Paul Franson included excerpts in his weekly NV Register column. "Kathryn Hall from Hall Wines held up the Napa green environmental certification as a model for community action. Napa Valley Vintners' goal is to have all Napa Valley vineyards certified by 2020."

"Hall admitted that the 'green' decisions didn't always make financial sense in the short term. The Halls decided on a sustainable vineyard as a matter of personal ethics and the desire to find the most authentic expression of their terroir, citing careful stewardship of the land and terroir as the starting point for fine wine,"

How ironic that the Hall's recently approved Walt Ranch Vineyards (approved but awaiting decision on a court challenge) will be removing over 14,000 mature trees combined with a rape and pillage of the landscape to achieve their business goal of 'fine wine'. Is this the authentic expression of the Atlas Peak terroir she refers to?

It's disturbing that while many in Napa profess to love our trees and acknowledge how wonderful our oak savannas are/were, the trees are removed with impunity when they get in the way of bigger plans. At some point we will only be left with a mural of a tree on the freeway wall in Yountville, "In Memory of a Tree." As the song says:

    They took all the trees
    And put them in a tree museum
    And they charged all the people
    A dollar and a half to see 'em

    Don't it always seem to go
    That you don't know what you've got
    'Till it's gone
    They paved paradise
    And they put up a parking lot
    (Joni Mitchell, 1970)

"Here's How Big Wine Gets to Avoid Environmental Rules in Napa" KCET

Patricia Damery - Jun 18, 2017   Share

According to the just published "Here's How Big Wine Gets to Avoid Environmental Rules in Napa"., 87% of campaign money for Al Pedroza, Belia Ramos and Ryan Gregory in 2015 and 2016 came from wineries and business interests.

Can we can trust our City Council members, Planning Commissioners, and Board of Supervisors to protect our community's interests? Their track record says, unequivocally, NO! This article by Alastair Bland pretty much says it all! The wine industry has bought our governing officials, and Folks, it is time to act decisively to make sure our government protects our community, our environment, and our citizens' rights to determine law: our democracy is at stake!

    In 2006, Napa County officials issued a permit for The Caves at Soda Canyon, a new winery in the hills east of the city of Napa. As most such project permits do, the document set strict limits on how the developer could build his winery.

    But The Caves' owner Ryan Waugh allegedly ignored some of these limitations. Waugh dug an unpermitted cave into a mountain, and hosted guests at unapproved ridgetop tasting patios. After county officials became aware of the violations, they ordered Waugh in 2014 to block off (but not fill in) the illegal cave, stop the unauthorized wine tastings and muffle a noisy generator.

    Neighbors had complained about the generator's din, claiming that Waugh had promised years earlier to connect his facility to silent power lines. They're primarily concerned, however, about the winery's impacts on local traffic and congestion.

    County documents report that Waugh followed through on all orders to correct the violations (something neighbors, who say they can still hear the generator, dispute). Then, Waugh submitted a request for a modification to his permit, and in April, the Napa County Planning Commission voted to approve it. The new permit brings the unauthorized components of his operation into full legal compliance while also increasing The Cave's annual production limit from 30,000 gallons of wine to 60,000. The decision is a win for Waugh, who has reportedly put his winery on the market for $12.5 million.

    Neighbors say that laws don't apply to people invested in Napa County's influential wine industry.

    "You can just drill an unpermitted cave and have unpermitted tastings, and just get retroactive approval from the county, and get more allowed production than you initially had," says Anthony Arger, who lives nearby. Anger is concerned that The Caves' enhanced use permits will lead to a dangerous increase in vehicle use on Soda Canyon Road.

    The county's decision to clear Waugh's record while allowing him to enlarge his business illuminates what Arger and other community activists say is part of a countywide problem. They argue that Napa County officials, especially those in the Planning, Building and Environmental Services department, collude with the wine industry, ignoring violations of local rules, to increase wine production and tourist visits at the expense of the environment and local residents' health and safety.

    Generous campaign contributions from winery and vineyard owners may influence how county officials govern the wine industry. In 2015 and 2016, of $477,025 donated to the campaigns of three current Napa County supervisors - Alfredo Pedroza, Belia Ramos and Ryan Gregory - 87 percent of the money came from wineries and business interests. Wineries which have proposed projects pending, like The Caves and nearby Mountain Peak Winery, donated about $10,000 of the total.

    Personal financial conflicts of interest may also be problematic. For instance, Napa County Planning Commissioner Michael Basayne, who voted to approve the new permit for The Caves, also works for Platypus Wine Tours, a luxury transport company whose website lists The Caves at Soda Canyon as a favored day trip destination.

    "Every approval he makes [of a winery permit] is benefitting his own business," says Geoff Ellsworth, a city council member in the small Napa Valley town of Saint Helena.

    Basayne says this isn't true.

    "I am a salaried employee with no ownership interest in Platypus Tours," he explains in an email. He adds that the wineries visited by Platypus Wine Tours do not in any way compensate Basayne or influence his decisions.

    "I am mindful of conflicts of interest, and I believe I am able to cast my votes objectively and without bias," Basayne says.

    Ellsworth says retroactive permit upgrades of the sort granted to Waugh at The Caves happen all the time in Napa County and, collectively, are undermining the entire system of regulating development projects and mitigating their environmental impacts.

    "They just give [the project applicant] a new permit that encompasses any violations and brings the project into compliance," Ellsworth says.

    A few miles north of Soda Canyon, Bremer Family Winery has generated strife between grassroots activists, county staff and the winery's owners, who have allegedly violated their 2013 project permit on multiple counts. Kellie Anderson, who lives in the nearby town of Angwin, and Herman Froeb, who lives next door to the winery, have claimed in reports to the planning department that John and Laura Bremer destroyed a small creek, illegally removed trees and ignored setback rules that specify how close grapevines may be planted to a stream. Last summer, when trucks carried in loads of dirt to be laid as soil on the Bremers' new vineyard, video footage Anderson shot with her phone showed that the heaps of dusty earth weren't covered with tarps. (Tarping is required to limit air pollution from blown dust.) A retaining wall that was supposed to be five feet high ended up being 12 feet high. Anderson, who has closely watched almost every detail of the work, says the higher wall creates a landslide risk.

    After the county pointed out some of these violations to the Bremers last June, the pair submitted a new and updated permit. Brian Bordona, the supervising planner with the Planning, Building and Environmental Services department, said in April that his office was considering approving the Bremers' modified plan.

    Scott Greenwood-Meinert, an attorney representing the Bremers and who spoke on their behalf, objects to claims that his clients have been inconsiderate neighbors or that their permit violations are even violations, per se. He says the Bremers' have made what would more accurately be called "in-field changes" to the original plans.

    "It's common practice [to make in-field changes]," says Greenwood-Meinert, who is also representing Ryan Waugh as he fights a legal challenge to The Caves. "Many projects do this. You have the original plan, and then there is the plan you end up with."

    Anderson, who once worked for a local vineyard development company, has hounded county officials about permit violations on numerous projects that she has personally inspected. According to Anderson, vineyard managers frequently install drainage systems incorrectly, fail to plant required cover crops to control erosion, incorrectly place deer fences in a way that prevents free passage of smaller wildlife, and use pesticides illegally. She says erosion control measures often fail to work, causing loose sediment to wash into creeks. There it can smother gravel beds used by spawning salmon and steelhead, which have almost vanished from North Bay watersheds. Many biologists have pointed to vineyards as a leading cause of the fish declines. Multiple phone calls and an email to the supervising code enforcement officer, David Giudice, were not returned.
    Anderson feels county planners and the Board of Supervisors are failing to protect public interests for the benefit of those who grow grapes and make wine. 

    "There has been a complete erosion of the office as a responsible caretaker of the people and the resources into something that caters to the next billionaire who wants to come here and build a party venue," Anderson says.

    Bordona says the planning department abides by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires projects to mitigate significant environmental impacts. In theory, CEQA ensures that no development project - like a new vineyard - does unnecessary harm to natural resources. However, critics say CEQA mitigations are often too flimsy. For example, a developer may be allowed to cut down a grove of adult trees if he or she scatters some sprouted seeds or acorns over another part of the property, ostensibly cancelling out the loss of the adult trees that will take decades to replace even if the seeds survive their first few years. Forests serve as critical carbon sponges and are increasingly being figured into global climate change mitigation plans; cutting them down doesn't help the state meet its ambitious climate mitigation goals.

    Even if CEQA mitigations always worked as intended, says Ellsworth, the process of rewriting permits to clear violations retroactively seriously compromises the effectiveness of the law.

    "If you suddenly have twice the visitors to a winery, now you have two times the drunk drivers and two times the air pollution," Ellsworth says.

    Rarely, he adds, are required mitigation efforts implemented with an original permit scaled up to match the upgraded permit.

    "So that means the mitigations initially agreed on won't be enough anymore," Ellsworth says.

    The Caves is just one of two projects that have Soda Canyon Road residents lashing out. The other, the proposed Mountain Peak Winery, was approved by the Board of Supervisors in May. The developers, who plan to open a tasting venue, estimate that their facility would attract some 14,000 visitors and generate approximately 40,000 additional car trips on Soda Canyon Road per year.

    Soda Canyon is already a dangerous mountain road, and has not been repaved since the 1980s. Records from county and state agencies show that reported traffic incidents on Soda Canyon Road surge during times of year when vineyard seasonal employment peaks.

    "It correlates perfectly," says Arger, who feels officials are now turning a blind eye to obvious safety hazards.

    "Officials, including Senator Bill Dodd, of Napa, county supervisor Alfredo Pedroza and planning commissioner Terry Scott, have acknowledged in written statements the deteriorating condition of Soda Canyon Road. So has the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which called this narrow, dead-end ribbon of asphalt a 'problematic roadway' in a 1999 decision to reject a proposal to expand a winery."

    Arger himself comes from the wine industry, and his family has owned vineyards in the county for decades. He says he is not opposed to the industry. "We are part of it and just want to see reasonable, sustainable growth," says Arger, who is acting as the attorney on a legal appeal of the decision. He is serving in the same capacity on the appeal of The Caves' approved permit modification.

    Others within the local wine industry contest the complaints of people like Anderson, Arger and Ellsworth. Chuck Wagner, owner of Caymus Vineyards, says his industry provides a variety of public benefits that critics tend to overlook, such as fire protection. He says that by partially fragmenting forested zones with vines, grape growers make devastating wildfires less of a threat.

    It's not just Napa. According to David Keller of Friends of the Eel River, wineries in Sonoma are taking an even greater toll on streams and fisheries. "Vineyards planted in the hills are fantastic fire breaks," he says.He also says vineyards checker boarding much of the North Bay have helped keep development at bay, ultimately protecting the region's bucolic qualities. (But Anderson says it was specific ballot measures approved by voters many years ago that have kept hillsides free of homes. "There isn't a fucking thing the wine industry had to do with stopping development," she says.)

    Wagner says he is sometimes perplexed by the arguments from industry critics. The two opposing sides, he says, actually want the "the same endpoint."

    "Preserving agriculture, reducing traffic and air pollution, conserving water, maintaining our bucolic ambiance, and reducing danger of fire are all shared concerns," Wagner says. "Where do we become separated? What is the problem in a nutshell?"

    One particular focal point of the environmentalist camp has been the preservation of native habitat, especially the region's iconic oak woodlands. It was, for instance, public outcry - plus several lawsuits - that recently stopped a county-approved proposal by Walt Wines to cut down 14,000 trees and plant roughly 200 acres more vineyards east of Napa. Last summer, local environmentalists collected some 6,000 signatures from county residents as part of an effort to place a woodland-watershed protection initiative on the November 2016 ballot.

    There appeared to be a real chance the measure, which would have roughly tripled the distance that farmers must leave between their vines and stream banks, would become law. However, the Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative never made it to the ballot. Napa County registrar of voters John Tuteur killed the initiative on an unusual technicality. The problem, county officers had determined, is that the language presented to voters during the signature collection process included footnotes to source documents but not their full text.

    Mike Hackett, an author of the initiative, believes his bill was singled out. He says other bills that reached the November ballot had been petitioned in the preliminary stages in the same way his bill had - without appendix documents on hand for viewing by signatories.

    "But [the county] didn't have a problem with those bills," he said. The wine industry had formally opposed the watershed protection initiative.

    Anderson insists political influence from those who produce wine has steered the outcome of lawmaking.

    "The county is scared shitless of this wine industry," she says.

    The issues alleged to be so problematic in Napa County seem to occur elsewhere. At least one supervisor in neighboring Sonoma County, another nucleus of wine production, "has been bought by the wine industry," according to David Keller, Bay Area director of the group Friends of the Eel River. Keller says impacts of grape growing on streams and fish have been worse in Sonoma County than in Napa, and he says the county government cannot be relied upon to effectively force state and federal laws protecting resources.

    Napa County's wine industry began to boom between 30 and 40 years ago. Grapevine acreage has grown from about 12,000 in 1970 to more than 45,000 acres today, and county officials have estimated that 10,000 acres more could be planted by 2030. According to David Morrison, the director of Napa County's Planning, Building and Environmental Services department, about 500 acres of Napa County's undeveloped land is converted into vineyards each year. He says 80,000 of the roughly 400,000 undeveloped acres in the county have soil types suitable for vineyards.

    Since little undeveloped space remains on the Napa Valley floor, most of this projected vineyard growth will probably occur in the forested hills to the east and west of the valley floor. This, environmentalists have warned, means thousands of acres of trees will almost certainly be cut down to make way for vines.

    Adina Merenlender, a conservation biologist with U.C. Berkeley, has been studying northern California vineyards' environmental impacts for more than 20 years. She says the conversion of shrub, oak and conifer habitat into new vineyards is fragmenting wildlife habitat, thinning out forests, and, through erosion caused by agriculture, destroying the stream habitat where imperiled salmon and steelhead trout spawn. She says slender migration corridors of native habitat connecting the forests of Napa County to broader wilderness areas to the north, in Lake and Mendocino counties, will become ecologically dysfunctional if they continue to be compressed by vineyard expansion.
    "We're down to the final pinch points," Merenlender says. She notes that even bats and birds, though they can fly, may avoid passing over areas where tree cover has been replaced by grapevines and other forms of agriculture and development.

    "We absolutely have to stop native habitat removal in California," she says. "It has to end."

    Merenlender echoes the concerns of community activists in Napa County, who don't trust county agencies to effectively manage the wine industry.

    "The county is naturally interested in the economic well-being of their residents," Merenlender says. State officials, she believes, must take over management and protection of resources. "The state needs to step in," she says. "You cannot count on the government to protect natural resources with a 3-2 county vote on a Tuesday morning."

What's the hurry to kill the golden goose?

NV2050 Admin - Jun 9, 2017   Share

As more and more hotels and large housing projects are on the horizon in the City of Napa, Napa-resident Rusty Cohn asks the questions we've all been thinking: Do we really understand the burden they place on our streets/roads and our water? And where are all the employees to fill the thousands of new low paying jobs? How many hotels is enough? Do we need to pace their development until we come up with better transportation options and funds to expand the infrastructure?

  • A 90 room Cambria Hotel is proposed at southern end of Soscol.
  • The new owners of the Wine Train announced their interest in building a 5-story hotel on the site of the train depot.
  • The Meritage Resort has started a 133 room expansion to their existing 325 room hotel complex.
  • And Marriott is proposing 250 rooms plus a winery just around the corner.
  • A high-end resort has been approved in Stanley Ranch.
  • Multiple hotels are planned for the Oxbow area.
  • The Embassy Suites plans 54-room addition at California and First St.
  • Napa Pipe off Napa Valley Highway may built 800+ housing units plus Costco and other big box stores.
  • Gasser Foundation has 400+ housing units being built off Soscol with another 400 or so possible.

What is being done to keep Napa from gridlock when all these developments come online?

What's the hurry to kill the Golden Goose?

Here's something that you can do: Sign this petition advocating for longer term, thoughtful planning that includes a liveable community for all of us.

Balancing the needs of citizens with the growing stresses of tourism economies.

NV2050 Admin - Jun 7, 2017   Share

NVR 6/5/17: St. Helena wants Chamber to support more community programs

St. Helena City Council has joined a handful of cities nationwide which are acting to balance the needs of citizens with the growing stresses of tourism economies. Why spend more money on marketing tourism when your roadways are clogged with traffic and there is no affordable housing for our children and workers? Does St. Helena-- or Napa County-- really need to spend more on destination marketing when the local community takes the financial hit?

Since the change in the St. Helena City Council in November 2016 election, council members are questioning the sanity of renewing the Chamber of Commerce's current $210,000 for marketing. Given the impact tourism and the wine industry has had on the local residents, isn't it time to invest more or all of this money in community programs?

We applaud this forward thinking. It is time our TOT (transient occupancy tax charged to hotels) revenue is used to support community borne expenses versus marketing to get even more tourists. And it is time our county governing officials take a few lessons from the St. Helena Council Members and go to bat for residents.

Donate to help us continue our fight for resident-friendly advocacy.

Join us and find out what you can do.

Napa City Council gets it right

NV2050 Admin - Jun 3, 2017   Share

Kudos to the Napa City Council who decided this week to keep City Hall downtown. A new, multi-story building will ultimately house all city departments resulting in improved efficiency and access. A competing proposal would have created a new "campus" on Soscol close to auto dealerships and big-box stores.

Read the following articles to see how small and large US cities are struggling to balance tourism with the needs of the local community.

The Urban Phoenix

The Press Democrat

Napa has turned into a strong tourist destination in recent years, but this decision is one bright light focused on what's right for the residents & the community.

Napa at Last Light

NV2050 Admin - May 29, 2017   Share

    "In the West, as in Napa, natural beauty is being "harvested," in the argot of the developer."
    -- James Conaway

James Conway's Opinion Editorial in the Napa Valley Register on Friday says it all in one short article: Napa County is being exploited by outside money. Developers ignore or belittle the concerns of neighbors as they push vineyards into our fragile hillsides, as witnessed once again this last week with the Board of Supervisor's denial of the appeal of remote Mountain Peak Winery. Conaway states this is but a microcosm of what is happening in the country "and not even global warming can scotch this bonanza."

His is a rallying cry for citizens. We still have the vote, and it is critically important that we use it in electing officials who do listen to the electorate and are not bought off by developers, the wine and hospitality industries. We must pass initiatives which legislate to protect our precious environment and community when our elected officials fail us.

For a quarter of a century Conaway's books have chronicled the history of the Napa Valley. His most recent book, Napa at Last Light, is to be published in February 2018.

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From a concerned citizen in response to the Conaway article:
"The massive development that is taking place in Napa County is not sustainable for the natural ecology of the region, from deforestation to groundwater depletion. These levels of development are also not economically supportable due to the requirements of new infrastructure and ongoing needed maintenance. Witness the burdens on roadways caused by thousands of workers and tourists, and service vehicles driving in and out of Napa County. With these problems, we are naive to think that that money is not changing hands behind the scenes which gives development a boost and results in nearly every proposed project getting government approval."

Link to the article on James Conway's blog, Nose

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.

SF Chronicle: Napa Valley Inflamed

NV2050 Admin - May 21, 2017   Share


Proposed helicopter pad inflames Napa Valley’s winery wars.

The latest assault on Napa County resident's homesteads hits the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle.

“When is enough, enough? People with lots of money are coming in here and doing whatever they want. They’re not the ones on the tractor, though. They don’t have any sense of the land.”
—Dan Mufson, President, Napa Vision 2050

Napa Vision 2050 supporters...

The San Francisco Chronicle today detailed the recent developments in the Palmaz Heliport proceedings, as well as the challenges facing Napa County residents at the hands of over development.

We need to keep the pressure on the Planning Commission and the Supervisors so that they wake up and start to represent all our voices. Please ask your friends to get on our mailing list! There's strength in numbers. Make democracy work for you!
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