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Eyes on Napa - June 2, 2022
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We have two big stories this week  Each is important now because of upcoming dates: June 6 for the Napa County LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) meeting, and June 7, the Napa County BOS (Board of Supervisors) meeting with a hearing on the Benjamin Ranch Development. - the editors
The Appeal: Benjamin Ranch/Frank Family Vineyards/Treasury Wine Estates
The saga of a once family-owned vineyard, now an Austrailan owned corporate entity with little sense of a rural neighborhood and traffic nightmares
The Benjamin Ranch Winery appeal comes before the Board of Supervisors (BOS) on June 7, 2022. The citizen group appealing the permit, Honig/Keep Rutherford Rural, requests that an EIR address traffic, traffic safety, greenhouse gas, noise, water supply and flood hazards.

History: Against the cries of Rutherford neighbors, the Planning Commission granted Benjamin Ranch Winery a use permit on May 19, 2021, in a vote of 3 to 2, Cottrell and Gallagher opposing. Almost immediately it was announced that the Frank family had sold Benjamin Ranch Winery to Australian owned Treasury Wine Estates. In November 2021, Keep Rutherford Rural appealed the decision to BOS. The appeal was continued to June 7, 2022. For Napa Vision 2050 November 2021 assessment of the project, click here.
 
Developments: Although Treasury Wine Estates has cut visitation and gallonage from  87,150 visitors per year down to 37,000, and 475,000 gallons per year down to 300,000, it has not downsized  the requested physical infrastructure nor the number of employees. As Bill Hocker of sodacanyonroad.org writes, “It has become almost routine that developers come in at the last minute with a reduction in visitation to make approval more palatable, while doing nothing to reduce the physical size of the project. Requesting changes in visitation or output capacity in the future becomes a much easier lift when the physical capacity is there to accommodate it.”
 
"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."
- read more at Keep Rutherford Rural
Questions:
Benjamin Ranch Winery was permitted with the understanding that it was for the Frank Family and that it would process fruit for their vineyards. However, now that the Winery has been sold to Treasury Wine Estates, questions arise.
  • Will Treasury process fruit from its other holdings, increasing traffic into the winery?
  • Given that the infrastructure has not yet been built, should the appeal be upheld, allowing Treasury to reapply?
  • Why has an EIR not been prepared, given the size of this project?
It is past time to consider the cumulative impacts of such projects. At a time in which we are increasingly pummeled by the impacts of a changing climate, each project must be considered in terms of water security, fire risk, traffic and traffic safety, greenhouse gas emissions, and impact on the watershed.
Project documents can be found here.
A negative declaration of environmental impact by county staff is not enough. An EIR should be required for all new projects and expansions in the County, and doubly so for a project of this scale.  -Bill Hocker, SodaCanyonRoad.org, For a thorough history and smart assessment, read more here. 
On the LAFCO Agenda:
 An Important Decision and Possible Precendent 

Death Spiral of a Vineyard

As we experience the impacts of climate change with higher than average temperatures, increased fire danger, drought, and limited water supply, thus comes a potential threat to our Ag zoned lands. What happens when you run out of water, run out of options, or run out of money to keep your vineyard sustainable? What are your options? Different crops? Long term soil regeneration? Or, just change the zoning.

This is the issue facing the owners of 157 acres of zoned Agriculture, Open Space, and Watershed (AWOS) land at the dead-end of Green Island Road in American Canyon. Green Island Vineyards, LLC (GIV) purchased the property in 1996, intending to farm a portion of the property that could support vineyards. In 1997, GIV entered into an agreement with the City of American Canyon to receive recycled and potable water as there were no other options.

Over the next 20 years, GIV planted up to 130 acres of vineyards but they soon realized that some of the planted areas could not support grapevines due to soil salinity. After years of attempting to farm this property, GIV recognized the futility of farming grapevines in soils that have seen increasing salinity. All efforts to sell the parcel have failed.

The property owners now want to annex their parcel into the City of American Canyon and change the zoning to commercial/industrial uses.  The City of American Canyon has started collecting signatures to place a ballot initiative just for American Canyon voters. Surprisingly, the wording in the initiative is misleading and deceptive as it describes 157 acres of “undeveloped land” that is “vacant and blighted.”  Why is this parcel exempt from a countywide Measure P vote? (For an explanation of Measure P see this link)


The Napa county major wine industry groups have joined in their opposition to this conversion, underscoring that grapevines may not grow there, but other crops such as hay, oats, and rye grow exceedingly well in high salinity soil. This is Ag zoned land. See the industry groups' letter here.  If this one parcel converts from agriculture to industrial – which one is next?  This could set a precedent that would erode other Agricultural, Openspace and Watershed zoned land. Are zoning changes to be used as a personal bail out for failed ventures? 

We encourage you to think about this and observe the LAFCO meeting. The June 6th meeting agenda includes the annexation request. It will most likely be an interesting and informative meeting. It begins at  2pm. See the agenda here, which includes instructions for joining or listening to the meeting. 

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Eyes on Napa: Co-editors, Patricia Damery and Debby Fortune, Editorial Board: Eve Kahn, Gary Margadant, Rusty Cohn, Iris Barrie. Contact the editors at eyesonnapa@gmail.com