Napa County Pattern of CEQA Violations Alleged

Pattern of CEQA Violations Alleged in Napa

A prominent environmental law firm has told Napa County:

You have a pattern and practice of failing to comply with California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Correct this, or we will make sure you do!

In a letter dated August 11, 2017, the environmental law firm Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, representing The Alliance for Responsible Governance, a group “whose members are strong supporters of the sustainable economic growth in Napa County within the context of the agricultural protections embraced by the citizens of Napa County and codified within the County’s General Plan,” put Napa County Board of Supervisors and Napa County Planning Commission on notice:

“You have a pattern and practice of failing to comply with California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Correct this, or we will make sure you do!”

The law firm studied every permit granted since 2013 and determined that only two of the 93 winery permits had adequate environmental review. They believe projects were approved with improper use of categorical exemptions (which allows avoidance of CEQA review) and negative declarations (no significant impact, since there is no CEQA review). Furthermore they believe traffic and noise were not properly evaluated. Citing a 2015 grand jury finding, “Napa County’s oversight of wineries is almost non-existent, and therefore insufficient to insure compliance with CEQA.”

The letter cites particularly egregious examples: In 2016 Caymus Vineyards was granted major modifications under a categorical exemption which allowed substantial road modifications, changes in production levels, and building demolition. However, a threefold increase in visitation to 450 visitors a day was also granted without CEQA review. These substantial increases in visitation and production, which will have cumulative impacts on the environment, traffic and noise, were not considered.

In the period referenced in the letter (2013-2016), the County approved  an increase of over a million visitors and permitted over a million square feet of winery surface area expansion– almost all without consideration of cumulative impact on our County.

The letter further states that the County routinely miscalculates Project Baseline by including unpermitted (illegal) uses and activities in the baseline analysis when assessing a potential project’s impacts. Baseline activities avoid environmental review because they are already happening. “At least 10 of the 68 permit applications that the county received were from wineries who were operating illegally.” Illegal activities include unpermitted marketing events, visitation in excess of permitted levels, unauthorized facility development, and exceeding production levels.

The example of Reverie Winery was given.   Although the existing use permit allowed only 20 visitors per week and six small events a year, the Planning Commission granted a use permit modification which increased visitation ten times, despite the obvious impacts on the environment, traffic and noise—a prime example of granting forgiveness for the winery having operated illegally for a number of years.

The letter directs the County to correct its implementation of CEQA guidelines on all new and/or expanded projects and informs the County that The Alliance will “reserve(s) its right to ensure (that) the environmental impacts of new or expanded wineries are analyzed and mitigated as required by CEQA”.

We believe that these practices of our County Planning Department, Planning Commission, and Board of Supervisors circumvent and mislead the public. CEQA review is a protection for the public, telling us what these expansions are going to do to traffic, noise, congestion, water supply, and health of our environment. Furthermore, the integrity of our Ag lands, protected by the landmark zoning decision made by our forward thinking predecessors in 1968, are threatened by commercialization.

Read NapaVision 2050’s Reaction: When Governing Powers Go Rogue >>

Read the Background to this Case: The Billionaires are Driving the Millionaires Out >>

Learn more about this law firm: Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP >>

Original Source: NapaVision 2050

1 comment

  1. Mary Browning

    Thank you Alliance for Responsible Governance!!! The numerous failures described, CEQA violations, lack of traffic study’s….everything mentioned here is also happening over the hill in the Suisun Valley region of Solano County, and very few people are aware of the true consequences of a burgeoning wine tourism here. We citizens have been sold out and our rural character is not being protected, all because of greed. For those who don’t know it yet, Chuck Wagner is moving his entire production here. He is already in control of a third of the prime farmland of Suisun Valley. The valley is just under 9,000 acres, and at an August PC meeting, Wagner’s attorney said they controlled 3,000 acres as of the end of 2016. His new Cordelia Winery near Budweiser off I/80 at Fairfield is expected to produce 5.5 million gallons annually. Solano County does not have a winery ordinance. Our district Supervisor said “he doesn’t like ordinances as they restrict business”. Wagner’s second winery, Caymus Suisun Winery, will be for son Charlie, on Suisun Valley Road. It’s first tasting room
    will be 5,000 sf. The second tasting room will be 8,000 sf. Those buildings will be located approximately 400-
    500 feet from the Suisun Valley Elementary School. This project does not have it’s water source yet, nor does it have it’s waste water plan decided. Prior to use permit application, Wagner requested and was easily granted double production, or 200,000 gal. annually. This project will be massive for this small, beautiful valley. There was no traffic study. However, an unofficial count was finally done, and 5,000 vehicles during a Friday commute time.

    Organizing a resistance isn’t easy, but I’m working on it. Because of Chuck Wagner, I’m now on this mission with all of you. I went from living peacefully with my husband and animals on our mini farm, on our little slice of heaven, to now having my name on the internet associated with Chuck Wagner, because we appealed our planning commissions decision to double his production limits. It was a sight to behold, an entire planning commission “bought off”. And I’ve learned Wagner began financially contributing to the school as soon as he selected the location across the road five years ago. Amazing to witness such actions after reading about this happening in other counties.

    Thank you to all who support the efforts to preserve the true definition of Agriculture, who care about our environment, who want real sustainability, who understand cumulative impacts, and more. Your successes are much needed examples that we should learn from. But timing is critical before it’s too late to save Suisun Valley from being swamped with commercial uses that have nothing to do with Ag. Alliance, make good news we can use! Special thanks to Geoff Ellsworth, Padi Selwyn, and others for your guidance and encouragement.

    We are the newly formed ‘Friends of Suisun Valley’. Wish us luck!

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