Hopkins: No winery permit ban

Supervisor Hopkins rolls over for wine industry….again. Seriously no tension between rural and agriculture (alcohol farming)?

“I don’t see a tension between rural and agricultural,” Hopkins said. “I really believe that agriculture is part of our rural character and that we must protect both going forward.”

Hopkins: No winery permit ban

Supervisor tells residents county can’t stop events until new rules in place

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County officials cannot impose a moratorium on winery permits while they prepare to put long-awaited new regulations on the industry in place, Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said Thursday.

Hopkins was responding to critics who are frustrated with the county’s slow progress creating a policy about winery events, which have proved controversial in certain unincorporated areas.

More than 1,100 people recently signed a petition asking the Board of Supervisors to temporarily ban new or expanded winery permits until the regulations are approved.

But Hopkins told more than 50 people who attended a meeting she hosted at the county government center in north Santa Rosa that it’s “very apparent” winery events don’t fulfill the legal requirements for such a moratorium.

Still, Hopkins indicated she’s sensitive to concerns from residents who want tighter rules on winery events in their neighborhoods to ease congestion on rural roads, noise disruptions and other undesirable impacts. And she’s also sympathetic to the needs of wine industry leaders who say they want clarity, too.

Sonoma Plaza. Council has restricted tasting rooms due to over concentration, binge tourism.

“I don’t see a tension between rural and agricultural,” Hopkins said. “I really believe that agriculture is part of our rural character and that we must protect both going forward.”

Hopkins also reminded those attending, most of them her west county constituents, that wineries aren’t the only thing that strains public infrastructure in rural areas.

She showed a long list of annual events unrelated to wine — including various food festivals, parades and races — in an apparent effort to put the long-running winery events debate in a broader context.

“When you start to look at the cumulative impact, we really have a lot going on in Sonoma County, and it’s not just the

winery events,” Hopkins said. “It’s all of the events.”

Hopkins said she organized the meeting to get public feedback as supervisors prepare to resume the winery policy debate sometime between January and the end of March.

She asked the crowd to write comments on poster paper organized around several issues, including community concerns, public engagement and issues around agriculture and rural areas.

John Blair, an Occidental firefighter who attended the meeting, said he’s looking for an events policy from supervisors that considers the rural county’s most special attributes.

“Once you identify what makes it so special, then don’t damage those things,” he said in an interview. “We need to really look at what the infrastructure in west county, which is minimal, can support.”

Blair agreed the county needs to examine the infrastructure impacts of all kinds of events, and he wants supervisors to steer wineries toward holding gatherings that directly support their product — tastings over weddings, in other words.

But Mike Martini, owner of Taft Street Winery near Sebastopol, said winery restrictions “can’t be just a number” and must be tied to what each business can actually accommodate. Martini, a former Santa Rosa mayor, said in an interview at Hopkins’ meeting that he also wants the county policy to give more guidance on what wineries can and can’t do.

Preserve Rural Sonoma County“We want clear definitions of what an event is, and that those definitions respect the business model of small wineries,” he said.

 Hopkins’ presentation showed the county has approved just a handful of winery land use permits since she took office in January 2017. But Padi Selwyn, co-founder of the group Preserve Rural Sonoma County — which spearheaded the petition — said she still thinks a moratorium would be a good idea.

“We’re concerned about them going in the right locations and not having the negative cumulative impacts that we see in Dry Creek (Valley) and Westside (Road),” she said.

Hopkins said her office will document all the written feedback constituents provided Thursday as she prepares to weigh in on the policy next year. Currently, she’s looking to better define what exactly constitutes a winery event and what is an agricultural- supporting activity as opposed to a “hospitality activity masquerading as agriculture,” she said.

“Certainly, clarity is a good thing,” Hopkins said. “Right now, it’s about as clear as mud.” You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat. com.

In the past, the Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves came under criticism for the number of events it held, which neighbors said clogged rural roads on weekends. The winery received permission early in 2018 to resume events on weekends, receving praise from county supervisors. KENT PORTER / PRESS DEMOCRAT, 2016

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