I am writing to point out that we are at a tipping point. Despite studies, suggested event coordination, and added regulation, we continue to see the race to acquire and expand winery production and wineries as large event centers. The County General Plan projected 239 wineries by 2020, but there are now 437 approved facilities and 60+ applications pending. And these do not include the large multi-use winery/cheese factory and brewery combinations proposed next to public parks, water recharge areas, and two-lane rural highways.
The County’s current policy toward approval has undermined the General Plan as a public trust. This calls into question the accuracy of underlying technical analysis, often paid for by the owner requesting a permit or modification, resulting in unstudied cumulative impacts to road safety and water resources and degradation of rural character. And as the direct-to-consumer model intensifies the hospitality and entertainment uses on each winery property, the impacts on adjacent properties will escalate. Traffic impacts and noise are two of the critical issues.
In Sonoma Valley, neighbors have seen a grid-lock increase in commuter traffic. There has also been a tendency for traffic planners to assign rescue lanes as access lanes along a highway that already has multiple rescue lanes. Cal Trans recently denied access from Highway 12 to a proposed winery in Kenwood. These narrow rescue lanes cannot be accessed safely at 55 miles per hour. We have multiple wineries and resorts permitted along Highway 12 that have not even been built yet. And there is a corporate movement to purchase and expand our local, small wineries. Kenwood Winery was recently purchased by Pernod Richard, a huge international wine and spirits corporation. They have now asked for a new use permit and an event center that will allow up to 70,000 people to attend multiple events at holidays, summer months, harvest times, and for industry-wide tastings. And this is only one winery.
Noise is also an issue. Since we live in a valley, the noise of events carries across the valley and is amplified by the mountains that surround us, no matter what noise studies say or mitigations they promise. In the past we have been directed by PRMD to report noise and permit violations. Acting for our neighborhood association, I did. I was subsequently sued by the owner.
We are losing our rural character in many ways. Re-purposing agricultural land for more commercial uses may leave us all living in a corporate-dominated industrial arena. No one in Sonoma County wants this.
Sincerely, Linda Hale, Glenn Ellen