Sonoma County Supervisors: Times up to fulfill your promise on Winery Event Ordinance

Letting the wine industry write their own ordinances?

“In the March feature article in the North Bay Biz), Director Tennis Wick is candid about the County delaying the Winery Event Ordinance — requiring that the three over-concentrated areas set up committees, heavily weighted to wine industry representation, to write their own regulations!”

From our friends at Preserve Rural Sonoma County

We are asking you to join us for an urgent and coordinated lobbying effort. It’s time for the Board of Supervisors to fulfill their promise to develop a Winery Event Ordinance. County staff completed significant work in 2015 and 2016, including Supervisor briefings, but in 2017 our professional planners’ work was stopped. Meanwhile, the County continues to permit more event centers and facilities, while dragging their feet on addressing issues and impacts through an Ordinance.

This Ordinance is important for all neighborhoods – countywide.  For those of us facing expansion of highly commercial hospitality and entertainment uses into rural areas, continuing to wait for definitions and standards that prevent additional areas from enduring cumulative impacts is not acceptable.

Time is of the essence – please send your letters within the next few weeks if possible, on your organization letterhead, in an email to the Board of Supervisors  The County is approving some of the most impactful projects in the areas of concentration prior to the development of the Ordinance, setting precedents that increase the impacts from hospitality uses, with no cumulative impact analysis.    

For example, in March, the Supervisors approved modifications to a hotel/resort use permit in Sonoma Valley, and on April 24th Supervisors will review an Application on a sub-standard section of West Dry Creek Road requesting 40 event days and twice daily food pairing – generating approximately 10,000 vehicle trips annually, in addition to baseline winery and tasting room traffic.

If high levels of visitation are considered “protective measures in areas of concentration,” think what levels will be proposed in other rural areas!

In the March feature article in the North Bay Biz (attached), Director Tennis Wick is candid about the County delaying the Winery Event Ordinance — requiring that the three over-concentrated areas set up committees, heavily weighted to wine industry representation, to write their own regulations!

We are doubly concerned about the integrity of the public process – it appears that the staff work and community input to the 2015-2016 County’s required process for Ordinance development have been removed from their website and public hearings are no longer scheduled.

The County is responsible to the entire community when it comes to public safety, environmental protection and quality of life concerns. Blatantly ignoring public input and due process by turning the responsibility to write standards and criteria over to industry-dominated committees is not acceptable and does not fulfill their governmental function.  

Please join us in implementing the following plan:

1.    As a concerned environmental or community group, please review the attached sample letters, and determine the talking points that are important to you.  Then, write a letter from your organization’s perspective or as an individual to all our Supervisors. It’s time to demand they stop putting wine industry profits ahead of their responsibilities to the public.  

2.    To gain the maximum impact, please schedule your email letter to land in the Supervisors’ inbox by the week of April 23rd. Please bcc PRSC when you send your email.


Thank you for your help and support!
Below are four sample letters to choose from to send to the Board; you can edit, adapt or send as is to the Board of Supervisors and cc: Tennis Wick at Permit Sonoma,  please bcc:! (Please send as a pdf on your letterhead, or use your logo in the email if possible!)

To the Board of Supervisors: (list of emails here)
RE: Winery Event Ordinance is a Priority
We are writing to request that you set a priority for the Permit Department to complete work on the Winery Event Ordinance that was approved in October 2016, and slated for adoption 6 months later.  The integrity of the public process must be restored.  The Permit Department staff and Planning Commission have primary responsibility for writing clear definitions and land use standards that meet the County’s obligation to protect the peace, safety and well being of residents.
For example, the shift to industry ‘self-regulation’ through the citizen advisory committee structure in Dry Creek Valley has resulted in guideline recommendations based on Vintner Organization definitions that actually increase food service and levels of daily visitation over current levels, with no analysis of the negative impacts.
Land use conflicts must be resolved by County officials; the responsibility should not be handed to the industry to write their own definitions and guidelines. The Board of Supervisors were elected to represent and protect all residents of Sonoma County, not just the special interests of the wine industry.
Respectfully yours,
__________Name and name of group

RE: Blatant Disregard for 2015-2016 Public Processes
Our organization, _____________, is writing to remind the Board of Supervisors that conflicts between developers and local communities often are due to the lack of clear standards and guidelines that balance development needs with protection of the rights of all land owners.
The General Plan directs the County to solve the underlying problems of tasting room and event over concentration, cumulative impact and loss of rural character.  Significant citizen input was provided through the Winery Working Group process, public hearings and Staff Briefings for Planning Commissioners and Supervisors.  Yet, the Ordinance develop process seems to be going nowhere while the County continues to approve projects.
The County has approved nearly 500 wineries, more and more being approved in rural neighborhoods — impacting traffic, road safety, noise and water supply while intensifying the strain on County Sherriff’s office and CHP services.
We are concerned that the Board has taken the responsibility to develop a balanced Winery Event Ordinance away from County Staff, disregarding the staff work and public process completed to date. Now, the County is requiring local committees to develop their own standards; putting important technical land use work in the hands of inexperienced people and committee members from the wine industry with inherent conflicts of interest.
It’s time for the County staff to write standards, criteria, and definitions with observable criteria for meaningful enforcement in a form that complies with State law and well-established practices for Ordinance development.
Respectfully yours,   __________Name and name of group
RE: County Approvals Create More Cumulative Impacts
We understand that Staff is focused on processing permits in areas devastated by October’s fires. Yet, we don’t understand why the County staff has time to continue processing discretionary Use Permit Applications, while simultaneously claiming lack of resources to develop standards for new and modified winery and tasting room use permits.
Instead of resolving the problems associated with cumulative impacts through an Ordinance, approval of new projects, absent meaningful definitions and standards to address impacts, is spreading road safety impacts and creating new “areas of potential concentration” in other rural communities.
Impacts are compounded by a lack of monitoring or enforcement of event center uses and visitation levels. Let’s follow the Napa model that requires limits and annual reports on levels of visitation, with periodic audits for compliance. Permit Sonoma recently hired more enforcement officers – let’s put them to work to ensure all uses, activities and events at winery facilities have been specified in their Use Permit and assessed as to impacts.
Decisions on discretionary Use Permit applications must be placed on hold until the County completes the Winery Event Ordinance. It’s time to get the countywide Ordinance development process back on track.  We need definitions, with observable criteria for monitoring and enforcement, as well as standards to prevent new areas of concentration.
Respectfully Submitted,
Your name and name of group
RE: Where is the Staff work tasked and budgeted by the Supervisors?
It has come to our attention that Permit Sonoma removed documents related to the Winery Working Group and the Supervisor actions relating to the Winery Event Ordinance, and its underlying regulations from its website. This material and the databases related to County winery approvals should be reposted.
In October 2016, the Supervisors tasked Permit Sonoma as follows:
“The Board of Supervisors hereby directs staff to prepare a draft ordinance … to clarify the definition of events and food service and to require cultural event permits for industry-wide events ….  The Board of Supervisors further directs staff to develop standards and siting criteria for events in areas of local concentration, for adoption either as part of the Zoning Code or as a separate guidelines.”
Now, Permit Sonoma staff has communicated (Wick, March North Bay Biz article) that community groups must develop their own standards. It is an outrage that the task for developing county regulations is handed over to groups where the wine and real estate industries have a veto over any meaningful regulations.
The Permit Sonoma staff should immediately reassert is jurisdiction and responsibility for developing standards, criteria guidelines and enforceable definitions in an Ordinance, with zoning code proposals for public review.
The County cannot delegate its statutory obligation for creating an Ordinance, with meaningful planning guidelines to non-professional committees. The government has a responsibility to regulate – no industry will elect to regulate itself.
Respectfully yours,
__________Name and name of group