Preserve Rural Sonoma County Response to Business Journal article about Winery event centers and CACs






Your recent cover story: “Path Forward for Winery Events,” outlines the issues and cumulative impacts of winery events on neighborhoods; yet neglects to mention that by appointing committees that let an industry group create its own development guidelines, the County has abrogated its obligation to write balanced standards that address underlying impacts and serve all stakeholders.   

Absent an Ordinance with enforceable definitions, protective standards and criteria to prevent over-concentration, neither the Planning Commission nor any other committee will be able to equitably resolve land use conflicts or create a level playing field for project applicants.  

In Dry Creek, for example, the consensus voting structure of the Advisory Committee that wrote and implements the guidelines gives wine industry representatives an effective veto of any meaningful standards or limitations on a project’s intensity, scale or hospitality uses. Summarily approving highly impactful projects that generated “years of opposition” does not necessarily reflect good public policy. It’s a classic case of the fox watching the hen house.

The result of letting a subset of the community (who clearly have a conflict of interest!) create their own regulations is that the County’s own General Plan and Zoning standards are trumped by guidelines that actually increase noise, traffic, and intensity of use.  This process forces the neighbors to struggle to uphold their rights to public safety, environmental protection and quality of life, without the County’s enforcement powers or guidance by professional staff.

The bottom line is that the County is responsible to the entire community when it comes to safety, environmental and quality of life concerns. Turning the process over to industry dominated committees to promulgate regulations is not fulfilling its proper governmental function.

Padi Selwyn

Co-chair, Preserve Rural Sonoma County

Marc’s response:


As a resident of the Westside Area, identified by the County as an area of tasting room concentration, I am concerned by the suggestion in your February 2nd article, that local citizen advisory committees may be tasked to develop guidelines for winery entertainment and hospitality services in rural areas.

Thankfully, Supervisor Gore, along with Supervisors Gorin and Zane who are also concerned about such concentrations, recognizes that we should not have rural roads turning into “strip malls” of tasting rooms.  The County must address the cumulative impacts to road safety, rural character and quality of life from this overconcentration, particularly on Westside Road where millions of dollars of bicycle tourism are also at risk.    

Forming a citizen committee is no a silver bullet to solve these land use issues.  Legally it is the County’s job to develop and approve ordinances, standards, and regulations.  Since 2014, the public, industry and other groups have provided input for such standards, just as they have for the County’s deliberations on other regulations.  Formulation of standards, however, is complex involving traffic, noise, legal and other technical analyses that are best left to professional planning staff.  Most community representatives lack the time and expertise to conduct such an effort.

Once the County implements guidelines, it will be easier for the public, planning staff and commissioners, or even advisory committees to evaluate such projects against the standards.

Supervisor Rabbitt rightfully acknowledged the public’s concern that things need to move faster.  It is troubling, however, that after over five years of pushing the County to complete these standards, which were required as part of the 2008 General Plan, it is now considering the formation of another committee. Work has already been done by County officials during the Winery Working Group discussions of 2015.  And, in 2016 the planners held workshops, study sessions with Supervisors and developed various policy options.  

Before the County creates another layer of bureaucracy with more committees, the staff should finish its work, hold hearings to gather input from stakeholders, and make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors.     

Marc Bommersbach


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