Time Sensitive: May 19 BOS Policy Briefing on Wimnery Event Ordinance

Time Sensitive: May 19 BOS Policy Briefing

Important message from PRSC Co-chair Judith! 

Key Messages for May 19, 2020 Board of Supervisor Briefing – Winery Event Ordinance
Concern: Original Meeting Objective: Review policy options and environmental study results – proposed standards. However, slides indicate County is moving toward wine industry definition of events.
1. The traffic, noise and groundwater CEQA studies assessing impacts in rural areas were
intended to support development of protective standards. They did not assess a change in
policy to increase visitation and intensity of use. Slides in the Permit Sonoma (PS) presentation indicate a major change in the definition of an event and significant expansion of visitor-serving entitlements. By recategorizing uses, hospitality uses previously specified in Use Permits as Events are now categorized as “business activities” extending to 10 pm or as “Trade Events” – a major unenforceable loophole.

Incorporating wine industry proposed definitions increases both the types of visitor-serving uses and intensity of daily visitation. Reclassifying events as business activities allow permit holders, with previous limits on the number and scale of entitled uses, to greatly expand uses simply by saying they are a “business activity” or “trade event.” This semantic sleight of hand flies in the face of the County’s recent traffic studies that show many wine region roads are over capacity or nearing capacity thresholds. Increasing allowed visitation past 5 pm tasting room hours will result in significant noise impacts, and increasing the number of visitors may impact groundwater wells. 

2. Unenforceable Definitions:
Per requirements in the CA Zoning Code, County practice has been to
spell out and analyze the full scope and intensity of permitted promotional and hospitality uses — type, number, size, and time of day. Allowed uses are specified in the Use Permit or Modified Permit and event criteria were observable and thus, enforceable.
Impacts are impacts: A promotional dinner until 10 pm at night with outdoor amplified music has the same impact whether its wine club or members of the trade sitting at the table.
Undermines the County’s ability to enforce use permit conditions – the slide showing criteria
for Event types 1 and 2 itself is unintelligible, how can a neighbor determine permitted vs
illegal events? Meal service throughout the day will morph into restaurant service – the commercialization of AG land thwarts General Plan protections and has not undergone environmental review. 

3. Out of Date Business Model: Doubling down on an out-of-date business model by eliminating broad categories of promotional uses from the definition of an event may not bolster the industry, and may actually harm our small family businesses. 

The post-2000 “gold rush for permits” resulted in a 300% increase in wineries/tasting rooms. Starting in 2012, community groups raised issues, and inconsistencies with the General Plan: Then, the “arms race” for over the top experiences led to detrimental concentrations:  Too many tasting rooms with too many events in rural areas impact property rights, jeopardize road safety and are detrimental to rural character. In 2015: Silicon Valley Bank warned the County and industry about impacts to the bottom line from too many competing tasting rooms, with erosion in pre-tax profits compounded by the cost of events. And, in the 2020 State of the Wine Industry report, the Bank concludes: “… we are in the midst of a consumer reset, which requires every winery to reimagine how they sell and market wine.”
4. Support Option 3: Request Permit Sonoma professional planners complete the County-wide ordinance, with enforceable event definitions and standards to prevent new areas of
overconcentration.  And, align more protective local area guidelines with the Ordinance, as directed by the BOS in October 2016. Then, hold public meetings, Planning Agency hearings, with Ordinance and guidelines ready for BOS decisions and adoption by spring of 2021.
Immediate Stimulus – Trial period Option: The fires and the pandemic have hit our tasting rooms and restaurants hard. Rather than expand Use Permit entitlements forever, the BOS may consider some immediate, short-term (one to two years) expansion to encourage visitation. This trial period will test both the environmental and bottom-line impacts of expanded food service, as well as the impact to city-based restaurants. And, will give PS time to complete the necessary environmental studies for adoption of an ordinance that sustains economic businesses, while addressing the costs associated with the commercialization of Ag land.
Env Advocates: The long awaited Winery Event Ordinance policy briefing is ON for May 19 at 8:45 AM. We are reaching out for your support in writing an email to the Board of Supervisors. Apologies for the last minute nature of this request, but the County has posted very last minute information and we have been tracking it so comments can be relevant to potentially new policy directions! 
Email your letters to the BOS below on or before May 16th – cc: Tennis Wick and Georgia McDaniel Georgia.McDaniel@sonoma-county.org Supervisor emails below: Susan Gorin <susan.gorin@sonoma-county.org >, District4 < district4@sonoma-county.org >, Lynda Hopkins < lynda.hopkins@sonoma-county.org >, David Rabbitt < david.rabbitt@sonoma-county.org >, Shirlee Zane < shirlee.zane@sonoma-county.org >
See bove for the 1-pager with key concerns and sample letters attached:  Choose whatever message resonates for your organization – “lack of environmental assessment for increased visitation” – need Ordinance with enforceable standards to prevent new areas of concentration and to create an even playin…

  One objective of the meeting is to review the findings from the traffic, noise and groundwater studies. The Nov 2019 traffic studies have a number of omissions and deficiencies – and the Noise and Groundwater study findings have just been posted.  Reports posted in alpha order on:   https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/PRMD/Regulations/Winery-Events/Documents-and-Maps/