The city of Napa won’t be providing a water hookup to an Upvalley winery on Rutherford Road after City Councilman Scott Sedgley balked at the request, saying it would create a bad precedent for growth management.
Elizabeth Spencer Winery asked to be connected to the city’s water system for fire suppression purposes. Its current hookup with the city of St. Helena doesn’t have enough capacity to provide the water flow needed for a sprinkler system.
The City Council debated the request for more than an hour Tuesday, before a vote needing four-fifths of the council failed. City Councilwoman Juliana Inman recused herself from voting, and a motion to allow the hookup failed 3-1, with Sedgley dissenting.
The City Council then voted to rescind that motion, allowing the current application to stay active, so Elizabeth Spencer won’t have to pay to submit a new request.
Elizabeth Spencer’s request could come back if Sedgley removed his opposition, Inman decided not to recuse herself, or the city’s water policies changed.
Sedgley feared a setting a precedent by granting the request, saying other wineries in the unincorporated could follow suit in hooking up to the city system to fulfill a county requirement that they install sprinkler systems.
“I see the city receiving more of these requests in the future,” Sedgley said. “Water is king. The industry is booming.”
City staff didn’t share Sedgley’s viewpoint, asserting that Elizabeth Spencer already sits on a city water main running from Lake Hennessey, the city’s main reservoir, into city limits.
Joy Eldredge, general manager of the city’s Water Department, said that the winery will continue to use St. Helena water for domestic use, and would only connect with Napa water in the event of a fire, or to test its sprinkler system.
Beaulieu Vineyard and Inglenook have done a similar thing in the past 15 years, as has the Gordon Huether Studio + Gallery on Monticello Road and a vineyard near Big Ranch Road and Trancas Street, Eldredge said.
She said the request largely satisfied city policy for extending water service outside city limits, but didn’t meet one requirement that the water service be for residential use, not commercial use. Extending the service was still up to the council’s discretion, she said.
Deputy Public Works Director Phil Brun said staff supported the request from Elizabeth Spencer, as it didn’t require new infrastructure to be built and wouldn’t use water unless it was an emergency.
“It’s much different than a bare piece of land requesting water for a new winery,” Brun said. “That is way up on the threshold. This is very low on the threshold.”
Co-founder Spencer Graham told the council that his company was willing to pay its fair share for the water, including a $13,620 connection fee and annual water bills of about $1,100.
“This is about water that we’ll hopefully never have to use,” Graham said. “We’re going to pay our fair share to tap into the main.”
City Manager Mike Parness acknowledged that city staff was preparing to discuss with the county the broader implications of wineries requesting city water for fire suppression, with talks expected to begin next month.
“We do see more of these issues in the future,” Parness said. “This needs more attention and it’s being addressed as we speak.”
City Councilman Peter Mott said he was still comfortable approving Elizabeth Spencer’s request, even while the policy issues have yet to be discussed.
“I see this a little differently,” Mott said. “There’s no potable use here — just fire suppression. I think we can provide (the water). I think we have to look at a policy discussion down the road.”
Sedgley was unconvinced.
“It’s about growth,” Sedgley said. “There’s a bigger impact here. I see us setting up kind of a precedent.”