The county is issuing use permits for new wineries at the rate of one a month (and increases to existing wineries at two per month) even with Planning Commission review. Apparently that is still not fast enough to keep up with developer's desire to profit from an expanding tourism economy and booming real estate market.
The county wants to streamline the process, providing an easier avenue for speculators to increase resale value with "winery-ready" properties. Not one more gallon of Napa wine will be added to the county's "wine industry" (producing acreage hasn't budged in the last 10 years despite some 100 new winery approvals), just more luxury estates and tourism venues. This is not about affordable small "family" wineries. It's about expediting a real estate strategy targeting wealthy vanity investors.
One can see the problem from the county's standpoint: The amount of pushback from citizens who will be negatively impacted by all of the proposed development is bogging down a process whose purpose is to allow public participation. The solution proposed is to reduce the visibility and amount of public input in the process.
The Planning Commission is a public event. Its meetings are predictable and previewed on the county's website and in the Register. Its proceedings are broadcast and a video archive is retained. The county claims that the public will have a similar opportunity to vet projects being presented to the zoning administrator.
But notification will only go to residents within 1000 feet of the project. No previews in a public calendar. And likely no mention in the Register. It will then be up to a neighbor to make the project known to a wider audience, a daunting task for some. Once the hearing is done, no record beyond brief meeting minutes will be available for review. But the collective changes that these projects bring, with increased tourism throughout the remote areas of the county and the expansion of taxpayer-funded infrastructure to accommodate an ever increasing number of tourists and employees, will affect the county as a whole, not just the immediate neighbors.
As a recent article on Visit Napa Valley highlights, county and municipal governments seem to see a "growth" economy based on tourism as the prime objective of planning decisions. As we have seen in all meetings throughout the last few years, the county is unwilling to seriously consider the increasing cumulative impacts of growth that have led to so much resident opposition. In this proposal, conceding to the demands of the development industries, they wish to make the opposition more difficult.
The county's continued promotion of building projects and the resulting impacts on traffic, affordable housing, community character, infrastructure and service demands, the physical landscape and resource sustainability, run counter to the county's stated image of itself in the first paragraph of its Vision Statement in the Napa County General Plan:
"While other Bay Area counties have experienced unprecedented development and urban infrastructure expansion over the last four decades, Napa County’s citizens have conscientiously preserved the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure."
Many county residents, seeing the urbanization taking place before their eyes, no longer feel that vision is being supported by their government, and they should be allowed to conscientiously make their voices heard. In a public forum.
The question the county should be addressing is not how the approval of building projects can be streamlined to increase the pace of urban development. The question should be how to scale back the amount of development being proposed, as previous governments and citizens have done with the Ag Preserve, zoning ordinances and initiatives, to insure that Napa remains a rural, agricultural place to be treasured in the future. Fast-tracking building projects (much like pretending that building projects are "agriculture") is not the answer.
Again: Comments are due by Aug. 4, 4 p.m. and should be sent to David.Morrison@countyofnapa.org