There are several long-term residents that have voiced concerns about the Oct. 16 Napa County Planning Commission’s decision to grant yet another winery in the hills, up a long, narrow and dead end road, this time on Diamond Mountain Road.
The planners listen attentively, ruminate briefly and then vote “yay” to allow the permit to go through, and with exemptions. Their justification is that they are not in a position to set policy and regulate a permitted use, particularly in an Ag Watershed zone.
Collectively, up here on the mountain we have no objection to wineries in general. What people want to do with their passion and money is up to them. But these developments should not be built in unsafe areas.
There are many narrow, dead-end roads that snake up into the mountains on both sides of the Valley. Some of these roads are so narrow that they don’t conform even to the most rudimentary county road standards.
Those of us that live on these roads know where the traffic choke points and blind curves are. We have grown accustomed to quick veers, sudden stops and near misses, as we ply these roads. It’s something all of us have endured, and long-term residents live with the existing hazards.
I have stopped many unwitting semi truck drivers unfamiliar with Diamond Mountain Road and have cautioned them to turn back before committing to blocking the road for hours so that the CHP can safely escort them back down in reverse. You only need to drive up Diamond Mountain Road and observe the many redwoods whose bark has been scared at these tight turns.
Appealing to the planners that there are adverse effects on wildlife, excessive well water draws, as well as other environmental and natural conditions, falls on deaf ears as current zoning laws in these mountainous regions allows for these developments. We are feeling unheard by the planners and it has become clear that we are appealing to the wrong county government agency. We should be addressing these concerns of life and safety to the Napa County Board of Supervisors.
As I write, the electricity has gone off for another one of PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoffs. In the last shut off, PG&E took four days to restore power to us. The Kincade Fire is raging in the Alexander Valley as I write this and the glow from that fire can be seen 20 miles away from our bedroom window.
One issue that came up in the planners’ meeting regarding the issuance of the latest winery permit up here on Diamond Mountain, which granted road condition exemptions, was the mantra of “highest and best use” for real estate.
The application is for a 20,000-gallon winery specifically targeting grape coming from Diamond Mountain vineyards, yet the vineyard acreage associated with this winery is only 4 acres. Therefore, what is really intended is a custom crush facility for anyone who has vineyards nearby, which will further clog these substandard roads with more traffic.
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Additional traffic for this particular application includes 16 additional (cars or people) visitors a day, special events with 75 invitees twice a year and a special auction event for 125 people once yearly. What was not part of the traffic “study” are the grape deliveries, the bottling trucks, barrel deliveries, supply trucks, service people, and caterers, all driving two and a half miles up this narrow dangerous road.
Anyone with a 10-acre parcel can apply for the same permit as current Ag Zoning allows and little can stop this winery proliferation in these insanely dangerous areas. One road in and no secondary exist.
The 10-acre rule would allow a dozen or more similar wineries to be built on Diamond Mountain alone, let alone other rural roads. Are we willing to have everyone with a passion for wine continue to build in these dangerous spots just because they can?
New winery permits should be allowed in sensible areas with proper safe access, without road exemptions or bending the rules so everyone is accommodated without endangering those that already have operating wineries and residences in these hills.
When will the “highest and best use” include being respectful of the environment and safety of others?
Might I remind the Supervisors that Napa County’s liability doesn’t just end when these permits are issued. In the case of permitting wineries on roads that are already recorded as substandard and giving them the permits by “exemptions” the county must assume the liability of any risks associated with the overall egress off these mountains. By omission, or in this case, road exemptions, the liability lays squarely with the county.
Enough is enough here in the Napa Valley. The roads are already choked with traffic and the wine industry is at an inflection point of over-saturation. A case of over-development, for which we are all paying.
Charles de Limur