Napa County is looking for ways to make certain the rules it painstakingly crafts – from visitation caps for individual wineries to a ban on rural short-term vacation rentals – are actually followed.
The Board of Supervisors heard its annual update on code enforcement on Tuesday. At an upcoming meeting, it will discuss possible changes.
“It’s quite simple – if you break the rules, there’s going to be consequences,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said.
Napa County has four code enforcement officers to uphold rural land and building laws. They take on 200 to 300 new cases annually and have 986 pending and unresolved cases over 15 years, most involving building code violations, a county report said.
Over the past five years, only about 6 percent of complaints that code enforcement receives annually relate to county’s 348 wineries that are actively producing wine, the report said. Complaints over five years involve less than 20 percent of all wineries.
Still, wineries have been in the spotlight lately. A segment of the community at public meetings has consistently voiced fears that some wineries are becoming tourist-orientated event centers that cause such problems as traffic and groundwater drawdown.
Wineries have various rules they must follow. For example, the county might issue a use permit for a new winery limiting it to 50,000 gallons of wine production annually and to 125 visitors a day.
Supervisor Mark Luce suggested that the county enact a new punishment for the scofflaws, though his idea didn’t seem to gain support among his colleagues.
“How about we have a wall of shame?” Luce said. “I think that’s what people really care about — their reputations.”
He suggested later a wall of shame could be posted on the Internet.
A key part of winery rules enforcement is the annual winery audit. The county randomly selects 20 wineries and checks if they are following their use permit requirements. In 2013, eight of the 20 wineries audited failed to comply with some aspect of their use permits.
“Is the audit successful? I would say ‘yes,’ generally speaking,” said Linda St. Claire, who does the audits for county code enforcement.
One of the more difficult parts of the audit for the county is judging whether a winery is within its visitation limits. The county relies on the honor system.
“It’s really up to them to tell me the truth,” St. Claire said. “And obviously they do, because a lot of them fail.”
Still, Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht asked if the county might find another way to monitor visitation.
It’s a challenge unless the county is going to have turnstiles at every winery, said David Morrison, director of planning, building and environmental services. He noted the county doesn’t regulate visitation for other businesses. For example, it wouldn’t shut the doors on a Costco for the day after it reaches 3,000 customers, he said.
One possibility is to have wineries submit their visitation numbers under penalty of perjury. Another is to link visitation assumptions with the square footage of tasting rooms and patios, Morrison said.
Soda Canyon resident David Hallett said the audits have no teeth. Winery owners with violations come to the county offices and ask to modify their permits, he said.
The county will look at whether wineries should pay a penalty for use permits and use permit modifications needed to correct violations.
County supervisors addressed other code enforcement issues. Wagenknecht noted the hundreds of homes listed on the Internet as Napa vacation rentals, though this includes the cities as well as rural areas.
“Those were built for housing,” Wagnknecht said. “We have to count on those as part of our housing stock. If 400 units go to be basically hotels, I haven’t helped our housing stock at all.”
Since 2008, Napa County has initiated 92 cases against short-term vacation rental violations in rural areas, a county report said. Code enforcement forwards unresolved cases to the District Attorney’s Office.
Code enforcement cases come to the county primarily through complaints, a county report said. Staff then prioritizes its response, with health and safety threats being addressed first, then threats to public or private property and finally nuisances.