Winery owners and other landowners who are breaking county rules might want to circle March 29 on their calendars.
The Napa County Board of Supervisors has delayed passing a new code compliance regime until their next meeting. But it endorsed a March 29 deadline for rule-breakers to submit “substantially complete” use permit applications to correct violations without facing certain consequences.
So, while things aren’t official yet, the county is heading in that direction. Supervisors as of Tuesday had no plans to make major changes to the proposed law.
“I’m hoping folks have already started working toward the deadline,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said after the hearing.
For example, wineries that are producing too much wine or having too many visitors could apply to try to make these levels legal. If they wait until after March 29 or are caught after that date by the county, they would have to comply with their use permit numbers for a year before seeking changes.
The proposed, new code compliance regime comes after critics for years have said it’s easier for scofflaw wineries to seek forgiveness than ask permission. The March 29 deadline is designed to create the grace period before the crackdown.
“Code compliance has been perhaps the biggest issue the county has been struggling with,” County Executive Officer Minh Tran said.
Napa Valley Vintners supports the direction the county is heading, but wants a July 1 deadline to voluntarily remedy violations. The group has more than 500 members.
“We do not want to reward or otherwise assist violators,” the group said in a letter. “However, we recognize that available staff and consultant resources cannot be ignored.”
Supervisor Ryan Gregory was the lone supervisor to push for a later deadline, in his case June 1. The holidays are coming up. Some environmental testing can’t be done until spring, he said.
“I think our goal is to solve compliance problems … I think we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by that (March 29) date,” Gregory said.
Others noted the county started talking about the code compliance move a year ago and delayed taking action because of the October 2017 wildfires. Violators have known this has been coming and could already be working on an application.
“I think we ought to keep things moving along,” Supervisor Diane Dillon said.
Landowners could submit partial applications by March 29 if they must wait for an environmental study that can only be done in the spring.
Also, land owners could review their use permits with county officials to make certain they and the county have a common understanding of their rights, such as what marketing events a particular winery can hold. As proposed, they could have the March 29 deadline extended for the length of the review.
Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison in these cases would issue a written decision of a landowner’s rights and obligations. There would be no public hearing unless his interpretation was appealed to the Board of Supervisors.
Several members of the public wanted these use permit reviews to be given public notice.
“If you want to heal the divisions that came about in the past, put your best effort in the future,” vintner Warren Winiarski told supervisors. “Give the public confidence that they will be heard. Be courageous. That’s what it’s going to take.”
County officials said the county has long been doing use permit reviews at the request of landowners. The outcomes clarifying what is allowed are administrative.
“It is not a granting of any new rights,” Tran said. “Rather, it is a confirmation of existing rights.”
Dillon called the use permit reviews “basic” and “benign.” She wants the county to post the last 20 use permit reviews and the last 10 involving wineries on its website so the public can see what’s involved.
“I think there’s a legitimate concern about the unknown,” Dillon said. “I think we have to make this known – how the use determination letter works.”
The Board of Supervisors could vote on its latest code compliance update on Dec. 4.