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Napa County supervisors favor cutting red tape for certain winery expansion requests, such as what the county considers to be minor wine production and employee increases.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday discussed streamlining laws that would apply only to existing wineries, not proposed new wineries. Since supervisors wanted to make last-minute word changes to the planned ordinance, they’ll revisit the issue on Jan. 28.

Critics over the past eight months in letters to the county have been wary about a possible fast-track to certain winery expansions, given winery growth controversies. But the Board of Supervisors public hearing didn’t prove to be contentious.

Supervisor Ryan Gregory joked he wanted to call streamlining the “future compliance problem prevention” law, a reference to recent county efforts to make sure wineries follow county rules.

“We’re part of the issue,” Gregory said, elaborating that the county code is complex and compliance for wineries can be costly and time-consuming. When the permitting and process for a small task such as covering a crush pad costs more than the task itself, that’s an imbalance, he added.

Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza objected to the present regime requiring a winery seeking to add one employee to go through a Planning Commission public hearing. Streamlining would allow county staff to consider such a request.

“One of the principal drivers for me was, I could not support a business adding one employee and taking months to be creating a job,” Pedroza said. “To me, that just shows some of our rules were static and archaic ....”

Streamlining involves having certain winery requests considered in ways other than Planning Commission public hearings. County staff would make the call, sometimes at a public hearing and sometimes not.

All environmental laws would still apply, county Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said.

“All this does is (determine) what projects can go to which decision-maker,” he said.

Going through the Planning Commission in some cases costs $100,000 and takes 12 months to 18 months, he said. Making some types of changes under streamlining might cost $500 and take 30 days to 60 days.

Among the streamlining candidates are winery proposals to increase wine production up to 30,000 gallons annually or 10 percent above the existing number. Another is increasing employees up to a total of 10 or by 10 percent, whichever is greater.

These types of requests could be approved by the zoning administrator without a public hearing, though public noticing would still be done. The zoning administrator role is filled by county planning staff.

In addition, streamlining would include winery expansion proposals involving such things as bicycle facilities, charging stations, recycled water systems, trash enclosures and some interior modeling requests. County staff would make the call.

Another category is for wineries approved under the now-defunct small winery exemption law of the 1980s. These wineries must obtain use permits to have visitors and marketing events. Streamlining would allow them to seek approval from the zoning administrator at public hearings, if they meet certain criteria.

County officials said 34 wineries were approved under the 1980s small winery exemption law. They estimated about 20 might benefit from streamlining.

Finally, the county plans to make it easier for wineries in Napa Valley Business Park in the south county airport industrial area to expand. The county wants to encourage having more winery production and tasting there to help ease upvalley traffic congestion.

The Center for Biological Diversity in an October letter questioned how the county is looking at streamlining for wine production increases. Widespread production increases could affect the environment, group attorney Ross Middlemiss wrote.

More wine production could mean more groundwater use and more grapes planted on hillsides. Such potential impacts require analysis under state environmental laws, he wrote to the county.

“It is troubling that the county’s answer to the competitive disadvantage experienced by smaller wineries is to propose an ordinance that enables all industry participants to grow their production with little regard for impacts on county natural resources,” he wrote.

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You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or beberling@napanews.com.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.