Once again, Napa County is poised to further deal with wineries that make too much wine, have too many visitors or otherwise break rules set out in their permits.
The county Board of Supervisors a year ago was ready to revamp its winery audit and to give rule-breakers a grace period deadline to begin addressing violations. Then the October 2017 fires hit, sending the effort into a year’s hiatus.
Supervisors on Tuesday took up where they had left off by fine-tuning their proposals. One goal is to shake the contention by critics that it’s easier for rule-breakers to ask for forgiveness than seek permission in the first place.
“I think this is changing the way we do business,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said. “This is changing the culture long-term.”
That’s fine with the Napa Valley Vintners, which has more than 500 members from the local wine industry.
“The NVV is a champion of compliance and we completely support the direction this is headed,” Michelle Novi said on behalf of the group.
Under the latest proposals, rural landowners would have until March 29, 2019 to check their use permits and, if they have violations, apply to the county for changes to come into compliance. The county wouldn’t guarantee to grant the requests.
After March 29, the path to voluntary compliance without consequence would close. Violators who are discovered would have to live within their legal entitlements for a year before the county would consider granting significant changes. They could face fines and penalties.
For example, a winery might be entitled to make a maximum of 20,000 gallons annually of wine and be caught making 30,000 gallons. It would then have to stick with 20,000 gallons for a year before the county would consider a higher number.
As proposed, that March 29 deadline to submit substantially complete applications would have some flexibility. Applicants wouldn’t have to submit related studies that couldn’t be completed by that time, such as environmental reports that need spring weather.
Some winery owners might need to work with the county to clarify what their use permits allow, given some permits go back to the 1970s and county rules have changed over the years. They could receive deadline extensions.
Supervisors considered changing the deadline until July 1, given difficulties landowners might have finding consultants and engineers for their applications. Pedroza didn’t want to go that far.
The deadline is a goal, he said. He’d rather stick with March 29 and, if challenges are apparent come February, modify the date then.
“I think this is an urgency. It needs to be an urgency for everyone,” Pedroza said.
Resident George Caloyannidis said the county is underestimating the scope of what it’s dealing with. He said 150 to 200 wineries might have violations and the county must figure out how to handle an enormous volume of voluntary compliance applications.
County officials raised the possibility of using consultants to help with the planning workloads, with applicants paying the cost. But they didn’t predict how many applications might come in.
“It’s hard to say how much of a tsunami. There could be. We don’t know,” Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said.
Some wineries even without the proposed changes have been appearing before the Planning Commission in recent years to clean up violations they have discovered. Morrison said more than 20 applications have come in over the last two years.
Supervisors could vote on the new rules for rule-breakers on Nov. 13.
In addition, Napa County intends to start a revamped version of the winery audit program to find rule-breakers.
Previously, the county would audit 20 or so wineries a year to see if they complied with production and visitation limits in their use permits. In 2014 – the last audit – three of 18 wineries had violations. In 2013, eight of 20 wineries had violations.
The revamped audit would start in 2019. Wineries in the unincorporated areas each July would have to submit information documenting wine production using a three-year rolling average. Wineries that must comply with the 75-percent Napa County grape rule would have to submit data to show that they are doing so.
Visitation would not be included in the audit, but would be dealt with by the county as complaints arise. The county in the previous audits relied on visitor logs submitted by wineries for this data.
Supervisors will consider an ordinance enacting the revamped winery audit at a future meeting.