The Napa County Planning Commission wants to be a more in-the-zone, less-delay-prone overseer of Wine Country growth.
Commissioners rule on sometimes-controversial rural growth requests. They decide when winery hospitality crosses the line from being a needed ingredient for prosperity to an over-the-top, entertainment-centered infringement on agriculture.
The commission ended the year by suggesting several rule changes. It wants to tame what Commission Chair Jeri Hansen called “the 8 p.m. data dump of 800 pages.”
She was referring to opponents of projects presenting the Planning Commission with reams of documents the night before a meeting. The commission then continues the hearing so the applicant and staff can review the information.
“That is, I think, just really bad form,” Hansen said. “It’s really not about giving us new information, it’s about continuing the hearing.”
Commissioner Terry Scott agreed.
“It concerns me when our process seems to grind to a halt,” Scott said.
For example, the commission received hundreds of pages of comments to the Mountain Peak winery application just before the July 20, 2016 hearing. County officials said during the meeting that they hadn’t had time to review the material, prompting the commission to postpone its decision.
Some commissioners complained about delay tactics. But one commissioner pointed out that the county staff report on Mountain Peak winery had been released only five days earlier and the public needed time to formulate written responses.
All of this makes ending the “data dump” a complicated endeavor. The commission proposes to “strongly encourage” the public to submit written materials at least 24 hours before a hearing.
“Is that as strong as we can get on that?” Hansen asked.
Deputy County Counsel Laura Anderson said going further has a downside. More people might appeal commission decisions to the Board of Supervisors because they couldn’t submit information.
Still, the commission proposes to take some steps. It might request people who submit written materials the day of meetings to provide 10 copies. It might require people who want to show PowerPoint presentations to submit the presentation 24 hours in advance.
Anderson noted the comment period on environmental documents typically closes the day before a Planning Commission meeting. If the comment period closed two weeks or 10 days or five days before a hearing, fewer people might submit late comments, she said.
The commission also wants to run tighter meetings. It wants to impose a three-minute time limit on members of the public who go to the microphone to speak, the same as is done at county Board of Supervisors meetings.
Present commission bylaws have no speaking time limit. Even so, the commission during controversial hearings with many speakers has imposed a three-minute limit.
In addition, the commission wants to impose a 15-minute limit on presentations by project applicants, unless the chair grants additional time.
The commission talked about the changes to its bylaws on Dec. 6 and Dec. 20, then endorsed them. The Board of Supervisors will consider the recommendations at a yet-to-be-announced date.
Even as commissioners talked about improving efficiencies, they wrapped up one of their busiest schedules in years. They approved 10 new wineries and 18 major modifications to existing wineries in 2017, as well as ruled on such decisions as the Palmaz heliport.
By comparison, the commission in 2016 approved 11 new wineries and eight major modifications. In 2015, it approved five new wineries and six major modifications and turned down two winery proposals.