Napa County has accused the owner of a Silverado Trail property of advertising and renting the agriculturally zoned rural site for weddings and special events in violation of county law.
The county prohibits these types of commercial activities on agricultural lands in most cases. A letter from Deputy County Counsel Shana Bagley to the owner mentioned county code compliance notices dating back to 2016 and said to “immediately discontinue unlawful advertisements, negotiations and rental.”
Otherwise, Bagley wrote, the county intends to take the case to court.
The county names Golden State Income Fund IV LLC and William Lappas as being responsible for 4223 Silverado Trail along the Napa River about 1.5 miles northeast of the city of Napa. Lappas has a different view on the code violation charges.
“We rent the property on a long-term basis, in accordance with the Napa County rules, to third parties, and I am currently in the process of gathering additional information regarding the county’s allegations,” Lappas said Friday in an email.
This is another development in what has become the high-profile topic of illegal rentals in Napa Valley.
With a few exceptions, such as wineries with long-standing rights, agricultural property owners are prohibited from renting their land for weddings. Nor can they rent homes for less than 30 days as short-term vacation rentals.
A person could hold a family wedding on their rural, agriculturally zoned property. But county Code Compliance Supervisor Linda St. Claire said they can’t accept $20,000 to rent land for a wedding to people they don’t know.
The 2018-19 Napa County Grand Jury in a June 24 report looked at the topic of illegal rentals in the unincorporated county. Among its code compliance recommendations for the county – consider having weekend and evening coverage and evaluate staffing levels.
A resident contacted the county about alleged illegal weddings and events at a next-door, rural property, the grand jury report said. The report doesn’t give an address or otherwise indicate where the property is located.
The complainant was told the owner had “lawyered up” and made such claims as the weddings involved extended family members or were held by renters signing leases for 30 days-plus, the report said.
“Even though the original complainant provided evidence that refuted these claims, the county did not pursue the alleged violations any further, to the complainant’s – and the jury’s – dismay,” the report said.
Included in the grand jury report is an announcement on a website for a supposedly non-permitted wedding held in rural Napa County in the fall of 2018. This announcement says buses meeting at a site-to-be-determined will take guests to the “super-secret venue.”
“Nope, I’m afraid the location remains a secret,” the website said. “It’s a private ranch and we can use it, but the owners value their privacy to (sic) and don’t want the location mentioned on the interwebs.”
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Napa County last year filed a lawsuit against Calistoga Wine LLC and Linda Fotsch for allegedly using a Tuscan-style house near St. Helena for illegal, short-term rentals. The case is in Napa County Superior Court.
Now the county will try to resolve the case of the Golden State Income Fund/Lappas property at 4223 Silverado Trail.
The county sent the first code violation notice on Aug. 17, 2016. Alleged violations were advertising a short-term rental for less than 30 days on the Airbnb website and leasing the property for weddings and events. The order also required confirmation that a 560-square-foot structure was being used only to house farm workers, as called for by a deed restriction.
On March 28, 2017, the county sent a second citation order. This one alleged a wedding and/or wedding reception was scheduled for April 1, 2017 and called for the event’s cancellation.
On June 30, 2017, the county sent a notice of alleged repeated, ongoing or subsequent violations and called for canceling a July 1 or July 2 event.
Finally, the County Counsel’s Office this year sent the June 17 letter to the owner. The county has received information that the property continues to be advertised for illegal commercial purposes, Bagley wrote.
Should the alleged violations continue, the county intends to file civil action in Napa County Superior Court, the letter said. If that happens, the county will seek civil penalties of $1,000 a day for each day the violation exists and award of attorney fees.
“We have not yet closed the case,” St. Claire said on Thursday. “We are in communication with his representatives in an effort to reach compliance.”
Why does a case like this take so long to resolve?
“It depends on the property owner,” St. Claire said. “If the property owner is willing to cease illegal activity immediately, then our case is completed and closed.”
That doesn’t always happen. The owner might fight the charges.
“It’s a whole investigation, gathering evidence,” St. Claire said. “We have to have evidence. It’s serious. If at some point, a person wants to fight it, we’re prepared.”
Napa County’s code enforcement division from Jan. 1 through Thursday has opened 202 cases and resolved 96. Active and resolved cases include 27 involving wineries, seven involving commercial uses, 86 involving buildings, five involving conservation and vineyard development, 18 involving grading, storm water and flood plains, and 52 involving nuisances and zoning, according to the county.