Napa County’s Planning Commission is poised to resume tackling sometimes-thorny wine country growth issues after a two-month-plus hiatus, with a slightly new look and a new way of doing business.
The hiatus since March 4 came about largely due to the COVID-19 crisis. In addition, the commission was short a member and county computer problems canceled a planned May 6 meeting.
On Wednesday, the Planning Commission should be back with all five seats filled. Jeri Hansen recently stepped down and her replacement, Megan Dameron of American Canyon, is on board.
The commission is to discuss allowing more wine production and visitation at Chappellet winery near Lake Hennessey, converting Greenwood Mansion in the airport industrial area into a cafe and allowing two telecommunication towers at Eagle Vines Golf Club near Jameson Canyon.
As a kind of warm-up to future meetings, the Planning Commission on Tuesday will meet with the Board of Supervisors to discuss planning and housing priorities.
Even if issues prove controversial, there will be no packed meeting room in a COVID-19 world of physical distancing. Only about a dozen chairs for the public are scattered across the Board of Supervisors chamber where the commission meets.
Much public participation at county meetings these days is done by Zoom, by phone and by submitting comments by email as residents shelter at home. Planning Commission meetings will likely be no exception.
Angwin resident Kellie Anderson, a regular speaker at Planning Commission meetings, said maybe the county should take a time-out from controversial growth issues during the pandemic. She sees no replacement for live interaction at a meeting.
“There’s some power to being in the room and talking to someone directly and pointing to the individual who really needs to answer the question,” she said.
Also, she said, some residents during these high-stress times are too busy with economic and other challenges to delve deeply into technical growth issues.
Napa Vision 2050 has asked the county for a pause on all but essential business. More time is spent trying to get people online and heard during county meetings than discussing the issues, the group said in a recent email newsletter.
“Why the rush to meet on highly contentious projects which make public participation difficult, if not impossible?” Napa Vision 2050 asked.
The Napa Valley Register asked Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison what’s ahead for the Planning Commission in a COVID-19 regime that could last months, if not a year or longer.
“The commission will be conducting its regular business,” Morrison said in an email. “Interested parties have a variety of ways of fully participating in public hearings, including written correspondence, emails, telephone calls and showing up to a hearing in person.”
Permitting is an essential activity, he said.
“As the economy begins to reopen again, it is important that we provide timely consideration of pending projects,” Morrison said. “At the same time, we also need to look at whether proposals are designed to meet current and future challenges.”
The commission will be conducting its business with all five members in place.
Hansen resigned from the commission as of Feb. 19. Supervisor Belia Ramos was tasked with nominating a new representative on behalf of the 5th supervisor district, which includes American Canyon, the Coombsville area and part of the southeast city of Napa.
Dameron was one of nine people to to apply for the post. The Board of Supervisors on May 5 voted unanimously to appoint her to the commission.
Dameron works for Guide Dogs for the Blind. In her application, she mentioned a housing shortage and lack of economic opportunity in the Bay Area and said Napa County land uses decisions will leave a lasting impact for decades.
“Preserving the Napa County we know and love while thoughtfully approving homes and businesses is arguably one of the most important roles at this time,” she wrote.
Morrison said most jurisdictions throughout the state didn’t hold planning commission meetings in March and early April. The city of Napa and American Canyon haven’t held planning commission meetings since February. New procedures and technologies had to be adapted to comply with physical distancing.
“Given the challenges of the past two months, I think it’s remarkable that the commission will be back up and running (on Wednesday),” Morrison said.
The regular Planning Commission meeting begins at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the county administration building, 1195 Third St. Go to https://bit.ly/2Ar6Lqs to see the agenda and learn how to participate by computer or phone.
The special meeting with the Board of Supervisors begins at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
(This story has been modified from the original to reflect the correct number of Planning Commission applicants)
You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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