I was happy to see the recent editorial regarding the Winery Definition Ordinance (“We all must be better guardians of growth,” Aug. 18).

As chairman of the Planning Commission during the hearings and adoption of the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO), I am concerned that the very thing I warned of is, and apparently has been, occurring.

The reason for the WDO was to balance the preservation of agricultural land with the needs of the industry.

The industry, at the time, indicated that production facilities were necessary on agricultural lands.  The primary reason was that time from harvest to production was critical for the premium product being grown and produced.

That premise is consistent with the design of the WDO and the associated environmental impact report. The WDO requires all new wineries and expansion (physical) of existing facilities to comply with the requirements of the WDO — specifically the 75 percent utilization of Napa County grapes.

During the hearing, it became clear that we did not have any information on the current utilization of Napa County grapes in existing allowed or nonconforming uses.

It also became clear that we had no way to regulate the sourcing of the currently approved production in approved or nonconforming uses. This created a great concern for me.

I indicated at the time that there was the potential for a “shell game” as it related to existing wineries and expansion requests.

The winery could transfer existing Napa County production to the expansion and backfill with whatever sourcing they desired.

I had expressed an interest in regulating the transfer allowed down to a 75 percent level in the existing facility. The expansion would have to meet the WDO requirements.

This was consistent with the intent of protecting agricultural lands from unnecessary development.

I use the term unnecessary because the industry had indicated that the “necessary” use was for the ability to move premium grapes from harvest to production quickly.

Where that requirement is not necessary, production facilities could be located off agricultural lands (industrial parks). There is no need to utilize land in Napa County zoned for agricultural use for industrialized processing of transported grapes, and I do not believe that the environmental report provided for such beyond the 25 percent acknowledged.

If a winery could transfer existing usage to the expansion and backfill without restriction, the environmental report would have had to provide assumptions that accounted for such.

Such assumptions would also have to have identified mitigations.

It became clear during the meetings that we could not control the sourcing of the existing production after the fact. However, that did not necessarily mean that in looking at expansion requests that the county could not consider existing production.

I believe this is required if you want to be in compliance with the intent of the WDO and in conformance with the associated environmental report. I do not see how the county can unilaterally decide that all existing Napa County production is available for expansion sourcing.

The county would have to deal with several issues to allow the transfer of existing production to any expansion. The first is that it should be consistent with the WDO. And it may be, if the language of the WDO is the only reference. However, the WDO is based on an environmental report, and that is the second issue.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Developing policy that clearly offers an interpretation of the WDO that, had it been utilized at the time, would have been inconsistent with the environmental report seems subject to easy challenge.

An environmental report does not disappear with the passing of an ordinance.

Changes to that ordinance, actual or interpretative, still need to meet the legal tests.

Which brings up the question of how the county is actually managing the requirements of the WDO.  Apparently, the county is allowing the expansions with sourcing documentation that is nothing more than a statement that the applicant will comply with the 75 percent requirement.

Where are the metrics to decide that the utilization of the WDO remains consistent with the original intent and environmental report?

During the time that the WDO was being developed, the Planning Commission required new or expanded wineries to keep logs of visitors to assure compliance with environmental concerns associated with the approvals.

And yet, the WDO can get by with nothing more than a statement of compliance? How would someone verify compliance?

If the desire of the decision-makers is to allow the shifting of existing production toward expansion requirements, they need to address the issue head-on. This includes revisiting the WDO at least enough to refine the issues identified at the time.

My advice would be to require that any request to transfer sourcing to an expansion include a requirement that the existing production comply with the 75 percent rule. This is consistent with the general plan goal of preserving agricultural lands, the WDO and the WDO environmental report.

Jonas lives in Napa.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Load comments