Anyone who sat through the presentations by the neighbors at the Mountain Peak Winery Planning Commission hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 4, must also be appalled at the apparent ignoring, again, by the commissioners of significant comments from informed and thoughtful neighbors about traffic, road conditions, safety and the meaning of building such an event center (and yes, this is an event center, not just a winery) six and a half miles up a substandard dead-end road originally built for residential use 60 years ago.
Videos of speeding cars passing trucks on double lines, photos of lines of trucks and trucks and trucks, and of flash floods inundating the road, water as deep as a foot, were shown. Residents raised the specter of the county’s liability. Who will be responsible when the county approves a project on a road they know is substandard and there is loss of life due to lack of safe egress during a fire?
Two commenters addressed the impact of the spoilings from the caves on the pristine, blue line creek that serves Rector Reservoir. When it silts in, when the county is sued, we, the taxpayers, pay— not Mountain Peak Winery.
Going to Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings is like watching Groundhog Day over, and over, and over. The same things happen: The applicant is helped by the Planning Department to fit their project into the rules, planners recommend approval, certifying that all impacts of the project are "less than significant." The citizens, noting that the impact on their lives and on the future of the county is significant indeed, protest the recommendation of the planning department to the Planning Commission, as they did yesterday.
The commissioners listen but ignore citizens’ data. When the commissioners okay the project, it is then appealed to the Board of Supervisors, where this process happens all over again: informed citizen comment (three minutes only, please!) and then, as if it didn’t happen, slam, bam, thank you M'am, it is rubber stamped. Those impacted, and that includes all of us in the Napa Valley, are given the choice: Do we spend thousands or tens of thousands to sue the county?
Our county’s elected and appointed officials continue to ignore the cumulative impact of these projects on our environment, on our roads, on the quality and quantity of our water and on the fabric of our community. If you have enough money, you can do anything. First step is to fund the campaigns of the Board of Supervisors, then do some modifications to your initially inflated plans to show you really are a responsible winery and/or vineyard owner.
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You’ll be allowed to use mitigations, exceptions and variances to make your square project fit into the round hole of the “rules,” rules, that are, it should be noted, crafted by the wine industry to its own advantage. And then you say to those of us who are looking at the larger picture: I followed all the rules and now I deserve the permit.
The question is no longer can these projects, which increasingly infiltrate our watersheds and hillsides, be done, but should they? Our governing officials appear to lack the will, intelligence and moral courage to really take this on. Bullied by big (big!) money, they have fallen captive. In an issue as important as the spread of development into our hillsides and watersheds, we citizens need to wake up.
Write or visit your supervisor. Demand that he or she act for the common good of the people and the environment, not of that of a few corporate and wealthy interests.