The Napa County Supervisors recently returned from their retreat and announced they intend to do something about wineries and vineyards that have potentially evaded existing laws and ordinances. They should look no further than to their own county administrative staff and their past feeble enforcement practices which have for years been generally ineffective.
It's been an open secret that for years there were no serious teeth in the county’s weak attempt to maintain its own ordinances and Agricultural Preserves. Now they're trying to shut the barn door after the cows are out.
Perhaps in the past nobody screamed loud enough for staff to pay attention, or more likely as we have discovered, staff just turned a blind eye and -- with a wink and a nod – allowed, if not overlooked, violations.
A client of ours recently took over a winery in a remote region of Napa. We found 2 inches of code violations dating back to the '90s in the county files. After many were filed, the same code violation would be re-documented, put in the file, and either forgiven or forgotten. Now, our client is determined to make things right and has been working for a year and a half with the county staff to make things better. From Engineering to Building Department to Environmental, the staff has been uncooperative and downright obstructionist.
As architects, we understand code violations and the need for mitigation, but there's little hurry or desire by the county to make things better.
Standard building conditions that were code compliant 20 years ago, are now code violations because of reinterpretations of regulations and new state requirements. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for building owners and vineyard managers to keep up with the latest and greatest. What was legal yesterday are code violations today.
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While I can't condone, I can understand why some property owners in the Valley would rather ask forgiveness than permission. Rude Napa County code enforcement officers and staff often act with impunity, arrogance, and aggression making cooperation a serious challenge for the average property owner.
Now the County Planning and Environmental Departments are suffering from staff shortages and musical-chair transfers. It takes forever to gain an approval but minutes to write-up a code violation. The Building Department has changed heads numerous times in recent months. The latest regime seems willing to work better with applicants, but if under-staffing continues, only time will show if the Building Department can clean up its act while others remain uncooperative.
If the county is looking for someone to blame, they should simply turn around and recognize it is themselves.
Chris d. Craiker