How telling of the sad state of affairs it is that Napa County has budgeted one quarter of a million dollars for the annual salary of a new deputy counsel to handle the increased load of land-use issues ending on residents’ appeal hearings and the courts. By the time the employment of this person ends, the county taxpayers will have spent untold millions in salaries, and continuing benefits and pensions until death.
These appeals filed by affected homeowners revolve around the basic policies solidly embraced by the Board of Supervisors. All involve accommodation of wineries: Their uncontrolled proliferation, their ever-increasing use as entertainment and commercial activity centers and the scandalous reward policy for their most egregious use-permit violations. This, in turn, brings hordes of tourists and low-wage workers for dozens upon dozens of new resorts and hotels.
But most important is the deaf ear the board lends to the negatively affected neighborhoods from Mt. Veeder to the west, to Howell Mountain in the east and everything in between.
When a winery such as Reverie, having spread thousands of tons of cave tailings on a hillside next to a creek without an erosion control permit, when it also exceeded its permitted visitations and production many times over, is given a clean slate just for the asking to be absolved and legalized and ends up walking away with several millions in ill-gotten profits, what is a community to do?
When the Mountain Peak winery is allowed to deposit cave tailings equaling one football field, 30 feet high next to the Rector Creek Gorge, which supplies water to the City of Yountville, six miles to the end of the winding Soda Canyon Road with more than 600 recorded accidents and no secondary outlet for residents to get out in case of fire, what is a community to do?
When flawed California Environmental Quality Act analyses by county staff only consider winery traffic impacts around a convenient limited circle, ignoring those throughout the valley resulting in the unbearable congestion from American Canyon to Calistoga, what are residents to do?
The residents of this valley are increasingly aware that the supervisors’ accommodation of the wine industry has lifted its veil, no longer embarrassed to show its ugly face of egregious partiality no matter what the costs to the environment and to the degradation of their common quality of life.
The supervisors refuse to recognize the obvious, that appeals and lawsuits are a sign that something is fundamentally wrong in the way they conduct business.
If they acted on residents’ concerns rather than bow to the wishes of the next violator or the next absentee multimillionaire coming out of the woodwork — eager to embrace the good life by destroying it with their help — one with no real stake in the community or in conduct that does not trample on neighbors’ lives, appeals and lawsuits would disappear as if by magic.
But reason from our elected leaders is too much to ask for.
Instead, oblivious to their righteousness, beholden to their sell-out, they opt for the most offensive solution; that of beefing up their arsenal with additional legal help to fight those ignorant, audacious, adversarial ordinary residents and saddle them with that cost on top of that. This is the way to teach them a lesson for fighting for their livable neighborhoods and shut them up; make them spend more time at hearings, more money on consultants, more money in the courts.
Lowering their ears from their imperial thrones to listen to them is not an option.