I am reading how Napa County plans to deal with rule breakers. In going through the exhaustive 30-page Code Compliance manual, I am baffled, but hardly surprised, once again on the county's priorities.
In page after page, the codification and justification for the new rules is to prevent "the threat to public or private health and safety" and the avoidance of "nuisances which keep the community safe and livable.” In addition, such rules are not to be "limited to Building Code/Residential Code violations.”
Considered as offenses - beyond those of health and safety - are such things as "junk, vehicle storage, overgrown vegetation, litter and visual clutter" which are deemed "offensive to the senses, obstructing the free use of property or interfere with another person's reasonable use and enjoyment of their property.”
The manual, in addressing use permit violators will also compel them to comply with the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Really?
Protecting us all from nuisances, keeping our communities livable, protecting our quality of life and the enjoyment of our property, are all welcome and noble objectives.
And when Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza says that we "all have an interest in certain buildings to be safe and that wineries obey county laws" he is singing music to our ears. But behind the rhetoric, what is telling is not what is in the manual but what is left out.
The reality is that this manual is nothing but a smoke screen designed to sell the impression that the county is a law-and-order place. In the process, the Supervisors are creating a new bureaucracy picking to police the activities of the occasional little guy out in the country whose litter and overgrown vegetation has limited impact if any and leaves out those violators who do the disproportionate damage to the environment and the general public.
We all know why; they have a huge lobbying apparatus and finance their campaigns to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.
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While we are to have new standards and rules by which the little guys must abide or they will be referred to the District Attorney, winery use-permit violators do not need to comply with them. They have negotiated a much better deal. All they are required to do is go to the Supervisors and ask them to change the rules to fit their crimes so by the stroke of a pen they once again become law-abiding citizens. Planning Director Mr. Morrison assures the public that all will be fair and just because in the future, wineries will be required to file self-reports assuring the county that they comply with their use-permits. And then what?
The little guy is not afforded the equivalent of changing the law to allow them to keep their junk or their vehicle stored in their yard. This, of course, would be the wrong way, but legalizing violating winery use- permit activities is many times worse.
Let us be fair: Winery use-permit violators engage in much more destructive activities than ones affecting mere neighbors or neighborhoods. First and foremost, they circumvent the CEQA process because as the courts have ruled, such activities, even when they are egregious are grandfathered never, ever to undergo the process designed to protect the environment and the public.
Recent so-called use-permit modifications have involved the fouling of streams, converting homes to tasting rooms, trucking topsoil to grow grapes in places where no vineyards should be allowed, trucking water for irrigation, drilling caves and disposing tailings on the hillsides without erosion controls, increasing traffic by accepting more visitors and holding events ten times above permit levels, engaging in nuisance parties, even weddings with the police when called, refusing to enforce the law.
These are the 20 percent of bad apples discrediting our iconic wine industry, which impact its very self and all of us from Calistoga to American Canyon, impact our collective sense of fairness and our very trust in our colluding local government in an increasingly corrosive environment.
Stored vehicles, tall grasses, visual clutter; all legitimate perhaps, but: Give me a break. Who are we kidding?