I had my first experience with the Napa County Planning Commission recently and came away completely disillusioned with the governance of Napa County.
I attended the meeting to determine whether a winery with visitors and events would be allowed at the dead end of Darms Lane. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Darms Lane, it’s a small country lane lined with an assortment of houses from small cottages to several grander homes. I have had my home here for about 40 years and it has always remained a charming little eclectic lane where neighbors know each other and watch out for one another.
I hoped more neighbors would be there, but I had only heard about the meeting from a neighbor who by chance saw it in the rear pages of the paper. The winery planning consultant said they conducted neighborhood outreach, but none of the many residents I’ve spoken to said they were contacted by anyone from the winery, and most residents hadn’t received anything from county officials either. Was this lack of notice to keep resident dissent at a minimum?
Darms Lane is a small lane that dead ends; it is not a busy street. The proposed winery and cave are at the end on a plot of ground made up mainly of hills. Because the vineyard is not large enough to supply all the grapes that it would need for a 30,000-gallon winery (they only have about 30 percent), additional trucks of grapes would have to be brought in.
It seems to me that if we were truly concerned about the agricultural side of this, a person should only be allowed to have a winery to process the grapes on their property. Once you start trucking grapes in, it becomes a commercial establishment.
Big trucks carrying building supplies, wine barrels, glass bottles, grapes and all the other supplies necessary to construct and maintain a winery will have to travel along this little country lane. We have no sidewalks, people bike, walk their dogs, children play, neighbors converse, etc. at the side of this quiet lane.
Our local garbage trucks have taken to backing down the lane because they have difficulty maneuvering the narrow road and tight turns. I can’t imagine how large trucks are going to deliver grapes and turn around at a winery all with only a projected 12 parking spaces.
The commissioners said they were concerned about how many visitors per day would visit the winery, and how many events there were. The applicants immediately said they were willing to compromise and lowered the number of visitors and events. It played out like a planned routinely orchestrated offer.
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The commission commended them, and then said they were worried about the increased traffic on Solano, especially in light of the fatality recently. They knew increased traffic on Darms Lane would impact the safety of residents, but said that if the applicants considered putting up speed bumps on the lane and signs on Solano, and cautioned their visitors to drive carefully through the lane on their way back out to the highway, that all would be well.
Maybe they aren’t aware that there are no lights on Darms Lane at night and it is pitch black. So a visitor after imbibing a few at an event at 10 at night is going to slow down because his hosts admonished him to?
The commissioners also all seemed to acknowledge the numbers in the applicants reports, and those in the rubber-stamped recommendation from the county, just didn’t add up. As it was nearing the lunch, however, all but one, Commissioner Gallagher, seemed to indicate they just couldn’t be bothered to send the reports back to obtain the accurate information and explore viable alternatives that would ensure the safety of the residents.
It felt to me that the Planning Commission was all too aware of the dangers to an established neighborhood due to increased traffic, but they still voted to allow the applicants to go ahead with their proposed winery. That sends the message that the safety of county residents is secondary to the profits of yet another winery (the owner, by the way, does not live in California).
When does Napa County have enough wineries? When are we considered to be at a saturation point? How long will we continue to blindly rubber stamp approval for every winery? One day, people will stop coming to Napa Valley because it has lost its charm, and we will be one big traffic jam with people going from one event center to another.