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Register editorial on winery compliance missed the big picture

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Two players were missing in the Register's Editorial Board discussion regarding the county's system of granting permits and addressing violations in wineries (and other buildings) (“An end to uncertainty,” Oct. 1).

While the interests of business and politics were included, missing were those of the environment and the residents' quality of life. The issue of violators cannot be addressed without its effect on them.

To begin with, bunching building violations and winery violations under the same ordinance would be a serious mistake. An unpermitted room addition is a matter of Building and Safety while unpermitted wine production and visitor numbers impact everyone's quality of life and the environment unless mitigated according to the safeguards mandated by the state (the California Environmental Quality Act). Here lies the broader context within which the issue must be addressed by the county if it is to be effective.

I have written extensively that the way government treats law violators involves inventory keeping and ethical issues of fairness and trust in government. While effectively deterrent punishment is essential, it is secondary in the big scheme of things. Primary is the preservation of the valley's environment and its quality of life. This is where our supervisors' policies that for decades were solely focused on accommodating business have failed us over the past few decades. One need only look at traffic.

How did traffic congestion get out of hand in such a short period of time? According to the 2014 Fehr & Peers traffic behavior study, only 9 percent of all Napa traffic is through traffic. This means that 91 percent of it is directly controlled by government policies. Without a comprehensive blueprint on growth there can be no criteria by which a permit may be granted to a new winery or for an increase in production or visitations to an existing one whether legal or illegal.

It is time for a fundamental shift in the supervisors' focus.

We, the residents of Napa Valley, do not owe any investor in a new winery financial success. Neither do we owe higher profits to investors who in full knowledge of the parameters of their use permits seek to increase them. We do not bail out condo developers from a bad investments but we bend over backwards for winery owners. Why? They tell us that agriculture is the traditional backbone of our economy. Fair enough. But crowded tasting rooms are not agriculture.

Here are the consequences: New wineries and increased visitations at existing ones attract more visitors to the valley because their supply is endless; one need only look at the most popular places in the world - and we are one of them - to be convinced. More visitors to wineries mean more tourists, more hotel rooms, more low-paid commuters, more traffic, higher use, demand and deterioration of the infrastructure, more government staff, higher pesticide and pollution levels and the denuding of our forests for more vineyards.

At the heart of the problem is that under the direction of our supervisors, staff has consistently failed to properly analyze the impacts of new wineries or the increased production and visitations at existing ones. CEQA was mandated by the state to prevent us from reaching the traffic levels we have. Piece by piece, the politicians have been assuring us that impacts have been mitigated to "less than significant" and here we are. We are here because the CEQA law has been consistently abused.

While this has escaped the unsuspecting general public, it has not escaped the investor sharks. With the supervisors' tourist-based transformation of our economy, they have descended on our valley utilizing every inch of its resources. The problem is that it is us who bare their costs; short term as they now impact our quality of life and staggeringly fiscal ones some 20 years down the line to be paid by us one measure after another.

In good faith, we approved Measure T. Its funds, as one Supervisor told a small neighborhood gathering, will also be available for "projects." What kind of projects? "Widening roads or installing relief lanes."

Yes, we will see "our dollars at work" and drive easier - only for one to two years as UC Davis studies have shown and then get worse than before until one day we will wake up wondering where we are.

Without a grip on growth as the overriding criterion, any attempt to address use permit violators will give the false feeling we are solving a problem while the overriding one will be getting worse right under our feet. We may or may not be serving justice, but we will be miserably failing at planning. Until such time as we have it, "uncertainty" may be serving us well.

George Caloyannidis


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