The Protect Rural Napa News is a place for members to post news of interest and to view and react to ongoing and future developments that may be bringing changes to the rural, serene and private life that we presently enjoy.

November 2018 Update

Bill Hocker - Nov 16, 2018 5:16PM

2018 Soda Canyon Road Picnic in May

After the October 2017 Atlas Fire, the 5th annual Soda Canyon Road Picnic in May 2018 took on a more somber tone following the fire's damage and/or complete destruction to 134 of the 163 homes on Soda Canyon Road. It was still very gratifying and healing to have such a strong turnout considering how many residents of our community have been displaced. While we know it will be a long time before our community rebuilds and is able to enjoy its once wooded splendor, we are honored and humbled to be part of such an incredible and resolute community.

In the photo, neighbor Anthony Arger expresses our community's thanks to a few of the many heroic first responders to the fire, including CHP helicopter pilots and firefighters who joined us at the picnic. (click to enlarge)

Dec 4, 2018: District 4 Town Hall Meeting

District 4 Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza will hold his 3rd Town Hall Meeting to present his concerns of the year past and going forward and to respond to questions from his constituents. The flier for the event is here.

When: Tuesday, December 4, 2018, 5:30pm

Vichy Elementary School
3261 Vichy Ave, Napa

A recap of last year's Town Hall with Supervisor Pedroza is here.

Jan 11, 2019: Mountain Peak Winery goes to Court
Save the date! Friday, January 11, 2019

The lawsuit filed by Soda Canyon residents against the County for its abuse of discretion in approving the Mountain Peak project is set for a hearing on Jan 11, 2019 starting at 8:30am in Dept. I of the Napa County Courthouse. A schedule has been established for the submission of documents and the Soda Canyon Group, Petitioner in the lawsuit, has already submitted their opening briefs.

The lawsuit asks that the County conduct a full Environmental Impact Report on the project, as required under California law, rather than relying on the staff's negative declaration of less-than-significant environmental impacts when the Board of Supervisors approved the 100,000 gal/yr, 15,000 visitors/yr winery 6 miles up a dead-end mountain road.

The documents are here:
Soda Canyon residents are funding the legal fight against Mountain Peak and the Napa County Board of Supervisors. It is an expensive endeavor, but one that is worth the fight to protect not only the rural character and public safety and welfare of our community, but also all similar rural communities across the Napa Valley. Mountain Peak is the county's poster child for potential future development throughout Napa's most remote and rural regions, making this legal battle especially important to the future of Napa Valley.

Please consider assisting these Soda Canyon residents by donating to PRN and clicking here

Why is the Mountain Peak case important to the entire county?

The lawsuit comes at an interesting and important time for the County's future. After the contentious Measure C vote, the fires that reemphasized the dangers of remote locations, the conflict that is not abating between residents and the wine industry over the intrusion of "event centers" into their rural neighborhoods, and the new emphasis in reducing vehicle miles traveled in development projects, the Board of Supervisors have begun to look at the potential impacts of "remote" winery projects with a more critical eye. (The issue of Remote Wineries was an important aspect of opposition to Mountain Peak.)

The NVR articles on the two recent BOS meetings held earlier this fall are here:
The remote winery discussion, now expanding into a discussion over the "compatibility" of a winery with its location, is outlined in this recent report by Planning Director Morrison to the Board. Supervisors Dillon and Wagenknecht both had significant comments on the issue. In one meeting, Supervisor Dillon used Mountain Peak as an example of problems with the winery approval process. The effort to define winery compatibility may go on for several months with numerous hearings and will be archived on here.

The contentiousness of winery proposals before the planning commission and the Board of Supervisors has shown no signs of letting up. In a sign that attitudes are changing at the county, two winery projects have recently been denied by the planning commission - more than have been denied in the previous decade at least. Both were opposed by the communities in which they are located:
And there are projects still in the pipeline already receiving pushback from residents:
In addition to the consideration of a winery compatibility ordinance, and following the divided concerns in the county over Measure C, the County Board of Supervisors, has called for a new process to seek consensus on the future of the county. It will continue an effort already begun but interrupted last year, to chart long term development goals and strategies through the development of a Napa Strategic Plan (The process will be archived here.)

Since 2010 in the County as a whole, over 140 new wineries and winery expansions have been approved adding over 5 million gallons of winemaking capacity, more than 1.8 million visitor slots, more than 1 million sf of building area, hundreds of new employees, and perhaps 100's of thousands of vehicle trips on Napa's roads each year, all approved under negative declarations, as Mountain Peak was, indicating that such increases will cause less-than-significant environmental impacts to life in Napa County. Many residents, stuck in traffic or losing a favorite wooded hillside or favorite local shop, or unable to find an affordable place to live, know that the impacts of tourism expansion are NOT less-than-significant. Winery development is the leading edge of that expansion and the case for a more thorough assessment of the environmental impacts of this type of project is more than warranted.

The Mountain Peak project is at the forefront of this type of commercial development in an incompatible location, and the legal proceedings will serve as a bellwether (for better or worse) for future winery development in Napa's remote and rural areas. We must continue the fight and sincerely hope you will join us in this effort.

Donate to PRN to Help Fund the Fight!

Soda Canyon residents are funding this fight to show that the Supervisors clearly abused their discretion when they approved the Mountain Peak project. As noted above, even the Supervisors are beginning to question their logic.

It is unfortunate that residents have to spend vast amounts of money to encourage the County to protect the rural character of our own community. But, as elsewhere, money is speech in Napa County, and developers have a lot of money. Every project approved by the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors was shown by its developer's consultants to have a "less than significant" impact on the future of the county. And yet the traffic comes. And the affordable housing goes. The vineyards and hillsides are littered with ever more building projects. And residents are asked to pay for bond measures for the upgrading of infrastructure necessitated, and the additional development must eventually be subsidized by us all.

Please consider donating to Protect Rural Napa to help fund this critical and precedent-setting lawsuit by clicking here.

You can also send a check to:
Protect Rural Napa
P.O. Box 2385
Yountville, CA 94599

Thank You for your support and let us know if you have any questions.

PRN at Earth Day 2018

Bill Hocker - Apr 25, 2018 3:30PM

And the winner is?

Cindy Grupp, with Draselle Muscatine, notifies the winner of the 2018 jelly-bean-guess competition. The number of beans this year?

The number was 1,156. The winning guess was an amazingly close 1,152 by Sydney Dommen. Congratulations!

PRN Endorses Measure C

Bill Hocker - Mar 26, 2018 3:15PM

Protect Rural Napa Endorses Measure C,
the Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative
of 2018

Protect Rural Napa supports actions that promote preservation of our natural resources, soil conservation, the promotion of water availability and quality, the improvement in the health of our river and stream ecosystems, and the protection of open spaces.

The purpose of Measure C is to protect the water quality, biological productivity, and economic and environmental value of Napa County’s streams, watersheds, wetlands and forests, and in so doing, to safeguard the public health, safety and welfare of the County’s residents.

Because Measure C aligns with the vital conservation positions that Protect Rural Napa supports, Protect Rural Napa is proud to endorse this important and timely initiative.

February 2018 Update

Bill Hocker - Mar 26, 2018 2:51PM

Thank You Firefighters

First, our hearts go out to all of those on Soda Canyon, as well as in other areas of Napa and Sonoma, who lost their homes and lives during the October 2017 fires. While no words can express the pain many of you have and continue to endure, we do want to say thank you to those who came to our rescue, and did in fact save several homes on Soda Canyon Road.

Firefighters take a break

Specifically, several Soda Canyon residents, including Doug Christian, Glenn Schreuder, Chris Frassett, and brothers Anthony and Nicholas Arger, among others, stayed on upper Soda Canyon to assist local and distant fire crews battle the blaze. They worked with several different departments from around the State of California who literally fought the fire around the clock for more than a week straight. We have already sent thank yous to several of these firefighters who helped save upper Soda Canyon, and have included their contact information below if you would like to do the same:

John Lovie
Tony Martinez
Napa County Fire Department/Monticello
1820 Monticello Road
Napa, CA 94558

Chris "Bert" Gerking (Battalion Chief)
Ernie Amato (Fire Captain)
Kings County Fire Department
280 Campus Drive - Headquarters
Hanford, CA 93230

Dave Bakas (Division Chief)
City of Riverside Fire Department
3085 St. Lawrence Street
Riverside, CA 92504

Jeff DeLaurie (Battalion Chief)
City of Riverside Fire Department
3401 University Avenue
Riverside, CA 92501

Fresno Strike Team 9430 Charlie
Jeremiah Whitemore (Strike Team Leader)
701 R Street
Fresno, CA 93721

May 20th: 5th Annual Soda Canyon Road Picnic

Potluck Picnic 2017

While many residents of Soda Canyon Road have been displaced by the fire, this is an opportunity to reunite the community, to share experiences of the fire and show that wherever we may be at the moment, our home remains on Soda Canyon Road. We are also inviting several of the above-named firemen, who we hope will be able to attend.

Save the date for the 5th annual Soda Canyon Road Potluck Picnic, Fundraising, and BBQ - SUNDAY, MAY 20, 2018 1-4PM Ho/Hocker Residence, 3460 Soda Canyon Road. BYOB, a dish to share [A-M Salads, N-Z Dessert], a chair to sit on!

In addition to the Atlas Fire, 2017 was not a good year for the rural future of Soda Canyon Road:
  • The Mountain Peak Project, bringing 40,000 some more vehicle trips up and down the road each year, was approved in January and the appeal denied in August. A legal challenge to the project is going ahead. More on that below.

  • In April The Caves On Soda Canyon Road was granted permission to expand production from 30 to 60,000 gal/yr. bringing more industrial traffic to the road. And they were granted the use of the ridge, and bootlegged portal for tourism events.

  • Also in April, residents protesting the granting of a license to the Relic Winery on the basis of its added tourism traffic were rebuffed by the ABC. More on that below.

  • And at the junction of Soda Canyon Road and the Silverado Trail, four(4) new or expanded winery projects were approved (not to mention the very non-residential looking Ellman Family Estate currently under construction) adding to traffic on that stretch of the trail.

The County government continues to support entrepreneur's interests over those of residents, and the loss of the rural character that makes this place special is being lost.

Join your neighbors and friends once again for the opportunity to carouse and take stock of the issues that bind us together, and add your fundraising contribution to the effort to protect this special place and places like it throughout Napa County.

A separate invitation will be sent out as the date approaches.

Mountain Peak Winery - the next step

Mountain Peak site, Spring 2015 and October 2017

Last year, during the County Planning Commission hearings and the Appeal to the Board of Supervisors on the Mountain Peak Winery project, numerous Soda Canyon and Napa citizens implored the County to significantly reduce the project size on several grounds, including a substantial reduction in the 14,575 annual visitors and 40,000 additional vehicle trips it will create specifically due to the public safety concerns related to accidents and the dangers of fire (unsuspecting tourists causing a fire, impeding escape routes during a a large and devastating wildfire, getting trapped at the end of the road, etc.)

Incredibly, less than two months after the Supervisors approved the project, all of those concerns and many more played out with tragic poignancy during the Atlas Fire, where most residents on lower Soda Canyon barely escaped with their lives, and more than 100 individuals (residents, property owners, and vineyard workers) were trapped on upper Soda Canyon Road by the fire on Sunday night, October 8, 2017 at the very entrance to Mountain Peak Winery and had no escape route because lower Soda Canyon was ablaze and entirely blocked by flames. Surrounded by the firestorm, the trapped individuals were either forced to shelter in vineyards or be evacuated by CHP helicopters in 60+ mph crosswinds. Tragically, two individuals on lower Soda Canyon were heartbreakingly lost in the fire, and 72% of the homes (118 of 163) on Soda Canyon were completely destroyed by the fire, with another 16 severely damaged for a total of 82% (134 of 163) of all homes on Soda Canyon damaged or destroyed by the fire.

As part of the lawsuit filed last September under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by several Soda Canyon residents and property owners, the parties were required to attend a mandatory settlement conference on January 26, 2018. In the wake of the Atlas Fire tragedy, the residents specifically requested that all five Supervisors, as well as the Owners of Mountain Peak, Hua and Eric Yuan, attend the settlement conference to address what are obvious safety concerns stemming from the project as it relates to fire, which will happen again someday in the future. Indeed, there have been devastating wildfires on Atlas Peak/Soda Canyon every 20-40 years since the late 1800s including the 1981 Peak Fire.

The Supervisors and the Owners of Mountain Peak all refused to attend, instead sending "representatives" with no decision-making authority. Nothing was resolved. This behavior on the part of both the County and the developer again demonstrated the disdain and disrespect for residents and property owners that has now become the norm in government-citizen relations. Continued disregard of citizen concerns must stop. The catastrophic fires we endured this past October warned us that when development in rural areas is driven by the greed of a few rather than the health and safety of all, the results can be catastrophic.

If you would like to help, we encourage you to:

Appeal to ABC over Relic Winery license

Relic Winery on Soda Canyon Road April 2017 and October 2017

On January 11, 2018, attorneys for Opponents (composed of Soda Canyon residents and neighbors) of Relic Winery, a winery located just above the fire-station on Soda Canyon that is seeking 4,500 wine-tasting visitors per year, appeared before the Appeals Board of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and requested that the visitation and on-site retail sales components of Relic's license be eliminated due to public safety concerns (Relic Opponents do not oppose the operation of wine-making activities).

Under Article XX, section 22 of the California Constitution, the ABC is charged with protecting the "public safety and welfare." Relic and the ABC contend that traffic, the condition of the road, and fire are all "outside the jurisdiction of the ABC." Protestants vehemently disagree, and hope that the Appeals Board will determine that issuing a license for thousands of wine-tasting tourists to a winery 4 miles up a dead-end road in the very belly of Soda Canyon that was decimated by the Atlas Fire is not in the best interests of public safety and welfare.

Unfortunately, even after the Atlas Fire, the Appeals Board did not appear to be very sympathetic to Opponents' concerns during the oral arguments, and it is anticipated that the Appeals Board will rubber stamp the ABC's poor decision to grant the license without restrictions. If this occurs, Opponents of Relic Winery will have the option of appealing the decision to the Courts, warranted in light of the decision's potential for precedent regarding public safety on Soda Canyon Road.

Walt Ranch goes to Court

This coming Tuesday, Feb 13th 2018 at 8:30am , Circle Oaks County Water District and CO Homeowner's Assoc, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club, and the Living Rivers Council will present their CEQA lawsuit against the County for approving the Walt Ranch development. The hearing will take place in Department G of the Napa County Superior Court, 1111 Third Street, Napa. Please consider attending.

There are many environmental impacts to this project dismissed by the developer and the County as "less-than-significant". The urban development that is taking place throughout the county, including Soda Canyon Road, in the form of vineyard estates, tourism wineries, major hotel, industrial and housing projects along with the traffic that they all generate and the increase in taxes they require, are not less-than-significant. The rural, small-town character of the county and its quality of life are being lost. We can change this trajectory, but it takes your commitment. Please, be involved.

PRN at Earth Day Napa 2017

Bill Hocker - Apr 27, 2017 12:18PM

We had a successful day at Earth Day. We had two winners of the jelly bean jar guess! One, as you can see was very pleased! We handed out 50+ picnic fliers and PRNEF brochures.

There were several folks who were very much interested in attending the picnic on May 21st and learning more about the Mountain Peak Winery and the issues of tourism development in the watersheds. More Information on the picnic is here.

Our presence at Earth Day!

Protect Rural Napa

Bill Hocker - May 14, 2015 2:16PM

Protect Rural Napa

Protect Rural Napa website
Protect Rural Napa on Facebook
PRN Education Fund website

Protect Rural Napa has been created in an effort to reinforce the original intentions of the Ag Preserve through local community support and action. As residents , we have the opportunity to challenge the adverse impacts of commercial opportunism that the county has seemed to encourage in the last few years. We need to act on that opportunity.

Protect Rural Napa, established in 2014, is a public benefit corporation, dedicated to:
Promoting awareness of land conservation in environmentally sensitive areas in Napa County.
  • Preserving the agricultural nature of the County of Napa.
  • Providing educational outreach materials to affected areas, including neighborhoods and residents of Napa County.
  • Making grants to organizations that share a similar specific purpose.

Mailing Address:
    Protect Rural Napa
    P.O. Box 5184
    Napa, CA 94581

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