Board of Forestry Fire Safe Regulations & the NCRSS
| Mar 6, 2023 11:29AM Share
Napa County State Responsibility Area in which Regs apply
NVR 3/4/23: County works on fire hazard road standards
Video of 2/28/23 BOS meeting
2023 Redline NCRSS 2/28/23
Contrary to rumor, the county has not backed off their stance that that existing roads need not be improved to NCRSS/MFSR standards to accommodate new development. Patrick Ryan did say that for CEQA projects the totality of access from the nearest 'through" road would be looked at. But this iteration of the 2023
NCRSS still begins it's scope with "These Standards are not applicable retroactively to existing roads, streets and driveways or facilities." The emphasis again in this meeting was about what would happen with new development on private property or existing private subdivisions.
Conversely, the MFSR Regs do not differentiate between existing and new roads. And the State has already made itself very clear that they think the Regs should apply to existing roads when considering new development as in this letter to Monterey County
and this letter to Sonoma County
(see page 6). It is an issue which the County still seems to be fudging.
At the end of the meeting, ICEO Morrison conceded that, since county regulations are no longer being certified by the State, "the concern that staff has had is that others [i.e. the public] can bring litigation against the County for not being consistant with the State." They should be concerned.
Here are the final, but still "unofficial" (until 4/1/23), Board of Forestry and Fire State Protection Minimum Fire Safe Regulations
. This link is to a pdf. The BOF continues to publish only a link to a MSWord document here
The regulations are certainly much clearer without all of the strikeouts, addition and existing text jumbled together for the first time. And it is still clear that the plain language of the text and the County's convenient interpretation of that language to enable continuing development in hazrdous fire zones are miles apart.
Update12/2/22 State response to inquiries
The County has received notification
that the State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations have not yet been approved and may be under additional review. So the "final" MSFR may not be so final after all.
There is a clear difference in code between State Board of Forestry Minimum Fire Safe Regulations (MFSR) as presently proposed and Napa County's Road and Street standards as proposed. Though the State regulations and County standards are for the most part identical, the NCRSS definitively exempt existing roads from having to comply with other provisions of the standards. The MFSR explicitly make no difference between existing and new roads, and, in fact, the BOF specifically rejected, in their "final" redline, language that would have limited their regulations to new roads only.
So what happens when local regulations, like the NCRSS, conflict with the MSFR? The difference in implementation of the two codes would result in a huge difference in the amount of new development occurring in wildfire areas of the state going forward. Limiting that development was one of the principal reasons for the review of the MSFR in 2020-22 and the retention of language that did not differentiate between new and existing roads in the regulations.
Several concerned citizens asked Edith Hannigan, Executive Officer at the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, what happens when local standards and state regulations differ. This is one such email exchange:
From Bill Hocker to Edith Hannigan 11/14/22:
I would be very happy to know how the BOF feels about local jurisdictions exempting existing roads from having to comply with the MSFR.
From EH 11/15/22:
The Board cannot offer interpretations on other governments' codes and ordinances.
Thank you for your understanding.
From BH 11/15/22:
So what is the recourse if local codes contradict the BOF Fire Safe Regulations? Doesn't that render the BOF regulations meaningless?
From EH 11/15/22:
I would consult a lawyer to explore your options for legal relief.
In looking at this response, it would seem that the State will treat MSFR as they do CEQA standards. That is, it is not up to the State to enforce the code, but rather it is up to individuals or organizations to challenge non-compliance with State code in court on a project-specific basis. In fact, discontinuing BOF certifications of local codes, as the BOF has now done, eliminates one barrier to lawsuits against local jurisdictions over their codes. It is perhaps one more example of how, in such a litigious society, governance can now only occur through the courts.
Update11/17/22 Community Outreach Meeting
Napa County Staff held a community outreach meeting to present the the County's revised Road and Street Standards in response to the State's newly approved Minimum Fire Safe Regulations.
Notice of the meeting
2023 Draft NCRSS redline version
2023 Draft NCRSS FAQ letter
Approved 2021 State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations (MFSR)
BOF Statement of Reasons behind Approved 2021 MSFR
2019 "certified" Napa County Road and Street Standards (NCRSS)
Video of the 11/17/22 hearing
Deborah Eppstein Letter to planner Patrick Ryan and County
Deborah Eppstein, representing the Sonoma group SAFRR
concerned with local interpretation of the MFSR, has sent this list of issues that she wishes to bring up at the Outreach Meeting:
"1) Napa’s prior certification is no longer valid as any time an ordinance is amended to update it as is required anytime the state regs are updated, the prior certification is no longer valid. That is spelled out black and white in the current regs (see § 1270.04(d) of current 2020 regs). All local ordinances must be amended to comply with the new regs. Furthermore, BOF is no longer doing certifications (moratorium started Nov 4, 2020) and they accordingly beefed up language in the new  regs (§ 1270.05) spelling out that local ordinances must fully comply with the corresponding minimum standards in the state regs, and that no exemptions could be applied that were not in the state regs.
2) The state regs apply to all public and private roads (see definition of Road), so the Napa regs cannot exclude the public access roads.
3) Separately, the Napa 2019 certified regs actually did not exclude the public access roads as Patrick Ryan has stated [SCR notes they are exempted in Scope of Standards section ] - sections 12 and 13 of the Napa regs rather provide the requirements for road and driveway standards within a parcel, but they do not state that the road standards outside the parcel are no longer applicable.
4) Exceptions can only be granted under the limited conditions listed in Section 3 (p3) and then only within the development parcel as specified. Exceptions must provide for the same practical effect as the state regs, which includes concurrent fire apparatus ingress and civilian evacuation, and unobstructed traffic circulation (see BOF regs, § 1273.00), consistent with the technical details specified in Article 2 of the state regs (20 ft wide roads, 16% grades, dead-end road length limits, etc). Exceptions are not for entire roads, but for specific obstacles- eg heritage oaks, recorded historical sites.
5) The state AG has written that exceptions cannot be applied to change the dead-end road length limitation (2019 letter to Monterey County)
Deborah has also supplied this highlighted 2020 Letter from the BOF
to the County of Sonoma during Sonoma's attempt to certify their road standards. Pease note the highlights on p. 6. The BOF makes clear that the exemption of existing roads from compliance with local ordinance " is a legitimate basis for determining that the ordinance does not equal or exceed the Fire Safe Regulations." The NCRSS exemption of existing roads in its Scope of Standards clearly violates the MSFR.
She also calls attention to the 8/17/22 BOF Statement of Reasons
that accompanied the BOF approval of the 2021 MFSR. Beginning on page 5 they enumerate their "General Response to Comments Regarding Existing Roads:" That response makes crystal clear that their intent is that the regulations apply to existing as well as new roads. Any attempt by local jurisdictions to exempt existing roads from the application of local standards would clearly indicate that those standards do not "equal or exceed" the MSFR.
After the meeting she sent this letter
to county officials to further clarify the issue.
NVR 10/21/22: Napa County grapples with controversial state fire safe standards
Video of BOS 10/18/22 meeting
Staff Agenda Letter
Approved 2021 State Fire Safe Regulations
Napa County 2019 Road and Street Standards
Following a year and a half haggling over the revision of the State Board of Forestry's Fire Safe Regulations for development in the fire-prone wildland areas, and the significant development restrictions that strict enforcement of the regulations would entail, county staff has decided to take the most minimalist interpretation with little change in their policies and practices, based on the County's own Road and Street Standards that had been certified by the BOF in 2016 before the county began burning down. The State will no longer certify local road standards, and that lack of certification means that localities are responsible for defending their standards when it comes to litigation.
Despite a slew of proposed markups over that year and a half, the final regulations remained mostly as they were, but there was a committment that the State would be more involved in vetting projects and applying their regulations more diligently.
The most significant of the proposed markups, desired by developers and jurisdictions, was the insertion of the word "new" when referring to roads in the regulations. The State's ultimate decision was to leave the Fire Safe Regulations as they are, making no distinction between existing and new roads when it came to the application of the regulations. Napa's own Road and Street Standards (RSS) explicitly state that "These Standards are not applicable retroactively to existing roads, streets and driveways or facilities." County staff has chosen to consider all of the Fire Safe Regulations, also closely mimicked in the RSS, as not applicable to any public road in the county! Firefighting "access" to new building projects would only become an issue from the nearest public road in their reviews. But they are now proposing that, in conformance with the BOF regs, driveways on private property would be considered roads when serving commercial and industrial uses and more than 4 residential units. Those roads would have to conform to the RSS but mitigating execptions would be allowed that provided the "same practical effect", defined at the discretion of local fire authority. The county has always found a mitigation that would allow substandard roads to be approved. (Anthem
is the most egregious example.)
The most contentious of the BOF Regulations relates to the length of dead-end roads. The MFSR specifically do not allow new building projects on dead-ends longer than 1 mile (even less for dead-ends serving properties less than 20 acres). For those of us concerned about the urbanization of the rural areas of the county, this was an important revelation. Soda Canyon has some 200 properties beyond the 1 mile mark, with the potential for hundreds of housing units (3/property), dozens of wineries and 1 mega resort adding to the evacuation traffic on a road that has already proven inadequate in a major fire. But most of the speakers throughout this process have had the opposite concern: the enforcement of this regulation would limit their development rights on their properties, a financial taking. The county was no doubt concerned about their lawsuits as well.
The intent of the BOF review of their regulations, in the wake of the devastating wildfires that occur every year now, was to limit development on substandard roads in State [fire] Responsibility Areas which add to the likelihood and destructiveness of the fires. The county, in deciding that the access constraints of existing roads would have no bearing on their approval of new development has essentially thumbed its nose at that intent.
Napa Vision 2050 has sent a letter to the BOS
expressing concern that the County Staff may not be planning to enforce BOF Fire Safe Regulations on access roads beyond property boundries. Given the staff statement below, it almost seems that nothing has changed in the County's approach to approving projects in hazardous fire zones, despite the clear effort by the State over the last year and a half to impress upon jurisdictions the need to rein in development in such areas.
Update 10/6/22: Staff recommendations
The County Planning Commission Clerk has sent out the recommendations that County Planning Staff will be presenting to the Board of Supervisors on October 18, 2022 regarding its interpretation of the State Board of Forestry Fire Safe Regulations that will be enforced beginning on 1/1/23. The recommendations are here.
"Access Staff Recommendation: Access will be evaluated for each project on only the private driveway, from the nearest public right of way to the new building. This is consistent with the County’s certified 2016 Ordinance, the adopted 2022 Fire Safe Regulations, and the California Fire Code. These same standards would be applied to both ministerial and discretionary projects.
However, discretionary projects, such as Use Permits, are also subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In those cases, County Fire and Public Works Departments would determine whether access to the site (including both public and private roads) provides sufficient emergency evacuation for the proposed use. Where existing emergency evacuation is inadequate, Fire and Public Works would make recommendations for improvements to be included as conditions of approval."
Beyond fire rebuilds, which the county says it will allow, the County has made no comment on the regulation that most concerns the future of Soda Canyon Road: whether or not they will permit development of new projects beyond 1 mile on dead-end roads. The language of the Regulations is quite clear: dead end roads serving parcels of 20 acres or larger cannot have new construction of residential, commercial or industrial buildings beyond one mile from their connection to a through road. My interpretation of the state Regs is that the county must approve an alternative that provides the same practical effect as the regulation. The proposed statement to the BOS seems to say that the County rather than the state will decide, as it did on Mountiain Peak, whether building on a dead end road beyond 1 mile is safe, and whether a mitigation provides the same-practical-effect as the regulation. It will be interesting to see what that mitigation is.
Update 9/8/22: County discussion of Final Regs
The County presented their interpretation of the Final BOF Minimum Fire Safe Regulations (8/19/22)
that are anticipated to take effect on 1/1/23. Video of the Zoom meeting is here
I've had to go through the zoom video a couple of times to understand how the county thus far interprets the new regulations. The year and a half drafting process (see previous updates below) despite the active additions and consternation of stakeholders throughout the state, are more restrictive than when the process began. The regs on their face will have such a significant impact on future development in the county (and the state) that there seemed a sense of disbelief on the part of Mr. Ryan and Dir. Morrison in their interpretations. But perhaps these are the unbelievable changes that we will have to make to confront a changing climate.
My Selective takeaways:
- All projects that receive final approval, whether planning or building permit, after 1/1/23 must comply with the new Fire Safe Regulations.
- the regulations apply equally to new and existing roads.
- Driveways (10' wide with turnouts) can only serve a maximum of 4 residential units.
- Anything over 4 residential units or any industrial or commmercial use must be accessed by a road (2-10' lanes and 2' shoulders).
- no new construction on ridgelines (beyond some utility buildings).
- no new construction (including fire rebuilds!) allowed on dead-end roads beyond 1 mile (less for parcels smaller then 20 acres).
The last is a really big deal. For those of us not interested in further development in our remote neighborhoods it is very good news. The built environment of most of Soda Canyon Road, like that of many of the dead end road throughout the state, is frozen in time - diminishing perhaps as buildings burn. The profound implications of this limitation seemed to generate that sense of disbelief in the presentation. It goes beyond just the homes or businesses that people can no longer build on their properties. The value of the properties (and the taxes they generate) have just taken an enormous hit, a regulatory taking, and there will be an eternity of lawsuits.
The county is surely anticipating a period of negotiation with the BOF to soften things up. But right now, many of the battles over rural land use fought over the last 8 years may be history.
There was one little issue that I still had a question about. Mr. Ryan indicated that in talking to the BOF "access" meant from the fire station to the property. His interpretation was that the 1 mile dead end would begin from a fire station. A commentor asked about the Soda Canyon Road fire station. Yes, construction could occur up to 1 mile from the station. Does that mean that the entire road below the station can have construction? If the fire station were located at the end of SCR would construction be allowed on the whole road? The Soda Canyon fire station is the size of a 2 car garage, has one engine and isn't manned all the time. If such a fire station eliminates the problem of long dead-end roads won't developers or communities simply provide such a structure and truck to enable their development plans to proceed? The issues of ingress and egress on a dead-end road are the same whether there is one additional fire truck on the road or not.
The County is having a public meeting to discuss the implications of the State's renewed commitment to enforce its Minimum Fire Safe Regulations. There will be a webinar on Thurs, Sep. 8, 2022 from 8 to 10am
. More information about participating may be found here.
Dir. Morrison has responded to a request for information from George Calyonnidis with the above link which contains further links to the text of the Regulations as well as the BOF reasons for the decision. Dir. Morrison also writes (music to my ears):
"The rules have already been adopted by the State and are final. To be clear, the upcoming meeting is not an opportunity for the public to comment regarding any changes to the rules, as it would be for a draft ordinance before the Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors. The meeting being held by the County is primarily to help people be aware of and explain how these new rules will affect future building permit applications. For many areas in the county, the changes will be significant for many property owners wishing to build homes or businesses."
NV2050 Eyes on Napa Newsletter 8/25/22: Hard Won Victory For Fire Safety
After numerous revisions back and forth in proposed rules changes over the last year plus, the Board of Forestry has apparently voted to retain existing wording in the regulations that do not specifically designate that Fire Safe Regulations shall apply only to new access roads rather than existing roads. It was the most contentious and significant debate in the discussion because, under existing regulations, it is implied that access roads to new development whether existing or new, should comply with the minimum Fire Safe standards. For new projects at the end of sub-standard roads, the entire road must be brought up to standard to be approved, a cost that developer-dominated jurisdictions throughout the state argued would kill development in fire-prone, wild-land areas. That disincentive was, of course, the purpose in revisiting the regulations after so much fire damage in the last few years.
The cleanest version of the adopted Regulations (8/19/22) is here
BOF Final Statements of Reasons behind the BOF decisions (8/17/22)
County's map of State Responsibility Areas where the Fire Safe Regulations apply
For residents of Soda Canyon Road, one condition in the existing regulations has always stood out: the prohibition of new development on dead end roads greater than 1 mile. In that regard I was sent a 2019 determination by the State Attorney General in reviewing the FEIR for a development project at the end of a dead end road in Monterey County. The Attorney General's finding
regarding road length was unequivocal: there are no exceptions for existing roads in the regulations nor is there any mitigation that would provide the same practical effect on a road exceeding the length specified in the regulations. The County has made the argument that because Soda Canyon Road has been defined (by the County) as a "collector road" that it is exempt from the dead-end requirements of the regulations. This was not the reading I got from the AG decision in Paradiso Springs.
Patricia Damery sends this SAFRR 5/23/22 ananouncement: SAFRR Initial Victory Announcement
SAFRR is a Sonoma citizens group that has lobbied to continue to have fire-safe road regulations apply to all roads rather than just new roads. The push to add the word "new" to all of the minimum road prescriptions in the old text was promoted by the RCRC
, a lobbying association promoting the interests of governments, who knew that road prescriptions without the "new" in front of them, would apply to existing as well as new roads. This would limit the ability of governments to continue to approve new development projects at the ends of substandard roads. Slowing down that development was exactly the reason given for the revision of the regs in the first place, but until the most recent proposed update, the previous revisions were modified under developer pressure to specify minimum regs would only apply to new roads. This latest revision reverts to the text that doesn't differentiate between existing and new roads.
The latest draft of the State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations are out and a request for comments has been made. The written comment period ends on Monday, May 23, 2022.
Comments may be sent by email to Edith Hannigan at PublicComments@bof.ca.gov
Latest draft of "State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations"
(markup of text 5/10/22)
Latest "Statement of Reasons"
(description of changes 5/10/22)
County comments on proposed revisions
As is obvious from the length of this post, this has been a tortuous process. Most of the verbiage that had been revised and revised again in previous drafts seems to have been scuttled in this draft and a new mini version of the regs has emerged. The markup was difficult to follow before but is impossible for all but forensic scholars to follow now.
One previous revision that was jettisoned was the word "new" that had been liberally added throughout the text. The concept that the regulations would only apply to new means of access has reverted to the more ambiguous prescriptions that might be interpreted as applying to existing roads as well. In terms of preventing development in fire zones, which is what I think the regs should do, this reversion to the original is an improvement.
NVR 1/14/22: Proposed state wildfire rules worry Napa County
The rule-making package entitled “State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations” is available on the Board's website
for a 15-day public comment period following revisions to the draft rule text. The comment period begins on Tuesday, January 3 and ends at 5pm on Wednesday, January 19, 2022. Email comments, or comments as attachments to emails, are preferred. They can be sent to PublicComments@bof.ca.gov
Napavision 2050 on the new Regulations
Comment letter from Wildfire Professionals opposed to the regulation changes
In a sad reprise of the APAC process in Napa County, the State decided to amend their fire safe regulations in response to an obvious public need for reform. And, as in APAC,
the good intentions and proposals made at the beginning of the process were slowly pared back and then twisted by development interests resulting in a new codification of the status quo to their own benefit. In the case of the fire safe regulations, the previous regulations were phrased as applying to all roads, new and old. While the new regulations do in some cases make the regulations stricter for new roads, the most significant change in the regulations is that they now clearly differentiate between existing and new roads, and clarify that existing roads are now, in fact, subject to lesser regulation than they were before. Since most new development happens along or at the end of existing roads, the new regulations have the effect of making development in fire risk areas more likely to happen than before, in direct opposition to the initial intent of changing the regulations.
An article in The Guardian
lays out exactly the development patterns, in this case Colorado, that caused the State of California to revisit their fire safe regulations. The solution to the problem is not in providing wider roads and shorter dead-ends in the developments themselves. The Colorado neighborhoods no doubt complied with similar fire-safe regulations and yet burned up in a matter of hours. The object of fire safe regulations should be to dis-incentivize the developments in the first place. Requiring existing roads serving those developments to be completely fire-safe compliant, thus adding significant expenditures to enable the developments, is one, rather inefficient, way to further that goal. A better way is to simply ban development in high fire risk areas, a sensible solution that is, unfortunately, anathema to American capitalism and the politicians and governments that are funded by development interests.
The Guardian 1/6/22: 'Urban fire storm’: suburban sprawl raising risk of destructive wildfires
The Guardian 6/29/21: California developers want to build a city in the wild-lands. It could all go up in flames
Will the Fire Safe Regulations really make any difference? Centennial, the city proposed at Tejon Ranch, will no doubt comply with and probably exceed every proposed regulation. And the urban expansion into the state's wild-lands will proceed apace.
The issue from Cal Fire's standpoint should not be whether the roads are big enough to get to the fire, but how to stop expanding the urban perimeter they have to defend. By not imposing any meaningful changes to existing roads, which would substantially raise the cost of development in wild-land areas, the regulations will do nothing to slow that expansion.
Update 6/22/21 BOF Webinar
What had been originally planned as a Board of Forestry hearing to possibly ratify the Fire Safe Regulations they have been working on for over a year became just one more workshop in the process with more comments and letters from "stakeholders". The comments represented "diametrically opposed views" (in the BOF chair's summation) of the regulations. County governments, developers and some property owners felt that the new regs are so onerous that development would just stop. They bemoaned the lack of local control and flexibility. Environmental groups and some property owners felt that the new regs were a regression and would do nothing to improve safety or slow development in fire hazard areas. They bemoaned the lack of State oversight of the implementation and enforcement of the regs, old or new.
Napa had verbal input on both sides, though not by the County. Chuck Wagner wants more local control and development on the ridge-lines. Mr. Erickson wants more building hardening but less regulation of development location. Kellie Anderson wants all roads to be brought to new road standards. Patricia Damery felt the standards have been weakened and wants more state oversight of county exceptions (and called out the county approval of tourist attractions at the end of 6 mile dead-end roads).
There did seem to be a consensus on both sides over one issue (except for one person whose house was on hold in the building dept): more time was needed - 90 days often mentioned - and an EIR should be required (another year at least). Given the unknown impacts of such regulations on development throughout the state, an EIR, though they never seem to change anything, would seem warranted.
The BOF promised to carefully consider all letters and comments submitted before deciding a path forward, though I'm sure they are under enormous pressure to get this task finished before this year's fire season adds to the complaints about their slowness. Given that they were vigorously attacked from both sides, they may just feel that they have gotten it about right as is, and approve the regs as they are.
Update 6/15/21 BOF Hearing
The Board of Forestry will be meeting on June 22, 2021 to consider and possibly approve (tho unlikely) the current markup version of the Fire Safe regulations. The hearing notice is here.
Comment letters are requested to be submitted before the end of the meeting. Send letters to Edith Hanningan at firstname.lastname@example.org
George Caloyannidis Comments
Deborah Eppstein LTE 6/17/21: Proposed regulations will promote fire safety?
Update 6/7/21 BOS Meeting
NVR:6/10/21: Napa County says proposed state wildfire safety regulations threaten fire rebuilding
Revised letter to be sent to the BOF by the BOS.
One further modification will be added to the letter based on the 6/8/21 BOS meeting. The expression "Declared Disaster" will be replaced by something equivalent to (for want of a better phrase) "Act of God".
The red-line indicates that the new regulations apply to development that "results in an increase of 40 average daily trips (ADT) or less". [County staff indicated that the correction has been made to read "40 average daily trips (ADT) or more"]
Update 6/3/21 County Virtual Stakeholders Meeting
At the Stakeholders zoom meeting on the proposed FSR, County engineer Patrick Ryan made a presentation of the Regs to help clarify with discussion the meaning of the changes. He promised to make his PowerPoint available. It would be nice to have a copy of the zoom meeting if possible. Dir. Morrison had a couple of interesting comments. In one he indicted that the Board of Forestry seems to be ignoring the input of local planning departments in their effort to approve the new Regulations. (What he really means is that the BOF is ignoring the input of local development interests - "stakeholders" - that normally control land use policy.) County residents certainly know the feeling of being ignored by government bodies. I can't say it makes us sympathetic.
A similar presentation will be made to the Board of Supervisors on Jun 8, 2021.
Virtual Meeting Notice
(Quite odd that it is at the same time as the Planning Commission meeting.)
County webpage about meeting
Patricia Damery has sent a copy of a letter from lawyers representing State Alliance for Fire safe Road Regulations
, a group that wants to compel an EIR to assess the impacts of changes to the BOF regulations. Their contention is that in exempting existing roads from compliance in the new Regulations, more development will be facilitated. They make the case that there was never an exemption for existing roads in the previous regulations. Since most new development occurs on old roads, changing wording of provisions to apply only to new roads allows development on old roads that would have been prohibited under the old regulations.
The word "new" appears 4 times in the old regulations (none relating to roads) and 21 times in the revised ones (most relating to roads) . Until reading the letter I had lost the forest for the trees in the tangled undergrowth of the strikeouts, underlines, paragraph movements and subsection references. The revisions are a big win for developers in codifying that minimum road dimensions, radii, grades, dead-end lengths, etc., apply to "new" roads rather than all roads.
On June 22, 2021 The Board of Forestry will hold a Public Hearing to discuss and perhaps vote on proposed changes to the BOF Fire Safe Regulations. The notice for the hearing is here.
Comments may be submitted up through the conclusion of the hearing. The BOF may vote to approve the proposed changes at the hearing or may propose revisions based on comments submitted with a future additional comment period and hearing to consider and vote on those revisions.
The official documents related to the hearing are linked on the this Board of Forestry webpage
under the menu item "State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations".
Napa County Sup. Gregory mentioned in comments that the 5/18/20 BOS meeting that they will be discussing proposed changes to the State Board of Forestry Fire Safe Regulations on June 8th
in preparation for the drafting of a second response letter to the Regulation changes.
NVR 4/26/21: Napa County worries that proposed state fire rules could trigger costly road improvements
I'm not sure if the claim by the Supervisors that rebuilding fire damaged homes will trigger new road construction is more than just a scare tactic to get the public involved. There was an exemption for fire rebuilding in the existing road standards and that exemption has been widened to allow increased footprints.
The notion that adding a bedroom or a minor modification to a winery should be allowed discretionary thresholds of intensity or density increase, sounds reasonable until you extrapolate it to all properties using a road and realize that a "mitigation" will always be found to exceed any threshold. Nominally "less-than-significant" impacts on each and every project being built in the County, as we have contended since beginning this blog, add up to a very significant impact on county urbanization as a whole.
Dir. Morrison's concern that the regulations would have a "dramatic effect on development" is, of course, just the point of the regulation changes: to stop the spread of urban development into high fire areas that don't have the firefighting infrastructure to defend the new development.
I was surprised to find that the Fire Safe Regulations had severe restrictions on dead-end roads. The existing regulation prevents development on dead-end roads longer than 1 mile. The new regulation prevents development on "local" dead-ends longer than a half mile. Why was this not a consideration in approving the Mountain Peak project 6 miles up a dead-end road? Because the county defines Soda Canyon as a "collector"
road, not subject to the Fire Safe Regulations. As a collector, however, Soda Canyon is substandard in width, radii and slope on the grade by the county's own road and street standards. And there are sections of the road narrower than the 20' minimum required by the Fire Safe Regs for collectors. (The County also designates Monticello Rd and Hwy 128 as a "Freeway (2 Lanes)" - there does seem to be a bit of road inflation going on.)
[added 5/23/22: The State does not consider SCR a collector. In their Functional Classifications of Roads widget
Cal Trans considers it a "local" road. (Dry Creek Rd, e.g., is considered a "minor collector".)]
In any case, fires don't know the difference between "local" and "collector" roads particularly in constrained high fire risk canyons. As the Atlas fire showed, a dead-end collector is still a dead-end road, and the length along which a fire can wreck havoc to block access is a significant factor in its safety.
Numerous projects have been appealed to the board on the basis of their access constraints and the fire dangers that are a result. Anthem Winery
was the most recently approved despite substantial fire hazard concerns.
The Board knows, as they acknowledge in their letter, that most of the roads in the county are substandard -- they are so even under the old BOF regulations. Yet they continue to approve tourism-reliant winery projects in remote areas of the county (including the creation of a new ordinance allowing private homes to be turned into tasting rooms
.) Their concern is for the promotion of "growth" (and in Napa County that means tourism growth) at all costs.
The BOF is pursuing a rapid timeline on the new regulations precisely because counties have failed to heed their old regulations, and the BOF knows that if the process is drawn out, thousands of projects in the pipeline will be rushed to approval, adding to the firefighting burden in hazardous areas in the future. The import of the new regulations is not just that their conditions will impose greater restrictions than the old regulations, but that the state is now ready to enforce their regulations in a way that they haven't before.
The Board of Forestry has sent out a new draft of the fire safe regulations. In this latest revision, existing sub-standard roads, for example those less than 20' wide or dead-ends greater than 1 mile in length, may be used for new development that doesn't exceed pre-defined numerical thresholds. Several options are proposed in the new draft as possibilities for creating those thresholds. This acknowledgement that the Board of Forestry is willing to accept sub-standard, and more dangerous roads in certain development circumstances is a divergence from the previous regulations which, in theory, would have made standards applicable all new development.
The revised (2/8/21) Draft is here.
PRN comments on the draft
Napa Vision 2050 letter to the BOF
2/3/21 Original Post
Following the California wildfires in 2017, which had major impacts on Napa and Sonoma counties (though worse was yet to come), Sen. Bill Dodd sponsored CA SB-901
in a wide ranging effort to address wildfire danger in the state. In one of its many provisions, "This bill would also require the state forestry board to adopt regulations implementing minimum fire safety standards that are applicable to lands classified and designated as very high fire hazard severity zones and would require the regulations to apply to the perimeters and access to all residential, commercial, and industrial building construction within lands classified and designated as very high fire hazard severity zones, as defined, after July 1, 2021"
Following the California Wildfires of 2020 which again devastated large areas of Northern California, State Sens. Stern and Allen introduced Ca SB-55
that would "prohibit the creation or approval of a new development, as defined, in a very high fire hazard severity zone or a state responsibility area." The bill is short with no exemptions, and seems unlikely to become law. The Board of Forestry seems to be proceeding on the basis of attempting to satisfy the requirements of SB-901 rather than the absolute prohibitions of SB-55. [Update: a subsequent revision completely emasculated the bill to the benefit of developers.
In 1991 the State of California Board of Forestry (BOF) established Fire Safe Regulations
defining road standards in state responsibility areas (SRA's are beige on this map
). The regulations
define minimum road widths, maximum gradients, required turnouts and turnarounds, road surfaces, dead-end road lengths, curve radii, water provision, and vegetation management. The standards are intended to insure that firefighters have adequate access for their equipment in the event of wildfires.
Following the requirements of SB 901, the Board of Forestry has begun to review its 1991 standards. In 2019 they produced a first draft of changes to the current
regulations. And beginning in Nov 2020 the Board has convened a series of workshops on the draft regulations, and comments have been submitted. A new draft of the regulations will be published on Feb 8th with a request for further comments. The documents are here.
A background of the issues and contacts for submission of comments, from the perspective of some concerned citizens of Sonoma, are here
The draft regulations would expand the areas of regulation to another set of High Fire Hazard Severity Zones
beyond the current SRA's into Local Responsibility Areas (LRA's). And they would strengthen certification to insure that local fire safety regulations comply with state regulations with a new emphasis on existing roadways serving new development.
The use of substandard existing roads to access new development has in the past been excused in new development approvals; since the preponderance of new development in the state has been to expand into rural and mountainous areas at the edges of its megalopolises, the impact on new development projects requiring all existing roads to be upgraded would be substantial. In the case of existing dead-end roads, or roads with non-compliant widths, curves and gradients previously mitigate-able development would become unfeasible.
State regulations allow for local governments to use their own standards in approving development projects as long as those standards are "equal or more stringent" and provide "the same practical effect as" the level of fire protection in the state standards. But seldom are the mitigations that local authorities accept as providing "the same practical effect" challenged, and counties have been free heretofore to approve developments based on local regulations often, in fact, more lenient than the state regulations.
But the recent wildfires have changed the state's willingness to allow local governments to overlook or mitigate-away state standards. In 2019 an exception for existing roads was argued by Monterey County on the behalf of a developer and the argument was firmly rejected
by the State Attorney General. The Attorney General has also stepped in to join a lawsuit against the Guenoc Valley project
in Lake County over fire issues.
Sonoma County has tried in the last year to certify their own Fire Safety Ordinance
. An article in the Sonoma County Gazette
gives an overview of the effort so far. The State has not been persuaded. The BOF responded to the Sonoma Ordinance in this letter
. The Board has suspended certifying any local ordinances
until the revision of the state regulations are finalized.
An association of county governments that lobbies the state, the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC
), is weighing
in on the proposed BOF Fire Safe Regulation changes. The member counties, often in the grip of development interests that promise fees, taxes, jobs (and campaign contributions), are, of course, quite concerned about the regulations' impact on their construction projects. It remains to be seen how effective they will be in reducing the fire safe measures the state now seems intent on enforcing. Sup. Diane Dillon is Napa's member in the association. Napa County doesn't yet seemed to have weighed in on the draft.
What this means for Napa County
Wine and Water Watch take on NapaVision2050 article: PLAYING WITH FIRE Is Napa County Ignoring Forestry and State Road Standards for Fire Safety?
It was news to me that State regulations do not allow commercial development on dead end roads longer than 1 mile in high fire severity SRA's like Soda Canyon Road. In the new draft, that distance for new roads is shortened to one-half mile. It may be news to other residents of the county facing a winery in their backyard that roads leading to the project might be required to be raised to state fire safe standards if the projects are to be approved. Such a requirement would be good news to all county residents currently fighting the county over the commercialization of their neighborhoods for event centers and tasting rooms.
A remand of the Mountain Peak project back to the Napa Board of Supervisors to revisit the fire safety of Soda Canyon Road in light of the devastation of the 2017 fire is due in the not-too-distant future. The Board of Forestry should be asked to weigh in specifically on their half mile limitation on new development in the SRA's, and the county should be asked to justify their exemption from BOF standards in approving some winery projects.
General Plan Housing Element Amendments
| Jan 26, 2023 11:49AM Share
click to enlarge
At their 1/24/23 meeting
, against a hard deadline from the state, the Board of Supervisors certified, 3-2, the updated FEIR for the Housing Element of the General Plan to incorporate RHNA allotments for the 2023-31 cycle. The staff agenda letter is here.
Of the inventory of 6 sites originally proposed, only 3 remained in the final certification. The Big Ranch Road site had previously been ruled out because the owner didn't want to sell. The Bishop site was eliminated after concerns expressed by neighbors (including neighbor Sup. Pedroza). The Altamura site was removed from consideration by staff, quite late in the process, because the property owner would "not consider affordable housing" at the site in the 2023-31 cycle. It is of note that both of those sites are within 500 yards of Sup. Pedroza's home and that he has had business dealings with George Altamura
in the past. The Supervisor's active participation in and vote on site selection recalled to mind the recusal
Planning Commissioner Heather Phillips was forced to make on the Yountville Hill project although her home was even further away from a potential conflict of interest.
On the basis of some statistical juggling, staff increased the assumed number of ADU's that would contribute to the housing cycle (via an "Errata"), perhaps to offset the loss of the Altamura/Bishop sites.
Sups. Gregory and Cottrell voted against the certification largely because of the inclusion of the Skyline Park (Imola) site, which currently serves as an active part of the park for large events and has a great deal of community use and support from all age groups. The other three supes voted for its inclusion claiming that the state might build housing there in any case and assigning RHNA numbers to it would give the county leverage in case they did.
A recent flurry of attention by ICEO Morrison was focused on an annexation agreement between the City of Napa and the County over the Foster Road site perhaps because that site now becomes more critical to the plan with the loss of Bishop/Altamura. Sup. Pedroza seemed keen on the possibility of developing the Foster Road site in conjunction with the city, praising the cooperation that led to Napa Pipe. As with Napa Pipe there is probably a well-connected developer in the wings ready to create a major housing project that would include some affordable units. The use of the site for housing is being vehemently opposed by city residents
concerned that one of the few open spaces within the sphere of influence of the city, and a bucholic, rural-heritage gateway to the city (as opposed to the used car lots on the other side of town), is being considered for urban development. Again Sup. Pedroza is prominent voice for development of the county's open spaces.
Kelly Anderson, in public comments, again called attention to the issue of mobile home parks and the supes lack of effort to retain such housing including three projects currently in the process of conversion to other uses. As I mentioned in the opening of this page, mobile home parks are one of the most successful methods of providing affordable housing in the US (5.6% of the US population lives in mobile homes.) The supervisors agreed to include some language about mobile homes in the housing element. (How about a committment to RV parks
as well? RV's are increasingly a form of affordable housing in the US.)
PS: It is still a mystery why the Old Sonoma Road site, sold by the county to a developer in late 2021
with no committment to accept RHNA allotments, was not saved for this RHNA cycle. Proceeds from the sale were destined to help pay for another jail. Talk about misplaced priorities.
Jan 11, 2023 will see presentation meetings to the Napa County Planning Commission
and the Airport Land Use Commission
for the Final Housing Element and Safety Element General Plan Amendments. The PC will make recommendations to the BOS. The ALUC will check for compatibility with the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan. The County Housing Element documents are here.
The number of sites proposed has been reduced by one, the Big Ranch Road site: the owner didn't want to sell - such an easy solution to stop the loss of agricultural land. The 5 others, each with their own drawbacks and detractors, remain.
The notification for the ALUC meeting succinctly says it all when it comes to the future of Napa's rural heritage:
"implementation of the Housing Element General Plan Amendments would result in significant and unavoidable environmental impacts to the following; Aesthetics (AES-2), Air Quality (AIR-2, AIR-3), Cultural Resources (CUL-1, CUL-1.CU), Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG-1, GHG-2, GHG-1.CU), Noise (NOI-3, NOI-2.CU), Transportation (TRA-2) and Utilities and Service Systems (UTL-2, UTL-3, UTL-2.CU, UTL-3.CU)."
Every building project EIR says essentially the same thing, and the projects continue to be approved. Discussion of the No-Project Alternative, required to be evaluated under CEQA and almost always declared the "environmentally superior alternative", seems to be absent in this EIR.
The county, of course, has to go through this land-grab to satisfy ABAG's (and the State's) housing allocation policy, a policy no doubt heavily influenced by developers. The state grew by 5.6% over the last decade. A 5.6% increase in Napa's population would add 7600 people or about 2600 households. ABAG is requiring Napa to allocate land for 3843 units between 2023-31. But the real solution to housing an increasing population should be long-range development undertaken by the State involving the building of a public transport system to link to dense housing nodes and major city centers. Forcing the process on local governments and private developers on postage stamp properties in transport-poor rural areas is a recipe for never solving the problem. As we see today.
The county will have a second public hearing on the Draft housing Element on Oct. 5 2022
. Written comments may be submitted until 4:00pm, Oct 7, 2022. Email email@example.com
The County's Housing Element documents page is here
Meeting of the Housing Element Advisory Committee on at 1:00 pm on 7/14/22. Viewing/listening info here.
NVR 7/8/22: Napa County potential housing sites criticized
Planning Commission 7/6/22 meeting video
Planning Commission Meeting to review the Draft Housing element on 7/6/22
: Agenda and documents
The county has presented a preview of the Draft Housing Element EIR
The Notice of Availability
contains information on the comment process. Comments are to be submitted by July 11, 2022. A public County Planning Commission hearing on the DEIR will be held on July 6, 2022.
Final ABAG RHNA 2023-2030 housing allocation for the unincorporated county: 106 units, way down from the 180 units the county struggled with in the 2015-2022 cycle (finally resulting in the approval of the massive Napa Pipe urbanization project).
6 sites have been proposed in the current DEIR with a total capacity of 483 housing units. 4 of the sites can accommodate 100 units each so in theory the county would have to choose no more than two sites, or even 1 if they cram a little. Of course each site is adjacent to existing residential neighborhoods so there will be push-back. There are already constituencies that will oppose the Foster Road
and Imola Ave
sites. Two sites are adjacent to the very upscale Silverado Resort neighborhood (pushback here
). Which leaves Spanish Flat and Big Ranch Rd.
Notice of Preparation for the Housing Element DEIR
Napa County 2022 Housing Element page
Video of the 11/15/21 HEAC meeting
It is still unclear in my mind how many RHNA units the county is required to find sites for. The gross number from ABAG is 1014. In a previous NVR article it seemed assumed that transfer agreements with the cities might reduce that number to 200 or so. In this meeting there was no discussion of numbers smaller than the full 1014 number, other than to say that the cities may not be interested in honoring their agreements given the large number the have been assigned.
Supervisors will be discussing the Housing Element on 12/7/21, the next step in what would seem to be a long process.
It is a bit depressing that the county is rearresting all of the usual suspects in its efforts to deal with RHNA mandates: Spanish Flat, Moskowite Corners, Angwin (page H12 here
). No Napa Pipe
to Bail them out this time.
NVR 11/28/21: Napa County works on housing puzzle
NVR 11/10/21: Napa County's sale of Old Sonoma Road land for housing becomes official
These two stories, somehow disconnected from one another in the county's mental map, seem like they would have been a natural fit. Now a private developer will build 128 market rate houses plus 22 affordable houses that don't count toward the county's RHNA allotment. Had they given the land to a non-profit to develop 100% affordable housing, their RHNA allotment for 2023-2031 would be greatly reduced. An opportunity missed.
The county doesn't know what it's going to do with the $7.5 million. Placed into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund it could be used to build 15 affordable housing units (at this 2018 rate
). Placed into the general fund it will probably be frittered away on the hundreds of financial pot holes in the county - holes that were supposed to be filled by all the fees and taxes from the new development the county keeps approving. Of course the more "growth" that occurs, i.e. the more of the county that is paved over for new development, the more pot holes there are to fill.
NVR 2/10/21: ABAG's mandate for new Napa County housing grows
The unincorporated county's share of the RHNA mandate for 2023-2031 will be around 200 additional units, 10% above the 180 units in the last allocation. Let's hope a way is found to build those 200 units that doesn't require the building of another Napa Pipe-sized city on county land to finance them.
NVR 2/24/21: Napa County again tries to sell Old Sonoma Road site for housing
In the meantime the county is putting their Old Sonoma Road property
up for sale again after the previous deal fell through because the site isn't yet zoned residential, a complication for a buyer. The City of Napa is about to update their general plan with residential zoning for the site included. Regardless, the County is trying to sell the site at a cut rate because of the current zoning. If they waited they could get more money. If they waited they could use the site for some of the housing they are required to provide under 2023-2031 RHNA. If they were smart they would give the land to a developer willing to do 100% affordable housing on the site.
NVR 11/22/20: Napa County pushes back on possible, big housing mandate
Just below the above article in the Register is a video
of the construction ongoing at the Stanly Ranch Resort
. The resort will eventually employ 500 people, most needing affordable housing. This is just the population growth that ABAG is trying to house with their mandates. The commitment by the cities and the county to continue to approve resorts, hotels, winery entertainment venues, industrial warehouses are all creating the conditions needing more housing. ABAG should
be apportioning housing mandates based on the number of jobs communities are creating. And the amount of job-creating development ongoing, much but not all shown here
, is quite astounding.
At the end of last year the County finally recognized the link between job creation and urban development in refusing to ramp up industrial development
in the south county. But much like climate change, the projects already in the pipeline make make modest efforts at mitigation futile. And nothing in the approvals made in the last year, slowed somewhat perhaps by the pandemic, makes one think that a radical rethinking of the problem is in the offing.
The cities and county are trying to hide behind some high minded dedication to agriculture and open space to shirk their duty to provide for the housing need they are creating in their approvals. If they truly were committed to agriculture and open space they would stop, immediately, promoting a tourism/industrial economic base for the county and concentrate on how to make their unique, low urbanizing, agricultural product more viable in a global marketplace. Napa has spent millions promoting Visit Napa Valley
and nothing promoting the sale of Napa wines outside the county. Selling wine as a tourist good is more profitable for more people than growing and processing crops for export, but the urbanization needed to achieve that additional profitability will eventually undermine the agriculture and open space that governments hypocritically claim to treasure.
The Board of Supervisors and City of Napa have drafted a response
to the ABAG proposed RHNA allocation for 2023-31. It will be presented and discussed at the BOS meeting on 11/10/20 (item 10E here
). The county's agenda letter
more clearly spells out the thinking than the letter to ABAG (the ABAG unincorporated allocation seems ot have risen to 880 units!). While the letter gets into the weeds of ABAG's "methodology", they are essentially pleading that the unique circumstances of a county devoted to preserving an agricultural economy needs a more flexible approach to affordable home building goals than the rest of the constantly urbanizing Bay Area. Of course the county's promotion of tourism and industrial development in the unincorporated area over the last 20 years are making that argument more difficult with every new (mostly low-paying) job created.
Every 8 years the Association of Bay Area Governments
(ABAG) sets an affordable housing requirement, called Regional Housing Needs Allocations
(RHNA), for counties and municipalities with in its jurisdiction, for the 8 year period ahead. It is the government's job to make sure those allocations are realized.
On Nov 4, 2020, the County Planning Commission
n will get an update from the Planning Department
on the current 2023-2031 proposed allocation. It is not good news.
In 2012, for the period of 2015-2023
ABAG required Napa County to supply 180 affordable housing units. The result of that allocation was a difficult effort to find sites in the unincorporated county on which to build the units (documented in the General Plan 2014 Housing Element
), resulting ultimately in a complex deal with the City of Napa to build them as part of the Napa Pipe Project
, the only site beyond one in Angwin, strongly opposed by Angwin Residents, that was remotely suitable. The desire to fulfill the RHNA allotment was a principal reason the Napa Pipe Project was approved. Of course along with the 180 units came an additional massive urban development project. Unfortunately the method of supplying affordable housing in a capitalist society is to fund it with fees and taxes from vast amounts of other, more profitable construction.
This time around, ABAG is allotting 792 affordable units to be built in the unincorporated county between the years 2023 and 2031, not quite four and a half times the number of units allotted, but still not built, from the 2015 to 2023 requirement. And Napa Pipe is no longer an eligible site. How much additional urban development of Napa's open space, the legacy of a commitment to agriculture by a previous generation of citizens and politicians, will be necessary to accommodate the next RHNA allotment? Something four and half times the size of Napa Pipe, perhaps.
BOS Revokes Mountain Peak Use Permit
| Nov 11, 2022 12:25AM Share
County website screenshot
NVR 11/9/22: Napa County revokes Mountain Peak winery approval
11/8/22 video clip of BOS hearing
The adopted resolution
"When there is this level of community concern and vocal opposition to a project, perhaps it would be a good time to listen to your constituents instead of working so closely with the developer to find some kind of way to move the project through"
- Amber Manfree in public comments to the BOS
About 20 Soda Canyon residents and county-wide stalwarts showed up to witness the revocation of the Mountain Peak use permit, some voicing their appreciation for the Board's action and others admonition for what the saga says about Napa county governance. The comments of those who spoke are here
The Supervisors seemed anxious to put this whole vexatious affair behind them as quickly as possible. The presentation by county council was brief - the court has required that they do something in response to the court's demand of an EIR for the project, and the "setting aside" or "rescinding" of the use permit (the county seems reluctant to use the term "revoke" despite that being the clear term used in the resolution) accomplishes that. After our comments, Chair Gregory began Board comments by saying "It's that simple; the court is asking us to do this and we are doing it." With no other discussion it fell to Sup. Ramos (who, to our great appreciation, had switched her vote last time to uphold our appeal) to propose the motion to revoke. Our own District 4 Supervisor, in the first effort he has made on our behalf since being appointed, seconded the motion. All members aye - the motion passes. The Mountain Peak winery is dead - 8 years, 8 months, and 6 days after our neighbor's first anguished email.
But is it? As documented in the emails below it is still unclear in my mind what "revoke" or rescind" or "set aside" actually means since none are actually defined in county code. I'm not sure that the county has ever, in fact, revoked a use permit. Is this project now really dead? Or can it rise, zombie-like, with an owner willing to pay for the EIR? If it means a conclusive end to 9 years of anxiety, sleepless nights and obsession, if it means that our remote rural neighborhood will not become, for now, another of the county's growing number of tourist attractions, then I thank the supervisors from the bottom of my heart for the action they have taken.
Over those 9 years similar projects have brought heartbreak and division to many other rural neighborhoods throughout the county, and they continue to do so, with dozens of wineries currently in the planning department. I wish that those communities could take courage or solace from this decision. But for many it is too late. And for others the unique circumstances that compelled the revocation may be too serendipitous to offer such hope. But I do hope that this process will encourage the County to more carefully consider the concerns of residents whose rural lives will be forever changed by these projects, rather than only showing concern for the developers wishing to profit from a commercial venue in a bucolic location.
We know that this will not be the last tourist attraction proposed on Soda Canyon Road. And, of course, even a project on the Mountain Peak property may be tried again. Nothing that we've heard, even after the devastation and hair-raising evacuation of the road during the Atlas fire and the two other fires that have followed it, indicates that the county would be less receptive to those possibilities in the future.
But right now I'm grateful that the Board has taken this action to help preserve this very unique place for the peaceful benefit of its many residents rather than the personal benefit of one investor. A truly rural quality-of-life is one small facet of the agrarian legacy that previous supervisors worked so hard to create and maintain. It's a legacy that we should all continue to treasure and defend.
We all adjourned to celebrate what seemed to be a small ray of sunshine in what has been an otherwise gloomy era in the county's long history of residents trying to protect the county's rural character in the face of ever-present development pressure.
the County Board of Supervisors will vote on a resolution to revoke or rescind the Mountain peak use permit - it's not clear which. The language of the Resolution is quite clear (my underline):
"NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Napa County Board of Supervisors as follows:
1. Resolutions Nos. 2017-130, 2017-131, 2017-132, 2017-133, and 2021-81 are
hereby rescinded and are null and void.
2. Use Permit No. P13-00320-UP, the Exception to the Napa County Road and Street
Standards, and the Negative Declaration are hereby declared invalid, revoked and null and void."
But a couple of emails from Planning DIr. Bordona leave me in doubt about what action is being taken. In the first he says:
"The Board will be 'rescinding' the use permit (by order of the Court), not revoking it.
Use permit 'revocation' of is quasi-judicial act on the part of the planning commission that typically occurs when there’s a violation of an existing use permit, which isn’t the case here.
In terms of future development, I’m unaware of what the current or future owners may decide going forward, but they will be subject to all regulatory requirements."
In the second, when asked why the resolution uses the word "revoked" he replies:
"We are rescinding the approval and revoking the grant of the permit."
Almost 9 years after a neighbor's email alerted us to a proposed tourist attraction next door, the Board of Supervisors has been compelled by the court to take action following the court's decision that the project required an EIR. Their action is to revoke the use permit. Does that mean that the owner must start over, as if the last 9 years hadn't happened? Or does it mean that he can decide to produce the EIR and the project continues where we left off? Unfortunately it is quite unclear what that means. The only reference to revoking a use permit in county code is related to the Planning Commission, in which case revoking means that the use permit is void and that a new application for a similar project may not be begun for a year.
I want to believe that this is the end of the project and that the 9-year threat to turn our community into a tourist attraction has finally abated. But even now, the county presents a lack of specificity seemingly intended to make sure that we don't really know what's going on.
11/8/22 BOS Agenda
Resolution to Revoke the use permit
The whole agonizing saga is documented on this page
. The anxiety over the potential loss of our remote haven at the top of Soda Canyon Road has fueled not just this page, but the cathartic need to document, on the rest of this site, the many ways that that the county government works to protect and promote the economic interests of a few entrepreneurs and plutocrats at the expence of the county's rural residents and at the expense of the county's own stated commitment to the preservation of its environment. And as the years have passed, as the climate crisis deepens, as the county's forests disappear to vines and fires, as the water resources dry up, that promotion of ever more development has only become more grotesque. The County currently has 160 development projects under review
. Unfortunately, this small win in one community, while of immense relief to its residents, is unlikely to change the trajectory of urbanization the County is following.
In fact, just as one project is removed from the current projects page, another more significant development on the road may be added: the rebirth of the Napa Soda Springs Resort
. The impacts to the community would be several orders of magnitude greater than those of Mountain Peak. I am not looking forward to the years ahead.
Following the finalization of the judgement of the Napa Superior Court on 7/29/22 that the Mountain Peak use permit be set aside and the project be returned to the county for an EIR, the project will again be an item on the BOS agenda on 11/8/22
. The Court has commanded that the county take action on its judgement and the agenda item will consider a resolution to accomplish the actions required.
Interestingly, on the day the Court Judgement was finalized, the Mountain Peak property was put up for sale on realtor.com
and other realty sites. The unreasonably high asking price of $19,995,000 does raise the possibility that this is just a fallback position at this point.
Napa Soda Springs
| Nov 8, 2022 5:27AM Share
expand...|The ruins after the 2017 fire. A 2022 fire again burned the property.
859 acres of development potential“It still has the ruins. It’s where we’ll build a guest house and residences and a winery...We’ll build an experience the world has never seen.”
-- developer Gary Friedman channeling Donald Trump
In 2022, the 859 acre Napa Soda Springs property and the ruins of the resort that flourished here at the turn of the 20th century, was purchased by Bay Area-based RH
, formerly Restoration Hardware, a high-end home furnishings retailer that has moved into food with the development of restaurants. Their presence in the Napa Valley is already evident with the glitzy good-life complex
in Yountville. Now, with this purchase, their foray into hospitality is being expanded to include events, lodging and wine making. The corporate entity of the project is called "1990 Soda Canyon Road LLC".
The sad news of the sale to a tourism developer (this was a major land-trust-worthy property) comes at exactly the same time that residents of Soda Canyon Road joyously learned the Mountain Peak Winery project they've opposed for the last nine years was to be abandoned and its contested use permit, issued in 2017, to be revoked. The timing is fortuitous: the decks have been cleared.
The impacts of this project will be even greater than Mountain Peak, the developer more sophisticated, the amounts of money for consultants, studies and litigation higher, the promised fees, taxes and campaign contributions to grease the review process more lucretive - and the existential threat to peaceful rural life on Soda Canyon Road exponentially more damaging. Just its physical size on the Napa landscape perhaps suggests a pushback comparable to that of Walt Ranch. Will that happen? Stay tuned.
More about Napa Soda Springs
Winemerchant.com on Napa Soda Springs
Explore Napa Soda Springs page
Napa Historical Society Soda Springs page
Julia Wertz' photo chronicle of the ruins pre and post 2017
Napa Soda Springs - A Magical Relationship by Castiel Shepp
The Haunting of Soda Springs
by Lauren Coodley with Cathy Mathews
Air Mail News 3/25/23: It's RH's World
NYTimes 10/24/22: The Company Once Known as Restoration Hardware Is Opening Restaurants. Why?
NVR 9/12/22: RH buys historic Napa Soda Springs resort, with winery and guest homes possible
SFChronicle 9/10/22: RH just bought an abandoned Napa resort to develop its own winery and hotel
Siliconevalley.com 9/9/22: $25 million deal: Historic Napa Valley resort is bought; guest homes, winery are possibilities
7/28/22: 'That's how people die in wildfires': How new Napa Valley resorts could increase fire risk
County Zoning Verification Letter
Fires on Soda Canyon Road 1856-2022
Napa County Code on Historic Resource re-use
Napa County General Plan on Cultural Resource re-use
(note CC-28 to CC-30)
AG Rejection of Paraiso Springs Resort
BOF Rejection of Sonoma County RSS
Similar Recent Projects
rejected by State AG for urbanization in fire area
rejected by Napa Open Space District as incompatible use
Soda Canyon Road Firesafe work
| Mar 11, 2022 3:40PM Share
Soda Canyon Road is moving forward with steps to reduce wildfire and increase evacuation safety. By now those of you that drive Soda Canyon Road on a regular basis have noticed the polite and extremely productive crew from Aeri that is working on roadside vegetation mitigation along Soda Canyon Road in the county right of way. You might not know that this work is being funded by a CAL FIRE prevention grant. Napa FireWise was awarded this $225,000 grant on behalf of Soda Canyon and we appreciate their support as we face the upcoming fire season.
For more information on defensible space, home hardening, and educating yourself about fire safety, check out: napafirewise.org
Soda Canyon Fire Safe Council
Deforestation: Sounding the Alarm
| Mar 8, 2022 10:46AM Share
At the BOS meeting on Mar 8, 2020 a video was presented by local student members Emily Bit and Sophia Rapacon of Schools For Climate Action
to bring attention to the climate crisis and what Napa County can do about it. The video, "Deforestation: Sounding the alarm", made a clearer argument for the preservation of the thousands of trees being cut down in Napa County for vineyard development than has been made in the eight years of letters, meetings, speeches, protests, initiatives and elections generated in opposition to the Walt Ranch project.
The Video and its associated website, by Diversity Watch Napa with the involvement of the Napa environmental community, is here:
Deforestation: Sounding the Alarm
Industry lobbyist Michelle Benvenuto spoke after the video to remind everyone that only 10% of Napa county is in vines, that prohibiting ag is not a climate action plan, and that legislation in Napa County is driven by vintners and growers. Kellie Anderson then suggested to her that such self-serving wine industry dogma is tired and outdated given the existential climate crisis that residents and the wine industry itself now face.
Mountain Peak back in Court January 20
| Jan 12, 2022 5:02PM Share
Date: January 20, 2022
Location: Napa Superior Court, 825 Brown St, Napa
Judge: Hon. Cynthia Smith (Department A)
To express your support for the protection of our rural Soda Canyon community, we encourage you to please:
1: Show up at court on January 20.
2: Donate to Protect Rural Napa. No matter how small, your financial support is of supreme importance to continue the fight to save our rural community.
On January 20, 2022 residents of Soda Canyon Road will return to the Napa Superior Court for the final hearing to challenge the County's re-approval of the oversized Mountain Peak Winery development located at the remote end of Soda Canyon Road. Prior to approval, the County conducted an in-house, cursory review of the project and its potential impacts on the community and environment, and, ultimately found that the project would have a "less-than-significant" impact. In returning to Court, opponents of the project seek a more thorough assessment of the project, through an Environmental Impact Report, which would be conducted by an independent third-party. Given the size and scope of the project, and what appear to be obvious adverse impacts on the community and environment, such an independent review must be conducted.
The issues raised by the project to be presented in court include the increased traffic that it will bring to an already dangerous road, the environmental danger of moving millions of cubic feet of earth within feet of two blue line creeks, a lack of biologic resource analysis, insufficient and inaccurate analysis of groundwater extraction, a disputed analysis of noise impacts, and insufficient consideration of the fire danger on a long dead-end road in a remote area.
The project is for a 100,000 gal/yr winery, 33,400 sf of caves, 28 parking spaces, 19 full-time employees, and an above ground 8000 sf tasting room. About 3 acres of vines will be permanently removed. Visitation will include 275 visitors/wk, plus 2 - 75 person and 1 - 125 person events/yr. The total amounts to 21,510 tourist/employee users on the site each year (59 people avg per day) and 120 vehicle trips on the road each day, which amounts to ~44,000 trips/yr. The winery is located approximately 6 winding, dead-end miles from the Silverado Trail.
The Use Permit was approved by the Planning Commission on Jan 4, 2017
, and an appeal of the Planning Commission decision was denied by the Supervisors on May 23, 2017
(finalized August 17, 2017). A suit against the County to compel an EIR for the project was filed by project opponents Sep 20, 2017
As part of the lawsuit, residents had already requested that the project be reconsidered by the Board of Supervisors in light of the evidence of the 2017 Atlas Fire which occurred after the project was approved. (On October 8, 2017, the Atlas Fire quickly engulfed lower Soda Canyon Road. A fallen tree blocked traffic coming down the road and fire trucks coming up as the fire burned on all sides. A frantic effort cleared the road just enough to let the line of cars get by. Dozens of residents, unable to make it down through the fire, had to be precariously evacuated by helicopter in 60+ mph crosswinds. 134 of the 163 residences (82%) on Soda Canyon Road were damaged or destroyed, 118 of them a complete loss. Tragically, two lives were lost.) In June 2020 the Judge in the case agreed that fire danger had been unconsidered in light of this evidence and remanded the project back to the BOS for reconsideration.
The Judge on Mountain Peak was not alone in highlighting the ever-increasing fire danger now experienced by wildland development. Courts and the California Attorney General have acted on the increased danger such development brings to existing and new residents in remote and rural areas like upper Soda Canyon, including (1) the luxury Guenoc Valley Development
in the wine region of Lake County, (2) a major housing development in a fire prone area of San Diego
and (3) another major housing development at the north edge of Los Angeles County
In the BOS remand hearing on May 18, 2021
(see pg. 19), the Supervisors again found, incredibly given the evidence of a second devastating wildfire season in 2020, that the potential impacts of fire to the safety of a much larger daily population on the road were still less-than-significant, and voted 3-2 to re-approve the Project.
The impacts that may be considered under CEQA are primarily quantifiable environmental and public safety-related impacts. And they will be diligently and forcefully presented. But for those of us who live on the road, the introduction of daily tourists and large number of employees at the winery will also be a quantum change to the remote, quiet, and dark isolation that has made this place so special in an urbanized world. The increased traffic and daily presence of visitors will mean the death of another remote rural place. The loss of something so increasingly rare is impossible to quantify.
Soda Canyon residents are not alone in recognizing the threat that development is bringing to agriculture, the environment, the rural and small-town character of Napa County. In the eight years that this project has been contested, numerous community groups have formed to oppose development projects that threaten their community's character and safety. Municipal and county governments have turned a deaf ear to their pleas, anxious for the increased revenues to be made as the hospitality industry slowly eclipses the wine industry in Napa County.
At one point in Napa history, the interests of residents and the wine industry coincided; the growers and vintners that built the industry were also residents with a commitment to preserve the place they wanted to live. But the industry has moved on to corporate and investment ownership with less interest in a preservation ethos that stands in the way of economic expansion and increased profits. Unfortunately, when it comes to land use policy, the county government seems more interested in protecting the economic interests of tourism and real estate developers than the quality-of-life and public safety interests of residents, and in so doing have abandoned the commitment to "the rural character that we treasure" that a previous generation of leaders embraced. Residents must now turn to the courts in an attempt to preserve that legacy.
Again, we encourage anyone interested in the ongoing efforts throughout the County to preserve rural communities and character against the ongoing threat of urban development in Napa County to attend this hearing and bear witness:
Date: January 20, 2022
Location: Napa Superior Court, 825 Brown St, Napa
Judge: Hon. Cynthia Smith (Department A)
Show up. There are no 3-minute speeches or opposition letters needed for the court hearing. Simply being there shows that you value the protection of community character that is being eroded by neighborhood commercialization.
Donate. Show your support with a contribution, no matter how small, by donating to Protect Rural Napa.
Protect Rural Napa
Soda Canyon Fire Safe Council News
| Nov 26, 2021 8:53AM Share
expand...|Happy Thanksgiving Soda Canyon Neighbors
As we celebrate Thanksgiving and approach the Christmas holiday season, I am thankful Napa County has begun to take a proactive approach to fire issues. Financial resources are being directed to fire prevention projects from public and privates sources. For example the Atlas Peak AVA has donated substantial resources fuel reduction, fire breaks, and for the installation of an IQ Fire Watch camera. I would like to share with you the following updates regarding fire prevention that will impact Napa Valley and our Soda Canyon Fire Safe Council District.
- The Board of Supervisors awarded $1 million to the Napa Communities Firewise Foundation for fuel mitigation to be used by June 2021. The Board also awarded $5.4 million for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
- The Napa Communities Firewise Foundation was successful in obtaining a $5,855,215 grant from CalFire and will be used to reduce hazardous fuels from the five recent large fires over the last four years: Atlas-Lightning, Angwin Glass, Nuns, and Tubbs-Glass. There will be funding available for local fire safe councilsâ€™ projects.
- This year the Countywide Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) was completed and developed a wildfire protection plan for the entire county. Regarding Soda Canyonâ€™s CWPP, it was originally written in 2012 and needed to be updated. I have recently received a draft copy from our consultant and anticipate sharing the proposed projects with the Soda Canyon community members in the next few months, receiving feedback, and as a community, setting priorities. We have quite a few hoops to jump through; however, I am hopefully our updated CWPP will be completed by May 2022.
- If you would like to sign up for the free Napa County Chipping program, the last day to sign up this Friday, November 26th. Sign-ups will resume in Spring 2022, sometime around April, dependent upon the weather. If you are interested, you can sign up at the Napa County website:
- Senator Bill Dodd has named the Napa Communities Firewise Foundation as the beneficiary of his annual holiday fundraiser on December 3rd and although it is sold out, you can still bid on silent and live auction lots. Check out the information below if you are interested.
REGISTRATION FOR BIDDING:
If you plan to bid on silent or buy-a-spot auction lots, please register by clicking this link: https://event.auctria.com/5e98a75c-1c61-4421-a215-4e269a807e81/17e79e00ef7811e9a6d4d9143a192aa8
SILENT AUCTION: Once youâ€™re registered to bid, you can bid on silent lots online until the silent auction closes at 7:30pm PST December 3.
LIVE AUCTION: You donâ€™t have to attend the event to bid on live auction lots. Simply complete the attached proxy bidding form and email it back to Sean Dempsey at firstname.lastname@example.org. You must be registered and your bidding representative must be in attendance at the event and must have a bidder number, there are no exceptions.
ADVANCE VIEWING OF LOTS:
Click this link to preview the lots. The online auction will go live Friday, November 26 at 8AM.
Alternatively, to access â€œregister to bidâ€ or to â€œview auction catalogâ€, visit billdoddholidayparty.com and scroll down to the middle of the landing page.
Thank you for your time and interest and enjoy a safe holiday season,
Soda Canyon Fire Safe Council.
Soda Canyon Fire Safe Council News
| Sep 27, 2021 3:00PM Share
We have received this update from County Engineer Graham Wadsworth regarding the FireWatch sensors:
The County is entering into an agreement for ITC to install a new IQ FireWatch sensor on the County's existing communications tower on the south side of Atlas Peak, which is on private land. ITC owns an existing IQ sensor on private property on Diamond Mountain west of Calistoga and on the Clover Flat Landfill property east of Calistoga. The short term agreement will pay ITC to monitor the two existing and one new IQ sensors through December, 2021.
ITC proposed the three locations to scan 75 percent of the area of the Napa Valley.
In terms of the monopole that ITC constructed in the County road right-of-way on the corner of Soda Canyon Road at Silverado Trail, I have not heard any plans to remove the monopole.
More on the SCR monopole here
7/6/21 Good News and Bad News From the Soda Canyon Fire Safe Council:
Starting off with the good news...Starting off with the good news…the county will be working on Soda Canyon Road from Silverado Trail to Loma Vista starting in late July. Hopefully those nasty potholes and the deteriorating asphalt will be fixed and we all can enjoy smooth driving for a few more miles up the road.
I’m sure most of the residents in the canyon have noticed that weeds along the road in the county right of way have not been cut this year. In the past, funding from the county to Napa Communities Firewise Foundation has covered the cost of Joaquin and his crew to work on this very important roadside fuel reduction project. Although the county has earmarked substantial funding for fire mitigation projects, Napa Communities Firewise Foundation is focusing on larger projects and funding for fuel reduction within the county right of way is not available this year. This obviously is bad news for Soda Canyon Road residents. Supervisor Pedroza indicated he is exploring the idea of organizing volunteers from ag and landscaping companies to help out with this issue but as of this date, I have not back from him. I would encourage all property owners on Soda Canyon Road to be mindful of the potential dangerous situation these roadside fuels can present to all of us living and working in the canyon. If possible, take responsibility for the weeds in front of your property. Considering the current traffic situation on Soda Canyon Road, if you can’t hire a professional, please be extremely careful when cutting roadside vegetation.
In previous years, Joaquin’s Landscaping company was responsible for the fuel reduction project on Soda Canyon Road. He recently sold his business to his nephew, Francisco Ledezma, who has renamed the business Napa Roots Landscaping and can be reached at 707.224.5857. I met with Francisco last week and he reports it would cost approximately $11,000 for his crew to cut down the roadside vegetation for the six miles of Soda Canyon Road. Francisco can be reached at the above number if you need help with fuel reduction on your property line. If anyone out there has recently won the lottery and would like to make a donation to cover the entire cost (or a portion of the cost ) of this project-this is your chance to the the guardian angel of Soda Canyon.
Virtual Stakeholders Meeting June 2: Draft Minimum Fire Safe Regulations
| May 26, 2021 10:56AM Share
The County of Napa's Planning, Building, and Environmental Services Department in cooperation with Napa County Fire Marshal's office will hold a virtual stakeholder meeting regarding the draft State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations, 2021. (County's webage is here
Wednesday, June 2, 2021 at 10:00 AM
To participate in the Stakeholders meeting, members of the public are invited to observe and comment via Zoom:
- Listen on your phone - via Zoom at (1-669-900-6833). Enter Meeting ID (879 9584 4997) once you have joined the meeting
- Watch via the internet - view the live stream via Zoom at https://countyofnapa.zoom.us/j/87995844997
Documents for review:
Following the devastating fires of the last few years, the California State Board of Forestry(BOF) is revising their minimum standards for roads and defensible space in fire hazardous areas throughout the state. County and municiplal governments will be required to comply with those standards in their approval of projects in those areas. In Napa County that means that most new construction in rural areas will need to comply, and as Planning Director Morrison has indicated, this could have a major impact on allowed development, from major projects to home additions, going forward.
After this virtual meeting, there willl be a public meeting of the Board of Supervisors on June 8, 2021
to discuss the issues, and the Board will then draft a letter to be submitted to the BOF with their concerns about the draft regulations. The Board of Forestry on June 22, 2021
will consider letters submitted in response to the Draft Regulations. It may vote to approve the Draft unchanged or request that changes be made in the draft, in response to submitted concerns, to be reviewed again later.
This virtual stakeholder's meeting is a chance to listen to a discussion of this complex issue and become familiar with the regulation's impacts. For those of us opposed to the increased urban development of our rural environment, the proposed changes are welcome. For project developers or even families wishing to add a bedroom or inlaw unit on a sub-standard road or driveway, the changes may be of greater concern.
May 18th: Supervisors to Reconsider Mountain Peak Winery Approval Over 2017 Atlas Fire Evidence
| May 16, 2021 5:43PM Share
On Aug 22, 2017 the Napa County Board of Supervisors approved the use permit for the 19-employee, 14,575-visitor/year Mountain Peak Winery 6 miles up the dead-end Soda Canyon Road. Soda Canyon residents had presented ample first-hand experience and data-based assessments of fire danger on Soda Canyon Road at Planning Commission and BOS appeal hearings for the project. The Supervisors ignored their testimony in finding that "In the event of a fire that results in mass evacuations from this area, the road has sufficient capacity and roadway width to accommodate all outgoing traffic while allowing incoming fire response units."
Mountain Peak site after the fireSix weeks later, on Oct 8th, the Atlas fire erupted and quickly engulfed lower Soda Canyon Road. A fallen tree blocked traffic coming down the road and fire trucks coming up as the fire burned on all sides. A frantic effort cleared the road just enough to let the line of cars get by. Fire trucks were unable to continue up the road. Dozens of residents, unable to make it down through the fire, had to be evacuated by helicopter from the top of the road. 134 of the 163 residences on Soda Canyon Road were damaged or destroyed, 118 of them a complete loss. Tragically two lives were lost. Resident declarations vividly present the chaos of the night.
In September 2017, Soda Canyon residents filed a lawsuit against the County and Mountain Peak. In the aftermath of the Fire, residents asked the Court to include evidence from the event. Over the objections of the County and the project developer, the Court agreed, noting that "the complete inaccessibility of Soda Canyon Road during a fire and resulting helicopter evacuations of stranded individuals" had not been considered in approving the project. The Court ordered the County to re-consider its approval in light of this new evidence. The County and developer filed THREE separate appeals to try and get the Court's decision overturned, all of which were DENIED by the Appellate Court.
This Tuesday, May 18th, the Board of Supervisors will re-consider the Mountain Peak project in light of the 2017 Atlas Fire evidence. Incredibly, the County's "Staff Report" on the hearing COMPLETELY IGNORES both the evidence from the fire and the Court's desire to address the possibility of a closed road and helicopter evacuation in the future. Staff "recommends that the Board affirm its decision" and re-approve the Mountain Peak Project IN ITS ENTIRETY with no changes!
This is outrageous. Napa County has suffered major wildfires in 2017 and 2020, with millions, if not billions, of dollars in damage and destruction to property, not to mention the tragic loss of life. The County needs to end this development madness in unsafe wildfire zones. The Board of Supervisors has an opportunity on May 18 to change course and start looking out for the best interests of ALL of Napa's residents and stop the divisive effort to turn rural communities throughout the county into tourist destinations to the benefit of a few. They can do this by DENYING the Mountain Peak project in its entirety, or substantially scaling back the size and scope of the project with an evacuation plan and red-flag protocols as part of the conditions of approval to reduce the danger such commercial development presents in high fire hazard zones.
You are encouraged to attend the hearing in-person or via Zoom and let your voice be heard. For more information and pertinent documents, click here [https://sodacanyonroad.org/article.php?p=2193], and please consider donating to Protect Rural Napa [https://protectruralnapa.org/donate.php] to help fund the ongoing and critical legal battle to protect Napa's rural communities from development.
Protect Rural Napa
Comments on Board of Forestry Fire Safe Regulations
| Feb 15, 2021 2:24PM Share
expand...|Protect Rural Napa has submitted the following comments to The State Board of Forestry as they seek to modify state regulations related to road standards for "Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones" in state and local fire protection responsibility areas following the 2017-2020 fires. More information on the ongoing modification process is here.
February 17, 2021
Land Use Planning Policy Manager
CAL FIRE/Board of Forestry
We would like to respond to your 2/8/21 draft
of the BOF Fire Safe Regulations.
Protect Rural Napa was only recently made aware of the Board of Forestry's efforts to modify the regulations, thus our apologies for this late reply. Our response may be somewhat general compared to the specific comments of others that have been involved in nitty-gritty of the workshops up to this point.
Soda Canyon Road
Protect Rural Napa advocates for the protection of the rural environment of Napa County and in particular for the protection of the canyon and upland valley served by Soda Canyon Road, a 7 mile long dead-end road in the county. The road is entirely within the State Responsibility Area. The first 4 miles of the road lie in the designated "moderate" fire hazard severity zone. The upper 3 miles, which include a steep grade, a pass, and a high valley, lie in the "very high" fire severity zone.
The road was heavily impacted in the 2017 Atlas Fire, particularly the lower end in the moderate zone. Nearly every house burned and two people died. During the fire a tree-fall across the road blocked egress from the canyon and fire trucks coming up the road. By the time it was cleared firefighters had decided that the canyon was too dangerous to advance. At the upper end of the road people were removed by helicopter, but only one house burned. (The destructiveness of wildfires is obviously not limited by severity zone designation.)
We also experienced a major fire that burned the entire upper valley in 1981. In 2020 the Hennessey Fire burned the entire northern ridge of the upper valley. Our concerns about fire safety, unfortunately, come from experience.
While we have an interest in how the new regulations relate to road design, and especially to dead-end length, our particular concern in the draft is whether the changes will reduce or will encourage future development that will add to wildfire destructiveness and further urbanize rural lands that we feel should be retained as a necessary component of a healthy and sustainable environment.
In this regard we support CA SB-55
, which would prevent further building development in very high fire hazard severity areas and other SRA's. (We would, however, support an exemption for the replacement of fire damaged structures.) CA SB-55 is easy to understand and addresses the basic fact that continued development in the state's mountainous and forested lands will only increase the economic and human costs of wildfires and diminish the environmental benefit of forest and watershed protection and of concentrating urban development to reduce transport imacts. Unfortunately it is probably too optimistic to expect the enactment of such an effective and simple solution to the long term problems we face. It is concerning that BOF regulations seem to place no limit on the amount of development that might occur in the SRA's as long as minimum road standards are met. [Update; The bill was completely modified in a subsequent revision, eliminating reference to commercial/industrial construction - which thus have no prohibitions in high fire risk zones - and providing developers density bonuses for not building in high fire risk zones. As we see over and over, all laws relating to land use are crafted by developers.
The proposed BOF standards related to dead-end road length (in the existing standards as well) are good, but for us they highlight a question about what degree of compliance local governments must give to the standards. In the case of Soda Canyon Road, prior to the 2017 fire, Napa County granted an approval to a winery project that will accomodate 40 visitors per day, 19 daily employees and individual events up to 125 people, located 6 miles up the road. (The one-mile BOF standard was a surprise to us!) Other proposed winery projects in the county are further than 1 mile up dead end roads or are on sub-standard roads, yet, despite the glaring discrepecies with the BOF standards, the projects were nonetheless approved. Is there a method of appeal to the BOF when it seems that local governments have been overly solicitious to developers regarding fire access regulations?
Concerning future delopment in the SRA's, the section on "Aggregate Risk" in the proposed draft might most closely reflect out concerns, particularly using the tool of vehicle trips created by new development as a control on substandard roads and the need for major public infrastructure upgrades which might slow development in the SRA's. As we read the proposal, development on substandard roads, roads that you already see as problematic from a fire fighting standpoint and may already be well beyond needed egress capacity, would be allowed to double. This doesn't make sense. It would seem to be more appropriate for the BOF to adopt an absolute number of egressing vehicles (10?, 25?, 50?) that can be reasonably accommodated on a substandard road with ingressing fire vehices, beyond which a two-lane road, whether on private or public land, would be required. Existing substandard roads serving fewer than that number of one-way trips could develop up to that point. Those already at that level would not be allowed future development until the entire road conforms to standard.
There are probably other concerns over the specific issues in the draft which will take more time to understand, and we anticipate more carefuly monitoring the process in the future.
We would like to re-emphasize that even access roads that are compliant with BOF standards in the SRA's (as the lower part of Soda Canyon Road is) will not prevent the massive loss of structures seen in recent fires. Only a cessation of construction in those areas will reduce the risk to property and lives. To the extent that these changes in the regulations will inhibit the urbanization of the state's wildlands, they serve the public good. If they end up reducing protections and allow incresed intensity of use it is not clear why they are being changed.
Our sincere thanks for the enormous effort you have made to bring the views of a wide variety of stakeholders to the table.
Bill Hocker for
Protect Rural Napa
Soda Canyon Road
Medical equipment needed: donate on Mar 28th
| Apr 1, 2020 7:19PM Share
NVR 4/1/20: Personal Protective Equipment drive was huge success
Protect Rural Napa is pleased to support this county-wide effort to provide needed medical equipment.
For Immediate Release
PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT DONATIONS NEEDED FOR
NAPA COUNTY HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS
March 23, 2020, Napa, CA - Inspired by and with the assistance of Operation: With LOVE from HOME
, city council members from American Canyon to Calistoga are holding a one day community drive for gathering much needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) items and goodie-boxes for local hospitals, clinics and public healthcare providers who are on the front lines battling the coronavirus in Napa County. Spearheaded and organized by a core group of community members from the healthcare field, non-profit organizations including Napa Valley CanDo
and Teens Connect Napa
, along with community activist and faith groups, this community PPE drive will occur on Saturday, March 28, from 9am to 6pm
at several locations throughout Napa County.
Items needed are (ranked in order of importance):
Facemask N95, any size
Eye protection goggles
Eye protection safety glasses
Disposable latex gloves all sizes: x-small, small, medium, large, x-large
Non-latex disposable gloves all size: x-small, small, medium, large, x-large
Thermometers with covers
Facemask, Shield & mask combo
Eye protection shield
Surgical Masks, Adults
Surgical Masks, Child
In addition to individual community members, this call to action is directed at other businesses and organizations including paint stores, hardware stores, dentist/orthodontic offices, and all non-healthcare industries that may have some of the needed items.
To boost the morale of our dedicated Caregivers, individuals, groups and families can help with caregiver package items that can include granola and protein energy bars, beef jerky, peanut butter cups, cans of caffeine-free beverages, such as fresh juices, flavored waters, and hand written thank you cards addressed to "Dear Caregiver".
"Above all, we want to continue to stress that the more everyone follows the guidelines of stay at home, social distancing, and proper hygiene of washing hands is the pound of prevention we need to keep everyone safe and healthy," said drive organizer and Napa City Councilmember Liz Alessio. "As the number of positive cases in Napa County grows, we all need to come together to help protect our healthcare providers who are making incredible sacrifices to care for each of us."
Donations will be accepted between 9am and 6pm through a drive in and drop off process, with an established 8' distancing parameter. Masked and gloved volunteers from the Operation: With LOVE from HOME organization will be coordinating the operational logistics of the drop off event, so community members can be assured their experience will be as efficient and organized as possible.
Locations for drop off are:
American Canyon: American Canyon Food Pantry, located at 4225 Broadway Avenue
Napa: CrossWalk Community Church, located at 2590 1st Street
Yountville: Yountville Community Center, located at 6516 Washington Street
St. Helena: Grace Church, located at 1314 Spring Street
Calistoga: Calistoga Elementary School, located at 1327 Berry Street
"Just like our responders were here for us during the fires and other emergencies, all our healthcare workers are putting themselves and families at risk to keep the rest of us safe and healthy as possible," stated St. Helena Councilmember Anna Chouteau, "I am filled with love and appreciation for them and want to do everything I can to support them as they face the front line of dealing with the coronavirus."
Calistoga Councilmember Irais Lopez-Ortega added, "Ahora es cuando nuestra comunidad necesita cuidarse unos a otros y estar unidos para apoyar a el personal medica que esta a cargo. (Translation) Now is the time to be together to support the medical workers who are doing the most difficult work."
For more information, inquiries, and how to help, please visit (FB link), or contact the following in your city or town:
American Canyon: Eva Garcia 707-704-1581, EvaGarcia1st@gmail.com
Napa: Liz Alessio, 707-363-0043, email@example.com
Yountville: Kerri Dorman 832-544-6846, firstname.lastname@example.org
St. Helena: Anna Chouteau, 707-968-1865, email@example.com
Calistoga: Irais Lopez-Ortega, 707-294- 8379, Iraisalop@aol.com
Soda Canyon Road Fire Safe Council
| Sep 16, 2019 8:28AM Share
expand...|EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS MEETING
Please join your Soda Canyon friends and neighbors for a meeting to discuss how we can keep our community safe. Presented by the Napa Communities Firewire Foundations and the Soda Canyon Fire Safe Council
Monday, September 30, 2019
6:00 PM - 7:30 PM
Vichy Elementary School Multi Purpose Room
3261 Vichy Ave, Napa CA
We are hoping you can join us for this informative meeting that will cover home hardening, evacuation, alerts, and emergency preparedness. Reps from Cal Fire, FireWise Foundation, and other county agencies will be making presentations. There will also be available information and resources from emergency focused organizations. Please visit napafirewise.org for additional information and local resources. If you are unable to attend the meeting, we encourage you to visit the napafirewise.org web site and complete the online crisis contact information to better assist the first responders in case of an emergency.
Contact the Soda Canyon Fire Safe Council
County shuns evidence-based decision on Mountain Peak
| Jun 24, 2019 9:50AM Share
Soda Canyon Road 10/8/17 - one way out
NBBJ 6/20/19: Judge Orders Napa County Supervisors to Review Mountain Peak Vineyards Project
The Napa Superior Court has reaffirmed its decision to remand the Mountain Peak project back to the supervisors to consider the new evidence that contradicts their finding in approving the project that Soda Canyon Road has the capacity to allow evacuation and emergency response in the event of a fire. In the Atlas fire it did not. The remand order must be presented by County Council to the Supervisors no later than July 8 2019 after which the Supervisors will set a public hearing date to consider the remanded issues. A status hearing on the case in Superior Court will occur on Aug 21 2019.
The Judge's remand order is here
Raymond C Martinez LTE 4/23/19: It's a question of life and death
The County's appeal of the remand was denied by the First District Appellate Court. Absent a further appeal, the Supervisors will have to reconsider the new evidence of the fire in their approval of the Mountain Peak project. A hearing in Napa Superior Court to set the scope of the remand will be held on May 7, 2019.
Soda Canyon Group Opposition Argument to Appeal
First Appellate District Court's denial of the appeal
NVR 4/2/19: Napa County opposes post-Atlas fire rehearing on Mountain Peak winery
On Aug 22, 2017 the Napa County Board of Supervisors approved the use permit for the 14,575-visitor/year Mountain Peak Winery 6 miles up the dead-end Soda Canyon Road.
From the "Findings of Fact
" issued by the Supervisors in approving the project:
"Neighbors' opinion that winery visitors will cause traffic congestion during a fire is not supported by fact."
"In the event of a fire that results in mass evacuations from this area, the road has sufficient capacity and roadway width to accommodate all outgoing traffic while allowing incoming fire response units."
"Appellant's claim that fire rescue/response efforts will be impeded along Soda Canyon Road if the Project is constructed are unfounded and not supported by factual evidence."
In fact, supporting factual evidence arrived six weeks later on the night of October 8th, as the Atlas fire erupted in fierce winds and quickly engulfed lower Soda Canyon Road. A fallen tree blocked traffic coming down the road and fire trucks coming up as the fire burned on all sides. Frantic effort cleared the road just enough to let the line of cars get by. Dozens of residents, unable to make it down through the fire, had to be evacuated by helicopter from the top of the road. 134 of the 163 residences on Soda Canyon Road were damaged or destroyed, 118 of them a complete loss. Tragically two lives were lost.
One year later, in BOS meetings to discuss the issues of remote wineries
, Supervisor Diane Dillon questioned the use of winery visitation on the valley floor to evaluate that in remote areas of the county. She called out the approval of Mountain Peak's visitation numbers based on comparable 100,000 gal/yr wineries in highly accessible locations. At one meeting, Sup. Dillon recognized that "we would have had a disaster if there would have been a major event happening of any kind..." at Mountain Peak during the fire. She was referring, no doubt, to a human disaster, but I'm sure it would be seen as a political disaster as well. Sup. Dillon was away during the Mountain Peak appeal, but her Planning Commission appointee, Anne Cottrell, had been the only commissioner to vote against approving the project - on the basis of its access constraints.
Soda Canyon residents presented ample first-hand experience and data-based assessments of fire danger on Soda Canyon Road at Planning Commission and BOS appeal hearings for Mountain Peak (beginning at slide 117 here
). The Supervisors dismissed the presentation in their findings. Following the fire, residents petitioned Napa Superior Court to include the relevant new substantial evidence it offered as part of their CEQA case against the Supervisor's approval. The Court agreed
and ordered that the project be remanded to the Supervisors, noting that the possibility of "the complete inaccessibility of Soda Canyon Road during a fire and resulting helicopter evacuations of stranded individuals" had not been considered by the Supervisors in approving the project. It was "truly new evidence of emergent facts."
There has been a lot of posturing lately in government meetings about the need for evidence-based decision-making. Unfortunately, rather than confronting an approval based on incorrect findings backed by little evidence, the Supervisors are challenging the court order
to ensure that substantial, factual evidence of the danger of a fire in Soda Canyon will not require them to reconsider their decision.
There are reasons, aside from fire danger, why Mountain Peak is inappropriate in its location: 60 visitors and 19 employees a day will only add to the dangers of an already dangerous road; the precedent of this first event center on the Rector plateau will only encourage more tourism development and more traffic risk; and the excavation and movement of millions of cubic feet of earth within feet of two blue line streams feeding Rector Reservoir will pose significant risks of siltation;
And there are reasons, aside from fire danger, why event venues in general don't belong in the hillside areas of the county: their presence damages the quality of life of residents who treasure the quiet enjoyment of a rural place; their disruptive potential engenders animosity between residents and the wine industry, fueling many battles in recent years; building projects and the commercialization of rural areas hasten the urbanization of the county that will diminish farming as a viable activity, as it has throughout history; and a mass tourism business model that transports large numbers of people to the remote areas of the county each day, and attracts large numbers of tourists to the county each year, will only add to greenhouse gases in an age of global warming.
But obviously the potential loss of life when concentrating visitors in fire prone areas, in an age when raging wildfires have become all too common, should be a significant concern to Supervisors as they make their decision to sanction these venues. The remand is an opportunity to reconsider the substantial evidence of that danger for Mountain Peak and for other venues in the watersheds. It is unfortunate that the Supervisors wish to ignore it.
NVR LTE version 4/13/19: A decision in the face of evidence
PRN at the Watersheds Symposium
| May 15, 2019 5:16PM Share
PRN will make a very brief presentation at the WICC Watershed Symposium Whirlwind tour
of Napa conservation non-profits.
Protect Rural Napa is a local nonprofit dedicated to conserving Napa's rural character. While we support other community groups, our interest is concentrated in the Rector watershed and the Soda Canyon Road access to it.
Rector supplies water to the Vets home and Yountville. The water is clean with thriving native species populations and the potential to be a resilient buffer to climate change. It's an amazing place - but it's threatened.
In the past 30 years, over fifteen hundred acres of wildland have been converted to vineyard with more planned. At least twice since, filters at the Rector reservoir clogged with sediment, fouling the water, made worse, if not caused, by vineyard development and replanting.
After vineyards, wineries. Approved in 2017, the Mountain Peak winery will move large amounts of cave spoils and re-graded topsoil, all within feet of blue-line forks. Twenty one thousand visitors and employees will use the site each year. A proposed leach field is within 200' of one fork. With this venue as precedent, more will be proposed, further endangering the water source. We continue to challenge the approval.
Protect Rural Napa sees the threat to natural resources inherent in the quest for "growth" and will continue to monitor environmental development appropriately.
County shuns evidence-based decision on Mountain Peak
| Apr 3, 2019 10:27AM Share
In August 2017, Napa County and its Board of Supervisors approved the Mountain Peak winery project - a 100,000 gallon and 14,500 visitor-per-year event center at the very end of the 6 mile, dead-end Soda Canyon Road. Their decision was based in part on several "Findings of Fact
" pertaining to fire danger on Soda Canyon Road such as the following:
From the "Findings of Fact
" issued by the Supervisors in approving the project:
"Neighbors' opinion that winery visitors will cause traffic congestion during a fire is not supported by fact. Generalized fears and concerns about a project does not constitute substantial evidence."
"In the event of a fire that results in mass evacuations from this area, the road has sufficient capacity and roadway width to accommodate all outgoing traffic while allowing incoming fire response units."
"Appellant's claim that fire rescue/response efforts will be impeded along Soda Canyon Road if the Project is constructed are unfounded and not supported by factual evidence."
Soca Canyon Road - one way out
On the night of Sunday, October 8, 2017, 6 weeks after the Supervisors approval, factual evidence arrived as the Atlas Fire erupted moving at rate of almost 70 mph. Residents on lower Soda Canyon Road had only minutes to evacuate and many barely escaped, as a fallen tree blocked the entirety of the road for several precious minutes while the fire closed in on all sides. Tragically, two residents died in the fire. On upper Soda Canyon near the Mountain Peak project site, 60-70 people became completely trapped, their only escape route down Soda Canyon blocked by the fire. 40-50 of them were evacuated by a CHP helicopter in 60+ mph crosswinds. The fire burned 22,110 acres, including the entirety of lower SCR in less than one day, and within two days burned a total of 42,181 acres. In all, the Atlas Fire damaged or destroyed 134 of the 163 residences on Soda Canyon Road, 118 of them completely.
On Feb. 22, 2019, as part of the CEQA suit brought by residents against the County, a Napa Superior Court Judge ordered the County's approval of the Mountain Peak winery project to be remanded to the Board of Supervisors to consider the new evidence provided by the October 2017 Atlas Fire. The Court's order
rightfully observes that the new evidence calls into question several of the Board's "Findings of Fact" supporting its approval of the winery project, noting "the complete inaccessibility of Soda Canyon Road during a fire and resulting helicopter evacuations of stranded individuals."
The 2017 Atlas Fire was a tragic and devastating event, the impacts and consequences of which are still being felt across the entire Soda Canyon, Atlas Peak, and greater Napa-Sonoma communities. The Court reached the right decision in remanding this issue to the Supervisors in light of the clear and present fire dangers that have existed in the Soda Canyon, Monticello, and Atlas Peak communities and will continue to exist going forward.
Unfortunately, on March 28, 2019, the County and Mountain Peak jointly filed a writ of mandate
with the Court of Appeal, First Appellate District challenging the Napa Superior Court's order that the County must consider evidence pertaining to the devastating Fire.
What's discouraging in the County's decision is that as recently as September and October of 2018, the Supervisors questioned their own evaluation and approval process used for the Mountain Peak project and for other winery projects in the remote areas of the county, considering the devastation caused by the fire. In response to a residents's description of the fire, Supervisor Dillon stated at the September 25, 2018 meeting on remote wineries that "We would have had a disaster if there would have been a major event happening of any kind. . . ." at Mountain Peak on the night the fire began.
On October 15, 2018, Supervisor Dillon went even further and effectively questioned the County's wisdom in approving Mountain Peak at all, stating:
"Uh-oh, I think we're in a little bit of trouble because I looked at the Mountain Peak winery comparison chart - - this is compatibility but compatibility of comparison, that had been prepared by the planning staff and it was for Mountain Peak at the top of the canyon, and it was compared to [A]shes and [D]iamonds, [R]ound [P]ond, [B]lack [S]tallion, Trincaro, Alpha Omega. Why on earth was [Mountain Peak] compared to those things? I remember thinking this is not a good thing because we're not comparing apples to apples.
The essence of what we're talking about today, the reason this started with remote is we're supposed to be talking not comparing a winery at the top of Soda Canyon to a winery on the Silverado Trail. You just can't make that comparison. And yet that's where we are right here. We're talking about these details.
What I'm really concerned about is going through each of these things, seven, and deciding on each of these factors and then you're going to have some proposal come before the planning commission that might technically fit into each of these. It's not a good fit at this location where it is. I realize that this is land use planning, so it's a little difficult to use. . . I remember in the discussion of pornography, there was the judge at one point who said "I'll know it when I see it." Well, I mean, the sort of flip of that is I'll know when this is not a good fit at this location based on what neighbors say, based on many factors and that's the way the winery definition ordinance was designed, it didn't have all these details in it. If you look at the transcript from when it was decided, the legislative history which I wish staff would bring to us. We have it, it says we're going to look at these on a case by case basis."
Supervisor Ramos added in the same meeting:
"Topography, I agree its very site specific. I think topography, at least in my comments that I made and I was certainly making them in terms of roadway standards and access. So I don't see topography as its own category. . . I think we were looking at it more from a slope issue, from a setback issue and from a roadway access issue. When it comes to fire safety, certainly those same issues apply for me.
. . .
I second [Supervisor Dillon's demand] and I'll say that we're looking at projects in isolation as opposed to the totality of the circumstances. I don't mean that from a cumulative impact standpoint. I mean that from a community impact standpoint."
Finally, at the end of the October 16, 2018 meeting regarding remote wineries, Supervisor Wagenknecht made the following comments
In the work product we have today, there's no mention of the remoteness of the - - what a remote site would be, it would be a lot of - - I think it could be a lot of things, the remoteness of the road, the narrowness of the road, the accessibility of the parcel, how far the parcel was from arterial [roads].
I guess I'm kind of the in the mindset in my mind, that I'm not seeing a real need for more wineries in the far [h]inter lands of Napa County. I'm seeing that we have plenty of them out there. . . You know, there would need to be a traffic benefit from the winery coming in, the traffic for the overall neighborhood coming in. There would need to be a safe - - fire safety and safety benefit for that winery coming in, emergency benefit.
. . .
I've appreciated the discussion that we've had more broadly, but I don't want to lose that I'm very concerned with wineries that are going out in the middle of nowhere that are - - and I don't - - yeah. I'm not seeing a huge reason for them."
During the 2016 and 2017 Planning Commission meetings on the Mountain Peak project, Soda Canyon residents repeatedly emphasized that the County was ignoring the access constraints, fire safety concerns, and adverse impacts from additional traffic on Soda Canyon Road that construction of the project and 15,000 yearly visitors and 19 daily employees will undoubtedly introduce. They brought up the same concerns in their appeal to the Board of Supervisors in May 2017. In Sept of 2017 residents filed a lawsuit against the County for failing to properly evaluate the environmental concerns posed by the project. The Atlas Fire occurred 2 weeks later providing a very significant example of the dangers that residents had presented and that the Supervisors had decided were less than significant.
Now, in the spring of 2019, the Napa Superior Court has ordered the County to re-consider the project in light of evidence pertaining to the 2017 Atlas Fire. The County is appealing
the Superior Court's decision to avoid doing so. In light of their comments last fall one might hope that the Supervisors would welcome the opportunity to revisit their approval of Mountain Peak in light of the factual evidence the fire provided. Yet the County seems determined to avoid having to confront the wisdom of their decision. It is better that they do so now rather than after a disaster that everyone can now easily visualize.
Please consider writing a letter to your Supervisor about this critical issue, as well as donating to PRN
to support our ongoing and critical legal battle that the County seems intent upon winning at all costs.
November 2018 Update
| Nov 16, 2018 5:16PM Share
expand...|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
Where: Vichy Elementary School3261 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 sodacanyonroad.org 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 Endorses Measure C
| Mar 26, 2018 3:15PM Share
Protect Rural Napa Endorses Measure C,
the Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative
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
| Mar 26, 2018 2:51PM Share
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:
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
| Apr 27, 2017 12:18PM Share
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
| May 14, 2015 2:16PM Share
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.
Protect Rural Napa
P.O. Box 5184
Napa, CA 94581
| Oct 28, 2014 10:27AM Share
Thank you Diane,
I forgot to include the matrix you requested at the last board meeting in my original email on this topic.
The reason this process took longer than expected: I got some inaccurate advice regarding lobbying early on in the research process which temporarily threw me off the scent.
Ultimately my own research was confirmed by the folks down at the Alliance for Justice
. They were instrumental in helping determine the nature of contact with our county officials, i.e. Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors (in their capacity to approve/deny a use permit).
While a 501(c)(3) can lobby to a limited extent, being a 501(c)(4) allows us to be 100% confident that even if we end up doing something in a public setting that actually is lobbying we are clearly permitted to do so and without limitation. So hypothetically, if someone wanted to try to “yank our chain” on this particular issue, there’s not much they could really say about it.
See you Saturday, thanks again for your patience, Glenn
| Oct 28, 2014 10:22AM Share
As you may know I have spent significant time thinking over the various options for what form of legal entity our organization can/should take. This process was brought about by consulting with tax attorneys who reviewed of our original application for exempt status under IRS Section 501(c)(3) (Public Charity / Private Foundation). Simple, useful answers were not easy to come by. Every scenario included pros and cons that had to be teased out, thought over and weighed to find something that seemed to best fit our specific fact pattern.
For our simple neighborhood group, I believe the most potentially beneficial course of action with relatively low risk would be for the corporation that has already been formed to request tax exempt status under IRS Section 501(c)(4), as an organization not organized for profit but operated for the promotion of social welfare. Other descriptors for such an organization would be a “community organization” or “civic league”.
In summary, below are a handful of the key “Pros and Cons” between a 501(c)(3) and a 501(c)(4) organization:
· Both are types of “Tax-Exempt” organizations meaning no tax is due on any income generated.Steps to Exemption under 501(c)(4):
· Contributions to 501(c)(3) organization are tax deductible by the donor (either in the case of a Public Charity or a Private Foundation).
· Contributions to 501(c)(4) organization are not tax deductible by the donor. In the absence of “tax-deductible” status comes some additional flexibility (below):
· 501(c)(4) organizations tend to have the following characteristics:
· A lesser degree of overall compliance than a 501(c)(3) (fewer tests and potential risks to distract from our mission),
· Provides the ability to lobby for changes in county ordinances without some of the constraints imposed on 501(c)(3) organizations, and
· Provides a degree of flexibility to endorse or oppose candidates for local office (strictly prohibited for 501(c)(3) type organizations).
· Comparison of permitted activities: http://bolderadvocacy.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/The-Connection_p6_Chart_paywall.pdf
· Amend and restate the existing Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws of the corporation (including dropping the word “Foundation”). (I’m told this is a relatively quick and easy process since not a lot needs to be done to our organizing documents)
· File the amended and restated Articles of Incorporation with the California Sec’y of State (pay ~$30 for one-day expedite)
· File IRS Application for Exemption Form 1024 (approximately one week to complete and mail)
· Change the language in any content we have to reflect that “contributions to the organization are non-tax deductible”
Personally, I think the most attractive feature of a 501(c)(4) is the greater degree of freedom to lobby for change local ordinances. As recent supervisors meetings have demonstrated, the county ordinances in place today need to change and perhaps some new faces with fresh ideas could also help in protecting the natural majesty of the Napa Valley as well.
In any event, please let me know your thoughts on the above and how you would like to proceed.
Thanks for your patience while I ran the traps on this structural question. Best regards, Glenn
PS: Regarding CGL and D&O Insurance, the insurance carrier has requested a completed application for exemption with proof of payment to continue processing the request made for insurance coverage. (In other words, we need to finalize the organizational structure first). As noted above, the application for exemption can be made relatively quickly and therefore this item as well.
| Oct 8, 2014 5:10PM Share
The SCLV Board meeting yesterday [Sunday 28 September] was enlightening and informative.
We learned that our organization is a nonprofit corporation, however not tax-exempt, hence the pending application to the IRS for tax-exempt status. We discussed this at length and voted to postpone the application for awhile [we have 27 months from the date of our incorporation].
We learned that our Articles and Bylaws tend to define our organization as a "foundation", not a nonprofit corporation.
We discussed the possibilities of establishing a formal coalition with other groups in Napa County with similar raison d'etre. Out of this we also discussed possible name changes to more closely reflect our mission, such as the Napa Valley Land Stewards. Ultimately we voted and approved a name change to: Soda Canyon/Loma Vista Land Stewards of which we already have the dba.
We learned that although the board discussed, voted and approved the expenditure of funds for D & O Insurance several months ago, and we were informed that we had applied for it at a cost of $1600 +/-, that in fact the insurance has not been purchased, and we as directors are not covered.
And finally, we learned that our Secretary, Dana Estensen will be moving out of the area by November.
Attached please find the proposed agenda for the board meeting this Saturday, October 11, 9am at the Arger's. Also attached are minutes for approval [August 31 and September 28] at the October 11th meeting.
Please confirm your attendance,
| Oct 6, 2014 5:23PM Share
I'm also working for a group challenging the Walt Ranch Vineyard project. In looking at the bigger regional picture and number of winery creation/expansion projects in Napa, I see the need/value in doing a cursory accounting of the cumulative project water demands for all the new winery/development projects. In my reviews of almost all hydrology studies in support of Napa/Sonoma vineyard expansion, I see a chronic pattern of incomplete cumulative hydrologic impact assessments. The status quo is to only look at potential impacts to wells on adjoining properties, without acknowledging, less analyzing, that many of these projects are located in the upland recharge areas that feed into the valley bottom alluvial aquifer. For example, I'm just becoming aware of the Suscol Mtn. Winery project. In addition to Walt and maybe Mtn. Peak, at least the two larger ones are located within the upper watershed supplying groundwater recharge to the depleted MST aquifer. The MST is a County designated groundwater deficient aquifer area, that is subject to specific (reduced) groundwater withdrawal rates and "fair use" practices/oversight. Do you know of any more projects being proposed in a 10- to 20-mile range of these (esp. Mtn. Peak) projects?
From my technical perspective, having a regional accounting and mapping of all existing vineyards/homes along with new or proposed projects would allow for a better assessment of sustainable water supply. I think an important note from this perspective is that there is potential cumulative impact of new projects on the groundwater supply of existing vineyards, even those on the valley floor. The timing for pressing this point is ideal - California just passed several bills (last month) that impose groundwater management and reporting requirements on local agencies (likely Napa County in this case). This new law mandates that local agencies develop groundwater sustainability plans, backed with real numbers and annual reporting of basin-wide extraction volumes and groundwater storage volumes.
Again, your postings and website has been very informative and enlightening to me. You also seem to be abreast of all the local area advocacy work/groups in the neighborhood. So, any insight into the location and information of other vineyard expansion (or other) projects in the vicinity of Mtn. Peak would be helpful information.
| Jul 2, 2014 6:16PM Share
Attached is a Board of Directors Contact List for SCLV LSF for our internal use to reach out to each other.
Please review your info and send me any updates, thanks much! Glenn
On other fronts:
I have requested a quote from MIV Insurance for D&O just after our last meeting.
I opened the checking account and deposited all contributions in hand totaling $8,650 on Monday 06/30/14.
I'll be adding a donation from the Schreuder Family shortly.
So round one of fundraising (warm markets) will be just under $10K, which is a great start!
Now it's time to start hitting up the neighborhood at large.
Kelly Czap is helping Diane put together a donation flyer, someone needs to follow up.
I'm working on the IRS Request for Exempt Status this week for Yeoryois to review.
We have engaged attorney Paul Carroll.
We need to engage the Traffic Engineering firm next, I believe we settled on Andrew Klutter of TJKM Traffic Engineers.
Dana, can you please refresh my memory, did we vote to engage the Traffic Engineer last meeting?
I thought yes. If yes, we need to contact them immediately to get a proposal/quote and get them going.
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