Airlines took interest in starting service here after the airport in 2014 completed a $55 million runway expansion, allowing larger aircraft to fly in and out. Airport and business officials long had sought the facility upgrade and the expanded air service for its benefits to commerce in general and the county’s hospitality sector in particular.
For most of the past decade, the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport has enjoyed steady but incremental growth in the number of passengers served by one commercial airline.
But with the addition of more carriers this year the number jumped, prompting the airport to erect a new temporary waiting area and to make plans to build a larger terminal that could cost roughly $25 million.
Even as Allegiant Air last week confirmed it will end its weekly Santa Rosa-to-Las Vegas service later this month, the airport is about to gain its third new airline of the year. On Aug. 24, Sun Country Airlines will begin a weekly seasonal route from Minneapolis to Santa Rosa.
The comings and goings will result in a total of four airlines, three of which offer routes with daily year-round service.
The growth is rare among small U.S. airports, say airport officials and airline industry analysts.“We definitely are not the norm,” said airport manager Jon Stout. “We are the exception.”
Read more at: Sonoma County airport grows, bucking a trend | The Press Democrat
Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The “Scenic Route” sign on Highway 12 announces the obvious to motorists heading into the Valley of the Moon. It’s cradled by mountains, dotted with giant oaks, horse ranches, vineyards, remnants of old orchards and the odd water tower.
The road delivers inspiring views of imposing Hood Mountain, its craggy face standing sentinel over a historic route from Santa Rosa to Sonoma that carried stagecoaches and trains before the automobile took over.But today, the two-lane highway is crowded with traffic generated by commuters, residential and commercial development, sightseers and visitors headed to wineries and tasting rooms.
The northern arm of Sonoma Valley, between Madrone and Melita roads, is home to more than 40 tasting rooms and event centers that each year attract more than 140,000 people to special events. They could be joined by another half-dozen or more tasting rooms and more than 110 annual special events with 20,000 more people if permits in the pipeline previously approved, but not yet built, are exercised.
The burgeoning wine industry and plans for a high-end luxury hotel, spa and winery off La Campagna Lane in Kenwood have especially drawn attention and opposition while highlighting the impact of development along the county’s busiest wine road.
The growth has set off alarms among rural residents concerned about the loss of agricultural land and the vehicles and noise generated by winery events, especially on weekends. They raise the specter of “Napafication,” the fear that roads will become as clogged as in Napa Valley, where traffic on Highway 29 slows to a long crawl on Saturdays and Sundays when visitors stream to the abundant large corporate-owned wineries.
Read more at: Sonoma Valley growth sparks debate over area’s future
Padi Selwyn and Judith Olney, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
With 447 wineries and tasting rooms outside city limits with 60 more in the pipeline, we have reached a tipping point. Since 2000, there has been a 300% increase in the number of wineries built, exceeding the General Plan assumption of 239 wineries by 2020. More info atpreserveruralsonomacounty.org
Last month’s winery events study session by the Board of Supervisors was a step in the right direction, as local officials try to balance wine industry interests with a growing backlash by concerned citizens. Property owners expressed concerns that environmental degradation, unruly crowds, loud noise, traffic safety issues and congestion on narrow roads are destroying tranquil rural character and contributing to the Napafication of Sonoma County.
But it’s clear that this is going to be a long process, with new ordinances projected for by Spring 2017. There are many more meetings to be held, and input by the Planning Commission needed. Meanwhile, the wine industry continues lobbying for fewer restrictions, while the overflow crowd of concerned citizens in attendance sent a clear message to county officials that it’s time to rein in winery development and limit the number of promotional events.
As an example, the wine industry continues to advocate that the county categorize events by attendees or by sponsor. Unfortunately, merely labeling a dinner-dance as a “distributor meeting” does not reduce the noise, long duration drinking, or the potential of impaired drivers on rural one-lane roads. This re-naming of high impact promotional and hospitality uses – such as winemaker lunches or dinners – as “tasting room or business activities”, is a thinly veiled attempt to exempt these events, food service and accommodations from environmental review and use permit conditions required to reduce the impacts to less than significant.
Read more at: Sonoma County Limits on Wine Industry in the Works
Stett Holbrook, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
In the winter of 2015, a Hong Kong real estate conglomerate purchased the Calistoga Hills Resort, at the northern end of the Napa Valley, for nearly $80 million. Today, mature oaks and conifers cover the 88-acre property, which flanks the eastern slope of the Mayacamas Mountains.
But soon, 8,000 trees will be cut, making way for 110 hotel rooms, 20 luxury homes, 13 estate lots, and a restaurant. Room rates will reportedly start at about $1,000 a night, and the grounds will include amenities like a pool, spas, outdoor showers and individual plunge pools outside select guest rooms.
Following the sale, one of the most expensive in the nation based on the number of rooms planned, commercial broker James Escarzega told a Bay Area real estate journal that the project “will be a game changer for the luxury hotel market in Napa Valley.” That may well be true, but it’s likely not the kind of game changer that many locals want to see.
While the Napa Valley conjures images of idyllic winery estates and luxurious lifestyles, all is not well in wine country. A growing number of residents decry the region’s proliferation of upscale hotels, the wineries that double as event centers and the strain on Napa Valley’s water resources. In the wake of California’s unprecedented drought, the city of Calistoga—like others—has been under mandatory water rationing. “We’re told not to flush our toilets,” says Christina Aranguren, a vocal critic of the proposed resort, whose guests will be under no such restrictions. “I want to know where the water will come from.”
Other new developments will further strain local infrastructure. The 22-acre Silver Rose Resort, across town from the Calistoga Hills Resort, will feature an 84-room hotel and spa, 21 homes, a restaurant, a winery and a six-acre vineyard. Last year, Calistoga’s Indian Springs Resort underwent a $23 million expansion and added 75 new guest rooms to bring its total to 115.
Read more at: Of Water and Wine | Features | North Bay Bohemian
Eloísa Ruano González, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT PDF:North and Central Coast marine sanctuaries in NOAA study PDF:Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank marine sanctuaries
Visitors drawn to kayaking, surfing and sightseeing along the protected waters off Northern California’s coast pumped more than $1.2 billion into the region, according to a new federal study.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration looked at low-impact recreational visitors to the Greater Farallones and the northern portion of the Monterey Bay marine sanctuary in 2011 and their economic impact on coastal counties including Sonoma, Mendocino and Marin.
Conservationists say the data, published last week, highlights the benefits marine sanctuaries can provide for residents and the importance of protecting the coast, bolstering their push to expand the sanctuaries along a greater extent of the state’s shoreline.
“These are huge numbers,” said Richard Charter, a Sonoma Coast resident and senior fellow with the Washington D.C.-based Ocean Foundation. “(They’re) telling us without any doubt that a clean coast means a healthy economy.”
Visitors to Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary alone spent $86 million, mostly on food, drinks and lodging in surrounding counties, according to the peer-reviewed study. That, in return, provided a boost to local businesses and generated more than a thousand jobs.
Read more at: Visitors to Northern California marine sanctuaries pump $1.2 | The Press Democrat
Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Napa County Board of Supervisors began grappling Tuesday with the politically contentious issue of how to better regulate winery expansion to limit the congestion that critics contend has turned this agricultural valley into an overrun tourist playground.
The board started to debate proposals put forth by a 17-member citizen advisory committee and further recommendations by the county’s Planning Commission, as well as an analysis of the items by county staff. Overall, 22 public hearings have been held in the past nine months.
Board members did not vote on any regulations, but instructed staff to further work on the proposals. Supervisors hope to adopt new rules in the next year that will bring some clarity to the future of the wine industry, which generated $1.6 billion in visitor spending last year while snarling the county’s planning process in time-consuming arguments over winery permits. It will continue the debate Jan. 5.
The controversy in Napa echoes an ongoing debate across California’s Wine Country. Sonoma County has formed a task force to study the problems associated with winery development and events, while other counties, such as Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, also are tackling related issues on wine tourism.
Read more at: Napa mulls restrictions on winery expansion | The Press Democrat