John Sammon, LEGAL NEWSLINE
Two Sonoma County vintners received a judgment in favor of their proposed wine making operation when an appeal by the Sierra Club was turned back by the state’s 1st Appellate District Court of Appeals.
The court found in favor of the defendants Ronald and Ernest Ohlson, operators of the Ohlson Ranch, who applied for a permit to turn grazing land on their property into a grape vineyard. The Agricultural Commissioner of Sonoma County (commissioner) issued the permit after making a determination the issuance was a “ministerial” act, and therefore exempt from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) standards.
The commissioner’s decision was challenged by the Sierra Club, Friends of Gualala River and the Center for Biological Diversity, who asked for a writ of mandate, a court order to an agency or court to follow the law by correcting a previous action (issuing the permit).
Before the year 2000, grape growers in Sonoma County could plant vineyards without government review or permission.. Since then, new directives have been added, including submitting plans to address erosion controls, proper grading, drainage and other safeguards.
The Ohlsons filed an application in 2013 to turn 108 acres out of 132 acres of range land into a vineyard. The property included wetlands and marshy depressions but no trees or streams. Erosion was to be controlled by the use of anchoring grass, mulch, filter strips and cover crops.
Read more at: Calif. court rules against appeal filed by Sierra Club, others over vineyard permit | Legal Newsline
Alastair Bland, YALE ENVIRONMENT 360
Kellie Anderson stands in the understory of a century-old forest in eastern Napa County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. To her left is a creek gully, a rush of the water audible through the thick riparian brush. The large trees here provide a home for deer, mountain lions, and endangered spotted owls, while the stream supports the last remnants of the Napa River watershed’s nearly extinct steelhead trout.
“They want to take all of this out,” says Anderson, who sits on the steering committee of a local environmental organization, Save Rural Angwin, named for a community in the renowned wine country of the Napa Valley. She is studying a project-planning map of the area as she waves her free arm toward the wooded upward slope. “It looks like this will be the edge of a block of vines,” she says.
Anderson and two fellow activists, Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett, were visiting a property of several dozen acres that the owners plan to clear and replant with grapes, the county’s principal crop. The project is one of many like it that are now pending approval by Napa County officials, who rarely reject a vineyard conversion project in the Napa Valley, a fertile strip that runs northward from the shores of San Francisco Bay.
In Napa County, neighboring Sonoma County, and farther to the north in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, concern is growing among some residents, environmentalists, and scientists about the expansion of vineyards into forested regions and the impacts on watersheds and biodiversity. In Napa, an aerial view reveals a carpet of vines on the valley floor, which is why winemakers hoping to plant new vines increasingly turn to land in the county’s wooded uplands. At these higher elevations, “about the only thing standing in the way of winemakers are the trees,” says Hackett.
Read more at: In Napa Valley, Vineyards and Conservationists Battle for the Hills – Yale E360
David Abbott, SONOMA WEST TIMES
Paul Hobbs is making news in the West County again, as, on the heels of a $100,000 settlement with Sonoma County over questionable vineyard conversion practices, a lawsuit filed against the winemaker and the county by a group of parents in the Twin Hills Union School District will head to court.
A hearing will take place on March 2 at 9 a.m. in department 17 at 3035 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa.
The lawsuit, filed in December 2013 by the Watertrough Children’s Alliance, alleges that the county failed in its oversight duties by issuing a permit for the transformation of a 48-acre apple orchard into 39 acres of grape vines.
“This is a major project and it should have a CEQA review. It’s a huge manipulation of the environment. Why shouldn’t it require CEQA?” WCA attorney Paul Carroll said. “It’s been applied to much smaller projects. Thirty-eight acres is a huge project right next to a school. Hobbs shouldn’t get a free ride.”
But the ride has not been exactly free for the internationally known vintner who has had his share of run-ins with regulatory agencies over several West County vineyard conversion projects.
On Feb. 2, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office announced a $100,000 settlement with Hobbs over a civil environmental complaint filed on May 28, 2014, focused on conversion projects that took place from 2011 to 2013.
Read more via Hobbs conversion headed to court – Sonoma West Times and News: News.
Jeff Quackenbush, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
As state water-quality regulators prepare to try again this fall with a framework designed to control erosion into the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds, winegrape growers in those areas are getting new tools to help prepare for the as-yet-undefined rules.
San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board staff plan to issue notice by the end of June about the preparation of draft environmental-impact documents connected to general wastewater discharge requirements (WDRs) for vineyard operations in those watersheds, according to Naomi Feger, chief of the regional board’s planning division.
“We will be looking at the regulations that exist in Napa and Sonoma (counties),” she said. “They will not be in conflict.”
The goal is to hold the first scoping meeting somewhere in Napa in mid-July then compile comments from that and those received during the crafting of a conditional waiver of WDRs for vineyards in the two watersheds, an effort that ended in March of last year amid opposition. The current timeline is to release a draft environmental document for the vineyard WDRs in late fall and convene the first public hearings in the first quarter of next year, Ms. Feger said.
via Vineyard erosion rules effort restarts – North Bay Business Journal – North San Francisco Bay Area, Sonoma, Marin, Napa counties – Archive.
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Three environmental groups are challenging Sonoma County’s approval of a 54-acre Annapolis vineyard in a case that reflects long-standing conflict over expansion of the county’s $600 million a year grape industry.
If the lawsuit were to succeed, it would wipe out the county’s vineyard development law, itself born amid controversy between growers and environmentalists 14 years ago.
That friction has intensified with the recent growth of forest-to-vineyard projects near the coast, a cool region hospitable to pinot noir grapes, the most expensive varietal grown in the county.
via Environmental groups' lawsuit could upend Sonoma County vineyard policies | The Press Democrat.
Dan Verel, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
A group is hoping to slow a vineyard expansion project at Paul Hobbs Winery by arguing that the California Environmental Quality Act should apply, a position that many in the wine industry said could lead to unintended consequences by usurping what they say is an important local provision.
The group, called the The Watertrough Children’s Alliance in Sebastopol, is far from the first to bring CEQA to the legal table in opposing a vineyard or land-use issue. But the group’s efforts also include contesting the permit that the Sonoma County Agricultural Commission issued for the expansion under the Sonoma County Grading, Drainage and Vineyard and Orchard Site Development Ordinance, which is exempt from CEQA. State law, the group argues, should supersede that ordinance, also known as VESCO.
In response to the group’s lawsuit filed late last year that claims the 48-acre expansion at Paul Hobbs Winery should fall under the purview of CEQA, John Holdredge, an attorney for Geary, Shea, O’Donnell, Grattan & Mitchell representing the winery, wrote that using CEQA over the local Sonoma County ordinance would effectively render VESCO “inoperative.”
via Vineyard CEQA suit looms large – North Bay Business Journal – North San Francisco Bay Area, Sonoma, Marin, Napa counties – Archive.
by Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
New rules making it tougher to rip up forested hillsides to plant vineyards won qualified approval from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisor Tuesday.
The stronger erosion prevention measures were unanimously approved by the five supervisors, but most acknowledged that the process was viewed as frustrating and flawed by many involved.
via Sonoma County adopts hillside vineyard restrictions.
by Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County grape growers aiming to convert forested hillsides with neat rows of vineyards will have to prove their projects won’t damage local waterways under draft regulations released Thursday.
The new rules, proposed by Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar, would prohibit tree removal on the steepest of slopes, keep vineyards 50 to 100 feet away from unstable hillsides, and require three years of follow-up to ensure the regulations are effective.
“The ultimate goal of these standards is to protect water quality,” Linegar said.
via Draft rules out on hillside vineyard tree removal in Sonoma County | Petaluma360.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted 5 to 0 to put in place a moratorium on ridge-top tree removal for vineyards. This issue will come back to the Board on April 24 with the ag commissioner’s recommendations for changes to VESCO, the Vineyard Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance.
Hearing Tuesday, January 31
Please attend the BOS meeting this Tuesday, 9 am, to support a County “freeze” on any new vineyard and orchard development until June 1st. At that time, VESCO (Vineyard Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance) will be updated to incorporate tree removal protection language.
The meeting will be held in the Supervisors’ Chambers, Room 100A,
575 Administrative Drive, Santa Rosa at 9:00 am.