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Sonoma County winery events could be limited by Planning Commission

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After years of wrangling, Sonoma County officials are moving forward this week with a measure that will spell out what wineries can and can’t do when it comes to hosting events.

It’s the latest chapter in a long debate that has pitted the politically powerful sector against local activists and residents who say an influx of tourists is threatening their quality of life with traffic congestion and noise.

The county’s Planning Commission will hold a Thursday meeting in which the panel intends to vote on a draft ordinance that has been crafted by staff.

Planning Commission Meeting information

Planning officials searched for a middle ground between the interests of a main economic driver in the county against mobilized community groups in the areas of Sonoma Valley, Westside Road and Dry Creek Valley where the issue has become a flash point. Permit Sonoma held a virtual forum in February to solicit suggestions from stakeholders and their input went into the document.

The ordinance would set new standards for winery events, spelling out rules covering parking and traffic management; food service; event coordination with neighbors; and noise.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/sonoma-county-winery-events-could-be-limited-by-planning-commission/

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Press Release: Sonoma County Planning Commission to hear draft winery events ordinance

Bradley Dunn, PERMIT SONOMA

Permit Sonoma has published Sonoma County’s first draft Winery Events Ordinance, which would set new standards for winery events like parking requirements, food service, event coordination, traffic management, and noise standards to address the impact of winery visitor-serving uses on agricultural land.

“The wine industry plays a critical role in Sonoma’s economy,” said Tennis Wick, Director of Permit Sonoma. “We are proud to work with the industry and neighbors to develop regulations which balance winery needs while protecting our rural communities and agriculture.”

The standards will provide a baseline for how the County balances preservation of agricultural areas with sustainable development of wine industry events when evaluating individual projects and their impacts. Permit Sonoma will utilize these standards when considering new and modified use permit applications for winery visitor-serving uses. The draft Ordinance provides consistency and clarity to the use permit evaluation process, reduces impacts to surrounding properties, protects agricultural lands, and preserves rural character.

Staff will present the draft to the Planning Commission at a virtual public hearing on June 3 at 1:50 p.m. The Planning Commission public hearing will be conducted via videoconference. Members of the public may watch, listen and participate in the hearing through Zoom or by phone. Additionally, written comments can be submitted through May 28, by 5 p.m. via email at PRMD-WineryEvents@sonoma-county.org.

After the Planning Commission Hearing, staff expects to present a final draft Winery Events Ordinance to the Board of Supervisors for approval on Aug. 17.

The draft Ordinance is posted on the Winery Events website.

The agenda for the virtual Planning Commission hearing and project staff report will be posted one week before the hearing on the Planning Commission calendar. https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Planning-Commission/Calendar/Planning-Commission-Meeting-May-20-2021/

For more information about the public hearing, to submit comments, or to review project files digitally, members of the public can send an email to PRMD-WineryEvents@sonoma-county.org, call (707) 565-1900, option 5, or visit the project website: www.sonomacounty.ca.gov/WineryEvents

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/sonoma-county-planning-commission-to-hear-draft-winery-events-ordinance/

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California to impose first statewide rules for winery wastewater, marking new era

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Hundreds of California wineries will for the first time be governed by statewide wastewater processing rules, a change from the long-held, regional approach that could increase production costs for wineries and protections for waterways while providing consistency for vintners across the state.

The move toward a statewide regulatory framework, a five-year effort championed by industry leaders, was finalized this week by the State Water Resources Control Board, which approved an order setting up guidelines for wastewater processing at most of the more than 3,600 bonded wineries in the state.

The new order promises to bring at least 1,500 of those wineries into a regulatory framework for wastewater disposal for the first time, leading to extra compliance costs. But it also provides flexibility for how, and when, those wineries will be subject to rules meant to safeguard waterways and groundwater from harmful contaminants, including excess nitrogen, salinity and other compounds that deplete oxygen levels.

“I think it was the perfect example of a compromise,” said Don McEnhill, head of the Sonoma County-based group Russian Riverkeeper.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/california-to-impose-first-statewide-rules-for-winery-wastewater-marking-n/

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Studies criticize wineries’ effect on rural Sonoma County

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Click here for links to traffic studies

Sonoma County wineries should bear the bulk of the responsibility for improving relations with rural neighbors, according to a pair of recently released county studies calling for fewer events, more coordination and a higher standard of review for new or expanding wineries.

The studies, which waded into the county’s most persistent land-use fight, encompass three of the most popular wine growing and tasting areas: Dry Creek Valley and Westside Road, as well as Sonoma Valley. In the reports, GHD, a private company with offices in Santa Rosa and Walnut Creek, looked at traffic counts, crashes and other symptoms of a long-running battle over the character of rural Sonoma County and expansion of its signature industry.

The reports include some of the strongest criticism of the industry to emerge from the county’s prolonged look at wineries’ rural footprint, including the profusion of events and promotional activities now held by many winemakers. About 450 wineries exist in unincorporated Sonoma County.

Many in the wine industry are not convinced of the need for more strict regulations.

DaVero Farms and Winery owner Ridgely Evers said it’s about balance. The No. 1 problem is a lack of enforcement for current rules, he said. And bad actors will ignore more restrictive rules just like they do now, he added.

“This is a classic issue that you run into any time you intermingle residents and commerce,” said Evers, a 35-year county resident whose winery sits at Dry Creek Road and Westside Road, near the epicenter of the fight. “If you look at it from that perspective, obviously the right thing is some kind of balance.”

But neighbors say the study recommendations don’t go far enough to reduce cumulative impacts, and say many of the suggestions already are standard practice for nearly the past decade.

Judith Olney, co- chairwoman of Preserve Rural Sonoma County and chairwoman of the Westside Community Association, two organizations at odds with continued winery growth in rural areas, said recommendations like expanded shuttle service could actually increase traffic.

And she worries about undue influence from industry leaders, who want to authorize more winery events — and with them, more traffic, Olney said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10273278-181/sonoma-county-studies-take-issue

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Napa County takes first step to rein in wineries that break the law

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After years of wrangling, Napa County took a first step to better police its more than 500 wineries with an updated code enforcement program approved by its board of supervisors on Tuesday.

The board by a 4-0 vote approved a resolution that would revamp the county’s winery enforcement program that has been criticized as ineffective and having no teeth for violators. For example, county officials found in 2014 that almost half of the wineries audited did not comply with code requirements, such as exceeding their production or visitor limits.

The vote comes with increasing backlash to the wine sector that wields considerable political influence through the Napa Valley Vintners trade group and as the dominant economic driver in the county of more than 140,000 residents.

In recent years, industry opposition has been bubbling up, especially over greater traffic on Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. In June, local voters narrowly rejected an amendment that would have limited vineyard development on hills and mountains to provide greater protection to the environment.

Read more at https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/napacounty/9036162-181/napa-wine-tourism-regulation

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Wilson family wins Sonoma County approval for 11th winery

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ken and Diane Wilson’s latest winery, to be built in the heart of Dry Creek Valley, won final approval Tuesday from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, leaving the couple relieved to get a green light 13 years after the project was first proposed.

Culminating a three-hour public hearing packed with accolades for the winemaking family, the board voted 4-1 to deny a valley resident’s appeal challenging a previous county decision supporting the project, which was first proposed in 2005.

Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents winery-rich Sonoma Valley, cast the lone no vote, saying she was concerned that supervisors have failed to resolve the high-stakes question of over-concentration of wineries, which number more than 440 outside city limits.

“We have yet to grapple with it,” she said, referring to an issue that gained public traction in 2014.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8871075-181/wilson-family-wins-sonoma-county

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County residents request a moratorium on new winery spaces

Liza B. Zimmerman, WINE SEARCHER

While many wine country regions have welcomed revenue from new businesses, the somewhat-still-rural hamlet of Sonoma County clearly has conflicted sentiments.

Compared to the top-dollar region of Napa Valley, which was smart enough to self-regulate itself a half century ago, and less affluent areas such as the New York Finger Lakes that tend to support new development for economic reasons, wine industry regulation and growth in Sonoma has not been an easy process.

The county includes some of the most bucolic land – complete with ocean views – in California wine country. Its major towns of Sonoma, Healdsburg and, more recently, Sebastopol have been attracting low-key, yet quite profitable tourism for some decades. Most of the area’s tasting rooms also don’t charge a $50-plus per-person reserve tasting fee and traffic has primarily been manageable on Sonoma’s small roads for a number of decades.

However, local residents have come to a boiling point about vehicles, noise and general exuberant indulgence within their county’s limits. Roads in the region are rustic and new wineries have been sprouting up like poppies for decades.

According to Tennis Wick, the Santa Rosa-based director of Permit Sonoma, the county currently has 467 wineries approved in unincorporated areas. The “general plan for Sonoma County projected 239 wineries by the year 2020 because that number was environmentally prudent. From 2000 to 2015 there was a 300-percent increase in new winery facilities. Sonoma County was home to 127 wineries in 2000 and has nearly 500 now,” shares Padi Selwyn, the co-chair of Preserve Rural Sonoma County (PRSC), a group that has spearheaded local residents’ desires to moderate new winery and event space openings.

Read more at https://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2018/08/locals-continue-to-clash-with-sonoma-wineries

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Westside Farms caught up in local fight for more restrictions of vineyards 

Janet Perry, THE WINDSOR TIMES
One of Sonoma County’s most highly acclaimed vintners has found his vision for the future at odds with citizens concerns over the impacts of commercial vineyards and their events.
David Ramey said that he “purchased the old pumpkin farm, which attracted substantial visitors and traffic, with the vision of building our family winery for coming generations. We’ve been leasing our two wineries in Healdsburg but do not own them, which involves a measure of uncertainty.”
Ramey was granted a conditional use permit by the County Board of Zoning Adjustments for development on his Westside Farms’ property on Westside Road.
The permit, issued Sept. 21, was appealed by environmental groups and citizens on Oct. 2. Appellants are calling upon the board of supervisors to “address the cumulative impacts from the commercialization of agriculture land, and define protective standards that preserve what brings tourists to Sonoma County in the first place, our rural character and small town charm.”
Craig Enyart, of Maacama Watershed Alliance, challenged the county supervisors in the appellants’ Oct. 5 press release announcing the appeal. “Enough is enough — it’s past time for the supervisors to provide staff, planning commissioners, applicants and taxpayers the guidance they’ve repeatedly requested, addressing general plan requirements and the cumulative impact issues raised during the 2015 Winery Working Group process.”
(In 2015, Sonoma County appointed 21 locals from among the wine industry, environmental groups and rural residents to a working group tasked with identifying the growing pains of the wine industry in Sonoma County and how best to mitigate those problems.)
Read more at: Westside Farms caught up in local fight for more restrictions of vineyards | News | sonomawest.com

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A growing Sonoma bursts at its seams

Patrick Hoge, SAN FRANCISCO MAGAZINE
Wine tourism: booming. Mass transit: zooming. Big cannabis: looming. For a once-quiet agricultural region, Sonoma is suddenly an economic engine. And not everybody’s loving the noise.
Liza Hinman lives in two Sonoma County worlds on the same continuum. In one, she is cofounder and chef of the Spinster Sisters, a hip, fun, homey restaurant bringing life and house-made granola parfaits to a formerly run-down part of Santa Rosa. She’s part of a vanguard of entrepreneurial Sonomans who are catering to both locals and tourists through the unifying power of good eating, good drinking, and smartly designed community spaces. In the other world, Hinman, as a mother of three and the wife of a Sonoma native, is unsettled by the changes that have overtaken her hometown of Healdsburg, a once-dilapidated agricultural town of almost 12,000 with a quaint central plaza that has utterly transformed in the last 15 years into a crowded, swanky destination for affluent out-of-towners and second-home owners.
In one world, increased tourism and a well-earned Michelin recommendation are boons for Hinman, a rosy-cheeked, smock-wearing 40-year-old with a broad smile and a gifted touch with locally grown foods. In the other, she finds herself conflicted, avoiding Healdsburg’s downtown of pricey restaurants, clothing stores, and art galleries because of traffic and lack of parking, and shaking her head at the area’s 30—30!—wine tasting rooms. “It’s the ad nauseam conversation that we all have as more and more tourists and Bay Area people discover us,” Hinman says, proffering some of her signature deviled eggs. An East Coast transplant who got her professional start studying and cooking in San Francisco, Hinman knows that it wasn’t long ago that numerous businesses in downtown Healdsburg were shuttered. And she appreciates the tax revenue that supports city services. “It’s our lifeblood here,” she says. “But there has to be a way to find balance, to have a vibrant community for locals and services for tourists.”
Hinman’s contrasting sentiments are echoed across Sonoma County these days, as moneyed visitors from around the world and urban refugees flood into the North Bay in search of the good life. Tourism spending is soaring; hotel and winery development is widespread; and housing prices are climbing fast and approaching an all-time high—all factors that have led to a growing disquiet among longtime valley dwellers. Still a vast Eden of vineyards, restaurants, and resorts, Sonoma maintains a natural beauty and a relatively affordable cost of living that have made it a release valve for the over-pressurized Bay Area. But this restfulness has been disturbed by new strains of anxiety that Sonoma’s laid-back feel, small-town charms, and country roads are being trammeled by too many outsiders with too much cash.
Read more at: San Francisco Magazine | Modern Luxury | A Growing Sonoma Bursts at its Seams

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Knights Valley winery approved by Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A new winery proposed for Knights Valley was approved Tuesday by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, which denied an appeal from two local groups concerned about the long-planned facility’s impacts on the remote area.
With little fanfare, supervisors unanimously followed through on the intent they relayed last month during a lengthy public hearing about the Knights Bridge Winery.
Under a condition placed by county officials, the project cannot draw more groundwater than currently used at the site, which already includes about 43 acres of vineyards. The winery, which can produce up to 10,400 cases, is slated for a roughly 86-acre property off Spencer Lane.
A potential squeeze on the area’s already-scarce groundwater supplies was a primary concern among project opponents, including the Maacama Watershed Alliance and the Friends of Spencer Lane, who appealed the Board of Zoning Adjustments’ 2015 approval of the project to supervisors.
To meet the condition, the county is requiring the winery to reduce the property’s existing usage of groundwater by at least 0.5 acre feet annually, or nearly 163,000 gallons per year. Project applicant Jim Bailey initially plans to meet the requirement by dry farming three acres of vines, according to county staff.
Read more at: Knights Valley winery approved by Sonoma County Board of Supervisors | The Press Democrat –