Alcohol Tourism Realities…
Sonoma County is being overwhelmed by an unprecedented surge in hospitality development dominated by Wine Tourism. The very rural fabric of our region is at risk as County Officials continue to approve industrial-scale, commercial projects in inappropriate locations.
The operative question: How far out of compliance with its Sonoma County’s 2020 General Plan are we – given the County has not completed a cumulative impact assessment.
We are now at nearly DOUBLE the number of facilities projected by 2020 in the General Plan, and a 300 % increase from year 2000. (Source: Sonoma County GP 2020 EIR – Section 4.8 Exhibit 4.8-4) LINK
The assumptions used for winery growth from the 127 existing in 2000 to the studied projection of 239 by 2020 were:
1) An 88% increase in facilities on County land;
2) Building square footage of winery production, storage and promotional space proportional to case production; removing another 174 acres of prime Ag land; and
3) The EIR noted that “…it would be reasonable to expect that the actual amount of Ag land lost to this type of development would be higher as these projections only account for support uses and do not account for related access roads and parking lots.
By 2015 the county had approved nearly 450 winery-related facility Use Permits, and there are many more in the pipeline. Yet, the 2020 General Plan Environmental Impact Report only studied the impacts of 239 facilities. And, the number of facilities is only half the story; the reality is that the facilities being approved now are often 2-3 times the square footage assumed, and have 80 to 100 vehicle parking lots to accommodate large events.
The wine industry has launched a major public relations green-washing campaign to market themselves ‘sustainable’ to avoid regulatory scrutiny and attract more customers. This green-washing ploy reflects their unwillingness to accept reasonable restrictions on promotional activities; in fact, their efforts to develop vineyards and event centers in fragile locations such as the Sonoma Coast and on hillsides or in wetlands, demonstrates the contradiction of their claims.
1) balanced growth
2) consistent, measurable standards that apply to all projects
3) preparation of a cumulative impact assessment relating to over-development in rural neighborhoods.
Key Impacts that threaten the health, safety and quality of life for our communities:
- Public Safety – Alcohol Tourism threatens the safety of our citizens on rural roads, with visitors leaving wineries following long duration drinking. California Highway Patrol statistics are staggering for Sonoma County: over the past 15 years: 75% of automobile deaths in Sonoma County were DUI related – THIS is twice the state average.
- Increased public cost of emergency services – Fire and Sheriff Departments struggle to respond to emergencies on the many sub-standard, rural county roads, impeding emergency timeliness.
- Increased traffic congestion on major commute roads as well as rural roads from escalating tourism and the much greater truck traffic serving the wineries and custom crush facilities.
- Noise pollution from crowd chatter, music and parking lot noise from event centers permitted in rural residential neighborhoods.
- Removal of thousands of trees that capture carbon, and serve to retain water and soils in our watersheds. Removal of oak trees requires deep ripping of the soil to remove the roots harmful to grape vines, resulting in soil destabilization and siltation of waterways.
- Paving of agricultural land for event centers and parking lots. Once our rich Ag lands are paved over, they are permanently out of production.
- Depletion of groundwater aquifers – Sonoma County’s land in vineyard production has remained at around 60,000 acres for over a decade; yet, we all observe new vineyards working their way up the hillsides.
So, we are paving over the prime Ag lands in our valleys and replacing them with vineyards in water scarce areas. The application of engineered watering systems doesn’t solve this problem, it merely allows for new water depletion for vineyard planting. Get more info here.
- Wastewater disposal from urban sewage treatment plants on vineyard lands, if applied in excess of agronomic rates, risks contamination of the Sonoma County Water Agency’s high quality drinking water aquifer. Nitrates and organic chemicals are trapped in the soil and when the winter rains come are flushed into the groundwater and the Russian River.
Is Your Neighborhood Next?
The cumulative impacts from the over-commercialization of Sonoma County’s prime agricultural resources on road safety, traffic, and water availability affect us all, whether we live in the urban or rural areas. With 90 % of existing wineries in the unincorporated areas it is up to all of us to protect the quality of life in our county.
We work collaboratively with local organizations sharing our concerns for the environment: