Letters to the editor
Writing letters to our local newspapers keeps the pressure on our elected officials and helps educate the wider community about these important issues. Please consider writing your own letters. Letters should not exceed 200 words, be concise and specific.
- Press Democrat – email@example.com
- Sonoma County Gazette – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sonoma West Times – email@example.com
- North Bay Business Journal – firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Bohemian – email@example.com
- Russian River Times – firstname.lastname@example.org
Below are excellent examples of letters to the editor.
Tourist impacts – Press Democrat, 3/11/17
EDITOR: Regarding Shirley Liberman’s letter about the heavy traffic on Highway 12 (“Becoming Napa,” March 2), having lived in Sonoma County since 1980, I used to say I’d prefer to be Napa-fied than Marin-ated. But now I think I’d rather be neither of those options.
Enough is enough. Tourism (including alcohol-, food-, bicycle-, gambling- and, soon, marijuana- related) is an important part of our local economy, but we need to make sure the impacts of these industries don’t destroy what we love about living here — our county’s natural beauty of hills, pastures, trees, rocks and waterways.
No offense intended to those who live in Napa or Marin and like it.
Jean M. Davis, Forestville
Rural heritage – Press Democrat, 3/5/2017
EDITOR: Thank you to Padi Selwyn and Preserve Rural Sonoma County (“More is not sustainable,” Letters, Feb. 26) for continuing to remind us that tourists come here because it is beautiful.
While we are debating more and more wineries and winery events, let’s all remember the incredible beauty of our apple orchards and the contributions that apple farmers, all of whom actually live here, make to our community.
Look around you next month and take in the beauty of our apple orchards in bloom. We all need to think about ways to preserve our rural heritage and our agricultural diversity. Save the Gravensteins.
– Paula Shatkin
Becoming Napa – Press Democrat, 3/2/2017
EDITOR: Padi Selwyn points out that roads throughout Sonoma County weren’t built to cope with the tremendous increase in traffic (“More is not sustainable,” Letters, Sunday). We moved to Oakmont eight years ago, and it is noticeable every day that the traffic increase is not only causing congestion, but there seems to be an accident every week on Highway 12. And still more wineries and related events are being proposed. Can we find a way to avoid being “Napa-ized” before we ruin the beauty of Sonoma County?
Shirley Liberman, Santa Rosa
More is not sustainable – Press Democrat, 2/26/17
EDITOR: Thanks for the excellent coverage about the debate over the Sonoma Valley’s future and residents’ fears of Napification (“Crowded route hints at valley’s future,” Feb. 19). Sonoma Valley, however, is not the only area being impacted by the wine industry’s gold rush. This may be the canary in the coal mine, as other parts of the county are now victims of case-by-case permitting that ignores cumulative impacts.
The general plan accounted for 239 wineries by 2020, yet more than 460 have been permitted.
“Wine industry leaders say events are a vital tool for local vintners to sell their wines and remain competitive,” the Feb. 19 article states. Yet Silicon Valley Bank (from its May 2015 webcast on tasting room profitability) warned that competition and costs associated with the direct-to-consumer model were eroding profitability.
More is not sustainable. Silicon Valley Banker Rob McMillan says “tourists come to wine country because it is beautiful. … If (it) gets crowded and loses its charm, we will be killing the goose that laid the golden egg.”
We are at a tipping point. Let’s seek balance and support existing wineries. That means putting the brakes on ever-more reckless development and curbing competition, which will only continue to cannibalize existing wineries and tasting rooms.
– Padi Selwyn, Sebastopol
Winery Ordinance – Press Democrat, 7/25/16
EDITOR: In a recent letter, Jean Arnold Sessions, the executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners, claimed that “the Board of Supervisors decided not to direct staff to draft an ordinance limiting winery events” (“Winery event hearing,” Letters, July 18). This information is inaccurate.
Supervisor Efren Carrillo, the board chairman, directed the Permit and Resource Management Department to return in 60 days with information based on public input and issues raised regarding event impacts. He said the board would then resume consideration of whether to direct staff to draft the ordinance.
Sessions says that her organization wishes to “work together to find middle ground.” This, if true, is positive news. Perhaps the rising level of discontent of county residents regarding dangerous traffic on rural roads, amplified music and event overload is finally gaining importance with her organization. Perhaps the wine industry is beginning to realize that the effects of tourism in rural areas spoil the premier destination status and the rural character valued by customers.
Sessions characterized concerned residents as “opposing the wine business.” We aren’t opposed to the wine industry, only the negative impacts of event centers in rural areas.
– Reuben Weinzveg, Sebastopol
Preserving a balance – Press Democrat, 12/22/15
EDITOR: Since 2000, Sonoma County has experienced explosive growth in the approval of wineries, accompanied by increasingly more intense hospitality and entertainment activities. By 2014, the county approved twice the number of facilities assumed in the general plan (436 wineries), and there are now 60 applications pending.
More and more wineries have become venues for events and commercial activities. On most weekends, parking overflows and traffic congestion clogs up narrow, winding, country roads. These conditions create life-threatening road hazards for rural residents, especially when combined with party-level alcohol consumption.
Fortunately, the Board of Supervisors has acknowledged the problem and will be voting on new standards in the coming year. We hope that the supervisors will uphold general plan policies designed to steer tourism-related hospitality uses to urban centers and protect rural agricultural lands. Standards will not take anything away from the facilities that are operating lawfully now and will create a level playing field to the benefit of all wineries.
Rural residents are asking county officials to preserve that balance between agriculture, natural areas and rural ambiance, with town-centered marketing of local products. Our county has benefited from Napa’s overdevelopment and its diminished tourist experience. Let’s not make the same mistakes here.
– Lorraine Bazan, Sebastopol
We are your neighbors – Sonoma West Times, 12/14/15
The overflowing crowd at the Nov.16 County Workshop on winery events illustrated how deeply the community cares about the need to preserve our agricultural landscapes and rural character of Sonoma County. Sadly, the Sonoma County Vintners stated that they will oppose any effort to restrict or limit winery activities and events. And, the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission launched a letter writing campaign to their 1,800 members, calling concerned residents and neighbors ‘liars and bullies.’
These statements stunned community groups who are working constructively with the County to develop balanced zoning standards that address local and cumulative impacts associated with the intensity, scale and concentration of visitor-serving and agricultural promotional activities, as required by the General Plan.
Such negativity from the wine industry is an attempt to deflect the debate away from the real issues of the need for impact-based standards, mutual respect for neighbors and compliance with our laws.
We are not the enemies of the wine industry. We are your neighbors and customers. Land use conflicts and impacts are real. The Board of Supervisors tasked the Permit Department to develop standards for promotional activities and events on Ag lands given the exponential growth of wineries and event centers has reached a tipping point. The General Plan evaluated the impact to Ag lands from winery and tasting room development based on only 239 facilities by 2020; yet, 436 facilities exist today with 60 applications in the pipeline. And, the shift in the business model to one reliant on high intensity hospitality uses and food service has compounded the impacts and land use conflicts, requiring the County to act.
Preserve Rural Sonoma County supports a balanced, consistent development code that preserves rural lands and protects neighborhoods and communities from the impacts from hospitality and entertainment activities. It’s time to uphold, not undermine, the policies in our General Plan designed to steer tourism-related hospitality uses to our vibrant town centers and to preserve the integrity of our rural agricultural lands for future generations.
High impact hospitality uses, when sited in the wrong locations, have a negative impact on Sonoma County as a premier destination. Sonoma County has benefited from Napa’s over-development and its diminished tourist experience– let’s not make the same mistakes. In 2014, several national bicycle tour companies, who fill hotel rooms and restaurants mid-week, wrote to our County officials warning that the proliferation of more and more event-related traffic on narrow, winding country roads was creating road safety concerns. They said that they might have to curtail tours here, as they’ve already done in Napa, due to unacceptable traffic and safety conditions.
We support small farmers and family operations, yet the rights given through a use permit are passed on to new owners. We are concerned with the rate our family operations are selling to large corporations and out of state developers who may not share our values regarding the long-term stewardship of the land.
Residents have every right to provide input on matters that affect our lives. Please make your voice heard by sending comments to Tennis.Wick@sonoma-county.org, Director of the Permit & Resources Management Department, whose team is crafting protective standards and criteria now.
Padi Selwyn, cochair, Preserve Rural Sonoma County, Sebastopol
Letter in support of limits and regulation for winery event centers – Wine Water Wacth, 12/8/15
Dear County Supervisors,
I have recently become aware of a letter writing campaign to you by the Sonoma County Wine Grape Growers.
Wine Grape Growers seem to feel that legitimate questions and concerns interested citizens have about sustainability and the size and scope of event centers amounts to lies and misinformation.
A battle is on about how to frame these issues. To quote the Wine Growers: “… our opponents are actively contacting local officials to spread misinformation and build opposition against us. If we fail to respond and inform, we run the risk of having their lies become facts in the eyes of key decision makers.”
I don’t believe my questioning the overall effects of wine tourism on the quality of life here is in any way illegitimate. This is my opinion. I am a serious citizen who studies the issues and who volunteers a lot of time in our community. I’m hardly uninformed, nor uneducated.
There have to be limits on everything. No one has the right to unlimited anything. A fair analysis of the status of the wine industry as a whole in the county would say it is quite well represented, maybe even enough as is.
Many related wine-tourism-hospitality issues have come into question in the last few years: tasting rooms, hotels, TIDs, low wages, high rents, inflated costs of food and services; these are all part and parcel of a gentrifying economy that leaves social equity and environmental justice considerations secondary to unlimited, unregulated economy.
People of conscience want a more ethical society and in my opinion, it is up to our elected officials, you, government, to be the gatekeeper of harm and fairness issues. Frankly, the guys at the top already have enough. Now it is time to favor resident’s quality of life concerns and, to take steps to balance a fair spectrum of economic outcomes in the county.
Draw whatever conclusions you will about event centers, but please do not see opinions of those who favor limits and regulation as misinformed or disingenuous.
I hope you will be able to study these issues impartially and arrive at your own conclusions after having had a look at all the material and opinions.
Frederick C. Allebach, Sonoma
Vineyard scrutiny – Press Democrat, 11/9/15
EDITOR: Regarding the Close to Home column by Duff Bevill and Kevin Barr (“Growers speak out in defense of grape industry,” Wednesday): The industry is under scrutiny because, like an intemperate drinker, it won’t admit when it’s had too much.
If the alcohol industry would control its own — acknowledge how event centers masquerading as wineries are an excessive indulgence and collectively destroy the rural quality of the North Bay — it wouldn’t have to play defense on questions about exploiting or respecting the landscape.
It’s a matter of degree. When the indulgence affects too many other people; when local governments ignore their concerns and proceed with business as usual; when residents feel obliged to organize, protest and write letters about traffic and the loss of rural character, then the alcohol and tourism industry has taken a good thing too far.
Donald Williams, Calistoga
Not sustainable – Press Democrat, 11/8/15
EDITOR: Duff Bevill and Kevin Barr’s Close to Home column (“Growers speak out in defense of grape industry,” Wednesday) claims that concerns about the wine industry’s water usage are coming from “a small group of west county residents.”
That is not what I observe. Many outraged west county citizens attended the state-sponsored meetings informing them to conserve water while wineries and vineyards were exempted. The column says that wineries have reduced water consumption, but anyone driving in rural areas can spot new vineyards recently planted during the drought — evidence that the wine industry continues to use more water for more vineyards.
Grape growers now use more wind machines to help lower water usage? This means that rural families will have yet more noise to disturb their lives. The wine industry follows “best practices?” This is cold comfort to families who see their wells go dry and deal with frequent noise and traffic disruptions caused by winery events.
The authors claim that Sonoma County’s wine industry will soon be 100 percent certified sustainable. Unfortunately, “sustainable” is currently one of the most abused words in the English language. It is used by groups such as the wine industry that hope to stifle citizen outrage regarding their operations.
Chris Stover, Sebastopol
CRITICAL that Community Speaks NOW on Wine Event Centers – Press Democrat, 11/7/15
No one can deny the positive economic impact of tourism, jobs and taxes that our wine industry contributes to the community.
But we have reached a tipping point. The zoning protections for rural, agricultural lands are increasingly being ignored in favor of highly intensive winery event center developments – leading to the commercialization of ag lands. Heavy traffic on narrow country roads, drawdown of water aquifers and impacts to the welfare of adjacent property owners are increasing.
There is a shortsighted approval process permitting more and more event centers, commercial kitchens and on-going food service on agricultural lands. The impacts of this un-even playing field hurts other businesses, such as smaller wineries, and restaurants. Once agricultural lands are dotted with urban-scale buildings and highly intensive uses, rural character will be lost forever.
Concerned residents should attend the public workshop onMonday, November 16th at 6:30 pm, Glaser Center, Santa Rosa to hear the county’s proposed new ordinances for winery event centers.
This will be the last opportunity for public comment. By Jan 2016, the regulations will be written, and it may be too late to protect ag lands for future generations.
Jim Sullivan, Occidental
Changes to the General Plan – Sonoma West Times 10/22/15
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will soon be considering changes to the County General Plan. Sebastopol Tomorrow, for decades has actively advocated for protection of our open space and small town values. The following was sent today to the Board of Supervisors:
Sebastopol Tomorrow urges you to put on the 2016 ballot the proposal to update and extend the County’s Community Separator, adding as priorities the Penngrove area, the Cloverdale area and the Agricultural and Open Space District Priority Greenbelts near urban centers. Please review the possible designation of other high value ag and resource lands in the county as to the use of water and inevitable generation of traffic onto our already sorely burdened highways and local roads.
Since the introduction of the Community Separator policies in the County’s General Plan in 1980, as well as the Urban Growth Boundaries put into effect by most cities between 1996 and 1998, the number of wineries in the County has grown exponentially. The nature of the industry has also radically changed. Their metamorphose into production facilities and event centers continues to strain our carrying capacity, especially water, and exacerbates the already troubling traffic on our highways and rural roads; their generation of greenhouse gas, not to mention their impact on rural life is a concern.
We in the Sebastopol area are particularly opposed to the proposed Dairyman’s Winery and Event Center on Highway 12. It is within the voter-approved Community Separator between Sebastopol and Santa Rosa. Almost all of the grapes and other raw materials needed for the 500,000 cases of wine and 250,000 gallons of spirits would have to be imported and trucked across the very popular and well-used Rodota Trail, the pedestrian and bicycle path that connects Sebastopol and Santa Rosa; the Rodota is adjacent to the Laguna de Santa Rosa, the second largest freshwater nature preserve in California. The finished products would have to be trucked back across the Rodota onto Highway 12 and beyond. The water used to produce the huge quantities that Mr. Wagner proposes would far exceed any operations’ fair share from our precious aquifer.
This is an industrial use, rather than an agricultural operation, and should not be permitted there. Strict adherence to the provisions of the Community Separator language should prevent the industrialization threatened by the Dairyman’s project.
We urge as well that the 2016 ballot measure delink the Community Separators from the Urban Growth Boundaries and remove its sunset date. Our rural areas must be protected and preserved forever.
Also at risk is our Coast. The Local Coastal Plan must be strengthened to protect that pristine and precious region from industrialization by the invasion of winery/event centers and bottling plants in these agricultural-zoned areas. These industries do not depend on coastal amenities for their operations; there is no defensible reason to site such facilities in our coastal zone.
You as Stewards of the open space in the County should review the possible designation of other high value ag and resource lands as to the use of water and inevitable generation of traffic onto our already sorely burdened highways and local roads.
We urge each of you, as County Supervisors, to continue to be protectors of the well being of our unique community of Sonoma County, its natural beauty of landscapes, life supporting character and thoughtful people.
Helen Shane, Sebastopol
Coast at a crossroads – Press Democrat 9/16/15
EDITOR: More than 100 local residents packed standing-room-only into the Timber Cove firehouse on Monday for a lively interaction with Sonoma County planning staff now rewriting our Local Coastal Plan. The plan guides new development, as well as future protection, for our treasured coastal lands.
Opening the Sonoma Coast to large event centers and big wine-tasting venues, or to other industrial-scale activities, lies at the heart of the emerging debate over the plan. County planning staff is proposing to inappropriately transfer lax inland rules from the county’s general plan and, for the first time, put them into a revised Local Coastal Plan. If eventually certified by the California Coastal Commission, this proposed weakening of the coastal plan language would undermine longstanding coastal protections.
Irreversibly ripping out coastal forests ignores our chronic shortage of water, while logging and grading impacts are an obvious threat to erosion-prone soils on unstable hillsides and dump silt into our streams. Our Sonoma Coast needs to have its own protections maintained and shouldn’t be lumped together with inland urban areas.
The deadline to comment on the coastal plan is Sept. 30, and you can send your comments to PRMD-LCP-Update@sonoma-county.org
Richard Charter, Bodega Bay
Imperial winery – Press Democrat 8/25/15
EDITOR: After reading the article relating Joe Wagner’s desire to develop an industrial-level winery on the Dairyman site east of Sebastopol, I am appalled (“Wagner shifts focus from Meiomi to Dairyman,” Thursday).
This is a young man who obviously wants to make his mark, at the expense of whatever or whomever may be in his path. He will do whatever is required by county officials to get his permit approved. But he doesn’t give a hoot about the effect his corporate dream may have on the community. He is only interested in getting his way.
Wagner’s kind of thinking drove the imperial and corporate colonization and resource grab in much of the non-European world during the past three centuries. In fact, Wagner’s plans feel much the same. He sees Sonoma County as a place to realize what he wants, when he wants — whether it benefits that place or not.
His narcissistic hubris reminds me of another corporate entity with expansive plans for Sonoma County, when 50 years ago, involved citizens prevented the construction of a nuclear power plant at Bodega Head. I hope we can avoid this new corporate overreach.
Charles B. Collins, Sebastopol
Large winery proposal on Highway 12 to undergo full environmental review – Press Democrat 4/10/15
A Napa County winemaker whose plans for a large-scale winery and distillery on Highway 12 between Sebastopol and Santa Rosa have sparked significant dispute since they were unveiled earlier this year has decided to subject the project to a full environmental impact report in hopes of addressing the public’s many questions and concerns.
EDITOR: It’s time we as a county looked at the impact of the blind infatuation we have had for the wine industry. How many water-guzzling vineyard acres have we embraced without regulation throughout the past several decades? Surely it is a regrettable number. So now the drought is forcing us to examine the fallacy of past decisions that have allowed rampant expansion of unregulated water consumption by the wine industry.
But guess what? We can have it all. There is an alternative for our vineyard owners. Dry farming. Dry farming is how most of the grapes are grown in Europe. In fact, dry farming is how the Sonoma County vineyards of the 1950s and 1960s were farmed. Benzinger Family Winery in Glen Ellen converted to dry farming 27 years ago. Paul Bernier Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley and Battaglini Vineyards in the Russian River Valley are among others inSonoma County that dry farm.
It can and needs to happen again in our county. We just have to put our priorities in order. Will it be humans or grapes? Let’s get on the future train, y’all.
Guy Erdman, Forestville
EDITOR: There are several disturbing issues about the proposed Dairyman Winery (“Worried residents,” Tuesday). The application states that winemaker Joe Wagner plans to conduct 58 events a year. In a fragile open-space area zoned agricultural, this is inappropriate. Dairyman will be much more than a winery; it will be a major event venue adding significantly more traffic congestion on Highway 12.
In addition, the application asserts that the vineyard would use the equivalent amount of water of one household because it would be watered with tertiary-treated gray water. This is ridiculous. With events attracting hundreds of people weekly, the venue would have to use clean water for uses besides vineyard watering that far exceed any normal household usage. With the water table dropping in west county, many of us on wells worry about another major stress on our precious water resources.
To access this mega-winery/event center, Wagner proposes creating a road running south from Highway 12 near Llano Road and Irwin Lane, which happens to cut right through one of the area’s most beloved bike and walking paths, the Joe Rodota Trail. This could create a safety hazard for bikers and pedestrians.
Sonoma County needs to say no to this project.
Padi Selwyn, Sebastopol
EDITOR: “Stop, children, what’s that sound?” It sounds like the dull smack of incredulity from cumulative palms colliding with foreheads. And what’s the cause, he asked rhetorically?
We’re in a record-breaking drought. Not a day goes by the media don’t remind us. The state tells us we must conserve water. The county is considering making it mandatory.
Yet every day in the paper, we read of another huge, high-end winery/resort/event center project up for development.
Ergo, residents must save water so that visitors can use it for their comfort and amusement.
Rhetorical questions alert: How stupid do our elected leaders think we are? Is it just me, or is there a serious disconnect from reality here?
The Dairyman Winery & Distillery proposed for the intersection of Hwy. 12 and Llano Rd. east of Sebastopol should give pause to everyone in the
county, because it could signal a worrisome trend towards larger and larger processing and events facilities on agriculturally zoned land.
Napa supervisors have had an ongoing discussion about limiting new wineries because they are running out of space. Are we going to pick up
the slack for Napa County by permitting more and more industrial scale wineries to fill up our agricultural land? Even San Joaquin County supervisors have discussed lowering the amount of allowable winery events because they are having problems too.
Large scale processing facilities and event centers are more appropriate for the Highway 101 corridor. There is no feasible way to shoehorn this facility into a semi-rural area accessed by a two lane overcrowded
highway. This project is too large, would set a terrible precedent for our agricultural zoning and would likely cause significant impacts on the community and the environment. Negative effects on water supply, traffic and flood control could have widespread consequences beyond the footprint of this project.
Speak up if this sets off alarm bells for you. Send your comments to Traci.Tesconi@sonoma-county.org
Anna Ransome, Graton
EDITOR: Patricia Graham (“NIMBY reflex,” Letters, Feb. 11) appears to believe that Sonoma County is the absolute property of vintners and, thus, holds local residents in contempt. I’d like to remind her and Guy Fieri and Paul Hobbs and others like them that people also live in this area. We live here because we love its beauty and tranquility.
As I am witness, in less than a decade even my neighborhood was transformed from a landscape of orchards that attracted plein air artists to vineyards surrounded by ugly wire fences. Many of us feel that we already have too many vineyards and wineries as it is. Our unique viniculture, a source of great pride for our county, has become a culture of greed for those who can only see profit.
These people have complete disregard for the communities where they wish to expand. They insist that their expansion produces more jobs, but at whose cost, the taxpayers? I would like to know if these people ever considered paying their workers a fair wage and supporting their housing and health care.
Many of us would rather see our precious farm land and groundwater utilized in the production of edible foods and not in something we cannot eat.
Jacqueline Schael, Sebastopol
Too much of a good thing
EDITOR: There are 467 wineries in Napa County. An audit by county staff found that almost half didn’t comply with their use permits in 2013. It appears that the county is unable — or unwilling — to monitor the presently operating wineries. Yet the county is presently considering 41 permits for new projects. To make matters worse, towns such as Calistoga are giving a green light to huge, inappropriate resort complexes such as Calistoga Hills.
Most of the arguments for unfettered development are pure bunkum. One speaker at the recent joint meeting of the county supervisors and planning commissioners warned, “If there were no visitors to Napa Valley, locals would have to spend $10,000 more per year to keep the economy of Napa County as it is now.” Honestly. Nobody is suggesting that we kick out all the wineries and turn visitors away at the county line. On the other hand, how many visitors will want to come to a Wine Country USA theme park?
“Too much of a good thing is wonderful,” quipped Mae West — but most of us realize that it is wiser to practice moderation in all things. It’s time for a moratorium on new projects until there is a sensible plan for moderating growth and requiring compliance by existing wineries.
Carl Sherrill, Calistoga