The wine industry study session held by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors earlier this month was a step in the right direction, as local officials try to balance the interests of the wine industry with a growing backlash by rural residents who complain that unruly crowds, loud noise and traffic congestion on back-country roads are destroying the peace and quiet of their neighborhoods and contributing to the Napafication of Sonoma County.
While the wine industry is advocating for fewer restrictions, neighborhood groups are pressing county officials to rein in winery development and cap the number of permitted events. The wine industry continues to pitch proposals that categorize events by attendance or sponsor. Merely labeling a dinner-dance as a "distributor meeting" does not reduce the noise, long duration drinking or the potential of impaired drivers on our rural one-lane roads.
According to county data, there are 2,600 event days held annually. In the Valley of the Moon alone, there are over a thousand annual events with over 170,000 visitors that create ongoing traffic and noise nightmares for residents.
Since 2000, there has been a 300 percent increase in the number of wineries approved county-wide, exceeding the general plan's assumption of 239 wineries by 2020. There are now 447 wineries and tasting rooms outside city limits, with 60 more in the pipeline.
Supervisors agreed on stepped-up enforcement, limiting amplified music, regulating food service, establishing minimum parcel sizes and considering county-based event coordination. The board will reconvene in 60 days to continue exploring options with the Permit and Resource Management Department, whom they directed to bring back ordinances for their review, with a 2017 spring timetable for enactment.
Progress is being made, thanks to the many residents who have joined forces with Preserve Rural Sonoma County and other neighborhood groups to stand up and voice their opposition to the rampant growth and case by case permitting of ever more projects, ignoring the cumulative impacts. The current growth rate is not sustainable, environmentally or economically. Increasingly intense competition hurts existing wineries, and the impact from overdevelopment erodes the rural charm that attracts visitors.
Padi Selwyn is co-chair of Neighbors to Preserve Rural Sonoma County.
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