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Dairyman Winery in West Santa Rosa opposed by Laguna Advocates


Dairyman Winery in West Santa Rosa opposed by Laguna Advocates

Following are rough notes on a meeting yesterday at the site of the huge Dairyman Winery and Distillery being proposed close to the Laguna de Santa Rosa and the Santa Rosa floodplain. It will be discussed this Tuesday evening at a Public Hearing of the Sebastopol City Council. The deadline for comments on this fast-tracked, alcohol-processing factory is currently Feb. 4 to Sonoma County's Permit and Resources Management Department. APlease forward to anyone whom you think might be interested.

Shepherd Bliss, 707-829-8185

The City of Sebastopol received a referral from the Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department for a proposed winery/distillery project at 5150 Sebastopol Road, in Santa Rosa. The proposed project includes public tasting and tours, retail sales, and a number of events. The site is 67.84 acres and is accessed from Highway 12, and involves crossing the Joe Rodota Trail.

It will be item 7 on our agenda at tonight's council meeting. Please come tell us your thoughts about the project. The City will be compiling our position on the proposed winery via a letter to the county. We need your input. Let your voice be heard!

The council meeting starts at 6PM at the Youth Annex.

Click here for a map.

Click here for the council meeting agenda.

Click here for story in the Press Democrat. 

Robert Jacob, Councilmember of Sebastopol


Proposed  winery site on Hiway 12 visited

Some of us met on Sunday at the site for the proposed huge Dairyman Winery and Distillery near the Laguna de Santa Rosa on Highway 12 at Llano Road. Ironically, its address is 5150, which is the police code for someone considered unsafe to make rational decisions. :)

Having 57,000 sq. ft of winery production, an annual capacity of 500,000 cases of wine and 250,000 gallons of distilled spirits, up to 48 promotional events a year with as many as 600 people a time, on 68 acres is indeed irrational. It would be the 15th largest winery in Sonoma County. 

The hazards such a large winery would present to the unique Laguna’s environment and to the humans who travel that urban separator between large-town Santa Rosa and small-town Sebastopol would be numerous. 

Our last-minute gathering was attended by individuals who have participated in various groups, including the Rural Alliance, Sunshine Walkers, Cunningham Marsh Preservation Committee, Blucher Creek Watershed Council, the Sebastopol Grange, Apple Roots Group, and the Numina Center for the Arts and Spirituality. A planner provided a copy of the winery’s application to the Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD). 

We spoke mainly about what to say to the Sebastopol City Council at its Feb.3, Tues. meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. at the Youth Annex, 425 Morris Street. That Public Hearing: Discussion and Action on the winery is # 7 on the agenda, so it may start around 6:30. Since each member of the public will have only 3 minutes to speak at that meeting, following are some of the issues we discussed at the site. Feel free to bring any of these up at the City Council meeting, as well as in letters to PRMD planner Traci Tesconi ( Those comments are due by Feb. 4. 

The planner at our meeting made a number of criticisms of the application, including but not limited to the following: 

1. Its Jan. 14 filing, gives little time for interested parties to make thorough studies of the application and submit responses. Such a detailed application would benefit from more time by the agencies to which it was sent, and the public, which only more recently heard about the application. It appears to be on a fast track, which is not unusual for Sonoma County’s powerful wine industry. 

2. The application leaves too many issues unaddressed. For example, a local geologist reports that this former dairy has major environmental issues with respect to manure ponds and untreated sewage. 

3. Though the application was sent to various agencies, it was not sent to the Water District. Water is certainly one of the crucial issues that must be addressed, especially during the continuing drought. 

4. The application would benefit from an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), rather than a meager Mitigated Negative Declaration. 

Among the issues we discussed are the following:

1. Location, Location, Location. The surrounding Laguna de Santa Rosa—next ti which this industrial alcohol-processing factory would be located--is ignored in the application, and hence becomes “the elephant on the table.” The contiguous floodplain is only mentioned in passing. The Laguna is an international treasure for aquatic life, other animals, plants, and humans that expands over 30,000 acres and is part of the Pacific Flyway. For more visual evidence, one could visit the wetlands exhibit currently at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. 

2. Water. A recent Sacramento Bee article reports that 29 gallons of water are needed to make one glass of wine. By taking that excessive amount of water for wine, in a time of drought, what would that mean for the nearby wells that depend on that water, as well as the wildlife? What about the additional sewage and waste that would be generated in that unincorporated area?

3. Traffic. With the recent addition of The Barlow and the pending downtown CVS Pharmacy in Sebastopol, this would add to the already snarled traffic. It would also reduce the urban separator between large town Santa Rosa and small town Sebastopol. A double yellow line exists down the middle of the high-speed, two-lane, major highway at the point where the huge winery would be. The application seeks a left turn from Santa Rosa, which would currently be illegal.  Then there would be problems created by those driving under the influence of alcohol. 

4. The Joe Rodota Trail from Sebastopol to Santa Rosa--which is frequently enjoyed by walkers, cyclists, and pets--would be directly compromised. According to the application, “trail traffic (would need) to yield to Dairyman” vehicles driving to the winery. So much for a leisurely walk or bike ride, especially when 600 people are expected at some winery events.

5. A strategy for next steps was to start by requesting that the County extend their deadline for comments, thus giving the public more time to study and respond. 

Additional objections to the proposed winery have been made, including the following:

 Sonoma County’s growing alcohol monocrop, which is known as a boom and bust industry, should be a concern. Whereas around 60,000 acres of wine grapes exist in Sonoma County, we only have around 12,000 acres of food crops. California’s historic water wars are likely to increase in the near future. 

This does not appear to be an organic vineyard. That means, according to one observer, “that the pesticides cause a health hazard to residents and those driving on the highway.”

“This sounds like a Central Valley Project,” one farmer said. It is not local, but represents what could be described as the “Napification” of Sonoma County. Its owner lives in Napa.

“Shooting for the moon” is how another person described the application, in order to play “the good developer,” appear to compromise, and then end up with what they really want. 

Let’s close rather than open the door to further exploitation of the land around the much-treasured Laguna and the floodplain area. This winery can only be stopped if many residents show up and object. They can do so by attending meetings, writing letters to elected officials and newspapers, and speaking with friends.


Open Letter to proposed Dairyman Winery & Distillery Applicant

Dear Joe Wagner,

I appreciate your wishes to build your family business and to make good wine. However, the location and size of your proposed Dairyman Winery and Distillery seem out of place with the good, positive things that I have heard about you personally and your family, as well as the wine that you make. So I am going to take a risk with this open letter. I mean no disrespect in making this personal appeal to you.

By the way, both of your names—Joe and Wagner—are family names for me. I have a nephew named Joe Bliss and my sister Christine Bliss married Denny Wagner in Nebraska; they gifted us with two more Wagners. We come from the military family that gave its name to Ft. Bliss, Texas, so we are used to and don’t mind good, fair, fights, which you must have know you had signed up for. My brother Barry is Marine Corps and I was an officer, and usually a gentleman, in the Army.

I read with interest your comments in today’s Press Democrat. You are quoted as someday inviting “people out there to let them see.” I accept. When? I am available seven days a week, starting at sun-up, which is when we Sunrise Walkers traverse the majestic, mystical Laguna Trail across that high-speed, two-lane highway without a divider from your place. When we meet, I will offer you my hand in hope that we can come to some understandings. I would like the opportunity to walk the land there and talk about it and the project.

You say that you want “to improve and upgrade the site.” I learned from my Iowa farming family that we mere mortals cannot improve on nature’s divine work. So I try to farm with nature rather than against it. Your industrial alcohol-producing factory would downgrade and worsen this vulnerable, venerable, pastoral land, in my opinion.

It is not clear to me that the project would be “bettering the property.” That land is more than a mere commodity. It is home for endangered Tiger Salamanders and all kinds of critters, mainly invisible to human eyes. They fly, stay rooted, walk, crawl, dance with the wind, swim, and jump with excitement in their natural habitat. The project would build over their perished habitat and the dead bodies of many sentient life forms.

In an eagerness to build on your pastoral setting, perhaps sufficient attention has not yet been give to some important details, such as the following:

1. A few thousand fast-moving vehicles go down Highway 12 past this place every day. That number would be multiplied by this project, which would have all kinds of unintended consequences, such as nightmare traffic, especially for those of us who live in small town Sebastopol. The costs would far outweigh any minimal benefits. This would make it hard for emergency vehicles to reach their victims and get them to help, especially without a hospital in Sebastopol, which you may have heard from your residence in Napa that we no longer have. They would have to drive to a Santa Rosa hospital.

2. The drought already consumes our precious life-giving water. According to the Sacramento Bee, one glass of wine requires 29 gallons of water to produce. We are undergoing an unprecedented drought of enormous magnitude. California has a history (based on tree ring and sediment research) of droughts that have persisted not just for two or three years, but for 200 or 300 years.

3. This current application asks the thousands of walkers, cyclists, and pets who traverse the Joe Rodota Trail every day “to yield” to vehicles. This is an accident-producing demand. The winery would be responsible for the accidents and possible deaths from some tipsy drivers coming from tastings onto a fast-moving highway.

4. Since Sonoma County has something like 60,000 acres in wine grapes and only around 12,000 in food crops, I hope that this project might diversify and add food crops. Some grape growers and dairies have done that. We already have many hungry people and the future is unpredictable. Though grapes do not need bees, as my crops do, if this project included some bee hives, it would help with biodiversity.

By the way, I do enjoy wine, but as a food farmer I cannot afford the $300 a bottle of wine barons such as Paul Hobbs. Groups such as the Watertrough Children’s Alliance and our Apple Roots group kept a careful eye on him. We turned him in for violations. Though the mere $100,000 fine that he agreed to pay is only “the cost of doing business” to such a baron, it was a victory for the people. I want to appreciate the many good grape growers and the Agriculture Commissioner, who distanced themselves from Hobbs and tried to get him to abide by the law.

Last month celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s proposal for a winery in North County that would produce only 10,000 cases a year was tiny compared to this application for 500,000 cases of wine and 200,000 cases of distilled spirits. The county staff approved the project, as they tend to do with tax-generating applications. The brave Board of Zoning Adjustments voted 5-0 against it last month, after 150 residents showed up at the hearing, most of them against it. Your application may violate various zoning regulations for that parcel, including the following: floodplain, scenic resources, and valley oak habitat.

The Jan. 22, 2015, Press Democrat reports that the “county has experienced pronounced backlash against wineries that double as event centers.” In my opinion, this proposal gives the wine industry yet another sore eye. Moderation would be a good idea in this case, as in others.

Last year the zoning board took unprecedented action against Bella Vineyards. They halted all events at wine cave tastings at that popular Healdsburg winery.

We’re keeping an eye on this Dairyman project. We love animals, plants, and like to consume water. Our challenge is based on that love, which can come in tough, protective forms. I appeal for the withdrawal of the current application, which many have already expressed their opposition to in the less than a week since we first heard about it.

At the beginning of this 21st century the wine industry proposed spraying our lands with pesticides, without our permission, in fear that the glassy-winged sharpshooter pest would hurt their precious grapes. We formed the No Spray Action Network. After dogging the wine industry, we sat down at the table with grape growers and came up with an agreement that they would not spray our lands. Spraying would have ended the livelihood of organic farmers, as well as damaged the homes, critters, habitat, and lands of all sprayed victims, especially children and elders.

At least consider the money that would be lost as we continue to dog this application. We will relentlessly challenge your current proposal. I hope that when we come for the visit that my leashed farm dog, a Catahoula leopard hound, would also be welcome. She can be fierce to predators, as well as sweet and protective with those who express love toward her. J

I await your response,

Shepherd Bliss, Apple Roots Group

Please do the right thing and vote against this project!   There are ample reasons: Protecting the Laguna and the Joe Rodota Trail, as well as the rural greenbelt and the way of life for those of us in West County, especially Sebastopol.  The traffic alone would create such a nightmare on Highway 12 just a very short distance from the Laguna parking area. And then, there are the animals who live in this natural setting and don't forget the birds! Oh, yes, and the WATER problem. It will not go away, no matter which way you vote. But it will devastate people whose wells will drain due to the huge usage of the Dairyman Wine facility.
It's just the wrong project in the wrong place altogether.
But then, of course, you all know how wrong this would be, and you know how the citizens of West County / Sebastopol feel about this. So, forgive me for pointing out the obvious above; one must simply do so as a matter of self-preservation.
Thank you for doing the right thing and everything you can personally do to prevent this wine factory from doing so much damage and harm to us and our beautiful rural area.
Praying for Peace,
Rev. Allorrah Be, legally known as Laura B. Morrow
Mobile Minister
Circles of Light Ministries
Sebastopol CA 95472