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Winery Event Centers: Two Sides to Every Story

Winery Event Centers: Two Sides to Every Story

By Vesta Copestakes

Just in case you haven’t been paying attention to this issue - here’s a brief synopsis. When Dairyman Winery decided to develop a large event center in the Greenbelt between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, it became controversial development issue. Groups formed to fight the construction and quickly joined forces with other groups in a tri-county area of Sonoma, Mendocino and Napa Counties.

In the mean time Sonoma County is in the process of examining our General Plan and Greenbelt policies regarding what exisitng rules have either been ignored, not enforced or worked-around legally. Closing those loopholes is a priority for people wanting to preserve our rural neighborhoods, protect our limited water resources and protect the right of grape growers.

Grape farmers see their land as providing income, jobs, taxes and open space that generates income for the county. They don’t want to see the open space filled with housing developments and shopping centers. Enough people got up to speak who had lived in San Jose when it became Silicon Valley to know that farm land can get quickly bulldozed into industrial complexes. What was once fertile soil growing food can’t even absorb rainwater any more. It’s a good scare tactic because no one in Sonoma County wants to become Silicon Valley any more than we want to become Napa Valley.

Many grape growers support the current land use policies but feel that they lack enforcement. They suggested a calendar that tracks events in an area so no two large events are scheduled on the same day or weekend. With computer technology people assume this could be easy. Well, it’s not. Ask any calendar editor or event planner. There’s ALWAYS something going on.The suggestion that the PRMD hire people to spend their weekends tracking down offenders and fine them is improbable. Telling a winery that they can’t  have business meetings beyond a certain body count is not playing fair. 

What other business is restricted in this way? Anyone can tell you that fines don’t stop people if they have money. Have you noticed how individuals and businesses simply pay higher water rates rather then let their lawns go dry during the drought? If you have money, the fine isn’t a motivator. Enforcement is a nice idea but unrealistic.

There needs to be be rules set for urban areas and others for rural areas. Seems to make sense and goes hand-in-hand with the concepts of sustainable growth, etc. Our Greenbelt policies are about to be reviewed as are our General Plan rules. This is the chance to tighten areas that were too loosely defined.

In many  ways this makes sense, but it can’t be just one side defining new rules without the consideration of the people who have to follow those rules. If you have not walked in the shoes of a farmer, how can you know how a rule that is created to curb a huge winery event center will impact a small-acreage grape grower? Talk to enough grape farmers and you know they have issues with the big guys as well, and will have even more issues if rules come down on their heads because their large neighbor is causing problems.

Is there a solution that serves everyone’s needs? Maybe. If there’s anything we all agree on it’s that no one wants San Jose in Santa Rosa. We value our open spaces and that includes rolling hills with grapes as much as public parks with hiking trails. What’s most important is that people educate themselves on this subject so their ignorance doesn’t put them in the position of being ignored.

Read up on the General Plan. Study the Greenbelt rules and see where the two can fit together with our growing population, tourist industry, agricultural concerns and economic considerations. That’s a lot of factors to include in the equation. Add water and air quality and you have a real stew. This meal will take time to prepare and time to digest.