On the radar in 2017
By Linda Hale, Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA)
Every year NORAD tracks Santa on Christmas Eve and volunteers keep everyone updated on Santa’s “journey around the globe.” Of course, when people phone in, they ask if Johnny is going to get the skateboard he asked for or if a certain gift made it under the tree. VOTMA also keeps lots of things on its radar every year; this year we were gifted with donations throughout 2016. In response to our year-end appeal, we received contributions, many from new members, which will allow us to continue our work to educate folks and will support our efforts to protect the land and our natural resources in the Valley.
One of the first things on our radar for 2017 is to meet with individual county supervisors to discuss issues affecting Sonoma Valley uniquely and the effects of cumulative impacts county-wide. First District Supervisor Susan Gorin is aware of our challenges. Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins won a hard-fought campaign against Noreen Evans and she will be representing a supervisorial district that covers a large area of the county from the Roseland area of Santa Rosa to the coast at Bodega Bay and north to the county line. In an interview with the Bohemian, she stated that she “wants to see us (California) as the progressive beacon” and that she supports efforts to look at things that impact climate change. (“The Redwood Empire Fights Back,” Dec. 21, 2016)
Meanwhile, back in the Valley, we are following issues that will directly impact the Kenwood area. After being dormant for the last decade, the Sonoma Country Inn (Graywood Ranch) project is back before the County for approval as a re-configured inn, spa, and restaurant. The County Design Review Committee approved the re-designed resort based on a design approved in 2004 without regard to changed conditions in the Valley. VOTMA has appealed that approval to the Sonoma County Planning Commission where public input will be taken at a critical hearing in 2017. Their new winery/event center is not presently being proposed for action, but it will be.
The Sonoma County Permit and Resource Department (PRMD) will also be issuing a draft Mitigated Negative Declaration for Kenwood Vineyards within the next several months. This means that the planning department sees no additional impacts or that those impacts have already been mitigated or addressed on paper. Kenwood Vineyards has requested to host up to approximately 75,000 visitors per year, up from the estimated current level of 15,000 visitors. Impacts from traffic, noise, and increased water use have not been fully addressed. The public will have time to comment and attend a hearing in 2017.
Since the protection of agricultural land and water resources is always on VOTMA’s radar, the impact of the statewide cannabis legalization to Sonoma County brings up a whole array of issues. Although the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors recently banned cultivation in rural residential areas, it can still be grown on agricultural land. VOMTA President Kathy Pons is concerned that, “If cannabis is considered ‘agriculture,’ and I can’t imagine its growth wouldn’t be, the County General Plan would allow, with a use permit, production and visitor serving activities including marketing, tasting, and events on ag land similar to wineries today.”
To clarify this issue, TIME magazine spoke to Amanda Reiman, the Drug Policy Alliance’s manager of marijuana law and policy, about growing and consumption issues. According to the new law, adults cannot smoke or ingest marijuana in public. Reiman noted, however, that “pending local rules, people in California will eventually be able to host private events where cannabis is smoked and that hotels or ‘bud and breakfasts’ could choose to explicitly allow consumption on their premises.” Go Local’s Terry Garrett puts the value of Sonoma County’s cannabis crops at $3 billion. The authors of the Dec. 21 Bohemian article speculated that the ban on growing in some rural areas will perpetuate illegal cultivation and crime. “Will that mean that only operators who can afford pricy industrial and agriculturally zoned land be able to compete? We hope not.”
And if that were not enough to call in additional traffic controllers at NORAD, VOTMA is also tracking parking and permit issues locally as well as looking at traffic studies and waiting for the Winery Working Group results from the County, possibly by April 2017. This was a countywide study of events on ag land and tourism impacts. Winery owners and neighborhood organizations sat down to develop regulations and guidelines for events held year-round on agriculturally zoned land. As VOTMA Board Member Todd Board said recently, “Every now and then … it’s now or never.” In 2017 VOTMA will need all hands on deck. Please join us on Wednesday, Jan. 18, at 7 p.m. at the Kenwood Depot to hear and share input on VOTMA’s plans for 2017. It’s our community!