protest groupRichard Cannon, Circle Oaks Resident 

Update, Sept. 6, 2016: Please see the Sept. 1st Appeal for more details on unanswered concerns.

“How much is enough?” This is the question raised–and as yet unanswered–by the Walt Ranch project.

Most people in Napa County are aware of the Walt Ranch project because of the negative reactions that have been the subject of so many newspaper articles, letters to the editor and unprecedented County hearings.

These reactions bring to mind a dictum some of us heard as school children: “One is never completely useless: One can always serve as a bad example!”

The Walt Ranch project is increasingly understood to be such: A bad example of land use in our Ag Watersheds.

But as such, the project is also serving as a catalyst to unite various small groups in Napa County questioning the wisdom of the pattern of development exhibited by the local wine industry. The Walt Ranch project may ultimately become reality at some level, but it will do so only after a protracted legal battle that may well shape the future of the wine industry in the Valley.

In a recent mailer sent to a sympathetic few, the Halls appealed for support. Here is the other side of some their statements:

What the Walt mailer says regarding WATER:
“A groundwater analysis conducted by Richard C. Slade (2013) (states)….irrigation demands would not be expected to result in substantial lowering of groundwater levels in offsite wells or decreased availability of groundwater resources.”

The conclusions of the groundwater study (and state here what they are) conducted by Slade & Associates are questioned in an analysis of the study conducted by Matt Hagemann and commissioned by Circle Oaks County Water District, Circle Oaks Homes Association & the Napa Sierra Club. Addendum: Slade and Associates is the same firm that conducted the groundwater availability analysis for the Carneros Lodge project. As we know, that analysis was flawed, resulting in the need for Carneros Inn and area residents to truck in water purchased from the City of Napa.

What the Walt mailer says regarding TREE PRESERVATION:
“…more than 212,800 trees will be preserved on the Walt Ranch vineyard property…”

Yes, and the current plan will remove 24,000+ trees. It is odd logic to count trees that will not be removed as “preserved”, particularly since there is no commitment to create a conservation easement. Absent a conservation easement, the remaining “preserved” trees are in danger when these 35 parcels are sold individually and developed by new owners.

What the Walt mailer says regarding EROSION:
“…the project would not have an incremental increase on the sediment loading to the Napa River or Sacramento River.”

Disturbing over 500 acres of fragile watershed in the eastern hills, in some places to a depth of 6 feet, in order to plant vineyards, build roads and construct ponds, will have an effect. The City of Napa’s water department is concerned increased sediment will force the installation of new filtration equipment costing several millions of dollars, the cost borne by the citizens of the City of Napa.

What the Walt mailer says regarding TRAFFIC:
“Operation of the Proposed Project would not result in cumulative impacts to transportation and circulation in the area.”

Circle Oaks residents express a great deal concern about increased traffic in their residential neighborhood. And transportation circulation is not the only traffic concern to consider. Heavy construction vehicles on residential streets are also a concern. Circle Oaks Drive already exhibits problems similar to those found on Highway 121, which recently failed. As we know, slides have closed Highway 121 three times in the past 10 years.

There does seem to be a new provision to move the heavy construction traffic out of Circle Oaks to an entrance off 121. How this is to be monitored and enforced is unclear. It is also unclear whether the same restriction will apply to farm equipment and traffic by workers once construction is over (in four years!).
Photo: Protest at Hall Winery on July 31, 2016