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Placer County vintners uncork frustration over bottled-up wine ordinance

On verge of decision, supervisors opt to give staff more time on legal issues
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Legal questions are delaying a Placer County Board of Supervisors decision on a new winery ordinance – and vintners are upset. Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to hold off on a decision about new winery rules after legal and planning staff recommended continuing consideration of the ordinance to allow more time to review legal and public concerns. The ordinance has been moving toward Tuesday’s board hearing for the past two years, with at least a dozen public hearings already held and recommendations for approval recently hammered out at both the agricultural commission and planning commission level. The prospect of a longer wait for a set of new rules set off a firestorm of criticism from winery owners, who have lobbied for clearer regulations that support the industry in the county. “Shame on you,” said Teena Wilkins, co-owner of rural Auburn’s Vina Castellano winery. “Three to six months from now, we won’t have the money to continue to do this.” “This is ridiculous,” Mt. Vernon Winery owner Jim Taylor said, before the vote. “Pro-ag county, my eye. You should be ashamed.” But Laurence Graves, whose Newcastle home sits adjacent to a winery, praised a decision to wait until a thorough review and response to new points brought up by the public after residents were notified of Tuesday’s hearing. Graves has expressed concerns at previous hearings about road access to wineries and tasting rooms. With the possibility of legal action involving environmental issues surrounding the ordinance, the County Counsel’s office should take the necessary steps to see if it meets legal requirements, Graves said. Michael Johnson, the county’s planning director, asked for the continuance in light of what he said was the need for more time by staff to properly address all issues prior to any final consideration by the board. The proposed ordinance attempts to balance wine industry requests for a set of standards that promote their businesses while taking into consideration concerns of neighbors that relaxed rules on tasting rooms and private road access could lead to noise, traffic congestion and other problems in rural areas of the county. “Over the past several years, there have been many questions regarding the provisions that allow the county to regulate wineries,” Johnson said. “It is important to note that there are existing requirements within the zoning ordinance that allow the county to regulate wineries, and several wineries have received approvals from the county to allow for a variety of functions on their properties.” Supervisor Bruce Kranz voted with other supervisors to approve the continuance but said he was only doing so because staff recommended it. Kranz said he was concerned after hearing from winery owners who have said they are struggling financially. “I have to vote with the county counsel but I don’t like it,” Kranz said, “Virtually everyone was prepared to vote and suddenly, we got torpedoed too. It’s absolutely incredible.” Supervisor Kirk Uhler, who represents the Granite Bay area, said the extra time would allow legal experts to solidify the environmental documentation accompanying the ordinance. Following the continuance, supervisors did hear testimony – although many of the people who had signed up to speak had left by the time their names were called. Speaking in favor of the ordinance, Roseville’s Patty Fraser said there are thousands of people in the greater Sacramento area who would like to see a vibrant wine-growing area in the Placer County foothills. But Douglas Clendenning of Newcastle said that neither he nor 17 of his neighbors had known anything about the proposed ordinance until days before the hearing. “I have not objection to wine tasting but not on a private lane,” Clendenning said. “I don’t want one built next to me.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.