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News: 03/15/2020

Winery events, traffic studies move toward ordinance, guidelines

March meetings will look at ongoing studies and how to proceed

[NOTE: all public meetings are currently subject to cancellation without notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please check before attending any meeting discussed here. — Ed.]

Winery impacts on rural Sonoma County life – events, tasting room concentrations, traffic – will be the focus of the March 17 Board of Supervisors agenda, and the March 25 meeting of the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission (SVCAC). These issues have been under public scrutiny since at least 2014 but have been often sidelined due to wildfires, floods, elections and other events.

County supervisors will be asked their preference for either a new ordinance, new guidelines, or a combination of both, moving forward to resolve years of study by local stakeholder groups. These groups represent industry and community leaders who have attempted to achieve consensus on their mutual issues.

“There are different approaches to get to a solution,” Milan Nevajda noted in a March 12 interview. “We found out that there are strong entrenched positions, structural challenges, and information needs” around arriving at solutions to these issues. Nevajda is Deputy Director of Permit Sonoma, and has announced that he will be leaving for New England soon for family reasons.

The March 17 Board of Supervisors meeting will not consider the content of any of the stakeholder conclusions, but simply the best way to deal with them going forward.

“Now it is more definitive that we need to look at an ordinance update,” Nevajda said. A county-wide ordinance could work with a baseline. There still remains a need for specialized options for at least three heavily touristed areas: West Side Road, Dry Creek and Sonoma Valley, the three unincorporated regions where people and wineries have come into most conflict over events, traffic, tasting room concentration and cumulative impacts.

The Sonoma Valley stakeholder’s group has developed Draft SV wine event guidelines that will be aired at the March 25 regular SVCAC meeting, along with a presentation of the findings and recommendations of the Sonoma Valley Capacity Threshold Study, a 120-page summary of a two year study that focused on traffic in both the on- and off-seasons for industry-wide and non-industry wide events.

Once the Board of Supervisors decides what it wants on March 17 – ordinance, guidelines or combination of both – Nevajda says that Permit Sonoma will ask the SVCAC to approve the stakeholder recommendations or make modifications. “Then they are fully baked and we move into the ordinance writing mode,” he said.

“We have two years before this wraps up,” Nevajda said. “When we start drafting the ordinance, there will be workshops, and a final check in with the SVCAC to (work out minor differences with other guidelines). At a minimum, I see five major points in time to talk about this. All of those discussions will happen with draft guidelines and cumulative traffic studies.”

Traffic study

The Sonoma Valley Capacity Threshold Study was performed by international professional engineering consultants GHD under contract to Sonoma County. It concluded that most of the roads in Sonoma Valley are not built up to modern standards, lacking shoulders, sidewalks and designated bike lanes.

“For such narrow roads, roadway capacity, operations and safety are all challenges for the County, and for motorists and cyclists,” the report says, finding that recreational biking on the valley’s scenic roads “creates additional conflicts between motorists and cyclists.”

Between 2011 and 2015, traffic increased during peak tourist/event seasons and there were 11 fatalities noted on highways 12, 121 and 116. “Collision rates along SR 12 (Broadway section), Arnold Drive, Warm Springs Road, Madrone Road, SR 116, Watmaugh Road, and Eighth Street East were all higher than the statewide basic average rate.” The study calls for permanent monitoring of traffic at key spots in the system.

The study recommends that future approvals carefully consider driveway conditions and parking regulations near those driveways. The whole system needs improvements, though the study found they were unlikely considering the county’s financial abilities. New development should require transportation studies under specific guidelines.

Community needs should also be carefully considered when industry-wide events are scheduled, and the industry should be required to coordinate with other community calendars of events. No more than two such events should be held in any given month.

The Sonoma Valley Capacity Threshold Study is available at the county’s website. You can also sign up for email notices of future actions in this process.

Draft stakeholder guidelines

A group of people representing winery and community interests have met at least three times since 2016 to hammer out mutually acceptable guidelines for future winery-related development in Sonoma County, including hours of operation, tasting room concentration, number of events, and other issues of the industry/rural community interface. They have produced Draft Sonoma Valley Winery Guidelines that will be aired at the March 25 SVCAC meeting.

The guidelines include winery and tasting room siting criteria, operating standards for events and tasting rooms, considerations for both single winery and industry-wide events, hours, maximum number of events, and definitions of what is an agricultural promotion event (for example, weddings?), a special event, an industry-wide event, private, cultural, trade, and event vs. meetings. Definitions are offered for wineries, tasting rooms, event spaces, accessory outdoor spaces, accessory uses, commercial kitchens, and a host of other terms that have been debated when considering the appropriateness of various activities.

The guidelines include a map of event concentration throughout the Sonoma Valley. While not yet posted online, they will likely be included with the agenda packaged for the SVCAC March 25 meeting, and then be posted at the

The SVCAC will meet at 6:30 p.m. at 177 First Street, Sonoma.


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