County looking at events, winery concentrations
Budget and staffing will make for slow progress
How much is too much? It’s a question posed for many years when it comes to how many wineries, tasting rooms and events are appropriate for a given area. There is not even a consensus or any guidelines about what events are appropriate for agricultural promotion. Should weddings count? On Tuesday, Oct. 28, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors agreed to at least think about making the subject a priority for the county’s planning agency.
Complaints about too many events and too many tasting rooms have been coming from three areas in the county: Kenwood, Schellville, and the residents of Westside Road outside of Healdsburg, all areas of intense buildup over the past decade. All have two-lane roads to accommodate tourists.
“There are currently 25 permitted wineries or tasting rooms on Highway 12 within the five miles stretching from Melita Road to Deerfield Winery,” Kathy Pons told the supervisors. “And within only 1.6 miles through Kenwood from Adobe Canyon Road to Deerfield Winery, there are 19 tasting rooms.” Pons is president of the Valley of the Moon Alliance, a group that watches development in the Sonoma Valley.
Pons noted a cursory check of wineries and events showed 255 events per year in Kenwood for 11 of 25 wineries and 441 permitted events on a two-mile stretch of Highway 121 at six of seven wineries, with three more 500-person events in the permitting stage.
Judith Gaynor-Murphy of Frey Road in Kenwood was “heartened to see PRMD include overconcentration this year.” She and other neighbors are concerned about the impact of a proposed new winery and event center in the neighborhood.
The Birmingham Bed & Breakfast in Kenwood has recently applied to host 20 annual events with up to 175 people each.
Each year the county looks at its long term planning needs and sets up a Comprehensive Planning Work Plan to allocate resources and people to work out policy goals such as updating policies and ordinances that get outdated, tackling renewable energy needs, implementing General Plan policies and requirements, managing the county’s affordable housing programs, and dealing with issues, such as rural event centers, that are constantly bubbling up as the county grows and economic trends push into unexplored territories.
Supervisor Effren Carillo pointed out that the county’s planning agency, the Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) is both understaffed and underfunded. The budgeted allocation of 11,000 staff hours to accomplish the annual prioritized list of what to do is inadequate. Just adding the new projects suggested this year – like dealing with events and concentration limits – could require another 1,600 hours, according to planning staff, a staff that has been reduced by 45 percent over the past three years, mostly by attrition.
Just defining what an “event” is can be a daunting task, with many different interests at play in fleshing out the definitions. Policies and regulations about concentration and any other policy development require study, drafting, public review, legal review, analysis of what is and is not feasible, and finding the funds to implement and sustain implementation.
Board Chair David Rabbit of Petaluma asked the PRMD staff to analyze the list for cost effectiveness and to come up with a prioritized list that can be implemented with existing and potential resources, such as grants. They will return at some time in the next few months with a final list of priorities for the next two years for the Board’s approval.