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Judge Orders Napa County Supervisors to Review Mountain Peak Vineyards Project

by Kerana Todorov
June 24, 2019
Napa County is expected to have another look at the Mountain Peak Vineyards LLC project off Soda Canyon Road east of Napa, A Napa County Superior judge has ordered a new review that would take into account information from the deadly Atlas Fire that burned through the area n October 2017. Graphic courtesy Napa County

A Napa County judge has ordered Napa County officials to reconsider its approval of a proposed winery in the eastern hills in light of the deadly fires that struck the Wine Country in October 2017, according to court records.

Napa County Superior Court Judge Cynthia Smith recently ordered the Napa County Board of Supervisors to review its approval of the Mountain Peak Vineyards LLC project, a proposed 100,000-gallon a year winery off Soda Canyon Road while taking into account evidence from the Atlas fire. Owner Hua “Eric” Yuan also wants the green light to build 33,000 square feet of wine cave and have about 14,300 visitors per year at his winery located about 6 miles from the Silverado Trail on the Napa Valley floor. The judge’s order was signed on June 12 but filed on June 17.

The Board of Supervisors approved the Mountain Peak Vineyards application in August 2017 after a group of residents unsuccessfully appealed a Planning Commission decision to allow the construction of the winery on a 42-acre parcel off the rural road. Then property owners known as “Soda Canyon Group” filed a lawsuit in September 2017 against Napa County alleging violation of California environmental laws and demanding an in-depth environmental review of the plans. A month later, on Oct. 8, 2017, the Atlas Fire was among the deadly fires that struck the Wine Country.

Smith ruled that include information on wildfire evacuation and other risks indicated in February she would remand the project’s approval to the Napa County Board of Supervisors for further review. Napa County appealed the ruling to the First District Court of Appeal. But the court declined to hear the case. A new hearing took place on May 7 in Napa.

Napa County officials argued that the new evidence would “second-guess” the county’s decision to approve the Mountain Peak Vineyards, according to court records. “There is no denying that the County considered fire safety and the likelihood of future fires in the area, and still made findings necessary to approve the project,” Napa County attorneys said in a brief,” according to a brief filed in April.

Smith ordered the plaintiffs – Soda Canyon Group – to provide Napa County’s counsel by June 26 edited declarations of the experiences of Soda Canyon owners’ and residents’ during the Atlas Fire in October 2017.

The judge allowed edited versions of declarations Soda Canyon Group members filed in Napa County Superior Court. The residents described their harrowing attempts to escape the Atlas Fire during the night of Oct. 8, 2017.

In one statement, Soda Canyon Road resident Cynthia Grupp described how she came across half-a-dozen cars blocked by an large oak tree fallen across Soda Canyon Road as she tried to flee the Atlas Fire in October 2017, according to a declaration filed in Napa County Superior Court.

Vineyard and Soda Canyon Road resident Linda Savoie testified in a brief she and her husband were home on Oct. 8, 2017, when the Atlas Fire broke. Savoie and her husband recalled the inferno forced vehicles to turn around and come back up the road which dead ends half a mile from where they were, causing a traffic jam right next to the entrance of the Mountain Peak Vineyards site, according to court records. The group then decided to drive to Stagecoach Vineyards up the hill. Savoie and her husband and others then headed to Antica at the end of Soda Canyon Road, where a California Highway Patrol helicopter landed in a clearing and started evacuating members of the group, four at a time, according to court records.

The helicopter that transported Savoie and her husband to safety took off while the winds were howling at more than 60 miles per hour, making the ride “scarier than being on the ground,” she said in a brief. “We were flying a few hundred feet above the flames and could see the entire mountain ablaze with giant trees engulfed in flames; it looked like I could reach out and touch them,” she said in her declaration.

The helicopter flew in no visibility, lost altitude several times; gusts of winds caused the helicopter to shake, said Savoie, who praised the pilots. The Savoies were dropped off by Queen of the Valley Medical Center in north Napa. They did not lose their home, according to the brief.

Exactly when the matter will come before the board is unclear.

Ryan Gregory, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, declined to comment on the case, citing the pending and ongoing litigation. “We are reviewing the ruling and our legal options and will bring the discussion to the appropriate decision makers at the appropriate time,” Gregory said in a statement.

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