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State Appeals Court Issues Split Decision on Walt Ranch Vineyard Project In Napa County

Case Returns To Lower Court.
by Kerana Todorov
October 01, 2019
Walt Ranch. Photo Courtesy of Napa County.

The fate of a proposed 209-acre vineyard development in the eastern hills of Napa County remains in court.

A state appeals court in San Francisco on Monday ruled that Napa County did not properly evaluate the environmental impacts of greenhouse gas emissions of the proposed Walt Ranch project when it approved the project in 2016.

The First District Court of Appeal returned the case to Napa County Superior Court to rule on the effects of greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the proposed Walt Ranch vineyard development.

At the same time, however, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ other arguments, including that environmental studies did not properly address the project’s environmental impacts on groundwater resources and wildlife habitat.

Vintners Craig and Kathryn Hall of HALL Estates of St. Helena want to develop 316 acres of property into 209 acres of vineyards. The plans indicate most of the Halls’ 2,300-acre property in the eastern hills of Napa would remain undeveloped.

The 55-page court opinion was released Monday. Aruna Prabhala, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Hall president Mike Reynolds, both said in separate phone interviews they were still digesting the court opinion.

Reynolds did note the Court of Appeal rejected most of the plaintiffs’ arguments against Napa County’s decision to approve the project.

“We are pleased about the Appellate Court’s decision. There were 20 arguments challenging the project and the court agreed with Napa County on 19 of 20 decisions,” Reynolds said in an email. “As to the refinements required, we look forward to working with Napa County to resolve this.”

Napa County Executive Officer Minh Tran is out of the office this week. Tran was aware but had not seen the court opinion. “We will review the ruling and decide on the next steps,” Tran said in an email.

The plaintiffs included the Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers Council, two environmental organizations, as well residents in a neighboring subdivision called Circle Oaks. The neighbors filed their appeal as The County Water District and Circle Oaks Homeowners Association. The plaintiffs took their case to the Frist District Court of Appeal after a 2018 Napa County Superior Court judge sided with Napa County’s decision to approve the Walt Ranch project.

The court in its 55-page opinion noted the administrative record related to the proposed development alone exceeds 60,000 pages of documents.

The case whipped up a storm of protest in Napa County and lengthy hearings before it was approved in 2016. Environmental groups and neighbors filed three separate lawsuits in Napa County Superior Court in January 2017. A Napa County judge ruled against the plaintiffs who then appealed to the Frist District Court of Appeal, where the cases were consolidated into one.

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