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Decision on Fate of Walt Ranch Could be Determined by San Francisco Appeals Court

by Kerana Todorov
October 21, 2019

The fate of Walt Ranch may again be heard before a court of appeal in San Francisco.

Napa County on October 15 filed a petition asking a state appellate court to re-consider its recent ruling that it failed to properly analyze the environmental impacts of a proposed vineyard development in the hills east of the Napa.

One of the arguments is that 500 acres of preserved woodland can offset the loss of greenhouse gas sequestration if trees are cut to develop the property.

The dispute is over the plans by vintners Craig and Kathryn Hall, owners of HALL Estates in St. Helena to develop 209 acres of vineyards. Most of the Halls’ 2,300 acres would remain undeveloped.

Napa County approved the project in December 2016 after denying appeals from various organizations, including the Center for Biological Diversity.

Subsequently three lawsuits were filed against Napa County, alleging the county violated California’s environmental laws. The Center for Biological Diversity argued cutting 14,000 trees would have significant impacts on the environment.

A Napa County Superior County judge in March 2018 ruled in favor of Napa County. The environmental groups appealed the decision to the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco.

The First District Court of Appeal on Sept. 30 ruled that Napa County did not property measure the project’s greenhouse gas emissions on the environment and remanded the case to Napa.

Napa County’s environmental impact report had found that the emissions from Walt Ranch would be offset by the long-term carbon-sequestration trees on nearly 525 acres of woodlands.

However, the Center for Biological Diversity argued, among other points, that the EIR failed to calculate the sequestration loss from the trees to be cut. The EIR also did not disclose or estimate how much greenhouse gas emissions would be released into the atmosphere by the removal 14,000 trees.

“This is a victory for Napa County’s forests and California’s fight against climate change,” said Aruna Prabhala, urban wildlands director at the Center after First District Court of Appeal’s opinion was issued. “The court agreed that officials can’t let a developer destroy thousands of trees with no concrete plan to address the resulting harm to our climate. It’s time for Napa County to rethink its reckless rubber-stamping of vineyard conversions.”

The court rejected other arguments, including those related to impacts of the proposed vineyard development on roads and groundwater.

Prabhala said the First District Court of Appeal now has 15 days to review Napa County’s petition for a re-hearing and decide whether to grant it. If the court grants the petition, another hearing will take place before the First District Court of Appeal. If the court rejects the petition, the case returns to Napa County Superior Court.

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