Courtwatch: Setback For Opponents of Walt Ranch Vineyard Development
February 14, 2018
A Napa County Superior Court on Tuesday tentatively ruled against the opponents of a vineyard slated to be developed above the Napa Valley floor.
Judge Thomas Warriner’s tentative ruling in favor of Napa County is not final as lawyers representing environmental groups and a residential water district continue to argue their case in court.
Attorneys for Living Rivers Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and Circle Oaks County Water District seek to overturn Napa County’s 2016 decision to approve Kathryn and Craig Hall’s plans to develop Walt Ranch on Atlas Peak. The attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity also represents the Sierra Club.
Walt Ranch is the 200-acre vineyard development long proposed by Craig and Kathryn Hall of HALL Wines.
The plaintiffs filed lawsuits in January 2017 alleging Napa County violated California’s environmental laws when it approved plans to develop 209 acres of vineyards on the 2,300-acre property. Walt Ranch ’s Environmental Impact Report concluded the project would not have significant impacts on the environment once mitigation measures are implemented.
Warriner in his tentative ruling dismissed the plaintiffs’ arguments that the EIR was flawed.
Among other points, Warriner dismissed Liver Rivers’ and Circle Oaks’ arguments that the ground water pumping analysis included in the EIR was inadequate or that the enforcement measures would be unenforceable.
Warriner said Living River’s allegations that Napa County illegally deferred mitigation measures was not supported by the facts. The draft EIR contained the Integrated Pest Management information and standards, he wrote.
Warriner also disagreed Center for Biological Diversity’s argument that the EIR piecemealed the project into a vineyard phase and a later residential estate phase, noting Walt Ranch contains 35 parcels and that zoning rules allow a house per lot. However, Warriner wrote that although zoning could allow for residential development, there is no evidence the Halls have considered a residential development for the site.
On Tuesday, lawyers for Living Rivers Council, the Center for Biological Diversity/the Sierra Club and Circle Oaks County Water District argued before Warriner the reasons why his tentative ruling should not become final.
Among other arguments, Living River Council’s attorney, Thomas Lippe, argued the EIR did not adequately analyze the project’s rainwater runoffs and the project’s cumulative impacts on fish and nearby creeks such as Milliken Creek.
Lippe questioned the EIR’s finding that the soil at Walt Ranch would become permanently altered and more permeable after the land is deep ripped to develop the new blocks.
But Whit Manley, an attorney for Napa County, who argued Tuesday that the EIR was legal, countered an analysis of a nearby vineyard showed its soil had been permanently altered.
Circle Oaks’ attorney Rachel Mansfield-Howlett started her oral arguments Tuesday, speaking on the potential impacts of the project’s wells on the subdivision’s water supply.
She did not have time to complete her presentation. She and the other attorneys return to court March 1.