Planning Effort for Sonoma County Coast Draws Scrutiny


September 13, 2015, 6:51PM

Newly drafted guidelines for future development along the Sonoma Coast are inspiring interest and, in some cases, anxiety about potential policy shifts that some fear could alter their cherished coastline for the worse.

Land-use activists are especially concerned about broad language on the topic of agricultural tourism, marketing and promotion that they say paves the way for winery event centers of the sort that have sparked opposition inland, and they’re gearing up for a fight.

“We feel that the coast is a really inappropriate place for that to be happening – that the coast needs the protection that is already in the general plan, and that that language just opens up the coast to development by wineries,” said Sebastopol resident Reuben Weinzveg, a spokesman for Residents to Preserve Rural Sonoma County.

At issue is an update of the county’s Local Coastal Plan, required by the California Coastal Commission and meant to guide planning for the next 20 years in a roughly 86-square-mile area that includes the 55-mile coastline and inland areas along the Russian River estuary, the Estero Americano near Valley Ford and portions of the Gualala River basin. Agricultural uses account for 32 percent of the land-use designations in the area.

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E&J Gallo buys Talbott Vineyards in Monterey County

August 26, 2015

E&J Gallo announced a deal on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015 to acquire Monterey County winery Talbott Vineyards, shown in an undated photo on Talbott's website.

E&J Gallo announced a deal on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015 to acquire Monterey County winery Talbott Vineyards, shown in an undated photo on Talbott’s website.

E&J Gallo is continuing its expansion into the premium wine category, especially the strong pinot noir market, announcing a deal Wednesday to buy a Monterey County winery and 525 acres of highly regarded vineyards.

Gallo bought the Talbott Vineyards operations, including the Salinas winery, brand and its Sleepy Hollow vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands, which feature chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. The Modesto wine giant also will lease the 17-acre Diamond T Vineyard in Carmel Valley and continue to operate Talbott’s tasting room there.

The sale is scheduled to close Sept. 4. Financial terms were not disclosed. International Wine Associates of Healdsburg represented the seller.

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Action for Wine and Water Watch, Friday starting at 11 am, Sebastopol

Following is a press alert sent this morning to 100 journalists. It announces Wine and Water Watch’s ( 3 actions this weekend, starting Fri. at 11 a.m. in the Sebastopol plaza gazebo, Fri. late afternoon/eve at the Occidental Farmers Market, and Sun. at the Sebastopol Farmers Market around noon. Please forward this information widely to friends and contacts.

Please RSVP to indicate which events you might attend. We need the following:

1. Photo takers, as already requested by an editor.
2. Sign makers and sign holders.
3. People willing to pass out leaflets.
4. Tables and chairs to display recent newspaper articles, and people to sit there and educate people.

Depending on how many people volunteer, RSVP, and show up, we will decide which of the possible places to locate ourselves at the main event, which will take to the sidewalks around noon in Sebastopol.

Our intention is to have an educational, peaceful event. We do not plan to march, have speakers, or disrupt traffic. We want to appeal to a wide range of people who love the coast and rural life. Following these three actions we will evaluate what we should do next in terms of action. We have been meeting and talking about these issues for over half a year; it is time to act! Let me know if you want to be involved in those smaller action-based meetings, which will be separate from our monthly meetings. We are hoping to have the next large meeting on Oct. 24 in the town of Napa.
In solidarity,

Save Our Coast direct action by Wine & Water Watch, 9/25, noon, downtown Sebastopol
To: Reporters & editors

From: Wine and Water Watch,

Contact: Shepherd Bliss, 707-829-8185,

Wine and Water Watch (WWW) will launch a series of direct actions this weekend designed to educate people about the expanding wine industry in rural Sonoma County and in nearby counties, especially on our fragile coast. This emerging campaign seeks to “Save Our Coast.”

Our first action will be in downtown Sebastopol this Friday, Sept. 25. We will meet at 11 a.m. in the Sebastopol Plaza gazebo to make signs. We then will go to the corner of McKinley between the plaza and the Rialto Cinema and/or to the corner of Highways 116 and 12. We will provide people handouts and copies of published articles to inform them of drastic changes being discussed for the coast that would damage its fragile environment.

WWW is a four-county network–Sonoma, Napa, Lake, and Mendocino. It has hosted monthly meetings in Middletown, Jenner, Calistoga, Graton, Healdsburg, and Rohnert Park. Our mission statement follows: “We challenge the over-development of the wine tourism industry and promote ethical land and water use. We advocate agricultural practices that are ecologically regenerative.”

Some of us attended the Sept. 14 Timber Cove meeting about an effort to modify the Local Coastal Plan by Sonoma County’s Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD.) This would allow even more wineries as event centers on the coast, thus further damaging this unique environment where land meets the sea.

The late County Supervisor Bill Kortum lead a charge 50 years ago that prevented PG&E from building a nuclear power plant at Bodega Head. Now it is time to prevent further damage to our coast’s environment.

We also plan to leaflet this Friday late afternoon/evening at the Occidental Farmers Market and then Sunday at the Sebastopol Farmers Market, starting around noon. People only have until Sept. 30 to express their concerns during this first stage. Email

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Comment on Water Conservation

It is my understanding that the North Coast Basin Plan does not allow the addition of any water during the summer prohibition period. It seems to me that we should be exploring ways of modifying this to allow the addition of water to critical stream flows when it can be justified as a way of protecting endangered species from extinction that seems almost inevitable in the wake of the massive disruptions that agriculture and development have imposed on the natural system. I suspect that fish prefer recycled water to going completely without water. That probably applies to people and plants also. What Camp Meeker is doing can be commended for at least keeping the water within its watershed of origin, rather than transferring it out of its watershed with a regional redistribution system. While this idea is not natural, it is probably the best band aid plan available to save the wild stocks until something else can be put in place.

Green Valley Creek certainly needs help. I wish that the Basin Plan rules allowed Graton CSD to discharge its tertiary water into Atascadero/Green Valley Creek during this critical low water flow period. It would at least save the few wild fish stocks that are trying to survive there. Perhaps the Basin Plan can be changed sufficiently so as to allow such an emergency response, in the same way that fire departments are allowed to use it to put out fires. The original prohibition against summer discharge was put in place back in the bad old Polio days when almost raw sewerage was discharged into the river year around, and there was a legitimate health concern with contact. That day is gone. Our concerns with Recycled water are now about nutrients and endocrines, not Polio. Small quantities of aged tertiary recycled water could be released after additional carbon filtration treatment to remove endocrines, phosphorous ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and salt. Graton has the infrastructure already in place to accomplish this additional endocrine removal treatment on a small scale if it were allowed. Reclaimed water could also be introduced via overland flow to offset riparian transpiration by willow trees to reduce the impact of creek draw down on these hot days. How do others feel about this? I think this needs to be explored.

Bob Rawson

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Comment on Myth of the Family Winery

Various wine industry lobbyists continue to deny what was documented in the booklet “They Myth of the Family Winery: Global Corporations Behind California Wine.” Meanwhile E&J Gallo just bought another winery, as announced below. This follows its recent purchase of the historic Asti winery, Souverain brand, and J Vineyards, with links to articles below. Please consider making an online comment or letter to the editor. As mentioned below, the huge Constellation Brands and Jackson Family Wines continue to buy more wineries and vineyards. When is enough enough?

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Will Parrish Comment on Glyphosate

Dear friends in Napa/Sonoma:

In March 2015, the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France ruled that the broad-spectrum systemic herbicide glyphosate — the active ingredient in Round-Up — is a likely carcinogen. Studies have linked the herbicide, which is widely used in agribusiness to control weeds, to a wide array of human health and environmental problems (from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma to Colony Collapse Disorder among bees). And, as many of you know, glyphosate is widely used in wine. Please open the attached scanned letter to see single-year quantities applied to vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino Counties.

A group of friends is undertaking cutting-edge research to determine the levels of glyphosate in store-bought wines. They are conducting a rigorous testing program. Based on the initial work they’ve done, there’s a good chance that the results will be fairly alarming. That’s very unfortunate. On the bright side, it may also generate pressure on conventional grape growers to adopt more environmentally responsible practices.

Based on various indications I’ve seen and heard about, I believe the public health impacts of glyphosate are likely to “break through,” as it were, and become a major concern among the general public. In that light, I think these tests are a very important undertaking. Fortunately, the tests are relatively inexpensive due to recent scientific advances. The people conducting them need to raise only $2,000 and have already raised at least $500.

Please read the attached letter and share it with those who might be interested in donating.

Thank you very much,


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Coho vs. Pinot

On the Russian River, grape growing and fish don’t always mix

By Will Parrish

Bohemian article: Coho vs. Pinot

In July, roughly 1,000 rural Sonoma County residents overflowed classrooms and small meeting chambers at five informational sessions convened by the State Water Resources Control Board. It would be hard to exaggerate many attendees’ outrage. At one meeting, two men got in a fistfight over whether to be “respectful” to the state and federal officials on hand.

The immediate source of their frustration is a drought-related “emergency order” in portions of four Russian River tributaries: Mill Creek, Mark West Creek, Green Valley Creek and Dutch Bill Creek. Its stated aim is to protect endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout. Among other things, the 270-day regulation forbids the watering of lawns. It places limits on car washing and watering residential gardens. It does not, however, restrict water use of the main contemporary cause of these watersheds’ decline: the wine industry.

“The State Water Resources Control Board is regulating lawns? I challenge you to find ornamental lawns in the Dutch Bill, Green Valley and Atascadero Creek watersheds,” said Occidental resident Ann Maurice in a statement to the water board, summing up many residents’ sentiments. “It is not grass that is causing the problem. It is irrigated vineyards.”

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Sonoma County residents’ battle with wineries is about more than water

A move by Sonoma County winegrowers to form an irrigation district has alarmed environmentalists who say the proposal appears to only deal with the water needs of agriculture. (Kent Porter / PD FILE)

Wineries in Sonoma County, considered agricultural operations, are only now being asked to cut back water use. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

By Geoffrey Mohan

These days, the redwood-shaded creek by Laura and Ray Waldbaum’s house is a bone-dry path of rocks and gravel, its occasional stagnant pools a somber reminder of the salmon that once thrived there.

Fewer than 500 endangered coho now wend their way from a network of such creeks to the Russian River and out to sea, and the Chinook population is barely two-thirds of what it ought to be, according to wildlife officials.

The Waldbaums and many other rural Sonoma County residents blame wine: about 60,000 acres of vineyards, 439 wineries and 221 event centers that have permission to host 2,299 dinners, concerts, weddings and other events for as many as 32,176 people, largely under the guise of agricultural promotion.

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Wine Industry Water Grab?

July 31, 2015 · Will Parrish The AVA

California’s slow-mo adoption of groundwater regulations is prompting all sorts of legal maneuvers by the state’s irrigation elite, who are striving for the fewest restrictions on their pumps possible. In the Russian River watershed, from where I write this dispatch, arguably the irrigation elite’s elitist elites are the grape growers of northern Sonoma County.

Their lawyers are not resting.

State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) is quietly sponsoring legislation to create a new independent special district called the Russian River Irrigation District, which would be operated of, by, and for the growers and their affiliated wineries, tasting rooms, and event centers.

The district would encompass much of the Russian River watershed in northern Sonoma County, and possibly a small portion of southern Mendocino County. The legislation specifically names its purview as being the Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and “the territory within the portion of the Russian River Valley American Viticultural Area” and “the portion of the Russian River Valley American Viticultural Area south of River Road and Mark West Creek Road.”

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Activists see Sonoma County winegrowers’ proposed bill as a ‘water grab’

A move by Sonoma County winegrowers to form an irrigation district has alarmed environmentalists who say the proposal appears to only deal with the water needs of agriculture. (Kent Porter / PD FILE)

A move by Sonoma County winegrowers to form an irrigation district has alarmed environmentalists who say the proposal appears to only deal with the water needs of agriculture. (Kent Porter / PD FILE)

Environmentalists are mobilizing in protest of a would-be bill backed by the local wine industry that would create an irrigation district intended to protect the water rights of about 1,000 grape growers in the Russian River region.

Noting that Sonoma County is facing “urgent water supply” problems unique to the Russian River watershed, the legislation — proposed by the United Winegrowers of Sonoma County — would create a segmented district covering five viticultural areas in Alexander, Knights, Dry Creek, Russian River and Bennett valleys, which produce the county’s priciest wine grapes.

The move comes in fourth year of California’s historic drought, when competing claims for dwindling supplies and state moves to safeguard stream flows have set some rural landowners under mandatory cutbacks against grape growers who have so far faced no such restrictions.

Activists involved in the escalating debate over winery expansion and vineyards’ unlimited use of water were alarmed by a published report last month that said state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, was “quietly sponsoring” the bill, and they intend to protest at McGuire’s annual town hall meeting Thursday night at the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors chambers.

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