Napa County Can Do Better -- Whiffs of Poop on the Napa Waterfront as Farmers Prevail!

Remember the controversial Montalcino Resort proposal for Napa? The one that stunk so much, looked so fishy, and seemed to be tied to some bigger and slimy plan to convert Napa County to a string of resorts, golf courses, homes. That could even open the door for a historyland theme park? The old “Palm Springs to Indian Wells” development scheme (only this isn’t desert - it’s the most expensive farm land in California).

We’re happy to report Montalcino is in melt-down now, just like the Bass Brothers and their former undisclosed controlling interest in Disney; just like Michael Eisner of Disney who fully misrepresented how $1 billion in new debt would be used and hit red flags with the SEC, and continues to paint rosy pictures; just like the Pritzker family that is “on the hook” for up to $376 million in the melt-down of Superior Bank in Illinois (sorry folks, you can’t walk away from this and stiff the government) and has been hard-hit with now unprofitable Hyatt Hotels; and now, the money-man behind the Montalcino project, Geoffrey Yeh, of Hsin Chong Construction, Hong Kong (or in the alternative, investors who may have been stiffed -- you be the judge: Click. where the developer continues to solicit investment capital for a now-defeated resort development project).

While at the site, take in the lovely views that have now been saved -- the wetlands, the fields in spring, and hopefully the behemoth warehouse-type resort.

On October 9 Montalcino was defeated by a sweet-bitter  3-2 vote. Farm Bureau’s appeal was upheld, but who were the deviants who continue to ignore our law?

Holding by the tenant that 85% or more of Napa County’s residents prefer the status quo of agriculture, watershed and open space, how can Bill Dodd or Mark Luce justify their conduct to their constituents with their pro-development zeal? And their votes for the project?

During hearings on Montalcino Resort, on July 31, 2001 Bill Dodd exclaimed “cattle ranching isn’t agriculture.” In whole-hog support of Napa Sanitation District’s request to reclassify public institution land to ag-watershed-open space under a single use permit for Montalcino, Dodd & Company would have set a precedent in Napa County. And Dodd isn’t ashamed about trying to sell out Napa County to development. Does he really believe Napa County needs 19 more golf courses, with resorts, conference rooms, retail space and homes dotting the greens? While he has repeatedly asserted the Montalcino Resort project isn’t growth inducing?

One concerned citizen who appeared at the first hearing in June to address the Board of Supervisors ran the clock, necessitating a continuance previously denied Farm Bureau, providing the time necessary for the county to investigate just what was going on. At the same time, Farm Bureau was able to hire counsel Shute, Mihaley & Weinberg to place on record the County’s laws that absolutely state this type of development cannot exist under Zoning Code and land use laws at the proposed site.

As noted by Henry Rodegerdts, California Farm Bureau Federation, in his October 4 letter to Napa County Board of Supervisors:

“We then and now continue to be of the opinion that consideration of this project is a watershed event for the land-use planning and future economic direction of Napa County. This project will change the character of the Napa Valley forever and could ultimately destroy it ... There will come a time when looking back in retrospect it will be said that this was the approval in which Napa County turned the corner and began traveling down the unfettered growth road with the remainder of California.”

Montalcino Resort was voted down, as only Dodd and Luce voted for NSD’s General Plan Amendment that would have made it possible. Both Supervisors have now breached the very standards for which Luce was found culpable in an earlier project -- where he stepped into the poop with “abuse of discretion” (see “Napa Valley Register” August 15, 2001 “Ruling Stalls Airport Area Development Click. Such abuses result from making a decision contrary to facts, or making a decision absent facts which the Supervisors are mandated to have before them before voting.

In the Updated Airport Specific Plan scheme, the Court’s opinion read: “The failure to provide enough information to permit informed decision-making is fatal.” American Canyon’s attorney Bill Ross commented: “There wouldn’t have been a lawsuit if the county had followed the law.” Clearly decisions were made both absent fact and contrary to law. While Bill Dodd was not a supervisor in October 1998 when the Updated Airport Specific Plan was egregiously approved, Mark Luce was one of its big supporters. Luce is now at minimum a two-time offender, while Dodd is steady on course, having maneuvered a continuance likely so he can vote for the Montalcino Use Permit on January 15, 2001 (as to the portion of the resort on industrial land), while barred by law from doing so. It’s clear-cut and not arguable -- a finding in law, repeated by County Counsel, drafters of the EIR, and by Planning Director Charlie Wilson.

Indeed, the developer connected to both plans engaged in schemes of deception, in the Montalcino case over-reaching a 1996 Development Agreement confined to industrial-zoned land as though it also applied to adjoining public institution land. Napa County’s laws bar this type of development on institution lands, so they were going to re-designate the lands to agriculture, watershed, open space -- all three. A single Use Permit, if approved, would have therefore set a stage for development of a resort on various parcels designated industrial, ag, watershed and open space. That would have been the precedent. Imagine if Meadowood Resort outside of St. Helena decided it wanted additional greens on their land currently designated ag -- a simple modification based on Montalcino, and who could say no? Approval of Montalcino would have acknowledged the developer’s contention this county needs more golf courses.

And how about Disney, with its eyes on a historyland theme park, how could one deny an ability to collect fees for recreational or historic purposes with the precedent set by Montalcino’s golf course? This would have afforded Disney to develop to its whim any land in the county it could raid or receive by flips from well-positioned insiders.

Dodd displayed his incapacity to debate matters on their merits, reducing himself to a persona that would have been the envy of the Sopranos, leveling personal assaults at those who dared to challenge the project based on the law. He’s determined to cost them an arm and a leg in legal fees, to really hurt them because they advocate he must observe the law. He’s the more conspicuous of the two as a “hanger on” whose campaign was financed in large part by “the boys.”

While knowing the NSD land had been farmed and ranched continuously from the days of Chief Suscol until 1999, and had been absorbing waste water at rates in excess of that proposed by Montalcino Resort, Mark Luce advanced his back-ward thinking position: ag is not compatible with waste water disposal. Yet Montalcino intended to provide water to 63 acres of vineyard they planned for a portion of NSD land by the envisioned golf course! At the same time, they wanted an ag designation for the land to recognize vineyards. It’s right in the October 4 Staff Report. The developer intended to provide bottled water to golfers because there would be no potable water delivered to the NSD land. Since Bill Dodd is involved in bottled water, seems he may have been in line to profit. And either waste water was going to be used “compatably” to irrigate those vines, or someone like Dodd would have been found delivering bottled water weekly to the thirsty vines ... Give me a break, where’s their logic?

Yet more surfaced -- seems Luce had been engaged in a scheme in which the developer provided minimum lease bid prices that he knew would financially bar agriculture, specifically any type of bid by Duane Chamberlain. Come to find out, he wasn‘t offered to bid. Luce wholeheartedly approved the award of a lease of NSD’s Somky Ranch property to Montalcino’s developer in April, 1999. Folks, this is known as “bid rigging” and NSD’s Plant Manager, Mike Alexander, ran off at the mouth about this scheme for the public record October 9, as though confident he’s a favored son of a protection racket or totally out to lunch.

Looks like things are shaping up for a “Twinkie Defense” by Dodd, Luce & Company caught in their efforts to slaughter our laws. And it gets better.

In January, 2000 Luce approved an adjustment to an unseasoned 34-year lease to Chardonnay Golf that provided sweetheart terms at the expense of rate-payers for 75 acres of NSD land in Jamison Canyon (an area that would have been under the umbrella of the now scotched Updated Airport Specific Plan). The developer and Montalcino Resort were tied to two other resort proposals -- Mai Chardonnay and The Doctor’s Company, as part of the Updated Airport Specific Plan scheme, yet Mark Luce stated “The project is not growth inducing.” As Charlie Wilson, Director of Planning, stated “This developer has options for other properties yet to be developed,” Luce blurted out “I disagree with the staff findings,” trying also to ignore the Environmental Impact and Fiscal Impact reports before him that incorporated the three resorts. The project brings with it 517 jobs and 42 units of affordable housing for just one resort --which Solano County residents long to fill.

Abandoning the ethics and standards of impartiality, let alone laws to which they must adhere to prevent liability to Napa County, both Dodd and Luce participated in recruitment of “pro-resort lobbyists.” The lobbyists were uninformed of facts, or otherwise magical thinkers from a brotherhood of minority and out-of-county interests.

Pro-development arguments were “we need conference rooms for Napa Chamber and building trades union meetings; Solano County’s unemployed workers look to Napa County for 3 resorts to help them out - construction and resort staff employment; Solano County’s residents, only a few miles away, need a proximate resort and spa -- there are none in Solano County (while Silverado Resort is about 10 minutes north of the Montalcino site). Napa airport industrial park’s land development office needs a resort to attract businesses for the immediate development of the limited inventory of industrial-zoned land; downtown merchants need more shoppers and the developer has promised to shuttle them in; Napa needs to diversify which may be a valid consideration within the City limits; NSD needs to take its recycled water to Silverado Resort and Napa Valley County Club, while cattle were keeping up handily; why not support it since “The Napa Valley Register” supported it? (The one editorial in favor was written before “the fuel hit the fan” so to speak, and the paper was silent on Montalcino thereafter, save a short news report following the project’s rejection Click.  Another came from an ABAG representative -- if Monalcino is developed in Napa, it will keep people off the roads UpValley, helping preserve agriculture. Now fathom that, for a developer who has assured he will market the resort nationally and internationally (remember, this is Hong Kong money) and attract new visitors, tell me these people won’t want to tour the wineries up north and add further congestion. One of the priceless comments from a building trades union representative -- “We love Napa, and we’d bring our conventions here. We like to come to Napa with our families and we'll keep the resort full.” Problem is the average room cost is listed at $407/night.

In classic and expected form, the former President of a local bank, merged out for undisclosed reasons, spoke for the project because about the only thing he is comfortable with is making construction loans. If he can’t make them now, maybe staying close to development deals gives him some sense of basing. Another classic was the appearance of tiny St. Helena’s Mayor. UpValley his public persona is that of a supporter of ag and open space. DownValley in Napa, he advised everyone that he liked the project, supported it whole-heartedly, while not dwelling on the fact that he is a higher-up in the union structure, giving him reason to appear in support of his associates and their needs for jobs. He also mentioned he is on the Napa County Airport Commission, where he had reviewed the project and given it a green light and still does. The problem is, he hadn’t attended two prior hearing on Montalcino when a representative of the Airline Pilots Association placed damning information on the record proving the project failed the requirements outlined by the FAA for development at an airport; that the Commission was conflicted in its composition; furthermore that building the resort and golf course could cause the county to lose all Federal funds -- a big problem now as the massive flood control project is underway, and it’s hardly funded from local taxes. Time to “straighten up and fly right” as they say.

Evidently few of the pro-resort crowd care that the limited inventory of public institution zoned land would cost the county a fortune to replace in the future while the needs of Napa’s Humane Society go unmet (it is being displaced by the Flood Control project). Some 300 acres of public land would have been removed for the pleasure of private interests. Can you imagine what it might cost in 20 years to acquire 300 acres, even under condemnation? The Somky Ranch cost the NSD $5,000 per acre in 1986. Today’s its replacement cost is up to 20 times higher. Other facts presented showed the county’s lands increased in assessed value by more than $400 million last year alone, outstripping the value of the resorts combined; since 1996, the value of farmland has increased six-fold; the county lacks an accurate measure of the true costs (off-site impacts) for these and other projects; the county has limited industrial land that is essential to hold for expansion of established businesses; the county has a limited inventory of public and quasi-public institution lands that haven’t even been made available for the construction of additional playing fields and recreation areas under “limited supply“ arguments, among others; the conduct of NSD has threatened important wetlands that were enhanced some years ago by NSD before the arrival of its current plant manager who has spewed toxic sludge about the property (that was supposed to be trucked away). The system worked well until NSD’s Mike Alexander broke it. And he had a “history” in prior jobs he held.

Naturally, none were aware on June 26 of the sleaze politics, subsequent Court findings in the related Updated Airport Specific Plan Scheme, growth inducing impacts, impacts such as traffic congestion on Highway 29 that can’t be mitigated by law (overriding considerations fall by the wayside according to Zoning Code), findings that the waste can’t be handled but was made to look as though it could be handled due to a “deceptive” report prepared by NSD which is subject to litigation by the State of California. The NSD and its ratepayers are facing millions of dollars in assessments because of the toxic waste site created by plant manager Mike Alexander, who stated October 9 “I came to push the golf course, and I made it a priority. The lease option would not have been bid otherwise. We would have had to terminate this whole resort project.” When County Counsel grilled him on a very important part of Napa’s laws, and further asked “How can you say you didn’t displace ag?” he received an answer that ducked the question: “Our purpose was to get the lease option going because ag is incompatible from the perspective of NSD.” There you go, the same Dodd-Luce party line.

And add another major liability to NSD’s ratepayer woes -- As Harry Martin reported in “The Napa Sentinel” October 5, Mike Alexander tried to pump some of the sludge through the wastewater delivery lines, and completely clogged them. Now even the wastewater can’t be disbursed and the ponds filled to capacity, while the district requested to pump the excess into the Napa River! Give me a break, in the three short years of Mike Alexander maneuvering, the District racked up $50 million for a plant that doesn’t work. Now even the pipes don’t work. Looks more and more like huge damages -- maybe some the result of scheming with the developer.

With the matter continued to January 15, when by coincidence Bill Dodd takes over as Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, many are on the edge of their seats, eager to see how the sleaze politicians will maneuver, on the final aspect of Montalcino Resort. Rest assured many are planning to see that justice is done. NSD is being shaken down by the State of California for egregious waste problems; locally there have been changes to the NSD board that appear to be a prelude to problem solving; the judges of the Court of Appeals are scrutinizing just how far Napa County Board of Supervisors has gone as clarification of their findings has been requested; and Dodd, Luce and even Varrelman (who swung his vote to “no”) are under the spotlight on this one.

Concerned citizens promise to dredge up a lot more than doo doo and sludge along the Napa River Waterfront over the next few months. Remember that Hong-Kong Tycoon (with a capital T) Geoffrey Yeh, Michael Eisner/Bass Brothers/Disney, and the Pritzkers/Hyatt “are birds of a feather” with other reaches into Napa County, many that include scam land grabs. Seems the associates banked heavily on “scores” for both the Updated Airport Specific Plan and Montalcino Resort. Now they may feel a little concerned about where the money is coming from to assure their flips ... While in control of thousands of acres of vineyards, watershed and open space land, acres of undeveloped ag land, it’s fairly obvious they are hardly outdoorsmen, far more comfortable in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, or one of their limos plying local roads. What shall become of the land? As to the spooks sitting on 3,200 acres of The Vineyards at Juliana (misnomer as to vineyards, their true sights are set on luxury home development -- well articulated by Triad Development, Inc. of Seattle in July 2000) -- it’s another disappointment. One scheme after another associated with this huge tract of land  in Pope Valley has been nixed since 1971, at significant cost to Napa County taxpayers and land conservationists. Indeed, with lessons like those learned from HCV Pacific Partners - HCV Napa Associates - Montalcino Resort schemes of Randy Verrue, the county’s residents gain knowledge and strength. Maybe somebody should have told Randy and his cohorts long ago: “Goonies always win.”


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