NAPA, Calif. Oct. 1, 2019 – A California appeals court ruled yesterday that Napa County violated state law in approving the large Walt Ranch vineyard development in the mountains east of the city of Napa. The decision sends the project, which would destroy more than 300 acres of riparian, oak and native grassland habitat and convert it into vineyards, back to the trial court.
Responding to an appeal from the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club, the court held that Napa County failed to provide a clear plan to address the climate harms from the vineyard’s proposed destruction of 14,000 large 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. “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 appeals court determined that Napa County failed to show how preservation of unspecified woodlands on the site would offset the climate harms of cutting down thousands of trees. Forests are critical to a healthy climate because they store carbon dioxide, while destroying forests releases carbon dioxide. The ruling could have statewide implications for developments that plan to destroy forests without addressing climate harms.
“We hope this ruling will help guide Napa County to make smarter, science-based decisions on projects with large climate impacts,” said Christina Benz, vice chair of the Sierra Club Napa Group.
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The conservation groups filed the appeal in May 2018 after a trial court incorrectly determined that the development’s environmental review complied with state law.
Conservation groups also challenged the analysis of the development’s other significant environmental harms, including groundwater pumping, loss of habitat for rare wildlife and impaired water quality of critical streams. However, the appeals court found the remaining environmental review adequate.
The appeal was filed in the 1st Appellate District Court of Appeal against the county of Napa and the Board of Supervisors for the county of Napa. The case is now remanded back to Napa County Superior Court.