Sonoma County, Paul Hobbs Victorious in Activist Lawsuit to Repeal Landmark Sonoma County Vineyard Development Rules
Sonoma, Calif. (May 4, 2015) – A lawsuit threatening long-standing Sonoma County environmental regulations was dismissed today in a ruling by the Sonoma County Superior Court.
The ruling upholds Sonoma County’s 15-year-old Vineyard Erosion and Soil Control Ordinance (VESCO), thereby preserving the county’s clearly defined standards for protecting soil, water and air during vineyard development.
This represents a significant victory for Sonoma County and responsible farming advocates, including Paul Hobbs, who was named in the suit. A small activist group targeted Hobbs’s 39-acre Watertrough Road property as the test case in their campaign to subordinate County vineyard regulations to the oft-abused statewide regulations of the California Environmental Quality Act, more commonly known as CEQA.
“We are relieved and thankful that this attack on VESCO was thrown out,” said Hobbs spokesman Christopher O’Gorman. “The results of this suit could have been devastating both for farmers and the environment. Now we can continue to grow and thrive, responsibly.”
The suit, brought by a small parent group called the Watertrough Children’s Alliance, hinged on whether VESCO should be considered a “ministerial” or “discretionary” ordinance. Today’s ruling underscored the prevailing view that VESCO is a ministerial ordinance, meaning that CEQA does not come into play during vineyard development.
This comes as a relief to local winemakers, as the environmental review process triggered by CEQA is notorious in California for being abused by activists to delay and add significant cost to projects large and small.
“The impact of CEQA review would be very negative for Sonoma County agriculture, as has been noted by the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission and many others” said O’Gorman. “This ruling protects Sonoma farmers, Sonoma’s environment, and Sonoma’s economy.”
With this court’s final word on this legal question, Hobbs is happy to return his full attention to farming and winemaking.