The City of Oakley discussed the idea of Preservation of a 14-acre Vineyard within the Dutch Slough Wetlands Restoration project area Tuesday night and agreed to will work on response to the most recent Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (EIP).
Since 2003, the vineyard property has been controlled by the State Department of Water Resources (DWR) and is located within the nearly 1,200 acre Dutch Slough Wetlands Restoration Project area. As part of the restoration project, the vineyard is set to be removed—a plan that has been in place for over 10-years.
According to Patty Finfrock, DWR Staff Program Manager, the state spent $28 million to purchase the 1,200 acres in 2003 and another $3 million in planning and permits and stated under no scenario they planned to ever preserve the grapes and instead have offered the grapes at no cost to Cline to transplant.
Matt Cline, of Cline Vineyards, has been working with Oakley City Councilman Kevin Romick on finding a way to work with DWR to preserve the historic vineyard. The idea of a land swap was discussed, but ultimately DWR rejected the idea.
During last nights council meeting, Romick stated that last November he was approached by DWR and what to do with the property and the vineyard explaining the novel idea of a land swap to save the vineyard. He wanted to bring it before the entire council.
“I thought we could open it up as a council to decide what type of action we should take as a council, should we reply to EIR, should we go back and get a sense of direction as a council and action we want to take with this property,” said Romick. “For me, I am treating it as if it was any developer coming to Oakley with a vineyard on it.”
Finfrock explained to the council that the issue of the vineyard came up late in the process.
“The reason that we bought this land for $28 million back in 2003 was for the primary purpose of doing habitat restoration. As we developed this we have never had any plans to preserve the vineyard and it came as a surprise to me last year when Mr. Cline sent a letter hoping to preserve the vineyard so it’s a new issue,” explained Finfrock.
She explained the idea of the land swap which seemed like a “win-win” with the City as well as DWR but the logistics didn’t work.
“I went back to the management and when we looked at all the pieces it just didn’t fit with our project. It doesn’t make sense to have a commercial vineyard in the middle of a restoration project,” said Finfrock. “We have offered the vineyards up for salvage both to the City and Mr. Cline. So we think all the great ideas he has and city has on history and learning that can occur be best served on city property and not on our restoration project. “
Finfrock further explained the vines are there for salvage for free and can be transplanted somewhere else. She also stated that Mr. Cline never had a lease with the State for the vineyard and that his agreement was through their lessee.
Matt Cline, who provided a two-page document as part of the staff report stated that back in 2003, DWR offered him a lease agreement but he never received the letter. He claims there was intent to get him involved early on.
“I think a lot of winemakers should have access to the grapes just because of what they represent,” said Cline.
Lauren Linn (spelling), an Urban Planning major at Sonoma State who spoke and admitted she was new to the project, but stated she has been taking these classes for four years.
“A lot of the emphasis is going on urban planning and restoration and not so much on agricultural planning, I feel as though agricultural planning is just as important, if not more important than urban planning because we are going to have to sustain ourselves somehow. Why destroy a piece of California history these vines are over 150 years old,” said Linn. “I feel like these two can coincide because it’s a small piece of land in the grand scene of things. It’s not taking away from restoration or preservation, it may not be ideal, but it is only 14 acres out of 1,000 plus acres.”
Frank Spinelli supported the effort to preserve the vineyard and shared his family experience working farms in Oakley.
“I completely support this effort to save this 14-acres of ancient vines. My family has farmed many vineyards in Oakley since the mid-1950s before they were concerned ancient,” said Spinelli. “They should be preserved at all costs. I hope that saving this ancient vineyard will be the beginning of saving all the vineyards in Oakley. Wouldn’t it be great for future generations to say we have preserved 200-year-old vineyards?”
Councilwoman Diane Burgis asked for an explanation of why the vineyard and restoration cannot coexist.
Finfrock explained that the primary reason is wildlife habitat.
“It’s incompatible to have a piece of agricultural land in a tidal marsh. It is feasible to actually do it, but our goal is to create habitat restoration. A vineyard is not habit; they don’t want wildlife in a vineyard,” explained Finfrock. “It not compatible and for it to be a commercial vineyard, the state has a lot of discomfort with that within its restoration project. We want recreation, but we feel commercial is not compatible with our project.”
Burgis asked if someone were to take out a 100-year-old vine and transplant it, is it still considered an ancient vine.
Mr. Cline explained vines can be transplanted. Cline explained that he has been harvesting with a lease
Burgis asked the question that if the reason this type of grape is being removed is because people want to replace it with a higher cost grape to make more profit.
“That is generally how the free market system works,” replied Cline.
He explained how prohibition and history has limited the production of good wine in the past. He then shared the history of how wine making on small vineyards has come full circle thanks to technology. Oakley was one of the first places grapes were grown commercially. Grapes here are unbelievably historical and product of how California blew up thanks to the railroad and shipping grapes back east.
Burgis further challenged Cline on why he wanted so long.
“Why didn’t you do something earlier, why now? It seems strange to me that the state spend all this money on a piece of land and millions of dollars on planning, permitting and I don’t think there are many people out here that weren’t aware of this project, asked Burgis. “I just find it odd that all of a sudden his comes up and it doesn’t feel right to me.”
Cline replied that one day he had an awakening.
“All I can say is I had an awakening. I spent my whole life working in the field. I was satisfied with doing production,” explained Clime. “The struggles of being a small business owner and I have always focused on my own little world. I was only told last march that I could lose the vineyard and it woke me up.”
Burgis asked about transplanting and how similar are the soils and the sand and tell me about transplanting because I am curious.
Finfrock stated she didn’t know anything about transplanting but all I know is the City did transplanting in the past and they look fine to me. She further explained Ironhouse Sanitary District has offered up 5-acres for transplanting.
Cline, however, offered a different perspective stating they were not fine and are being kept up for political cosmetic reasons.
“Transplanting cannot happen because financially it is ridiculous,” stated Cline. “You’re just transplanting basically any diseases in the hardwood on top of the vineyard. The important part is the roots and buds and new clusters are formed… when you transplant you are cutting into the roots. It’s the site and roots that make that whole vineyard work.”
Cline also stated that on the last transplant the city did that half the vines did die and have been replaced. The economics to the lease holder is expensive and he did it for political reasons and its cost him a lot of money.
Burgis questioned Clines response and asked if the transplant they did in the past was not successful.
“Absolutely not! They were not successful,” stated Cline. “He has replanted over half those vines.”
Romick asked Cline how he found out about the project and asked how he was notified stating that since he was a sub-lessee he would not have been notified. Cline stated that he found out about it via a handwritten letter last March and came to the realization the project could happen.
Mayor Randy Pope stated that he believes what we have here is a conflict of values and I just want to talk about conflict of values.
“The Letter submitted by the Department of Water Resources had a reference to our newly elected Assemblymember who recently co-authored a bill supporting preservation for ancient vineyards and in this letter he apparently goes against himself and against the perseveration of this vineyard. We definitely have a conflict of values,” said Pope.
Pope stated that he believed the grapes could coexist.
“I think we have a tremendous value and we need to fight and preserve that as much as we can and we can peacefully co-exist. This is 14-acres out of 1,200 acres and that’s 1.5 percent of the project total. I don’t think that’s an extreme ask to ask the state to remove that parcel. I don’t think we need to have an extravagant plan of trades and lease on 1.5 percent of a total project to preserve this heritage,” said Pope.
Pope encourages everyone who a stakeholder to read it and submit public comments on the EIR. He also encourages the City to put it out on their information outreaches.
Romick explained that he didn’t want any confusion about the restoration project stating his excitement over the project which he called “fabulous”.
“My recommendation that we participant and comment on the EIR and ask the state to preserve those vineyards,” said Romick. “Let’s work on reconcile and Mr. Cline offered a number of ways to move forward if they are concerned about the commercial operation, he offered a number of other options that are not commercial use of the vines such as working with the schools.”
Burgis questioned why the City should get involved and questioned the timing.
“I’ve been aware of the project for 7-years, I was not aware of the vineyards, but it was not on my radar,” said Burgis. “The thing that bothers me about this is as a taxpayer that our money has been spent on the project, millions of dollars have been spent on this and now we are stopping the bus to do this. That bothers me. But I understand the historical value of this and I appreciate it. I just feel like the timing was not good and I think if the state can find a way to preserve it, that’s great. I don’t think as a city we should do a land swap to go into the grape business. But if the state was persuaded to preserve it as a historical site and do whatever they want to do it would be great to incorporate it into the 55-acre park. I don’t mean to be insulting in anyway, it just feels like the timing was poorly done on this and this project has gone so forward.”
Mayor Pope stated that a lot of comments have been heard tonight and it was all good input.
“Hopefully we can make a positive change,” said Pope.
Supplemental Environmental Impact Report
- Absent from the meeting was Doug Hardcastle and Carol Rios
- DWR was not made aware of the Discussion Item nor were they invited to speak–they found out about the meeting after some questions were sent their way
- Not all the grapes on the vineyard are historical. Its estimated that less than acre worth of grapes could be deemed historical
- According to maps, there used to be orchards and a structure on the property which highlight not all the grapes are 100 years old
- No plan by DWR in over 10 years has produced a map which preserves the vines.
- Ironhouse Sanitary District and DWR have an agreement to move dirt. Since there is an agreement, Ironhouse is saving ratepayers an estimated $45 per ratepayer. If this does not happen, Ironhouse may have to increase rates.
- When asked if Diane Burgis has a conflict of interest in this project as Friends of Marsh Creek Watershed Executive Director, she stated there is no conflict of interest.
- HR 9 which Randy Pope references Assemblyman Jim Frazier (and 75 co-authors) contradicting himself is not true. HR 9 essentially says ancient vineyards are “good”, however, nowhere in HR9 does it speak about preservation or protection.
By Michael Burkholder