Winemaker Paul Hobbs has been ordered to stop work on his controversial orchard-to-vineyard conversion near Sebastopol after inspectors found that hundreds of yards of blackberry bushes and bay laurel had been cleared illegally from a protected zone above a creek.
"It's a very serious violation of their permit," said Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar, whose office issued the stop work order to the Paul Hobbs Winery.
Rules prohibiting the removal of riparian growth from within 50 feet of a waterway are a "cornerstone of our erosion control plan," he said.
Hobbs has had several high-profile run-ins in recent years with county officials and neighbors over his land-clearing practices. On Friday said he had been in Asia when the clearing took place.
"I've got to say, I'm baffled and I'm very sad to see this situation. I feel bad for putting the county through this," he said. "I'm taking full responsibility for this and I'm going to make the changes I need to make to fix it."
The order, issued on Tuesday, also cited a failure to install proper erosion control measures, which allowed sediment to flow into the creek during recent rains.
"Hobbs let everyone down here," Linegar said.
The Watertrough Road project has been fiercely opposed by people who say it will disturb pesticides once used at the orchard and cause them to drift to nearby schools, endangering children in particular.
On Friday, some of those parents said that their doubts had grown now about whether Hobbs could comply with measures he has promised to undertake to minimize the impact on the schools.
"If they're doing this, how about all those other steps? They're far more complicated," said Christine Dzilvelis, whose daughter attends Orchard View School. "Mitigating the dust when they remove the trees is far more complicated than complying with regulations in a riparian zone."