Sonoma County adopts hillside vineyard restrictions

New rules making it tougher to rip up forested hillsides to plant vineyards won qualified approval from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisor Tuesday.

The stronger erosion prevention measures were unanimously approved by the five supervisors, but most acknowledged that the process was viewed as frustrating and flawed by many involved.

Supervisor Efren Carrillo praised the work of staff and the interest groups, but he said the ordinance was "not perfect by any means."

Environmental groups think it doesn't go far enough, and agriculture and growers groups believe the process was rushed, Carrillo said.

"It seems to me that no one's happy here, on either side," Carrillo said.

The vote was the culmination of four months work by county staff to craft rules aimed a strengthening erosion control measures ahead of immediate proposals for hillside vineyard projects totaling 341 acres.

Grape growers in the county are increasingly eyeing forested hillsides for their vines now that most of the easily developed agricultural land suitable for grapes has been converted to vineyards.

The county's agricultural community expressed displeasure with both the process, which included a four-month moratorium on new vineyard plantings proposing tree removal. and plans to apply the rules to orchards as well as vineyards.

But Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar relented on that last point, agreeing to exempt orchards from the new regulations. The evidence showed that modern vineyards, which usually have grasses between the rows of vines, do a better job of preventing erosion than old orchards, he said.

"If your orchard has a certain amount of erosion, your vineyard is going to have less," Linegar said.

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