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Work shut down at controversial Sebastopol vineyard project


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.

An order posted by the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner's office halts work at the apple orchards being converted into vineyards by winemaker Paul Hobbs in Sebastopol on Friday, June 28, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

An order posted by the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner’s office halts work at the apple orchards being converted into vineyards by winemaker Paul Hobbs in Sebastopol on Friday, June 28, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

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.”

Told of those concerns, Hobbs said: “That’s why I’m going to have a change of leadership. I’m going to have someone new take over. I’m confident we can do it.

“I’m painfully aware of the scrutiny and this is the last thing I wanted or needed. I really thought we had it buttoned down. We didn’t.”

Agricultural Commissioner inspectors and Regional Water Quality Control Board staff discovered the violations after responding to a complaint.

“This sort of activity is not condoned by our winegrape growing community. We’re all really disappointed,” said Linegar, who had previously strongly defended Hobbs’ project against its critics.

Hobbs, whom Forbes magazine dubbed “the Steve Jobs of wine,” has been caught up in a repeated conflicts locally over environmental practices.

The latest came just weeks after he started the conversion of the 48-acre former orchard next to Apple Blossom School.

“It’s utterly shocking, to say the least,” said 5th District Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who has harshly criticized Hobbs in previous cases.

Those included one 2011 instance in which he was also ordered to stop work after clear-cutting trees from a former Christmas tree farm near Sebastopol. That year, Hobbs also cleared trees on a 10-acre site east of Guerneville without needed permits.

Asked whether he should have learned from those missteps, Hobbs said: “That’s what the whole community will be asking.

“The fact is, some of these things, it sounds like an old broken record: ‘I must be stupid; I must not care about anything; I’m just the bad apple that Efren Carrillo said I was,’” he said.

“I don’t believe that,” Hobbs said, “but how believable is that when they see this kind of thing?”

Carrillo vowed Friday that the issue would not be ignored. “I will tell you that the full force of the law is going to be applied in this matter,” he said.

Officials with the Twin Hill School District had worked with Hobbs to gain assurances that he would take steps to protect schoolchildren, including erecting a dust fence and limiting chemical spraying in the vineyard.

School board president Maben Rainwater said Friday that “up to this point I had been satisfied.”

Now, he said, “Wow, maybe we were getting a little too hopeful that they were going to be good stewards. It seems like that’s not the case. But it’s not for me to be the judge.”

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s environmental crimes unit is to examine the case, said Carrillo. Also, said Linegar, state Fish and Wildlife authorities and the National Marine Fisheries Service may become involved.

“The stop-work order is going to stay in place until all the agencies involved decide what the appropriate remediation and penalty will be. It’s hard to say how long that could take,” Linegar said.

12 Responses to “Work shut down at controversial Sebastopol vineyard project”

  1. Greg Karraker says:

    Ross: “The creek was part of the curriculum?” Maybe Hobbs did the little Sebastotadpoles a favor, and now they will have to study math and logic for a change.

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  2. ross says:

    hobbs will destroy all neighbors to get his way. this is only the latest example. the creek was part of the school curriculum. the county efforts are just rear covering. i don’t have anything against wine making, but hobbs takes to the level of internationally financed greed without regard to community.

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  3. James Bennett says:

    It’s OK to vindictively molest citizen’s property rights that speak out like John Jenkel (or me), but not OK to clear brush on your own vineyard zoned property?

    It’s OK to fine Gillotti Construction MILLIONS for allowing some DIRT to run into a creek. But it’s OK to put industrial waste neuro toxin in out water table/supply.

    My community center was in abatement (red tag) because I didn’t have a permit to paint and replace windows, with life changing financial consequences. When they were done having their way with me (FOR THREE YEARS), the City reduced it to a capacity that would never let the project pencil out.

    It’s an act of God to rebuild your barn or have a guest cottage, an abandoned drive thru coffee kiosk (in a parking lot) attracts a business women who wants to make a go of it, but the drive thru component is $15 THOUSAND DOLLARS to resurrect the permit.

    David Hobbs is not on my X-Mas card list, but there’s this corner stone of freedom called PROPERTY RIGHTS.

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  4. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Blackberry bushes aren’t native habitat. Mr. Hobbs should have put together a plan to remove the blackberry bushes and replace them with native riparian habitat. The fact that he removed the bay laurel too which is are native tells us that his intent was to clear and he didn’t care about any damage that would be done as consequence.

    Mr Hobbs likes to do things first and when it’s all done whine about it in some way like it was an “accident” of some sort and out of his control. Now he needs to restore what he’s done.

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  5. bear says:

    If this genius can’t follow the conditions of his permits, he should go elsewhere to screw the environment.

    Anyone with a brain knows that creekside vegetation of any kind is essential to the health of creeks, fish and other living things.

    This guy gets 95% of what he wanted, and then goes for the rest. Hope he enjoys the fines for permit violations.

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  6. Oren Wool says:

    Paul Hobbs is breaking the law in the name of money.

    From the PRMD website:

    “Our mission is to serve the people of Sonoma County by providing a customer-focused process for the orderly development of real property, balanced with resource stewardship under the general policy direction of the Board of Supervisors and to develop and maintain standards that protect the health and safety of the public.”

    Paul Hobbs has repeatedly violated the zoning laws of Sonoma County. These laws are for all to abide.

    “It’s a very serious violation of their permit,” said Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar.

    Paul Hobbs has enough money to play by the rules and he repeatedly shows that he is not willing to do the necessary work to be a good citizen of Sonoma County.

    Many wonderful and responsible grape growers have transitioned many acres of Sonoma County into wine and played by the rules. From some reason Paul Hobbs projects continue to show me that he doesn’t think the same rules apply to him.

    I suspect all his wines are flavored with greed! Yuck!

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  7. corrie says:

    Our county’s creeks belong to the wildlife that lives in its waters and on its shores. Not any asshole with $$$ who buys the land around it. If Paul Hobbs cant play by the rules then, “HE”, can take his vinyard else where.

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  8. Greg Karraker says:

    It’s a good thing Linegar and Carillo weren’t around in the early 1800s.

    They would have red-tagged Abraham Lincoln’s parents for cutting the logs to build the cabin where he was raised.

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  9. Grapevines says:

    “Why it’s utterly shocking” uttered our resident “Rescuer of Damsels in Distress” and BOS member Efren Carrillo.

    This could have been predicted. The natural fruit and fiber wacko’s in See-Bast-O-Pool lacking a SMART Meter to go jousting against at the moment, now are condemning, dare I say it? DUST!!!!

    DUST which I guess is as hazardous to life, liberty, and the pursuit of wackiness as is RF frequencies.

    And the county, in a show of “We’ll have to look into this” has issued a cease and desist order because of . . . . . .Blackberry Bushes??? Who can say how many homeless berries there will be as a result of this? Not living up to their full potential of jams, jellies, malts, or ice cream toppings? I’ll say that Screaming Mimi’s will probably declare a “Black Berry Shortage” and charge a surcharge for the flavor.

    “The Sonoma County District Attorney’s environmental crimes unit is to examine the case” we are told by our resident “Damsels in Distress” BOS Efren Carrillo.

    (Which is Sonoma County talk for “Nothing is going to happen”)

    Raise a glass of Paul’s Cabernet and laugh at all this foolishness.

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  10. Reality Check says:

    It’s not hard to imagine that a vineyard owner might want to remove from his property blackberry bushes, which are aggressively invasive.

    If one is limited to removing only those bushes past the 50-foot setback line, well, the property owner faces a never-ending and costly battle.

    A little common sense is called for here. Can’t we protect the creek back and rid ourselves of this non-native plant?

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  11. GAJ says:

    Come on Hammer, you know how HARD it is to replace Blackberry Bushes, right?

    They don’t grow like weed you know…err…um…check that.

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  12. The Hammer says:

    Whomever pays the property taxes should be the one in control of the future of the land. Not the damn County, period. And if you don’t agree move elsewhere!

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 27

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