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Acampo winery accused of violating the Williamson Act

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Posted: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 6:00 am | Updated: 6:22 am, Tue Jul 13, 2010.

Does a popular Acampo winery violate California’s Williamson Act, which has provided tax breaks to preserve agriculture since 1965?

The San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation maintains that Viaggio Winery, nestled along the Mokelumne River west of Lower Sacramento Road, violates the Williamson Act by using the Viaggio property for non-agricultural uses.

San Joaquin County officials disagree, saying that Viaggio doesn’t violate state guidelines for the act, and Viaggio owner Kent Raverty says he’s in compliance.

And the California Department of Conservation, which oversees the Williamson Act on a statewide level, says the Viaggio case is under investigation.

Responding to a complaint the Farm Bureau filed with the state, the Department of Conservation sent a letter to the county in December, ordering county officials to determine whether Viaggio Winery has committed a “material breach” of the Williamson Act.

The Farm Bureau has publicly opposed the use of Viaggio’s land. In addition to filing the complaint with the state, Farm Bureau representatives have testified before the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. And Farm Bureau President Phil Brumley wrote a letter that was published in The Record in Stockton earlier this year.

“One of our most important programs in the county is the Williamson Act, plain and simple,” Blodgett said. “We’ve got over 80 wineries (in the county) that do things the right way.”

Viaggio conducts events like wedding receptions that are non-agricultural events, which could affect the future of the Williamson Act, Blodgett said.

“We respect individual property rights, but when impacting thousands of property owners within the county, these are types of things the (state) Department of Conservation has asked about.”

The Farm Bureau claims that part of the Viaggio property is being used for non-agricultural activities like wedding receptions, fundraisers and corporate functions.

Viaggio says it seems to be something personal that Farm Bureau members have against him.

“The Farm Bureau wants to beat us up, but not listen to a word we’ve got to say,” Raverty said. “There are a lot of jealous people (at the Farm Bureau). They don’t harass anyone else. They want to make an example out of us. It’s unfair, it’s wrong.”

Viaggio is nestled on 26.2 acres between the Taddei-Bender road intersection and the Mokelumne River, west of Lower Sacramento Road. Raverty has one acre of winegrapes on his property and another 10 acres of cabernet down the road. He also grows 17 acres of walnuts.

“I have so many people who come through here who love us, love our facility,” Raverty said. “I’ve had people come here from all over the country.”

In a response to the state Department of Conservation, Rick Griffin, a county senior planner, said that Viaggio complies with the Williamson Act for two reasons — all structures on the property are used for agriculture and wine tasting and marketing events held there are “accessory uses” to having a wine cellar.

California Department of Conservation officials declined to immediately comment.

“I can’t give you a comment because it is under investigation,” conservation spokesman Don Drysdale said on Thursday.

On March 30, the Board of Supervisors allowed Viaggio to increase its marketing events from a capacity of 150 people to 370, which the Farm Bureau also contested on the grounds that a fundraiser or corporate event isn’t agriculture-related.

Supervisor Ken Vogel, who voted against increasing the size of events at Viaggio along with Steve Bestolarides, has several questions about Viaggio.

“Does it meet the way the winery ordinance was set up?” Vogel asked rhetorically. “The Farm Bureau said that events should be ancillary to the sale of wine, not the other way around.

“I’m concerned about impact on production agriculture,” Vogel added. “It could be a problem down the line for the Williamson Act.”

Raverty said he tried unsuccessfully to get Farm Bureau President Phil Brumley to tour Viaggio and discuss the Farm Bureau’s concerns.

“I have put in multiple phone calls trying to have a meeting with the president of the Farm Bureau,” Raverty said. “I don’t believe they know what we do and who we are.”

Brumley didn’t return calls for comment Thursday and Monday.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.


Williamson Act at a glance

The Williamson Act was adopted in 1965 to halt widespread urbanization of agricultural land. Under the program, property owners agree to not urbanize their land. In exchange, the county and state compensate them for their reduced property value.

Counties have been partially reimbursed by the state for their reduced property value, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut the state contributions to counties last year to $1,000. In San Joaquin County, the Board of Supervisors voted in November to absorb the $1.7 million the county previously received from the state. Schwarzenegger continued the funding reduction in his May budget update.

The Williamson Act is important in San Joaquin County because it has 542,851 acres in the program. That’s 12th-largest in the state, according to the California Department of Conservation. Kern County is largest with 1.7 million acres, followed by Fresno and Tulare counties, according to Department of Conservation spokesman Don Drysdale.

There are about 16 million acres statewide in Williamson Act, about half the privately owned land in the state.

— News-Sentinel staff.

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11 comments:

  • roy bitz posted at 12:18 pm on Mon, Jul 19, 2010.

    roy bitz Posts: 489

    Right or wrong, I believe the Williamson act provides tax incentives to farmers who meet requirements of the act.

     
  • Jim Hanson posted at 4:22 pm on Thu, Jul 15, 2010.

    Jim Hanson Posts: 27

    Here again our tax dollars hard at work investigating the terrible acts of these criminal farmers!!! REALLY!!!! This is an absolute joke. I don't understand why we always get in the way of businesses trying to make a buck. This Winery is doing nothing wrong. Leave them alone and go find something more important with your time Mr. Brumley.

     
  • posted at 8:34 am on Thu, Jul 15, 2010.

    Posts:

    The problem here is that we are evaulating land use based upon outdated laws. And the Farm Bureau is stuck on these antiquated ideals. How has events and the promulgation of wineries effected Napa and Sonoma Counties? Essentially, wineries are the retail sales of goods, in addition to being heavy industrial production and manufacturing. (Think Woodbridge winery) Theoretically, this does not fit the notion of agriculutre as well. Wineies are a unique entity and San Joaquin County is supremely lucky to have a thriving industry. The Farm Bureau needs to join us in the 21st century.

     
  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 6:37 pm on Wed, Jul 14, 2010.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    M Rivera posted at 4:49 pm on Wed, Jul 14, 2010.
    Posts: 1 Mr Bauback, Oak Farm Vineyards is not in a Williamson Act contract, therefore not bound by its obligations.
    Thanks for your comments! Please understand, I was trying to show support for farms and think it is a great idea to offer events as is being done. I was only saying that all farms should be treated equally. If Viaggio has been singled out, it would be inappropriate. Personally, I wish government would get out of the way with its rules and regulations that tend to stifle economic growth. I think the Farm Bureau may be out of line on this one.

     
  • posted at 4:49 pm on Wed, Jul 14, 2010.

    Posts:

    Mr Bauback, Oak Farm Vineyards is not in a Williamson Act contract, therefore not bound by its obligations. The Williamson act protects agricluture by helping to encourage farmers to keep their land for farming and agriculutral purposes. The Farm Bureau's seems to argue that winery events somehow hurt local agriculutre. Wouldn't you think that winery events promote the local agricultural uses? And if the Farm Bureau really represented the farmers, wouldn't they be supporting business that highlight and promote local agriculutre? The Farm Bureau needs to see the forest through trees.

     
  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 3:27 pm on Tue, Jul 13, 2010.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    I went on line to Oak Farm Vineyards, and comments earlier about why they are not treated the same as “Viaggio" is an interesting question. It appears to be doing weddings as a business as well... maybe all ag businesses should be looked at and investigated or maybe this is a case of politics. Maybe the farm Bureau should disclose information they have that makes all these farm operations alike or different as it relates to the Williamson Act.

     
  • Mark Collins posted at 12:57 pm on Tue, Jul 13, 2010.

    Mark Collins Posts: 1

    I live at the other end of the State, and we have had issues with the Williamson Act as well. Ours tend to be large ranches that want to sub-divide because the permitting process for timber harvest in California has become so convoluted and expensive. It seems ridiculous to me that a winery on 26 acres would be getting hassled over holding weddings. We have small farms under the Williamson Act that also act as B&B's in order to supplement their income. I guess this would be illegal too?

     
  • Jerry Bransom posted at 12:27 pm on Tue, Jul 13, 2010.

    Jerry Bransom Posts: 363

    It sickens me to see that politics and greed are so wound up in Farming. My Grandfather warned me to do something else. I suppose this is what he meant. I only listened half-heartedly. But California is the best (or worst) example of "Conform or get Screwed" I have ever witnessed.

     
  • Linda Ramos posted at 9:05 am on Tue, Jul 13, 2010.

    Linda Ramos Posts: 4

    It's good to see the comments I have read. Viaggio has contributed so much to the local economy (as have other wineries). Besides, there are a lot of wineries who hold events....why is it OK for some, and not others? I support Viaggio and any other local winery contributing to our economy. It is sad to see this article, almost as if there is a vendetta against this particular owner. Keep up the wonderful events, Viaggio.:-)

     
  • posted at 8:27 am on Tue, Jul 13, 2010.

    Posts:

    To disallow winery events is setting a very disturbing precident. Does that mean an end to concerts and all weddings? Wineries wouldn't have these events if they didn't successfully sell wine by the case-load, far surpassing the usual weekend sales. So to characterize these events as putting wine sales in an ancillary position is incorrect.

    There are many wineries in Lodi and elsewhere throughout the state that have discovered the benefit of using their property for events. With the problems getting wine into distribution or shipped into other states, direct sales, especially as enhanced by events, is the avenue that ALL boutique wineries are now focused on.

     
  • Mike Manna posted at 7:51 am on Tue, Jul 13, 2010.

    Mike Manna Posts: 2

    As grape growers, and having grapes being the leading income producer in the county, we should be supporting the wineries in San Joaquin County. Events bring in people and people bring income to our area, which leads to more wine sales and grape income. Come on growers get off your duff and speak out on supporting our wineries that have events.

     

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