Judge agrees with Protect Wine Country

Press Release

Contact:            Jeffrey Kilpatrick, President                               Ray Falkner, Treasurer
                        Protect Wine Country                                        Protect Wine Country
                        Phone: (951) 704-4111                                      Phone: (858) 945-1234
                        Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.                    Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Judge grants Protect Wine Country’s petition for a Writ of Mandate against County of Riverside, invalidating disputed zoning ordinance.

Temecula, CA, January 25, 2012:  Law intended to erode decades old land use protections by allowing schools, churches and other incompatible uses in Temecula wine country was successfully challenged and struck down.

At a hearing on January 20, 2012, the Hon. Gloria C. Trask, of the Riverside Superior Court granted the Petition of Protect Wine Country seeking a Writ of Mandate, which sought to invalidate Riverside County Ordinance 348.4713 on grounds the ordinance was adopted in violation of CEQA. 

The ordinance at issue was adopted by the County Board of Supervisors on November 9, 2010, and had revised 24 separate zoning ordinances by granting additional power to the Riverside County Planning Director to consider any development project within the affected zones that the Director believed was substantially the same in character and intensity as allowed development projects.  The ordinance also changed the definition of “educational intuitions” to include private schools.

At the hearing, the County was ordered to:

     1.    Rescind the finding that Ordinance 348.4713 was exempt from CEQA and to prepare appropriate environmental review prior to any re-approval attempt;

     2.    Rescind the change to Ordinance 348.4713 that would allow the Planning Director to determine that a use is an equivalent use; and,

     3.    Rescind the ordinance changing the definition of schools to include private schools.

The Court ordered the attorneys to prepare a “Statement of Decision,” and to present the same for approval by the Court on February 10, 2012. 

Quotes and Reaction From Wine Country Stake Holders

Upon learning of the Court’s ruling, Jeffrey Kilpatrick, President of Protect Wine Country and resident had the following comment:

“We knew the County was wrong to change the rules and expectations of every land owner in the County, especially those of us in Temecula wine country, but to have the Court validate as illegal the County’s secret passage of the ordinance by granting our petition is extremely gratifying.”

John Kelliher, a founding member of Protect Wine Country and owner of Grapeline Wine Country Shuttles, which provides local winery tours observed:

“Visitors and local alike want to see vineyards in wine country, not huge buildings with massive asphalt parking lots.  The Court got it right, the County should have given its citizens an opportunity to comment on the proposed changes.before pushing through a project that is completely at odds with the agricultural nature of wine country.”

Ben Drake, operator of Drake Enterprises, a vineyard management company was especially troubled by the affect of the ordinance:

“I won’t touch a vineyard within a 1/4 mile of a school given the strict Federal and State rules regarding the use of certain pesticides, fumigants and herbicides.”

“Hopefully the Court’s ruling will now invalidate Calvary Chapel application for a school so we avoid a 125 acre agricultural dead zone around the proposed school site.”

Michael W. Newcomb, a local attorney and owner of 35 acres of area vineyard stated:

“The County owes Protect Wine Country a debt of gratitude in overturning the law.  By giving discretion to the Planning Director to consider just about any project, including a school in a protected agricultural area, the County inadvertently exposed itself to significant liability under RLUIPA.”

It is unknown whether the County of Riverside will appeal Judge Trask’s ruling and what action the County intends to take with regard to the small number of Plot Plan applications accepted for review as a result of the illegal ordinance.  Attorney, Michael W. Newcomb believes:

 “With regard to those projects that are under consideration because of the ordinance, the right thing for the County to do is acknowledge the illegality of reviewing the applications and simply refund to the affected project developers all monies paid to the County.”

Background / History of the Church/School Issue:

The members of Protect Wine Country, first learned of the ordinance after discovering Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship applied for a Plot Plan to build a 32,000 sq ft. school, 50,000 square foot mega-church, and 442 space parking lot.  Ray Falkner of Falkner Winery was “shocked that the Church was given permission to deviate from its original conditions of approval, which expressly forbade it from operating a school.”

It was after this discovery in March 2011, that the wineries, vineyard owners and residents learned that the County of Riverside, Board of Supervisors had just five months prior, quietly passed Ordinance 348.4713, which gave the Planning Director her expanded powers. 

“What was especially disappointing is that the local wine and tourists industry had been actively opposing a similar ordinance at the Planning Commission that would have impacted just the Citrus Vineyard Zone.  We were told the issue was dead as of November 3, 2010, only to discover five months later that the County pulled a fast one and passed a County wide ordinance without notifying us and precluded any comment by placing the ordinance on the “policy calendar.” -- Ray Falkner

Under the “policy calendar,” the ordinance was approved along with 30 other matters in a single block vote.  While the winegrowers may have been in the dark, Michael Naggar, a Temecula City council member and paid consultant to Calvary Chapel was not.  Mr. Naggar apparently filed a letter in support of the ordinance.

Protect Wine Country Files Lawsuit Against County

On May 6, 2011, a lawsuit was filed challenging the Ordinance on CEQA grounds by counsel for Protect Wine Country, Johnson & Sedlack.  The petition for a writ of mandate filed by attorney, Ray Johnson, alleged challenged the County’s “finding” that the ordinance was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), specifically the petition alleged:

The County violated the provisions of CEQA by failing to conduct CEQA review for the Ordinance when it presents the reasonable possibility of direct and indirect adverse environmental consequences, particularly in the area of land use because the Ordinance allows uses which are inconsistent and incompatible with the intent and requirements for particular zoning classifications such as agricultural zones like the Citrus Vineyard Zone. [Petition, Para. 4]

The petition also challenged the ordinance because it was inconsistent and conflicting with the policies of the Riverside County General Plan [Para. 5] and the County failed to comply with its own requirements.  Both the County and Protect Wine Country fully briefed the issue presented in the Petition, which was heard on January 20, 2012.  Copies of the legal documents and Ordinance that was challenged can be obtained here:

            http://protectwinecountry.com/index.php/documents

About Protect Wine Country

Protect Wine Country is an unincorporated association of residents, wineries, vineyard owners and allied businesses and was formed with the purposes preventing the unnecessary loss of valuable vineyards within the Temecula Wine Country region.  While many of its supporters are also members of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association (TVWA), Protect Wine Country is not affiliated with or endorsed by the TVWA

Contact Information for individuals mentioned in release:

Jeff Kilpatrick, President, Protect Wine Country, Tel: (951) 704-4111, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

John Kelliher, Grapeline Wine Country Shuttle, Tel: (951) 693-5755, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Ben Drake, Drake Enterprises, Tel: +1 (951) 775-5500, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Michael W. Newcomb, Newcomb Law Group, Tel: (951) 541-0220, Ext. 101, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Ray Falkner, Falkner Winery, Tel: (951) 676-8231, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.