The Livermore City Council approved the formation of the new Livermore Valley Wine Heritage District (LVWHD) with a revised boundary map that no longer includes Dublin and Danville.
At its regular meeting on Nov. 22, the council heard an updated presentation from city staff that proposed a new, smaller boundary for the benefit assessment district which impacts 50 wineries located within the Livermore Valley.
The move was decided by the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association to address concerns raised at the Nov. 8 City Council hearing about the original district boundaries being unclear.
The previously proposed assessment area excluded Pleasanton and San Ramon but included Dublin and Danville as well as unincorporated parts of the Amador and San Ramon valleys and Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
The new map excludes those other areas to focus only on the wineries in Livermore.
"This proposed new wine heritage district boundary represents a majority of wineries by both total direct to consumer sales and by simple number of affected wineries," said Adam Van de Water, the city's innovation and economic development director.
The formation of the LVWHD is sponsored by the winegrowers association. The city of Livermore will act as the lead agency for the district, collecting an annual assessment of 2% of winery sales made in the state of California over a five-year term that would begin retroactively on July 1, 2021 with the collection of assessments set to begin on Jan. 1, 2022.
"The district is designed to provide specific benefits to payors by increasing winery sales in the Livermore Valley, marketing and brand awareness, community and industry advocacy, quality enhancement and education, and sales promotion," Van de Water said at a Sept. 13 City Council meeting, introducing the proposal.
At the Nov. 8 hearing -- where the council was initially set to take its final vote on the district -- William Smyth of Westover Winery in Castro Valley objected to both the formation of the district overall and specifically, the inclusion of his winery in it. The questions he raised regarding the boundaries of the LVWHD prompted the council to postpone its vote and request staff to return with more information.
At the latest meeting on Nov. 22, Smyth said he felt the revised boundaries were appropriate. He said the new map, "places the district around where it should be and that's in the city of Livermore."
While Smyth no longer expressed opposition to the LVWHD, another challenger of the proposal, the Alameda County Taxpayers Association, doubled down on its objection to the formation of the district.
Marcus Crawley, president of the group, urged the council to not approve the LVWHD, citing a number of reasons including a concern that the district would extend beyond its five-year term and a concern about potential pension debts.
Prior to the meeting, the taxpayers association also submitted a letter to the city that referenced legislation which prevents properties zoned for residential use or agricultural use from being subjected to assessments. The letter suggested that the LVWHD proposal was flawed because "many of the wineries in the proposed assessment district appear to be located on properties that are zoned for residential use or that are zoned for agricultural use."
City attorney Jason Alcala addressed this issue during the meeting, noting that he's "not sure that there is interpretation of case law to support that." However, he said that staff would continue to research to find if there is evidence to support the issue raised by the taxpayers association. He also emphasized that the LVWHD assessment is on wine sales only and is not assessed against the property.
Alcala said that in the event that the taxpayer association's claims were found to be accurate, the city could disestablish the district at a later time.
After some brief discussion, the council voted 4-0 in favor of approving the LVWHD. Councilmember Gina Bonanno was absent from the meeting.
A complete recording of the Nov. 22 Livermore City Council meeting is available here.