Sierra Club v. County of SonomaAnnotate this Case
Until 2000, Sonoma County grape growers could plant or replant a vineyard “as a matter of right” without governmental approval. A 2000 ordinance, governing “grading, drainage improvement, and vineyard and orchard site development within the unincorporated area of the county” requires growers, other than hobbyists, to obtain an erosion-control permit from the Agricultural Commissioner before establishing or replanting a vineyard. An applicant must submit plans demonstrating compliance with certain directives and must accept certain ongoing agricultural practices. The Commissioner issued the Ohlsons a permit to establish a vineyard on land they own that was being used for grazing, finding that issuing the permit was a ministerial act, exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act, Public Resources Code 21000 (CEQA). The trial court agreed. The court of appeal affirmed. Although the ordinance may allow the Commissioner to exercise discretion when issuing erosion-control permits in some circumstances, the objectors did not show that the Commissioner improperly determined that issuing the Ohlsons’ permit was ministerial. Most of the ordinance’s provisions that potentially confer discretion did not apply to their project, and the objectors failed to show that the few that might apply conferred the ability to mitigate potential environmental impacts to any meaningful degree.