Suppose they built a distribution center and nobody came.
That’s the situation we have here in Sonoma California.
What you see above is a facility at 22801 East Eighth Street in Sonoma. The address is a bit misleading as the view you are looking at is the “front” of the building which is on Highway 116, the major highway (it becomes Highway 121 a bit later) between Sonoma and Napa. It was originally envisioned as a wine warehouse (we are of course in the California wine country) and at over 250,000 square feet it was going to hold both barrels of wine waiting to be bottled and cases of bottled wine waiting to be distributed to wholesalers and wine retailers.
It was finished in early 2019, just in time for a “wine glut” to be declared in California. Too much wine, not enough wine buyers was causing a build up of stored wine, and all that wine was already stored someplace else. The wine glut served as an impetus to vineyard owners to pull out vines nearing their replacement age and plant new ones. Those new ones will take five to six years to produce enough grapes to make it worthwhile to create wine from them. The thought was that by that time the glut would be over and everything would be back to normal.
Ah, but we all know what happened in 2020. COVID kept everyone at home and many of those kept inside by the virus spent some time with some fine Napa/Sonoma vintages. So many in fact that the wine glut turned into a wine deficit. Prices have risen, all that stored wine has made it to your home (yes, you) and with less wine in the pipeline for the next few years, a new wine warehouse could easily be termed a white elephant.
But then the man who built the warehouse in anticipation of having millions of gallons of wine to store got a call that probably caused him to pop a bottle of champagne…pardon me…California sparkling wine.
It was from Amazon.
They saw a giant warehouse sitting idle in an area where a new “final mile” warehouse would be just about perfect. They saw room for 87 delivery vans, 14 large haul trucks, and millions of products to bring to the homes of Marin, Sonoma, and Napa counties. They envisioned 287 jobs at a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week operation, surely something no local government official could afford to say no to.
And after shooting it down once as being too ambitious Amazon came back with a scaled back plan that took the number of large haul trucks to 7 but kept the same number of delivery vans and just a few less jobs. How could anyone possibly be against this plan they probably thought.
If you notice a hand raised, that’s me and most of my neighbors.
Here’s the problem. Take a look at Highway 116, right at where the warehouse is located.:
Yup that’s it. Not a modern state of the art freeway. As a matter of fact it’s a one lane in each direction, looks like the Joad family should be traveling down it, bucolic farmland roadway. On an average weekday morning the road is clogged with cars and trucks going back and forth from Napa to Sonoma or vice versa. The idea of adding 87 delivery vans and even just the 7 large long haul trucks in the scaled down plan, not to mention the cars of the people working there, was more than the community could take. We saw a 20 minute commute to Napa turning into a 40-60 minute commute, complete with being stuck behind semis and those delivery vans.
And no, the highway can’t be widened. 85% of the land on either side of it are vineyards. Besides being the basis of much of our economy, vineyard land sells for between $250,000 and one million dollars per acre.
Community groups came out in force to demand the project not go through. Though many talked of the environmental consequences of adding all those gas guzzlers, the main concern was the amount of traffic being added to a thoroughfare, all for the benefit of an out of state company that contributes nothing to the local economy. And yes, many people didn’t take kindly to Amazon’s anti-union rhetoric or their “we know what’s best” attitude toward the local community.
We take quality of life issues seriously here.
The area where the warehouse is located, Schellville, is just outside the formal border of the city of Sonoma but even the mayor of Sonoma chimed in that he was against it because of the traffic and environmental problems it would cause. Imagine a city mayor anywhere else in America turning down nearly 300 new jobs. He then added that he was fine with them finding a more suitable location somewhere else nearby.
But in a funny way, the biggest problem for Amazon on this project was their own success. Like many of my neighbors I have an Amazon account and pay extra for Amazon Prime. How fast do my purchases make it to the house? Just as fast as they did when we lived in Silicon Valley. Next day deliveries get delivered the next day. In other words one of the most commonly held opinions about the warehouse was “Why do they need it?”.
Last week Amazon announced they were abandoning the project. In the meantime, score it one for the little guys against one hundred billion for the big guys. You take your victories where you can.
Meanwhile, lets go travel the backroads so we don’t get weighed with Linda