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  1. TopTop #1
    Shepherd's Avatar
    Shepherd
     

    The Paul Hobbs Wine Empire Strikes Back

    The Watertrough Children’s Alliance (WCA)--mainly mothers with students at schools near where yet another apple orchard is being converted into a chemical vineyard--filed a lawsuit on the afternoon of Nov. 25 against the Paul Hobbs Winery. The next day Hobbs struck back with a press release, promising he “will aggressively fight.”

    Hobbs is famous for being aggressive, fighting neighbors, and abusing land. Called “the wine industry’s bad boy,” he regularly breaks the rules and then pays paltry fines—“business as usual” for him. He plans to use toxic pesticides next to five schools with over 500 students, which would also hurt family members, teachers, staff, and neighbors. Hobbs does not follow a “good neighbor” policy.

    The lawsuit asserts that the permit issued Hobbs by Sonoma County should be subject to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) regulations. It contends that it poses threats to wildlife and water quality. Filed by attorney Paul Carroll, it seeks state intervention to halt the conversion.

    “Hobbs has infuriated officials, neighbors and industry peers by clear-cutting trees,” writes Jeremy Hay in “Sonoma Magazine: The Heart of Wine Country.” Hobbs previously was found guilty of violating Sonoma County’s Vineyard Erosion and Soil Control Ordinance (VESCO).

    Wine baron Hobbs travels the globe from Sebastopol to Latin America, Asia, Europe, Armenia, and elsewhere to oversee his expansive empire. He helicopters over local neighbors and disrupts their rural peace and quality of life in pursuit of his cash cow—wine. At up to $300 a bottle, only the wealthy benefit from his extractions from the Earth’s bounty.

    After buying a 48-acre apple orchard, Hobbs ripped out trees and other vegetation that held the soil in place. Then it rained. Members of WCA and the Apple Roots Group of parents and neighbors called regulators, who once again issued a Stop Work order, which halted the conversion for two months.

    Apple Roots Group organized a protest at a Hobbs wine tasting. He cancelled when some 75 people picketed outside, rather than risk exposing customers to the public outcry.

    “Hobbs utilizes sustainable practices in his vineyards,” the press release boldly asserts. Hobbs describes himself as a “steward of the land.” This is pure green-washing. If he was sustainable, he would not have had his recent conversion declared illegal because it lead to soil erosion and he would not illegally have clear-cut redwoods and other trees three previous times.

    Vintners have been reluctant to speak up publicly against Hobbs, but some privately call him “a jerk.” Duff Bevill, who farms about 1,000 acres of grapes, is quoted by Hay as saying that what Hobbs does “is insidious to the entire industry.” Longtime grower Saralee Kunde also points to Hobbs as an example of how not to develop a vineyard.

    Agriculture Commissioner Tony Linegar adds that Hobbs’ Watertrough actions “bring negative attention to the program we have worked so hard to build.” Former Sonoma County Winegrowers President Nick Frey has also drawn a distinction between Hobb’s and the larger grape-grower community.

    Local environmental activist Helen Shane describes Hobbs’ way of doing business as the “Whoops” method: “Do exactly as you please, mutter ‘Whoops’ when caught, pay a fine and go on to wreak havoc. Cheaper and more effective than abiding by the rules, as most other business people do.”
    “Corporations are waiting in the wings to snap up orchards and parcels of land to develop into more wine grape vineyards,” said grapegrower and neighbor Bill Shortridge. “It gives the responsible growers a bad name. The Paul Hobbses have no interest in our agriculture. They only look at the bottom line, at the expense of our eco-system, agricultural community, and health.”

    "This is a watershed moment in our hilly and hazard-prone watersheds," says geologist Jane Nielson. "The County's lax oversight of agricultural development has invited abusive agricultural development, such as Hobbs practices. It's easy to see why rural residents seek better scrutiny of permit applications."

    Hobbs actions--including the most recent press release threatening his famous aggression and “I’ll do as I please” attitude--could trigger stricter regulations for the wine industry. Some even call for a moratorium on new vineyards, contending that “enough is enough.”

    (Shepherd Bliss teaches college part-time, gardens, has contributed to two dozen books, and can be reached at [email protected].)
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  3. TopTop #2
    Dixon's Avatar
    Dixon
     

    Re: The Paul Hobbs Wine Empire Strikes Back

    When poor and middle-class people commit crimes, they commonly go to jail, or at least have to pay fines that are a big enough proportion of their "net worth" (often more than they have) to have a deterrent effect. When rich sociopaths like Hobbs commit crimes, they don't go to jail, and any fines are a fraction of the profit they're making by committing the crimes--thus no deterrent. This is one of many indications of corruption, even at the local level, and a clear indication that the myth of the USA as a classless society is just that---a myth.

    Has anyone ever asked local officials such as the County Sheriff why guys like Hobbs commit crimes regularly without ever spending a day in jail? I've gotta wonder who's getting paid off. Perhaps in some cases there's no payoff per se, but just people operating on the basis of unconscious deference to the "upper" class. I call it the slave mentality, and we've all been inculcated with it.

    Quote Posted in reply to the post by Shepherd: View Post
    Hobbs is famous for being aggressive, fighting neighbors, and abusing land. Called “the wine industry’s bad boy,” he regularly breaks the rules and then pays paltry fines—“business as usual” for him...Hobbs previously was found guilty of violating Sonoma County’s Vineyard Erosion and Soil Control Ordinance (VESCO)...

    After buying a 48-acre apple orchard, Hobbs ripped out trees and other vegetation that held the soil in place. Then it rained. Members of WCA and the Apple Roots Group of parents and neighbors called regulators, who once again issued a Stop Work order, which halted the conversion for two months...

    If he was sustainable, he would not have had his recent conversion declared illegal because it lead to soil erosion and he would not illegally have clear-cut redwoods and other trees three previous times.

    ...Local environmental activist Helen Shane describes Hobbs’ way of doing business as the “Whoops” method: “Do exactly as you please, mutter ‘Whoops’ when caught, pay a fine and go on to wreak havoc...”
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  5. TopTop #3
    tommy's Avatar
    tommy
     

    Re: The Paul Hobbs Wine Empire Strikes Back

    Dixon,
    County officials rarely are white knights. If they've risen to positions of power, they've probably cut a few deals, leaving a few shadows in the closet... which could be used against them, if they take on a Mr. Clean persona in vilifying a bad guy like Hobbs. Or they might have been caught in their underwear! Plus guys like Hobbs are smart enough to make some gestures for the public good, to show that they're not totally evil. If I'm not mistaken, Hobbs protected or donated some land in Pocket Canyon to the County with long term maintenance funding, which may absolve him of culpability. I mean after all, for most of us, isn't life often a series of compromises? Some will deny this, but I've found compromise to be an essential part of human relationships.

    Quote Posted in reply to the post by Dixon: View Post
    When poor and middle-class people commit crimes, they commonly go to jail, or at least have to pay fines that are a big enough proportion of their "net worth" (often more than they have) to have a deterrent effect. When rich sociopaths like Hobbs commit crimes, they don't go to jail, and any fines are a fraction of the profit they're making by committing the crimes--thus no deterrent. This is one of many indications of corruption, even at the local level, and a clear indication that the myth of the USA as a classless society is just that---a myth.

    Has anyone ever asked local officials such as the County Sheriff why guys like Hobbs commit crimes regularly without ever spending a day in jail? I've gotta wonder who's getting paid off. Perhaps in some cases there's no payoff per se, but just people operating on the basis of unconscious deference to the "upper" class. I call it the slave mentality, and we've all been inculcated with it.
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  7. TopTop #4
    Dixon's Avatar
    Dixon
     

    Re: The Paul Hobbs Wine Empire Strikes Back

    Yes, of course, Tommy, social life is partly about compromises. But not all compromises are the type that involve violating others. Having the power and responsibility to protect the community by bringing fat cats to justice when they have victimized people and refusing to do so is a violation of basic principles of equal justice and thus a victimization of the community at large. This is corruption.

    I'm not so naive as to think that the kind of rotten compromises you describe, or for that matter evil in general, will ever disappear. But we can always do better--if we make the effort. In cases like this, that involves, among other things, recognizing the corruption, shouting it from the rooftops so people are aware, and demanding justice. Shrugging our shoulders and pointing out that compromise is part of life is not, IMHO, a constructive response.

    Quote Posted in reply to the post by tommy: View Post
    Dixon,
    County officials rarely are white knights. If they've risen to positions of power, they've probably cut a few deals, leaving a few shadows in the closet... which could be used against them, if they take on a Mr. Clean persona in vilifying a bad guy like Hobbs. Or they might have been caught in their underwear! Plus guys like Hobbs are smart enough to make some gestures for the public good, to show that they're not totally evil. If I'm not mistaken, Hobbs protected or donated some land in Pocket Canyon to the County with long term maintenance funding, which may absolve him of culpability. I mean after all, for most of us, isn't life often a series of compromises? Some will deny this, but I've found compromise to be an essential part of human relationships.
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  9. TopTop #5
    Imagery's Avatar
    Imagery
     

    Re: The Paul Hobbs Wine Empire Strikes Back

    Just curious if anyone has gotten the federal government involved. I'd easily be able to call his actions eco-terrorism, and he is a terrorist. Given the federal government and its propensity to wreak havoc on the lives of terrorists (namely drones bombing their houses, etc.), and the "Patriot Act" - which allows the federal government to indefinitely detain terrorists without charge, without due process and without any civil rights, why don't we work to classify him for what he is?

    One of two things would happen...

    1. He'd be detained, his life would be examined under an electron microscope, and his fortune would go to the attorneys to try to free him...or
    2. He'd upend the Patriot Act, allowing our citizens to regain some of the liberties lost.
    Last edited by Barry; 12-12-2013 at 02:55 PM.
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