Bill Hocker | Jul 19, 2018 on: Napa Strategic Plan
Bohemian 7/17/18: Napa after C: Nice environmentalists finish last
George Caloyannidis LTE 6/27/18: Measure C: what next?
NVR 6/21/18: In the wake of Measure C's defeat, Napa County supervisors debate what's next
BOS will continue their discussion of Land Use policies on Jul 10, 2018 with input and timelines from staff.
In the discussion of land use policies by the BOS in their Jun 19th, 2018 meeting, in the wake of the Measure C election, Sup Wagenknecht led off the discussion, after acknowledging the quadrennial joy of getting to ask for a job back and hearing from his bosses, with a very clear-headed analysis about the importance of Measure C based on listening to voters. The initiative, as he saw it from their standpoint, was not a vote about the somewhat confusing technicalities of the measure. Their yes vote seemed to be saying "I'm upset about all this change that is happening in napa, all this development". It was a plebiscite on the many development issues that have pitted residents against developers, including the winery industry, over the past few years. Yes on C was a proxy for a vote of concern over the pace of that development. And it was a vote about whether residents would have a say in the process to address that concern.
Sup. Dillon proposed a deliberative process be set up to discuss the broader issues that underlay the negativity and anger that were a part of the Measure C campaign. She cited successful community deliberative processes: GRAC, General Plan update, the Flood Control project. She suggested a third party facilitator, with working groups and the use perhaps of something like "Crowdfire" to identify the the challenging facing the county and to seek an answer to the question "What is the carrying capacity of Napa County?" A 50-50 spit over the future direction of Napa County is not sustainable. And decisions need to be science based, a refrain that would be heard again and again. (She didn't mention APAC or the Walt Ranch hearings, the two deliberative processes that convinced the citizens of Napa County that change was only possible through the initiative process.)
Sup. Gregory wanted some leadership from the Board before the community commission was convened with a restart of the Board's Strategic Planning Sessions that seemed to go nowhere last year.
Sup Pedroza wanted to know what are the problems to be solved? He doesn't see any data to indicate that the development trajectory of napa county is on the wrong track. Look at con regs and ordinances. Bring us the science. We need "scientific, fact-based" decisions. The board needs a conversation first before a community collaboration. And it needs city partners in the process. Later he added that wanted to see process timelines from the staff.
Sup. Ramos felt that Supes were chosen to make tough decisions, and she was not interested in a deliberative approach that's tries to appeal to emotional concerns rather than factual concerns. The decisions need to be made by Supes and favors the Strategic Planning Sessions rather than public workshops,. No need for another futile APAC process on steroids.
In public comments community reps Eve Kahn, and Gary Margadant, both a bit unprepared because the lack of notification and cryptic staff report on the issue, voiced concern about the ineffective 3-minute-speech format for resident input in the collaborative process. The wine industry "stakeholder" representatives were on hand to express, once again, their need for science, fact-based decision making and faith in the Supervisors as decision makers. "I don't feel I'm limited to 3 minutes, I can call up the supervisors whenever I want. And write longer letters and give them to you.", one of the industry reps said. (Since that's what she's paid to do, it might be a bit easier for her than other citizens with their own lives to lead.)
Dir. Morrison then concluded with "I look forward to the journey we are about to embark on." drawing some chuckles from those knowledgeable about the other journeys he has been on these last few years.
The "fact-based" decision
The emphasis on "fact-based decisions" and the denigration of the initiative process as a "blunt instrument" by government and industry opponents in the Measure C campaign has seemed to me to be code for industry and government control of the planing process rather than the "emotion-based decision" making by residents that is an inherent part of the initiative process.
The "facts" that industry and government officials tout are conclusions in reports made by technical experts. They are not, in fact, "facts", but are interpretations of quantities of data given certain assumptions. They are expert opinions. As we have seen, where opponents can afford their own experts, as qualified as those hired by the developer, very different opinions often emerge when the data is subjected to different, but no less valid, assumptions. Which opinions are to be used in decisions become the stuff of lawsuits, as the county knows in numerous projects being challenged in court.
Government and developers like "fact-based" decisions. When impacted citizens complain about the harm projects may cause, the developers can tout the "fact" that an expert says there will be less-than-significant negative impacts. If you don't agree get your own experts. Experts, of course, cost money. Often lots of money. For the developer they are part of the cost of the project, amortized by the profits to be made. They are tax deductible. For impacted citizens, the cost of hiring experts comes from savings accounts. And they are not tax deductible. And hiring consultants is a complex undertaking they have no experience with, often needing a lawyer to guide the process, an additional expense. The truth is that developers and governments always tout "fact-based" decisions not because the opinions are irrefutably true, but because the cost and the effort of refuting them is an enormous burden for any opponents wishing to challenge their projects.
We all profess to value decisions based on reality rather than fantasy. But reality and the opinions of experts are not the same thing. Unfortunately, as we've seen in dozens of examples, think pesticides, tobacco or global warming, expert opinions often depend on the amounts of money involved. Reality can't be held at bay forever, but it can be ignored or hidden for years with enough money given to the task. And as we've seen over and over, in Napa there is lots of money to prove that development projects, and the reality of the traffic they create, and the affordable housing and infrastructure needs they generate, and the resources they use will have a less-than-significant impact on the future of the County. The reality of those impacts, denied or mitigated away for years in "fact-based" development decisions, are now upon us.
On Tues June 19th the BOS will begin (let's hope it is a beginning) to discuss land use policies in the wake of the defeated Measure C initiative.
The brief staff letter on item 10A of the BOS agenda is here
From the staff letter: "Based on prior policy discussions before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, staff has developed a series of options for discussion to address current challenges and further the County's goals of protecting agriculture, the environment, and the economy."
The effort would seem to be Sup Dillon's followup to her editorial commitments made during the campaign:
"We can all be sure that whether Measure C passes or not, these issues are urgent and will drive policy discussion far beyond the election. The real challenge will be to find common ground in the search for solutions to the problems that face us.
Regardless of what happens once the votes are tallied, I am fully committed to do all I can to bring all the stakeholders together to make Napa County a leader in stewardship and sustainability."
It will be interesting to see what Measure C's opponents on the Board have to say. And to see if this effort, like the APAC look at winery proliferation, will be merely an exercise in due diligence or an impetus for change.