SodaCanyonRoad | The Strategic Plan at the BOS: Jan 15

The Strategic Plan at the BOS: Jan 15

Bill Hocker | Jan 7, 2019 on: Napa Strategic Plan

Update 1/15/19
NVR 1/15/19: Napa County to start tackling post-Measure C environmental issues
Video of the Jan 15, 2019 meeting

I have to admit that the Napa Strategic Plan has reminded me of our initial experience with Nextdoor, the social media networking site for neighborhoods. In 2014 it seemed like Nextdoor Soda Canyon might be a good organizing platform to confront the development issues that were beginning to change our lives on Soda Canyon Road. But, of course, it proved to be more about finding a missing pet or someone to repair a septic system.

At the beginning of the meeting Sup. Dillon asked the Plan's consultant, Dr. B.J. Bischoff, to make clear the distinction between the General Plan which looks at long term land use issues and the Strategic Plan which looks at all of the county functions in the short term.

I have followed this process thinking that the Strategic Plan was intended to begin addressing the "big picture" impacts of development that were the impetus for the Mar 10th 2015 meeting and APAC and Measure C. Instead it is about the nuts and bolts of making Napa County government a better institution that listens to its citizens, a noble goal to be sure.

But as the NVR article shows, the Strategic Plan is often linked with the angst surrounding Measure C, a long term land use problem, with the Supes scheduling a workshop on Measure C issues as an extension of the Strategic Plan. So a bit of confusion reigns over the Plan's intent.

In public comments, most of the passion revolved around Climate Action (now!!) and the sacrosanct Vine Trail, each group claiming their issue, if Napa acts quickly enough, was going to save humanity from a warming planet.

The wine industry's "data-based decisions" mantra was tediously repeated, an attempt to demonize any opposition to the expansion of vineyards, wineries and tourism in the county, which many citizens see as diminishment in their quality of life, as Trumpian fact-free populism. Loss in the quality of life, developers know, is hard for impacted citizens to quantify.

Update 1/9/19
The Revised Draft Napa Strategic Plan

Update 1/8/19
The next presentation of the Napa Strategic Plan at the Board of Supervisors will take place on Tues, Jan 15 2019 beginning a 9:00am.

Video of 12/18/18 meeting and documents
Napa County Strategic Plan 2019-2022
Email with comments

Update 12/19/18
NVR 12/19/18: Napa Supervisors surprised by deluge of comments on family farm woes and winery rules
Wine 12/19/18: Napa County presents goals through 2022

The report was given, Supervisors had brief comments and 28 members of the public spoke. Staff was directed to digest the day's proceedings, tweak the Plan accordingly and schedule another hearing (probably 1/15/19).
Video of the hearing
Coalition Napa Valley white paper

NVR 12/17/18: Napa County unveils plan to deal with Measure C, other issues

The Draft Strategic Plan is here.
The County's Strategic Plan page is here
Community Meeting reports are here

Our Vision for the Future
Napa County is an agricultural treasure known for its legendary wines, our small-town character, and sustainable natural resources.

�� - Napa Strategic Plan

For those that hoped the Napa Strategic Plan would be a vehicle to address the growth issues that are impacting the quality of life of Napa residents (the issues that led to the Mar 10 2015 joint BOS/PC meeting and the creation of APAC, and Measure C and countless fraught hearings over major projects like Walt Ranch, Syar and individual wineries) the draft report may be a bit too focused on symptoms and palliatives rather than causes and cures. It does not talk about how to slow the stream of development projects that occupy almost every planning commission meeting, adding buildings, visitors, employees, traffic and a demand on resources in an urbanization process that is directly counter to the vision of the Strategic Plan.

The Plan contains 81 action Items that are a bit more aspirational than actionable, and leave a lot of room for interpretation.

Six action items mention traffic/transportation: "Improve and maintain the existing transportation and roads system to accommodate all users" is the essence. Transportation action items are already being looked at in the Update of the General Plan Circulation Element. Unfortunately limits on the growth that is creating the traffic are not seen as part of the solution. (30% of the 1000 questionnaire comments mentioned traffic/transport)

Only one action item mentions wineries: "Work with stakeholders to update and develop sustainable regulations for issues including but not limited to residential development, view shed development, solar facilities, winery compatibility, outdoor winery hospitality, food pairings, and pesticide use." This is the crux of many development concerns. But the County's unwillingness to halt development while these issues are being defined or re-defined, and the APAC experience which essentially ignored residents as "stakeholders" in any decisions, makes one apprehensive. (20% of the questionnaire comments mentioned winery/wineries)

Only one mentions tourism: "Residents want to feel that the County is working for them, rather than catering to tourists, by encouraging more small businesses, family activities, and local services that focus on building community, improving well-being, and making it easier to live and work in the County." Tourist urbanism is the biggest threat to the rural character that residents treasure in the county. The county should get out of tourism development promotion and concentrate on real agriculture. (20% of questionnaire comments mentioned tourist/tourism/hospitality)

Only one mentions growth: "Develop a balanced approach to growth based on data-informed decisions." "Balanced growth" is a bit like the oxymoron "sustainable growth". Unfortunately, balance and sustainability only have a chance to be achieved once the growth is stopped. Also, the industry/government mantra "data-informed decisions" always seems like an excuse to put expert-opinion-justified development interests over resident-centered interests in quality of life. Quality of life is very real but hard to quantify, and expert opinions and reality are often not the same thing. (5% of questionnaire comments mentioned growth although growth is at the heart of other concerns)

As pointed out in the NVR article, one section does deal strictly with the issues raised by Measure C and the action items are rather specific. It is almost as if the only major complaint the BOS had with Measure C was that they didn't write it. The vineyard conversion goals, however, don't change from the current general plan. "Establish a cap on vineyard development through 2030, consistent with the 2008 General Plan Environmental Impact Report (EIR) project description." The 2007 EIR Agriculture chapter posits an additional 12,500 acres on top of the 42,000 acres then in production. Over the last decade about 100 acres of producing vineyards have been added to the county each year. The GP cap for vineyard production allows for 10 times that amount. (Note to County webmaster: Appendix H dealing with vineyard projections, like many of the documents dealing with the 2007 EIR, were lost when the new County website was launched in 2017) This is one of the few concrete proposals but, much like the compliance program, simply reinforces the bloated status quo. (13% of questionnaire comments mentioned vineyards/agriculture).

The Strategic Plan is mostly a declaration of good intentions, and as such is to be commended. "Community" is the most frequent word in the document after "Napa County Strategic Plan". But APAC, likewise, was commissioned with good intentions toward the interests of the community, intentions that were watered down or erased entirely when subjected to industry pushback. We each read what we want to into the intentions, and I can see how they would be the basis for constructive change in dealing with the issues of growth in the county. But, how the action items will actually be interpreted, or modified in ordinances or practice, is a very open question.

The fact that the Plan is nominally concerned with only the next three years still seems a bit odd, a rather short term vision of the future. We are celebrating 50 years of the Ag Preserve. It has been a success. But "growth" has Eden fraying around the edges, with building projects in the vineyards and on the hillsides and with chronic traffic congestion and a tourism economy replacing both the agricultural and residential economy. It is that fraying that was behind APAC, and Measure C and the resident activism that seems to have led to this Strategic Plan. Extrapolate the "growth" that has occurred in the last 20 years and there will be little left of the "agricultural treasure" and "small town character" 50 years from now. We need to begin a Strategic Plan not for the next 3 years but for the next half century. Otherwise there will be nothing to celebrate at the 100th anniversary of the Ag Preserve.