Napa history has always played out in the flux of "growth" and "preservation" interests embodied by the Board of Supervisors (BOS). Napa is Napa (and not Santa Clara) because the preservationists have more often carried the day in BOS decisions. But in the last 20 years the balance has been shifting distinctly in the direction of growth.
That transition began in ernest with Bill Dodd's election as District 4 supervisor in 2000. Defeating preservationist Kathryn Winter, his election was a signal, in campaign promises and the press, that priorities would be changing on the board. The results of his growth-friendly tenure are omnipresent - in the traffic, in industrial development, in hillside development, in the amount of tourism development and the consequent loss of affordable housing and local businesses and the disappearance of a small town, rural way of life. Under his tenure, Carneros Inn and Meritage were built. He was instrumental in pursuing Napa Pipe, the biggest urban development in the history of the county, as well as the Jameson Canyon freeway that has enabled the development of the airport and American Canyon industrial zones. He supported the 2008 General Plan Update and 2010 WDO revisions that codified tourism marketing as agricultural activity allowable on ag zoned lands, tilting the balance of tourism and production codified in the 1990 WDO toward the tourism industry.
In 2014 Mr. Dodd supported the Governor's appointment of Alfredo Pedroza as his successor. Since becoming Supervisor, in the face of rising concern by local residents about the growth trajectory that the county is on, Mr. Pedroza has continued to promote the interests of corporations, entrepreneurs and plutocrats in their development projects. Under his tenure woodlands continue to be converted into vineyard estates, farmlands to be converted into winery tourist attractions and wetlands to be converted into warehouses. All with predictable traffic increases and housing shortages. He worked to eviscerate the BOS response to Agricultural Protection Advisory Commission recommendations, a process begun by public demand to curb winery proliferation. He approved the 2,300 acre Walt Ranch vineyard estate project, the remote Mountain Peak Winery and supported, through his commissioner, the Palmaz personal heliport, each to benefit plutocrats in the face of overwhelming opposition from his own District 4 constituents. He opposed Measure C's woodland protections, instead helping to craft an ineffectual alternative. He supported the redefinition of agriculture in county code to lock in tourism as an agricultural activity. He supports bringing in ever more tourists by generously funding Visit Napa Valley and streamlining winery use permits for new venues to accommodate them. He supported the expansion of the Syar excavations up against Skyline Wilderness Park in the face of substantial resident opposition. He supported the development or expansion of Girard, Raymond, and other winery projects vigorously opposed by residents defending their neighborhoods against commercialization. He is promoting infrastructure improvments to allow faster buildout of the airport wetlands, already a major area of traffic congestion. He appointed a developer to the County Planning Commission to advance his land use agenda there.
Mr. Pedroza is a skilled politician. Were he to make a realistic commitment to curbing the development forces that now threaten the county's rural character, rather than embracing them, he would be an admirable champion. Unfortunately his political decisions and substantial campaign donations from major developers in the county (some $380,000 from 2018 to Feb 2020) point elsewhere. On the stump his issues are the need for more housing and more transportation options, both pressing issues created by the last 20 years pursuing a "growth" economy. His platform is more development as a solution to the impacts of growth. It is a developer's agenda guaranteed to make housing and traffic problems worse.
The majority of the Board of Supervisors will set the future direction of the county. The majority currently supports more development. We will already see a vast amount of future development as the dozens of wineries, millions of square feet of industrial space, Napa Pipe and numerous other major projects all approved under Mr. Pedroza's tenure in the last few years become a reality. Continuing that trajectory with even more approvals going forward will only make the traffic, housing infrastructure and resource impacts exponentially worse.
Yet there is the possibility that those problems can be lessened if the growth trajectory we are on is changed. To do so means that a preservationist majority must be returned to the Board. Two of the current Board members, those on it the longest, understand how difficult it has been to maintain an agricultural and rural county in the face of urban development pressure. A third preservationist back on the board might lead them to take a more forceful role in returning to the principles that created the ag preserve in the first place and that have protected this place since.
Local residents, opposed by their political leaders and development interests, have increasingly taken on the task of preserving Napa's unique rural heritage, by participation in planning and Board meetings, by public advocacy and costly litigation, and by the promotion of ballot initiatives and candidates for office. Residents need to have stronger representation on the Board. As in 2000, this election can have a significant impact on the future of Napa County, but instead in the direction of preservation rather than development.
Dr. Amber Manfree is running against Mr. Pedroza in the upcoming election. She is smart and capable, and is committed to supporting the interests of local residents, vintners and growers who understand the unique and fragile value of their rural, small-town enclave in the urbanized Bay Area. In addition to the refreshing, personable authenticity lauded by the Register's Editorial Board, Dr. Manfree brings a scientist's analytic ability to define problems and devise solutions and a longtime rural resident's desire for solutions that protect the unique character of this place. Most importantly, she knows that in the land use battles that have made Napa a "national treasure", it has been a commitment to preservation rather than growth that has allowed this rural environment and agricultural economy to survive the past fifty years and that the same commitment is needed now more than ever if they are to survive the next fifty.