SodaCanyonRoad | Mar 10th BOS-PC statement: Mark Luce

Mar 10th BOS-PC statement: Mark Luce

Bill Hocker | Mar 16, 2015 on: The WDO

Supervisor Luce made a significant statement, IMHO, at the Mar 10 joint meeting of the BOS and Planning Commission. So significant that I felt obligated to create a transcript of it while watching the video. He indicates throughout that he is just suggesting questions in looking at the issue, but I think that his feeling is pretty clear, especially since he made the same suggestions last year at the first joint meeting, that the WDO needs to be scrapped, at least in the ag resource areas, and that the county must become much more serious about preserving the preserve. The suggestion, at the very least, ought to be a thoroughly considered alternative at the APAC forum. The video is here and the comments begin at 1:13:15 into it.

    "Madam Chair if I could... I just want to clarify where I'm looking, what we're facing today, and it goes back to something you referred to there on the 75% rule. I was on the county planning commission from 85 to 90 when we were wrestling with what was a winery. Basically we had just rezoned the entire county for consistency with the general plan that said agriculture is the highest and best use. The question really was, what allows the winery in our ag resource areas - why should we allow wineries and why not any other type of commercial activity and a belief that perhaps they shouldn't be allowed, that this is a purely agricultural area. The conclusion was that they should be allowed but the reasoning was that they would be allowed because they would process 75% Napa Valley grapes. And as history's shown at the time there ws a lack of grape processing capacity relative to the grape production. And it made sense.

    Then the next question was what is a winery, what do you allow a winery to do now that they are located in our ag resource areas? That discussion thas gone on as well. So the issue, at least in my mind, was never about attracting new production, it was really how do we protect the ag resource area, how do we keep it in agriculture and prevent it from being commercialized and paved over with those particular interests. And I think that's still the question today and, in fact, as you've demonstrated, the world is very much different that it was in 1990, that we have 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 times the capacity to process Napa Valley grapes than what we produce, which is just the reverse of where we were at.

    So the justification, frankly, for putting yet another new winery into our ag resource area is much thinner than it has ever been in the past. And I think that we are really faced with a question of why should this be allowed to continue. And what does this mean for the next 25 years? How do we protect this ag resource area and keep it the beautiful resource that it is while still allowing the appropriate commerce to continue. I don't necessarily have answers for that, as to how that should proceed, but I think that we are really at a crossroads, and if we just continue to do business as usual, we're going to find that that resource is going to degrade in my opinion. And that's not good for any of us. You noted that the jobs were 25% wine industry, but if that wine industry collapses you can look at the other 75% of jobs as also collapsing because one depends on the other. So I think it's a very important discussion.

    Quite frankly I'm not really concerned about what's going on on the roads, I'm more concerned about what's going on off of the roads. I think as a farmer who has that smell on his boots - that's the smell of money, and to see traffic moving up and down the valley is a general indication that our economy is working well. People who are generally complaining about traffic are the ones in traffic going to their jobs. And that's a good thing. I think that Napa and San Francisco are the only counties that today have more jobs that we had in the year 2000. So those are good things. And there are problems and we need to address them but they are good problems.

    But the serious problem, I think, we're facing is what continues to justify new wineries in our ag resource areas, and perhaps our ag watershed areas - I kinda look at them differently. Based on what you've shown up there the ag resource area, the heart of the valley, is significantly impacted, the other areas the same situation may not exist. But given the agenda which seems to be very broad and wide open I just wanted to really clarify what I think the real issue is today."

His statement is a mixed bag, of course. Under his proposal the watersheds are still fair game for developers and in fact would begin to receive additional developer lust that might have been absorbed by the preserve. And viewing traffic congestion as the good problem of a successful economy is disheartening. (Skyscrapers are the normal metric for a successful economy - are we headed that way?) I don't know, of course, what political complexity is involved in Sup. Luce being the only person actively pursuing this enlightened proposal. But he has invested some capital into the idea and he is not naive about the political realities in the county.

3/17/15 update: After seeing the BOS discussion concerning the formation of APAC which was approved to focus mostly on the nuts and bolts of the WDO, Supervisor Luce again made a plea to consider alternate topics for discussion (like the 75% rule, grape sourcing, and the need for any more wineries) - which was essentially ignored by other supervisors and staff. What is the subtext here?