SodaCanyonRoad | Our Napa Valley

Our Napa Valley

Bill Hocker | Aug 28, 2015 on: Growth Issues

NVR: Vintners launch "Our Napa Valley" initiative

The Napa Valley Vintners, in a campaign previewed in the last 2 APAC meetings, have taken the offensive in promoting a pig picture look at the development problems that have been the focus of community concern at planning commission and Board of Supervisor meetings over the last year and a half. That broad look, which needs to involve planning for the future in the municipalities as well as the county, dubbed One Napa or Growth Summit elsewhere, was proposed by the Board of Supervisors at their joint PC/BOS meeting on Mar. 10th, 2015. With the Napa Pipe stand-off out of the way, Napa City may now be willing to make the summit possible.

We are one Napa Valley and we're working to preserve our quality of life.

Napa Valley Vintners

In Our Napa Valley

We are one Napa Valley. We share a wonderful quality of life, a sense of community and concerns for the future of this beautiful place. We depend on each other for the wellbeing of our citizens and our community. There are valid concerns that our collective success has created challenges in the areas of transportation, winery compliance and development, water and affordable housing. The wine community cares about these issues, and we are committed to helping develop innovative solutions.

The Napa Valley community must work together toward a shared vision to protect our quality of life and this special place we call home. In addition to our continued work on the substantive and timely issues we face, we want to celebrate everything that makes Napa Valley what it is. This month, the Napa Valley Vintners is launching an initiative to honor our shared sense of community called In Our Napa Valley. You will begin seeing this phrase around town with examples of what makes Napa Valley distinctive.

Visit our website to learn about this initiative as well as our work on important community issues. And, please share your own photos celebrating the events, experiences, landmarks, activities, people and scenery that contribute to the quality of life we all care so deeply about by posting on social media using #OurNapa.

The Vintners have itemized the problems: "transportation, winery compliance and development, water, and affordable housing". As usual, unspoken is the word "tourism", the county's prodigious growth industry that is driving the development that creates the problems. Tourism has been embraced by the wine industry and county governments as a means to augment profits and budgets beyond those that an agriculture based economy, even one as storied as Napa's high end wines, can provide. Perhaps they can't be blamed: this is America one developer said at a hearing, and "growth" is what we're all about. It is a convenient philosophy for the barons that profit from growth and a public imbued with the democratic dream that they too can become a baron.

The "Our" in the vintners campaign is no doubt intended to include the residents of the county that have been complaining of late. Their complaints led to the Mar 10th BOS meeting and to the creation of APAC. Napa residents, long supportive of the wine industry because of the beautiful landscape and rural, small town quality of life that it has provided, are now becoming less enchanted as the traffic backs up, as neighborhoods empty and affordable housing vanishes to accommodate short term rentals, as event centers begin their next door partying, as forest hillsides are clear cut for ever more resorts and wineries and baronial estates, All in the name of economic growth built on tourism.

The inability to talk about tourism while trying to solve the problems that are impacting residents does not bode well for actually solving the problems. At APAC, the Vintners stepped back from their earlier support of winery limitations that might have actually reduced the amount of tourism that new wineries and winery expansions currently wish to bring into the county. They are right to think that a focus on wineries will not in itself solve the urban problems they contribute to. But the solution has to start somewhere and wineries are at the base of the tourism food chain.

Instead they focused on the symptoms of traffic congestion and a lack of affordable housing that contributes to it. By concentrating on the symptoms, the Vintners beg the question of whether they are interested in reducing the problem or merely mitigating it with more roadwork and more housing, i.e. more development, to blunt the criticism, a palliative that spreads the disease rather than cures it.

Don't get me wrong. Tourism needs to be a part of the county economy. Napa is a beautiful place with a quaint handcraft industry that people want to see. But the tourism industry needs to be an incidental and subordinate part of life here if it is not to overwhelm, and eventually bury, the current reality that Napa represents and is something other than a tourist destination. At 3.3 million visitors a year, with the impacts already objectionable to those who live here, already diminishing the character of a rural environment and a quality of life that is worth preserving, the level of a sustainable tourist presence may have already been surpassed. It's not too early to say enough tourism, let's seek business models that bolster the wine industry without population impacts.

The growth summit needs to look at what can be done not just to slow growth, but (herasy to the American dream) to stop growth; to envision a community (perhaps as Carmel has done) that recognizes that continued growth will damage and ultimately destroy the unique character that brings residents and visitors alike to this special place. Do we need global warming to know that the growth ethic has limits? Is it not enough just to be stuck in a traffic jam every day?

Napa is unfortunately awash in the barons that know only wealth through growth. More come after every Auction. Governments, nominally protectors of the people against power, are inevitably bent to the will of wealth. Yet there is a long tradition in the county, of residents and the wine industry communing together to preserve this place to the advantage of both. The ag preserve, a landmark land use policy, represented an implicit bargain: the wine industry creates a beautiful and pleasant place for residents to live, and the residents vote for ordinances to allow the industry to survive by curtailing the profits to be made by selling their land. Thwarting the growth engine that has consumed most of the bay area was necessary so that this small rural place could survive into 2015. But the barons of growth never let up.

The residents and the wine industry need to come together now, and to find a new compact that will keep this place beautiful and small for the next 50 years. But it needs to start with a recognition from the Vintners that continued development of tourism venues to encourage an ever increasing tourist population, and the urban development and workforce population that it requires, are not in the long term interest of preserving this as a "special place".

Most wineries exist in this county with little tourist activity. Some of the best, though small, have no visitation. Given a world renowned reputation built by the previous generation of vintners, it is a business model that is sustainable here. The vintners most vehemently pushing for more direct-to-consumer marketing are the new entrants to a business already saturated with production capacity, and with investments that can't be returned by merely siphoning sales from other wineries. To be sure the large older wineries account for the lions' share of the winery tourism that exists now. But it is the new entrants that are driving the increase of tourist activities and numbers into the future, promoting DTC marketing as a necessary trend in the wine industry, when in fact it is really an opportunistic trend in the tourism industry.

The 45,000 acres of Napa grapes will not go unsold and the vineyards will not be paved into suburbia if no additional tourists come to the county. The wine made from them will still find happy connoisseurs, just as it does today. The wine industry will still prosper at the level that it now prospers.

Finding a "stable" economy based on the increasingly finite agricultural resources of the county, rather than continuing an unsustainable "growth" economy, needs to be the priority of any "growth" summit. The emphasis needs to be on stopping growth, not on how to slow it or mitigate it. If done with courage and vision, the balance between residents and the wine industry that has allowed this rural, small-town, special place to survive thus far can allow it to survive for the next 50 years.