Woodland Initiative

Apr 15, 2016

Water, Forest, & Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2016

The Initiative website
The Initiative Facebook page
The Initiative Text

In the 1980's, with the Napa Valley floor almost fully developed in vineyards and a continuing flow of wannabes wishing to fulfill their Napa dreams, vineyard development in the hilly watershed areas surrounding the valley began to take off. Following several vineyard clearing projects in the late 1980's that resulted in land erosion and river sedimentation, Napa county passed Conservation Regulations in 1991 that established stream setbacks and maximum deforestation limits.

By 2002 it was apparent to some that the effectiveness of the 1991 measures were in doubt, given the magnitude of development in the watersheds, unless more protective measures were put in place. A stringent ordinance was proposed by environmentalists in 2002. In 2003 the Board of Supervisors passed a short term stream setback ordinance, banning commercial development within 25-150' from streams. Two measures were placed on the 2004 ballot in response: Measure O, an outgrowth of the 2002 effort, was created with 350-1000' setbacks and limits on deforestation. A counter Measure P, was created by the wine industry in line with the BOS 2003 ordinance. Both measures were defeated after a campaign by "land steward" property rights advocates.

In 2001 the State of California established an oak woodlands conservation fund to provide funding for the protection of oak woodlands. In 2010 a Voluntary Oak Woodland Management Plan was produced by Napa stakeholders and adopted by the county as a voluntary plan to be used by entities that wanted to tap into the conservation fund. This document serves as the current basis for woodland protection in the county.

Since 1991 vast areas of the watersheds have been deforested and the landscape in the hills, seen on google maps, now resembles Vietnam after the war rather than the forests that once defined the hills around the valley. In some areas like the Rector watershed pictured here the deforestation is substantial. And another 300 acres of vineyard conversion is currently under review by the county.

As the California drought continues, concern has again heightened over the loss of forest and woodlands that retain and filter surface water for municipal reservoirs, over the depletion of groundwater and toxic runoff from ever more agriculture, and over the urban development of the watersheds for tourism facilities and vineyard housing estates. The relationship between the deforestation process and GHG emmisions has also become a concern in the county's climate action plan. The threat to the water resources and the rural environment of the county has never been greater. As with the impact of expanding tourism and industrial development on traffic and affordable small town community on the valley floor, the question of the long term viability of the watersheds and the commitment to the sustainable rural community envisioned in the county general plan is now back on the agenda.

NVR 4/12/17: Watershed ballot proponents seek California Supreme Court review
James Conaway: Limits on hillside development will rise again
NVR 3/3/17: Appeals court backs Napa County in watershed initiative dispute
SH Star 8/31/16: Angwin Watershed Initiative backers seek Appeals Court decision
James Conaway: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in comely Napa Valley?
NVR 8/11/16: State court declines to revive Napa watershed measure for November election
NVR 8/1/16: Napa oak ballot measure proponents appeal court decision
Mike Hackett LTE 7/12/16: Napa County watersheds need more protection
WineSpectator 7/20/16: A Battle Over Vines and Trees in Napa Valley?
NVR 7/6/16: Napa County watershed initiative heads toward July 15 court date
NVR 4/5/16: Supervisor candidates tackle environmental issues
NVR 3/29/16: State, local efforts underway to protect oaks
NVR 1/27/16: Proposed initiative targets watershed protection
NVR 3/29/16: State, local efforts underway to protect oaks
NVR 3/12/16: Initiative proponents hope to defuse opposition
NVR 1/27/16: Proposed Initiative targets watershed protection
NVR 3/4/04: Setback for setbacks: O, P lose
SF Gate 2/27/04: Napa Valley divided over competing land-use measures (O & P)
NVR 1/8/04: Advocates line up behind ballot measures O and P
LTE 7/11/03: Setback foes feed fear, lack facts
John Tuteur LTE 4/2/03: Setbacks might boost land values
NVR articles on the the 2002-2004 conservation battle
NYTimes 7/11/99: In Wine Country, Can White or Red Ever Be Green?

Appellate Courts Case Information Case A149153 Wilson et al vs Napa County et al
Napa County Conservation Regulations (1991, 2007)
County Voluntary Oak Woodland Management Plan (2010)

James Conaway: The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley The watershed conservation battle at the turn of the millennium.


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Woodland Initiative Update, Jan 2016

Jim Wilson - Jan 11, 2017 3:52PM  Share #1371

Dear friends of the Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative,

Our heartfelt gratitude goes to amici standing with us, and to all those who have worked so hard over the last several months preparing our appeal. Amici letters are attached. Please let me know if you haven't seen the opening and reply briefs and would like to.

On August 22, our attorneys at Shute Mihaly & Weinberger filed a Notice of Appeal with the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco. Yesterday, the Court granted our request to hear our case on an expedited basis, which means it will be heard and resolved prior to August 29.

Here's a summary of the amici letters:

1. Eric Biber, UC Berkeley School of Law, on why oak trees matter, and why their protection under current law is inadequate. In particular he explains why the concept of best management practices (BMPs) for oak woodlands requires that BMPs be able to be modified to reflect changing conditions and scientific information.

Amici are:
California Native Plant Society
Center for Biological Diversity
Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC)
Sierra Nevada Alliance

2. Robin Johansen of Remcho Johansen & Purcell LLP, on why the initiative complies with the full text rule, and why upholding the trial court's reasoning seriously distorts the full text rule in ways that would gravely affect the initiative process statewide.

Amici are:
California Wildlife Foundation
California Native Plant Society
Corporate Ethics International (CEI)
Environmental Defense Center (EDC)
Forests Forever
Forest Unlimited
Friends of Harbors, Beaches, and Parks (FHBP)
Greenbelt Alliance
Planning & Conservation League (PCL)
Save The Bay

3. Nielsen Berksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni LLP, on why the initiative fails to comply with the full text rule.

Amici are:
Winegrowers of Napa County
Napa Valley Vintners
Napa County Farm Bureau
Napa Valley Grape Growers

4. Cota Cole LLP, on why cities and counties believe the appellant's position is unworkable and would cause confusion among election officials statewide.

Amici are:
League of California Cities
California State Association of Counties (CSAC)

Chronology of events, taken in part from SMW legal briefs, is below:

In 2015, proponents began work on a countywide voter initiative to protect forests and tree canopy near streams, wetlands, and oak woodlands in Napa County. A primary goal of the initiative is to complement the County’s landmark 1990 initiative (Measure J) by establishing critical additional water quality buffer zones in the County’s Agricultural Watershed zoning district. The initiative aims to strengthen protections for Napa County’s threatened streams, forests, and oak woodlands.

In January 2016, proponents formally commenced the initiative process by filing with the County a Notice of Intention to Circulate Petition, along with the full text of the proposed initiative and a request for County Counsel to prepare the official ballot title and summary. County Counsel reviewed the entire Initiative and prepared the required title and summary.

On March 1, 2016, proponents published the official ballot title and summary in the Napa Valley Register, thereby notifying the public of the initiative’s chief points and purposes.

Proponents and their volunteer supporters then began circulating the Initiative Petition among County voters for signatures. Ultimately, proponents collected 6,298 signatures, well in excess of the 3,791 valid signatures necessary to qualify the Initiative for the ballot. On May 11 the signature packets were provided to the Registrar of Voters.

On June 6, 2016, the Napa County Registrar of Voters issued a certificate that the initiative had qualified for placement on the ballot. Three days later, in an abrupt turnaround, the Registrar announced that he was rejecting the petition because County Counsel had advised him that it did not comply with the “full text” requirement of Elections Code section 9101.

Because this action violated the Registrar’s ministerial duty to certify qualified initiative petitions, proponents promptly filed a writ action asking the trial court to direct the Registrar to place the initiative on the ballot for the November 2016 election.

On June 15, 2016, appellants filed a mandamus action in the trial court challenging the Registrar’s ministerial action.
On July 15, 2016, the writ petition was denied in Napa Superior Court.

On July 27, appellants filed an “emergency” petition for writ of mandate with the First District Court of Appeal, which was summarily denied.

On August 8, appellants filed an “emergency” Petition for Review with the California Supreme Court, which was denied.

On August 22, 2016, appellants filed a Notice of Appeal with the First District Court of Appeal. Proponents are asking this Court to find that: (1) the Initiative Petition complies with the Elections Code’s “full text” requirement; (2) the Registrar’s refusal to certify the petition violated the Elections Code; and (3) the initiative must be placed on the ballot for the County’s next general election in June 2018. To avoid irreparable harm to their constitutional rights to have their initiative placed before the voters in a timely fashion, proponents are asking the Court to issue its decision in this case no later than August 29, 2017.

By this appeal, the proponents of the Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative seek to safeguard what our Supreme Court has repeatedly described as “one of the most precious rights of our democratic process.” Elections Code section 9101 provides that initiative petitions submitted to county election officials must contain “the full text” of the proposed measure. The Initiative provisions at issue require the County Planning Director, in reviewing oak tree removal permits, to determine if an applicant’s proposed remedial measures are consistent with “best management practices” set forth in the County’s Voluntary Oak Woodland Management Plan. The trial court found that the Initiative’s cross-reference to these best management practices effectively “enacted” them by implication and that the “text” of the Initiative therefore should have included the language of the BMPs in their entirety. Because the Initiative Petition did not include this language, the trial court held that the Petition did not satisfy the Elections Code’s full text requirement.

Our attorneys hold that the trial court’s decision radically departs from existing full text jurisprudence. In reviewing the validity of voter-sponsored initiatives, the courts have emphasized “the fundamental nature of the people’s constitutionally enshrined initiative power” and “the well-established judicial policy to apply a liberal construction to this power wherever it is challenged.” Consistent with this well-established policy, the courts have repeatedly rejected attempts by hostile legislative bodies and officials to transform the clear-cut provisions of the Elections Code into a labyrinth of arcane requirements.

Between art and reality on oak woodlands

Stephen J Donoviel - Aug 29, 2016 10:14AM  Share #1480

Like others, two of the front-page articles in the Aug. 17 edition related to Napa Valley's oak woodlands caught my attention. One concerned "The Memory of a Tree” ("Oak-themed 'Memory of a Tree' mural to adorn Yountville gateway"), about the Yountville residents' wise choice to use the design by artists Sofia Lacin and Hennessy Christophel for murals to grace the Highway 29 underpass and the authorities for providing the resources to complete them.

It appears the artists' conceptual framework recognizes the history and significance of the mighty oaks to Napa Valley as well as their markedly diminishing numbers. This will, I hope, remind all of us, residents and passing tourists alike, of the significant role these disappearing giants play in our well-being by filtering the water we drink and the air we breathe as well as lending beauty to our surroundings.

The second article ("City of Napa, Walt Ranch reach agreement on water quality") centered around one of the major causes of the ongoing and increasing diminution of the oak woodlands, namely destruction/clear-cutting of significant numbers of trees (think filters) to make way for various entrepreneurial projects, e.g., the Walt Ranch (an operation reportedly held by Hall Brambletree Associates from Texas), which is not the only project, but certainly one, if not the biggest due to its size and widespread destruction/alteration of all or at least most aspects of the environment across the huge property.

It seems there is general agreement that the watersheds, particularly the Milliken, which delivers water to the residents of Napa city that is described as "pristine" (water currently being filtered by the mighty oak and other vegetation, the composition and configuration of the geological environment and relative absence of impact of man-generated pollutants), may be negatively impacted if Walt Ranch is allowed to proceed. The article references prior documents that indicated that to maintain the quality of the city water supply fouled by the project, filters costing an estimated $20 million would be necessary and the expense would be passed on to existing water customers.

Reportedly, Walt Ranch officials balked at picking up the tab. It's not clear if this would be a one-time expense or a periodic necessity like replacing the filter on a Brita home filter. For whatever reason, these details/concerns were dropped and city officials agreed to sign off on the project if the county includes requirements that Walt Ranch "monitor runoff water at nine locations and take steps to deal with problems that might arise."

I'm sorry but this seems like a very poor deal for the environment and everyone in it, except those directly connected to the Walt Ranch, because once the geology is disturbed and the tens of thousands of trees are destroyed, there is no going back to nature's filtration systems (not for generations to come) and residents are left with the bill for the filters.

If anyone is interested in seeing the speciousness of the argument that planting saplings (welcome as they are) will mitigate clear-cutting of mature oaks, they can judge for themselves by walking parts of our new bike path, or wander along the Yountville drainage collector outfalls where 10 to 15 years ago county flood control officials planted filling-in saplings along the banks. While they appear to be doing well, having been planted on creek banks, I think no one would argue that they even come close to approaching the size or filtering/soil stabilizing/shade capacity of a mature oak.

Another issue of significant concern, that of the pumping of hundreds of millions of gallons of water from our aquifers, was brought into sharp focus by an article in the August volume of National Geographic titled "To the Last Drop" authored by Laura Parker. The article chronicles in poignant fashion the draining of what is said to be North America's largest aquifer, the Ogallala that spans several central states. Reasons she identifies include the farmers' expansionistic over-farming in the quest for more income (an example, of what I think some politicians refer to as "growth" when occurring with businesses, communities, states, etc.), their unwillingness to self-regulate the amount of water they were pumping, even with the knowledge that, despite rain/snow fall of 50 to 100 percent above average, the aquifer did not recharge to previous levels and wells ran dry, as well as their officials' unwillingness to impose limits.

Maybe Napa County and the rest of the state -- certainly the Central Valley, which is already sinking -- have reached the tipping point where too much of a good thing leads to a disaster like that in the states served by the Ogallala aquifer. As a friend recently queried, "When is enough enough?" If subscribers have not read Ms. Parker's article, perhaps you can find the time to do so and hopefully we will treat "Yountville Tree Mural" with more respect and care than we have been doing with the real ones.

James Conaway on the Woodland Initiative

Bill Hocker - Aug 25, 2016 11:03AM  Share #770

James Conaway on the bulldozing of the Oak Woodland Initiative in his blog "Nose":
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in comely Napa Valley?

And from 4/23/15
Geoff Ellsworth sends this link to the Napa Broadcasting radio interview with author James Conway who is no doubt beginning to work on a third book documenting the forces that have shaped and will shape Napa County. The interviewer is Jeff Schechtman.

A Walled Garden of Eden – Jim Conaway talks about Napa’s winery growth and the ideal of agriculture

A quote in an interview filled with quotes: "Go back to agriculture. The more of this [tourism] you have, by definition, the less agriculture you have. You have to take land out of agriculture to accommodate these changes. There's no way around that now. Napa is too small."

Conaway just wrote this article remunerating on Jefferson and wine, perhaps as a lead-in to the issues that might be covered in a new book:
Napa Valley and the Jeffersonian Ideal

His two previous books on the Napa Valley:
Napa: The Story of an American Eden
The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley

Woodland Initiative bulldozed

Bill Hocker - Jul 22, 2016 10:02AM  Share #1278

NVR 7/22/16: Napa Superior Court ruling keeps oak woodland measure off ballot

The Court has ruled against the backers of the petition judging that the full text of current voluntary best management practices, slated to become binding law if the initiative were passed, were referenced but not included in the petition materials and that the 6300 signatures are thus invalid.

The decision is here.

A sad day for the survival of the woodlands and the will of the people.

The initiative is not quite the naive exercise that opponents wish to portray. It is part of a larger discussion going on here, in Sonoma County and in San Luis Obispo County on the impacts that continued conversion of watershed lands, lands that act as a filter for the water in streams supporting aquatic life and for the water we drink, will have on water quality if the conversions continue.

In the specific case of Walt Ranch, the city's Water General Manager, Joy Eldredge, has taken issue in this letter with the developer's EIR, and the County's support of it, regarding the potential impacts that the project will have on the water quality of the Miliken Reservoir that supplies a portion of the city's water. She is just as concerned about the extensive amount vineyard conversion about the Hennessey Reservoir that supplies most of the city's water. She is not naive about the threats to her city's drinking water.

And the State's Regional Water Board is right now in the process of vetting a major Environmental Impact Report related to the "proposed General Waste Discharge Requirements for Vineyard Properties located in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds (WDRs)" in the face of ever increasing amount of watershed vineyard conversion. The documents related to this EIR are here. The request for comments is here and the EIR is here.

And these concerns are at the heart of the documentary "Russian River: All Rivers" that has been making the rounds this last year showing the impacts that vineyard conversion is beginning to have on the Russian River.

The Woodland Initiative was probably challenged and scuttled not at the insistance of the county that had already certified it for the ballot, but at the prodding of the Napa wine and development industries, which, in their concern for ever increasing profits, have begun to promote vineyard conversion in ever more remote areas, just as they promote new winery construction, as a means to increase property marketability rather than a need to supply and process grapes. These industries seem more intent and aggressive than ever, following the year spent on due diligence at APAC and the election of their supervisorial candidate, to continue the development trend that promises to suburbanize the watersheds and urbanize the valley floor in the next 50 years.

NVR 7/18/16: Napa judge to decide fate of oak woodland protection initiative
Wine Spectator 7/20/16: A Battle Over Vines and Trees in Napa Valley?
SLO Tribune: 6/14/16: SLO County pursues oak protections after hundreds of trees removed for Justin vineyard


Woodland Initiative Court hearing July 15th

Lisa Hirayama - Jul 13, 2016 9:11PM  Share #1270

WATER, FOREST AND OAK WOODLAND PROTECTION INITIATIVE - Friday July 15th 2016 alert! Please mark your calendar.

NVR 7/6/16: Napa County watershed initiative heads toward July 15 court date

In case you haven’t heard by now, Napa County verified this petition in June and then disqualified it four days later on a technicality even though 6300 signatures were collected.

The backers of the petition filed a lawsuit asking the Napa County Superior Court to require John Tuteur to present the initiative to the Board of Supervisors or place it on the Nov. 8 ballot. The hearing will be held this Friday, July 15, at 9:00 am. The address is 1111 Third Street (the corner of Main and Third) in the Courthouse next to the County Administrative Bldg. It will be upstairs in “F” court.

This is one of those times that a large turnout will be extremely important. Judge Price needs to see that County residents want a chance to vote on this initiative, and a packed courtroom is the only way to convey that message. If you are able to attend, it would be greatly appreciated, and bring extra friends and family.

Thanks for your support and hope to see you Friday.

Jim Wilson - Jul 12, 2016

Dear petitioners and supporters of the Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative,

Hello! Thanks again to each and every one of us, our grassroots support and wisdom and strength. We can all feel good about coming this far, about the time and hard work we've poured into our effort to help provide better protections for our precious watersheds.

In the pause since we qualified our initiative some of us have been working every day getting ready for the campaign. We don't have much time, and there's plenty of opportunity for more volunteers as we look forward to success at the polls in November. Will you please join us?

Community education, letter-writing, recruiting, fund-raising, social media. You name it, we need lots of help with it. Full time or an hour - now's the time. Would you care to sign up?

There is one thing we can all do right now. Show up to our hearing in Superior Court this Friday. Bring your friends. The hearing should take an hour or so. Note: the courtroom is located in the "new" courthouse, not the historic courthouse that was damaged in the earthquake. Here's the invitation Lisa Hirayama sent to a smaller list today:

Here's a link to our website. You can make a contribution here.

and our Facebook page:

Stop Napa's watershed deforestation July 15th

Mike Hackett - Jul 13, 2016 7:38PM  Share #1273

Recent widespread news reports concerning controversy over a San Luis Obispo County wine company bulldozing hundreds of acres of oak trees to plant vineyards have left many Napa County residents scratching their heads: The same devastation is taking place in Napa, much faster and on a far greater scale.

This deforestation project by Justin Wines in Central California is heartbreaking, and should help bring awareness to the current onslaught in Napa County.

We are right now confronting project after project calling for deforestation in our watersheds, and residents are alarmed — our county officials have yet to act.

Consequently, a coalition of Napa County citizens has drawn up and collected more than 6,300 signatures on a voter initiative for the Nov. 8 ballot — the Napa County Water, Forest and Oak Woodlands Protection Initiative of 2016.

Its primary aim is to safeguard the county’s watersheds, water sources and forests. We need this ballot measure to restore balance between the wine tourism industry and the rights of local residents and communities, and to provide long-term protections for our oak woodlands and our water future.

This should concern residents of the Bay Area as well. The Napa River is the second-largest freshwater source emptying into the bay—a water body shared by millions. The Napa River has been impaired for decades and we need protections for the water sources that drain into it.

Napa County Planning Department records show nearly 3 million gallons of additional wine will be needed to satisfy the myriad winery expansions on file with the county. That would require an estimated 5,000 additional acres of new vineyards, sacrificing much of the county’s water supply and natural beauty—its forested hillsides and watersheds—to meet the demand.

Right now, we have at least 29 erosion control/vineyard conversion applications on file awaiting approval, according to Jim Wilson, vice-president of Defenders of East Napa Watersheds. “We don’t have any current protections for our oak woodlands, so we need the Initiative for a healthy eco-system,” he said.

“California has lost more than a million acres of oak-related lands in recent decades. These oak woodlands,” he said, “are responsible for water purification and replenishment and are essential to the environment and watershed health. Napa has the highest concentration of oak woodlands of any county in California, and this iconic ecosystem is disappearing at an alarming rate. This is significant because two thirds of Napa County’s drinking water comes from its oak-dotted watersheds.“

Joy Eldredge, Napa City Water Department general manager, has written: “The county should prevent the shifting of vineyard development impacts onto the city and its public drinking water customers.” The water manager goes on to state that “the City has seen a 400 percent increase in the level of effort required to treat Hennessey Reservoir for algae problems.”

This water quality degradation is due to vineyard development and run-off above the reservoir’s watershed. At times, 70 percent of Napa city’s water supply comes from Lake Hennessey.

Large vineyard developments above water reservoirs could require taxpayer money to clean up these reservoirs, if such developments take place.

Napa’s other reservoir faces a large vineyard development above it called Walt Ranch, associated with Hall Winery, which would cut and clear 24,000 trees, and the City of Napa water manager believes it could cost the taxpayers up to $20 million to clean up the reservoir’s water if this project is approved.

“The juggernaut of the wine industry’s encroachment into hillside forests threatens to bring serious impacts for humans, animals and the environment and after five years of drought, it’s only going to get worse,” says Wilson.

Napa Valley, is noted for its ideal terroir and climate for grape growing. More than 40 years ago, visionary Napa County activists such as Volker Eisele pushed through farsighted policies to protect the valley floor for what was considered its highest and best use—agriculture, including wine grape production.

Now, however, the accelerating demand from international corporations and wealthy individuals to convert thousands more forested acres to vineyards is pushing development onto sensitive hillsides and natural areas, threatening Napa County’s microclimates and future water security.

Although the Napa County Water, Forest and Oak Woodlands Protection Initiative recently garnered more than 6,300 petition signatures to qualify for the November ballot, it is currently held up by the county over an alleged minor technical issue.

A lawsuit filed by initiative proponents will be heard in Napa County Superior Court on July 15 and a favorable ruling would allow the measure to go forward on schedule. In the case of an unfavorable ruling, the matter will be appealed to a higher court.

The Superior Court hearing is set for Friday, July 15 at 9 a.m. at 1111 Third St. in Napa.

More information is here

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