America as one big hole
Bill Hocker | May 29, 2017
James Conaway, in a recent blog post and now in a Register letter, has called attention again to the dangers of life in an age dominated by developers (and now ruled by our first developer-in-chief) to those who would seek to preserve some of their cultural and natural heritage for future generations, not to mention its enjoyment in the here and now.
40 years ago Napa's agricultural preserve was created as a dam to hold back the floodwaters of development lust that was drowning the rest of Bay Area agriculture in building projects. The issue in Napa then was housing development, and it seemed for a while that the minimum-parcel-size zoning and the popular-vote-required re-zoning protections put in place to stop housing subdivisions have worked. An industry based on an agricultural product has survived and prospered and the housing projects have been held at bay.
But development lust is not so easily suppressed. Within the tight constraints of the Agricultural Preserve, the General Plan and Measure J the formulae had to be jiggled just enough so that a new generation of development interests could begin pumping money into Napa real estate ventures. The magic component: tourism and the hyping of a good-life destination. Define those as "agriculture" and the flood gates open.
It is often said that Napa has become a victim of its own success. It's success was created by careful legislative crafting by politicians and citizens concerned about the preservation of its agricultural heritage. But the victimization is wholly attributable to development lust of a few seeking ways to exploit and cash in (or out) on that success. Wine makers are bought out by good-life entrepreneurs, vineyard real estate is promoted as building sites for every plutocrat's fantasy of a winery-of-one's-own. And the buildings and parking lots and commuting tourists and employees continue to come. The urbanization of ag land in the rest of the county will not be as swift as the development of Watson Ranch, but in the long run it will be just as sure.
James Conaway has been a perceptive student of the cultural and physical transformation of the County for 25 years. The upcoming third book in his series on the Napa Valley will no doubt reflect on the change that has come to the county in that time. Its proposed name, unfortunately, is a bit depressing for those of us who have hoped the fight to save this place was not hopeless: Napa at Last Light.
The other books:
2002 Napa: The Story of an American Eden
2003 The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley
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