Who's protecting Napa?
Bill Hocker | Jun 28, 2017
James Conaway, following the Alastair Bland article, (which he subtitles "the Rape of Napa") has weighed in on his own disillusionment with the demise of the great Napa experiment in rural protection:
James Conway, Nose 6/24/17: The existential choice today
Alastair Bland, who recently authored this piece on the vineyard deforestation of the Napa watersheds, has now taken a look at the collaboration of the wine industry and their government regarding compliance and the pushback from residents impacted by that interaction.
Alastair Bland, KCET Earth Focus, 6/16/17: Here's How Big Wine Gets To Avoid Environmental Rules in Napa
While the essence of this article is to demonstrate how the county is failing to protect its rural heritage, I was struck by the quote from Chuck Wagner, of Caymus Vineyards. He has in the past described opponents of the wine industry as a vocal minority out to kill it. But here he asks the right questions, ones that need a public workshop to explore. From the article:
Wagner says he is sometimes perplexed by the arguments from industry critics. The two opposing sides, he says, actually want the “the same endpoint.”
“Preserving agriculture, reducing traffic and air pollution, conserving water, maintaining our bucolic ambiance, and reducing danger of fire are all shared concerns,” Wagner says. “Where do we become separated? What is the problem in a nutshell?”
In a nutshell, the problem is the urbanization being promoted by the wine industry. The wine industry has always been, as one might assume, a staunch of protector of Napa's rural heritage. But as the "wine" industry has morphed from grape processing into tourist processing, and as the resident-vintners that built the industry have been superseded by growth-centric corporations and by plutocrats wishing to be good-life entrepreneurs, the maintenance of that rural character, now exploited to increase profits, is increasingly put at risk. With the wine industry, and its government, failing to support those shared concerns by encouraging more development and ignoring existing protections, residents have begun to make their discontent heard.
Unfortunately the wine industry, and in particular its founders, like Mr. Wagner, who have fought development interests throughout their careers to protect their agricultural resource, are now unwilling to see the construction of tourism venues in the vineyards, the expansion of wineries solely to accommodate more tourism and the deforestation of the watersheds for resorts and housing estates as the urban development that it is. It is an urbanization that is slower perhaps than housing projects but in the long run just as lethal to agriculture. In a desire to expand their businesses and increase profits they rationalize and define such development as a protection of agriculture. Yet the jobs and the people and the buildings and the cars generated by these projects, and the further infrastructure and construction they precipitate, continue to urbanize the county. Residents, not blinded by the money to be made, see these impacts for what they are: harbingers of the end of this rural enclave in the urban Bay Area.
Napa county is a small place. There is a finite level of wine production and tourism that the county can bear and still allow agriculture, the natural environment and a rural, small town way of life to be successfully sustained. Some might see the Napa of today as striking or only slightly beyond that balance. No one denies its current success. Yet there are over one hundred new or expanded wineries and thousands of hotel rooms and resort lodgings in the pipeline. And the wine industry continues to push for even more.
As is seen in the planning commission and Board of Supervisors meetings, and as is obvious in the article, residents have little leverage against such a dominant industry. They are routinely ignored in governmental decisions, no matter the efforts they make. Until the more influential members of the wine industry, such as Mr. Wagner, are able to see that in this small place there are limits to business growth and the amount of money to be made from wine and tourism without destroying its rural, agricultural substance and character (a realization at the heart of the original Ag Preserve and the zoning protections that followed), there is little hope that the urbanization will end, or that the complaints of residents, seeing their paradise lost, will be stilled.
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