Bill Hocker | Dec 27, 2017
NVR 12/22/17: James H. Hickey 1927-2017
In his 2008 "Oral Histories of Napa County's Agricultural Preserve" interview with Rue Ziegler, James Hickey fretted about the direction the "wine Industry" was headed:
"Tourism is becoming the big driver in the local economy. The wine industry is [now] here to accommodate tourism; tourism doesn't create the winery business. You look at San Francisco, Fisherman's Wharf, you've got everything there but fishermen. The fishermen can't afford to dock there any more because the motels, the shopping...
"The more the rest of the Bay Area develops, the more pressure there will be to locate some development in Napa County, because it has that appeal and the open land. It has that attraction. When you have people touring, they like to have all the accommodations they had at home. They want to have all the different food facilities, they want to have all kinds of overnight accommodations available to them and there are always people happy to provide them. And that's urban development in the urban areas. If it stays in the urban areas, that's good but if it starts spreading into the unincorporated area, that could be the end of the Agricultural Preserve. The Preserve exists by three votes and 30 days. That's three supervisors voting yes on any change and 30 days for the ordinance to become effective. And you don't have to take elimination the Ag Preserve head-on. You can just undermine it by changing the definition of what a winery is, or reducing the standards." (page 146 here
He is extolled in his obituary as a "celebrated county and regional planner" as he should be. But he was, in fact, pushed out of the position of Planning Director in 1990 over the winery definition ordinance, a victim in the battle between his own preservation and conservation efforts and a wine industry then, as now, looking to increase profits through the tourist trade and with a Board of Supervisors then, as perhaps now, split 3 to 2 between developers and preservationists. In his words:
"The question that had to be answered was, 'What's a winery?' It had to be defined, and it had to be defined in a fashion that made it clear that what was happening there wasn't an oversight but it was by design. And so, I raised the question in a series of discussions and reports to the Planning Commission, 'What is a winery?'
It was not popular with the wine industry, because they felt that they had the opportunity to decide what was going to be done at their wineries, particularly some of the bigger ones. And so it became very, very contentious and the board who had authorized the release of the reports that I had prepared, found themselves cousght in a crossfire. And, to resolve the problem, they said to the industry, 'Why don't you write a definition and give it to us, and we'll take a look at it and we'll see if we like it?' and I said, 'Well that's one way to answer the question.' So the industry did a very good job. They wrote a definition and Board of Supervisors adopted it and it was fine. And shortly thereafter, it was suggested that I retire. I was removed as the Planning Director and appointed the Executive Director of Special Projects, and I was moved to an office up on the third floor of the County building.... It was kind of lonely up there because I was the only one in the office."
It is well worth reading James Conaway's telling of the firing here. (As is his entire book.)