Update 2/8/19County staff has produced a markup of a proposed "Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance" amending and adding sections to the County ordinances governing watershed development, to be submitted to the Planning Commission on 2/20/19. Conservation Regulations Markup Meeting Notice
-- setbacks on slopes < 30% remain the same
-- no planting or building development above 30% slope (some exemptions);
-- 200' setback from municipal reservoirs
-- Federally define wetlands and 50' setback from wetlands
-- streams to include ephemeral class III streams with 35' setback
-- 70% canopy retention in all unincorporated areas (previously 60% in watersheds only)
-- 3:1 canopy replacement (previously 2:1)
-- 40% chaparral retained if no canopy in unincorporated areas
-- easement protection for retained vegetation
-- exempt replanting, fire rebuilding and fire management practices
-- exempt vineyards < 5 acres on hopes < 15%
The title of the ordinance, the "Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance", is a more apt description of the ordinance than "Watershed Protection Ordinance" previously used. The Conservation Regulations that the ordinance will change are principally about land clearing operations and their impact on soil and surface water runoff. They do not deal directly with the equally important function of watersheds in feeding subsurface aquifers that, as springs, add to the surface water supply and that are pumped out to irrigate the increasing number of vines in the watersheds. While canopy retention may be a metric of aquifer contribution, the Conservation Regs are largely silent on the impact of vineyard conversion on the sustenance of the aquifers (beyond one reference to Phase I water availability analysis which, in fact, no longer applies to the watersheds). That issue is now under scrutiny of the County in its Groundwater Sustainability Analysis.
As usual, I'm very skeptical that such modest tweaking of the Con Regs will do much to change the current development trajectory of wild lands in the county. It would be interesting to evaluate Walt Ranch, the county's poster child for the inappropriate conversion of a large chunk of unspoiled natural heritage into a vineyard estate project (and perhaps the genesis of Measure C and this ordinance), to see what impact these changes might have had.
The easements to protect retained vegetation are a good step. Excluding development on slopes between 30% and 50% may save some areas. One wonders how much of the county is already developed on slopes in that range. But, despite the sound and fury some members of the wine industry (IMO more concerned about who is making the decisions rather than the decisions themselves), the modest changes in setbacks, canopy retention or replacement ratios don't seem like they will be the deciding factors in whether or not to develop. And reducing the development of watersheds and woodlands should be the goal of any new regulations.
In the June 2018 primary election, Measure C, the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative, failed by 650 votes out of 37,500 votes cast. The contentiousness of the campaign was seen by many as not just a vote on the protection of watersheds but a referendum on the pace of development in the county as a whole. The supervisors, mindful of the community split that the vote represented, have renewed a Strategic Plan process to seek out a consensus on County priorities over the next three years.
As part of that process, the Supervisors have scheduled a workshop to continue the discussion, or battle, that so divided the County over Measure C, in the hopes that under their leadership a consensus can be arrived at. In fact, a faction of the Napa Valley Vintners help draft the provisions of the Initiative before backing out under pressure from the more aggressive members. A principal complaint by some seemed to be only that it was a citizen initiative rather than the industry-government collaboration that normally leads to new ordinances governing the industry. There should be support from the industry for some changes to the current Watershed Conservation regulations. The potential of another initiative looms if this discussion goes nowhere.