NV2050 on the erosion of the Ag Preserve
Bill Hocker | Aug 13, 2019
The Aug 12th issue of the Vision 2050 Newsletter discusses the two voter initiatives, Measure J of 1990 and Measure P of 2008, that took the decision of rezoning county lands away from the supervisors and gave it to the electorate - based on the assumption that voters would be better stewards of Napa's agricultural heritage than its elected officials. Given the shift on the County Board of Supervisors in the last 20 years toward an emphasis on tourism, industrial development and now housing growth, the concern was well founded.
Unfortunately, the protections afforded by Measures J and P are not absolute. The supervisors can still agree to annexations of county land by the municipalities, converting ag land to urban use. They have changed the definition of "agriculture" and of "winery" to allow more urban uses on agriculturally zoned lands. And they have expanded non-ag industrial uses, like gravel quarries and solar farms, that consume enormous amounts of ag land.
Also, the voter protections of Measure J and P are not a sure thing. Housing construction in the municipalities, and the county's support of tourism and industrial job creation needing that housing, has increased the urban population in the county and shifted the concerns of the electorate away from the desire to preserve ag land and open space toward a need for more infrastructure, urban amenities, ever more revenue-generating development, and of course more housing in a futile effort to lower housing costs. The electorate is growing ever further from the notion of an agricultural-based economy and the shift only promises future development more in line with the urban expansion of the rest of the bay area. Voters are no less susceptible to the promises of developers than elected officials are, and only modestly more expensive to convince.
For better or worse, the preservation of the rural character of the county will still depend on the vision and guidance of an enlightened majority of supervisors, with their historical understanding of the unique experiment of the ag preserve and its value in an urban world. That majority doesn't currently exist, but there is always hope that enlightened heroes will rise to the challenge once again. Three votes on a given Tuesday created and maintained the ag preserve for 50 years and can do so again - if there is the will.
The July 30th issue of the Napa Vision 2050 newsletter brings a third installment of their look at the history of Napa's agricultural protections, and how the many potential environmental impacts of the 1990 Winery Definition Ordinance and proposed mitigations needed to counter those impacts have been ignored (or buried!) for the last 30 years.
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The July 18th issue of the Napa Vision 2050 newsletter brings a second installment of their look at the history of Napa's agricultural protections, now currently under threat of a development boom and growth-oriented officials.
In their July 11th newsletter, Napa Vision 2050 is pushing back against the proponents of "Save the Family Farms" wishing to be permitted tourism tastings and events at their rural venues even without a permitted winery.
In doing so, NV2050 is making a much broader case that this is further attempt to introduce commercial non-conforming uses into the agricultural zones of the county, contrary to the county's history and its General Plan commitments to protection of agriculture and open space in the face of urbanizing pressure.
They cite an important document: the 1987-88 Grand Jury concerns about the proliferation of non-conforming and accessory uses at wineries. The report was made just prior to the drafting of the original WDO in 1990. The concept that tourism uses of wineries would lead to general urbanization of the county and threaten its agricultural lands is clearly stated in the report:
"In recent years there has been a increase in the number of commercial promotional, cultural and entertainment activities occurring in wineries and other facilities located on agriculturally zoned land outside of city limits... The increase in these urban activities underscores the growth of wineries and other facilities as cultural and community centers, and raises questions as to their urbanizing influence...The movement of people from populated urban areas to less populated rural areas opposes the major intent of the [General] Plan creates problems of traffic, sanitation, and other services..."
There is an even more detailed look at the impacts of non-agricultural uses at wineries made in the Environmental Impact Report done for the WDO in 1989. The sections of the WDO EIR are linked here. In particular, comments on the Growth Inducing Impacts and Cumulative Impacts cited in Vol III the EIR (beginning on page A-82) are quite germain to this discussion. The EIR recognizes that "Winery development under the DWDO as proposed, or with mitigation, would cause irreversible and irretrievable environmental effects". (It also states that the profits to be made from winery tourism would be worth it.) The EIR lists some 116 mitigations (beginning on p. A-84) that would ease the negative environmental impacts created by the WDO. It is worth going through the list to see how many (or rather how few) of the mitigations have actually been adhered to.
The Grand Jury Report takes as its base the County General Plan as it was in 1982, in which agriculture still had a dictionary definition and marketing activities were clearly seen as non-conforming uses of an agricultural production facility. (I hope a copy of the 1982 General Plan shows up at some point.) In 1990, the WDO codified tours and tastings and trade marketing events at wineries. In 2008 the Plan was updated to include visitation and marketing as accessory agricultural uses at a winery, and in 2010 the WDO was updated to allow food service with tours and tastings and public marketing events. In 2017 visitation and marketing were officially added to the definition of agriculture in county code, solidifying the county's commitment to legalize the use of agriculturally zoned land for commercial tourism development.
The point in looking at these historical documents is only to see the concern that a previous generation of officials had about the dangers of urban uses proliferating in agricultural areas. It was a level of concern that protected agricultural lands for 50 years. Napa Vision 2050 is to be lauded for bringing this history forward.
Now, under the pressure of a boom in worldwide tourism transforming every charming location and quaint industry on the globe into an urbanized mass-market commodity (destroying the character of the locales in the process), our current officials should be encouraged to look at these documents one last time to see what efforts were made by their predecessors to prevent the urban growth that they now so readily embrace.
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