A Grand (and verbose) Coalition Recap
Bill Hocker | Jan 23, 2015
I also attended the initial Grand Coalition meeting. I agree with Sandy Ericson that given all of the energy surrounding these developments over the last year such a meeting would be inevitable. Yet even the inevitable needs a bit of help sometimes, and thanks are due to the efforts of Dan Mufson of the Watersheds Alliance of Atlas Peak for organizing it.
Those in attendance came together because a wide variety of projects had ended up being proposed in their backyards: resort developments in Calistoga, housing developments in Angwin, rural tourism wineries near Yountville and on Mt. Veeder, Dry Creek and Soda Canyon Roads, urban wineries in St. Helena, vineyard conversions on Atlas Peak, quarry expansion in Coombsville. The issues for each sometimes overlapped, sometimes not: traffic, tourism impacts, water depletion, watershed deforestation, viewshed destruction. Much of the meeting was spent just acquainting one another with our individual interests and strategies to date. Our hopes for this coalition were also expressed; some saw it as an extension of the individual battle they were waging, and were ready to name it and to discuss the strategies to get the message out, assuming a common purpose identical to their own. Others were more appropriately circumspect, seeing this as only an introduction to a potential coalition. The process was a bit like blind men feeling an elephant. It was understandable that no statement of purpose (or name or bumper sticker) came out of the meeting. It was too big to take in even in three hours.
At some point in the meeting it seemed as if some center of gravity had shifted in the direction of watershed preservation. In PC and BOS meetings the Atlas Peak contingent has been quite ferocious in its opposition to deforestation and water depletion and the Mt. Veeder, Calistoga, Angwin, Coomsville and Dry Creek groups all see deforestation as one of their main concerns. Watershed preservation has also been led by Chris Malan, a lion of activism over the last two decades. Wilderness preservation also fits in with a longstanding tradition of community activism, and the Sierra Club, the logical umbrella group for wilderness prootection, was also in attendance. But, it is an important issue that has only tangential importance to those confronting the impacts of the tourism onslaught into the county and of the many development impacts that people are already experiencing all over the valley.
A series of words had been written on sheets of paper on the wall as potential talking points. I listed some of them above: traffic, tourism, etc... The elephant in the room was the one word not written (perhaps because it was too obvious), the one word that brought everyone to this room: development.
Ginny Simms gave a keynote of sorts at the beginning which, IMHO, should be the building block of the purpose here. It was summarized below as promote slow, smart, sustainable growth. She has fought the encroachment of urban growth into the rural county for decades both inside the system and out (her interview on the JLDagfund site begins on page 214 here). Her current organization, Get a Grip on Growth, manages to summarize in its name her decades of battle. Her efforts and that of the other preservationists have given us a rural environment that all think is worth fighting for now, 45 years on.
But (here comes the pie-in-the-sky) we now need to do more, because despite the groundbreaking legislative battles that have been won to control growth, the war is still being lost, the outward signs of which have brought the participants to this room. Simply slowing growth means that the agriculture and the rural life that are treasured may disappear more slowly, one stop light, one parking space, one acre of vineyard or forest at a time, but they will still disappear. The purpose now should be to find the will and the means to stop growth, reverse it if possible, and to allow a stable agricultural economy to survive in an ever urbanizing world. It is perhaps a goal as unthinkable as the ag preserve was in 1966, but Napa, given the value of its agricultural crop, may be one of the few places where that goal is possible.
Were I to devise a mission statement for this group (easy since I don't have to bear the burden of consensus - or plausibility) it would be:
dedicated to the furthering and protection of an agricultural, rural, small-town economy and way of life for the entire Napa County in the midst an urbanized world.
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