SodaCanyonRoad | Con Reg changes may have little impact

Con Reg changes may have little impact
Bill Hocker | Apr 30, 2019 on: Conservation Regulations

60/40 rule in action

The post-Measure-C-inspired Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance was approved by the Supervisors in April, 2019. The underlying assumption in the creation of the ordinance was that reducing the amount of natural land available for development into agriculture would benefit the quality and quantity of water supplied by the watersheds, provide a better chance for the survival of wild species, and provide that much more carbon sequestration in an age of global warming.

No one was happy with the ordinance. Wine industry interests felt the changes to the existing Conservation Regulations were being made in the absence of facts while feeling, without facts of their own, that the previous regulations are already sufficient protection for the watersheds into the future. Real estate interests felt it would curtail home and estate development in the watersheds. Conservationists felt that the Ordinance would do little to increase woodland or water quality protection, and that, in an uncertain age of global warming and ever increasing demands on water and land resources, even more stringent protections for the watersheds are necessary.

Some members of the wine industry do support stronger watershed protections. Prior to the approval of the new ordinance the Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture presented a fact-based analysis of developable agricultural land potential under pre-WQTPO land use policies as well as an analysis of the impacts of several possible policy alternatives, including the WQTPO changes.

The report is here:
Napa County Conservation Policy: Existing Conditions and Proposed Policy Impacts

While the wealth of statistical analysis can be a bit overwhelming, the basic conclusions of the report are that the Ordinance would do almost nothing to reduce developable land in the county. It concluded that previous policies to protect woodland and shrubland by percentage (60/40 rule) and by tree count (2:1 mitigation) in watershed areas often have no impact because the areas that count as "protected" are not developable in any case, whether by easement, terrain or other conservation setback proscriptions. The new ordinance changes that modify those numbers to a 70/30 rule and 3:1 tree count will likewise have little impact on land area developed, again because they are satisfied by areas that wouldn't be developed anyway. Increases in reservoir, stream and wetland setbacks that were added to the regulations likewise are shown to protect very few additional acres from development.

The report does show that the amount of woodlands and shrublands, and the environmental benefits that undeveloped land provides in combating global warming, protecting water resources and wildlife habitat, would be significantly increased by applying the percentage or mitigation rules only to otherwise "developable" land when evaluating new vineyard projects - a potential one word change (a clarification really) in current conservation regulations.

The Supervisors, unfortunately, chose not to let the facts presented in the report influence their decision. (Everyone now talks about the value of fact-based decision making, except, is seems, when the facts get in the way of development.)

The report's recommendation is only a start. Unfortunately, while such an increase in woodland protection over existing regulations would be welcome, when one considers the enormity of the impacts that climate change may bring (and is already bringing) to the wine industry and to life in Napa County, the benefits of a few acres of woodland spared are insignificant.

The required goal of any climate-change-related legislation should be to significantly reduce GHG's by 2030, not to mitigate the rate at which they are increased. Without a real effort to stop digging up and burning carbon-sequestering, water-retaining woodlands, shrublands and grasslands to turn them into water-consuming, erosion-prone, carbon-questionable vineyards (not to mention carbon-producing building projects), Napa's efforts to protect its water sources and present a serious GHG-reduction commitment will be seen by many as a poor response to the challenge.