June 2018Three choices in the June 5th, 2018 election, Measure C, Measure D and the District 3 supervisor race are all about one issue: what this place will be 50 years from now. Do we continue the urban trajectory that has begun to fill the vineyards with event centers and parking lots, to deforest and endanger our watersheds for vineyard estates and more event centers, to promote a tourism economy that brings ever more transients, workers and traffic, stressing resources and infrastructure and changing the nature of the county's small town and rural character, and do we continue a development model that places the interests of a small number of wealthy individuals and corporations over those of the majority of citizens that live in the county?
Measure C - Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2018
Two of the many activists that have come forward in the last few years in response to the threat of corporate and plutocratic monopolization of Napa's future will be competing in the upcoming election. Geoff Ellsworth is running for Mayor of St. Helena, and Donald Williams is running of City Council in Calistoga.
Cio Perez knows you can't talk your way out of a drought or a hard freeze.
Unlike our current county supervisors, who have allowed and supported the corruption of words essential to this county -- words like "agriculture" and "winery" -- Cio knows what those words truly mean. He's spent his working life intimately involved with them.
These same supervisors have permitted the over-marketing of the valley to tourists, the massive expansion of wineries-cum-event centers and the ensuing visitor traffic, low-wage jobs and lack of affordable housing, which lead to more traffic as employees must commute from out of county. It is a cycle with negative impacts on the county's residents, agriculture, and natural environment.
When I met Cio Perez, he introduced himself as "a farmer." How refreshing. A person aware of and dependent on nature who takes honest pleasure in literally seeing the fruits of his labor; a person devoted to this place.
Because of that devotion to place and reality he supports (Yes) Measure C, the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative, guarding a crucial ingredient of life and agriculture: clean water.
He also supports (Yes) Measure D, which bans further private heliports while allowing essential uses of and landings for helicopters, including emergencies, agricultural, and utilities.
He has studied at Stanford University, graduated from UC Davis in viticulture and been on the Farm Bureau board of directors for 30 years, and debated policy and practice with hundreds of Farm Bureau members at the state level.
Over the past several weeks of campaigning for and meeting with Cio, I am impressed by these behaviors: He is consistent in his message and presentation, he listens to all and replies thoughtfully and respectfully, he is knowledgeable about county issues and asks questions when he isn't.
He is clear in his solutions to problems; knows how to drill down to the deeper problem and find a true solution. He is solid, steady and wise in the way that a farmer learns to be when dealing with the variables of nature. And he has a gentle sense of humor.
I believe Cio is a person of integrity and good character, that he is a person of good word.
That's why I'm voting for Cio: he understands the difference between the essential and the frivolous.
Sen. Bill Dodd will vote no on both measures. He feels that the initiatives bypass the deliberative public process and will have unintended consequences. The deliberative public process in Napa County, unfortunately, consists of a deliberation between "the stakeholders", i.e. the major county corporations and plutocratic entrepreneurs, and the government, who (it appears after attending 4 years of public hearings) represents their interests rather than the majority of the citizenry.
APAC was the county's big test when it came to public deliberations between the government, the stakeholders and the residents of the county. Following demands by residents for action on the proliferation of tourism oriented wineries, the flaunting of use permit limits to increase winery tourism, and the impact that tourism development was having on traffic, housing, and rural character in the county, the Supervisors called for a deliberative process to address the concerns, the APAC committee. The Planning department made a good faith effort to propose methods of reducing the number of wineries being proposed and of reducing the amount of tourism they generate, and a system for policing use permits. Those proposals were rejected or severely diluted by the committee which was heavily populated by industry insiders. Then even those diluted proposals were rejected out of hand by the Board of Supervisors who proposed instead a system to recognize and allow the wineries illegal activities and formalize vested rights, before the whole process seemed to peter out. Wineries got a promise to help legalize their illegal or ambiguous operations. The residents got nothing. New winery approvals and increased visitation at existing wineries have continued apace. Tourism development in the municipalities, the "big picture" issue that the Supervisors proposed to confront after APAC, has since exploded, unconfronted.
Citizen initiative Measure C was a direct result of the failure of an extensive deliberative process over Walt Ranch with the government unable to halt, despite enormous resistance from the county's citizens, a vineyard estate housing project that will endanger water resources needed by the Circle Oaks community and the city of Napa and allow further urbanization of the watershed areas of the county, all to the benefit of one plutocratic real estate developer.
Bill Dodd's out-front opposition to Citizen Initiative Measure D, based clearly on contributions made on his behalf by the Palmaz family, points to the difficulty of the deliberative process in which elected government officials give preferred treatment to those with money to spend, over the interests of the majority of the citizens they nominally serve. The Palmaz heliport was vehemently opposed by a vast section of the citizenry that will be impacted, all to benefit one plutocrat. Without the intervention of Measure D, the elected officials of the County would probably have already approved the project. The deliberative public process in action.
In a world with ever more money moving from business interests to government officials' campaigns, residents have less and less real say in the public deliberative process. The initiative process, as it was intended to do, is a check on that dynamic.
George Caloyannidis sends word that the City Council of the City of St. Helena, with Vice-mayor White absent, voted unanimously to endorse Yes on Measure C, and with Mayor Galbraith recusing himself due to his home's proximity to the Palmaz estate, voted to endorse Yes on Measure D.
Article II, section 1 of our California Constitution provides "All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their protection, security, and benefit, and they have the right to alter or reform it when the public good may require."
Section II goes on to describe the initiative process as one of the principle methods of alteration or reform at the county level when our government refuses, fails or neglects to provide for the public good. Less than half of the states in our union recognize the right of its citizens to use the initiative process.
We have two county-wide initiatives on our June ballot. Getting on the ballot is a rigorous process requiring the signatures of thousands of Napa County's citizens so all may vote on the citizen-proposed laws.
Recently, numerous elected and appointed officials, as well as those aspiring to public office, denigrate this precious constitutional right we enjoy here in California -- Belia Ramos (an attorney, no less), Alfredo Pedroza, Mary Luros (also an attorney) and Dave Whitmer.
Now the Napa Valley Register editorializes on Measures C ("right idea in the wrong vehicle") and D ("the initiative process will lock in whatever unintended consequences there may be . . .") parroting the same, public relations party line that law is better made by our elected officials with input from stakeholders, that we cannot control the unintended consequences of an initiative without another expensive election, and that these initiatives are just too complicated to have the voters make law.
The initiative process is a healthy one and must be used when our government does not provide for the public good. Our local government's lack of respect for welfare of the citizens of this county has led in large part to the emergence of these two initiatives.
Lack of respect for citizens is one thing. However, lack of respect for our constitution is a quality unworthy of any government official here in Napa County.
Update 5/4/18 The Yes-on-C campaign has labeled the Editorial Board's "the-time-has-come-just-not-now" approach as absurd, which it is. It is the same approach Sup. Ramos, one of the opponents of Measure C, used on the Raymond decision concerning use permit violations. It is obvious that the time will never come for reform in Napa county if left up to the establishment.
The Register's Editorial Board opinion on Measures C, D and 3 is a bit disappointing. It seemed that in all three cases they voted, reluctantly, against the ideas that they lavished their praise on. What kind of decision making is that.
On Measure C
"We agree with almost all of what the backers of Measure C say....Where we do disagree with the backers of Measure C is in the notion that we have exhausted all possible avenues to protect the watersheds before reaching for the dangerously blunt and inflexible weapon of a ballot measure."
Actually the Walt Ranch hearings and appeals and court case over a four-year period were a thoroughly exhaustive attempt to protect the watersheds through normal political avenues. Yet it was not enough to save them from substantial deforestation for the development of 35 new vineyard estate sites.
As Nancy Tamarisk of the Sierra Club has recently written: "Initiatives are filed as a last resort when people have lost faith that their government bodies represent them, often when people believe that officials are captive to special interests."
As Tony McClimans has written in a recent editorial about previous efforts to pass more comprehensive watershed protections: "Confronted by staunch industry opposition, decades of board majorities declined to take action."
And Katy Felch writes: "Our local government's lack of respect for welfare of the citizens of this county has led in large part to the emergence of these two initiatives."
After Barry Eberlings's excellent reporting over the last 4 years, the Editors know that the Supervisors have had numerous opportunities to address "the legitimate cry of frustration" by county residents. The Supes have sided with the moneyed interests every time - just as the Editors have.
Given the effort and the money that it takes to get an initiative on the ballot, by residents that will see no financial benefit from its enactment, it only happens after first exhausting public forum solutions.
If C wins, there will be complicated issues to be worked out. And the courts, the county and the authors will eventually craft a solution. But the incentive will be there to find a solution because the voters have spoken. If measure C fails, the Supes will have no incentive whatsoever to support further protection the watersheds. The voters have spoken. Elections have consequences. The watersheds will be open for development.
On Measure D
"We are not adverse to the change proposed in Measure D, but aviation is a complicated legal area, and this would be, as far as we know, the first such ban in the state, possibly in the whole country...We believe the idea of banning heliports, as simple and appealing as it is, deserves deeper scrutiny through the regular legislative process."
Frankly, there will be no issues if Measure D is passed. It will add a few words to existing code bringing private heliports under the same prohibition that now applies to commercial heliports. Where does the Editors' concern for "deeper scrutiny" come from? "Personal use" is pretty easy to define compared to "commercial use", yet the prohibition of "commercial use" heliports has held up without issue. And not supporting it because it will be the first heliport ban? Was the Register also so weak-kneed when the first Ag Preserve in the nation was proposed?
The Editor's stance again seems like a complete cave to the county's monied interests.
On Diane Dillon
It's entirely appropriate that the Editorial Board's support-but-can't-support opinion is paired with the Image of Diane Dillon and the headline "Experience Counts". The Register has taken Diane Dillon's governance style to heart. Sympathy for the preservationists' viewpoint, a few acknowledgements of the grand success that is the Ag Preserve and then approval of the latest development project or industry-crafted legislation.
She has unfortunately voted wth the "growth" majority in most of the damaging development issues in the county during her tenure: 2008 revisions to the general plan to equate tourism with agriculture, revisions to the WDO in 2010 to allow more tourism at wineries, Napa Pipe to allow the largest single urban expansion in Napa history, the Syar Expansion to increase construction materials needed for development, Walt Ranch to allow vineyard estate development on 2300 acres of undeveloped woodland, the denial of the APAC recommendations that sought to curtail winery-event center proliferation, the addition of winery tourism to the County's definition of agriculture, as well as numerous contested winery projects like Woolls Ranch, Girard, Bell and Caymus, being proposed to increase tourism development. All of these projects were opposed by concerned citizens on the basis of the damage they, and the urbanization they will induce, will do to rural character, resources and environment of the county.
APAC, Walt Ranch, Syar and Palmaz in particular, with intense community participation in each and no tangible accommodation of community concerns beyond modest technical "mitigations", set the stage for the Initiatives. The Editorial Board calls the initiative a blunt instrument to create policy, and wants a more inclusive process. For the residents who have spent four years and tens of thousands of dollars in the traditional development process with nothing to show for it, the initiative is the only instrument still available.
To repeat Nancy Tamarisk:
"Initiatives are filed as a last resort when people have lost faith that their government bodies represent them." Such is the case in Napa County, and it will probably continue to be so as long as corporate and plutocratic developers have more say over the future of the county than the preservation-minded citizens who live here and are driven by the desire to retain something special rather than mine it for profit.
And On Measure 3
"We urge a yes vote on RM 3, though we don't feel good about it."
As the makeup of the current Napa County Board of Supervisors goes, Supervisors Dillon and Wagenknecht, both up for re-election this year, might be seen as the conservationist or preservationist wing, as opposed to the majority devoted to development or "growth" interests. As the most senior supervisors, with long service to the Napa community before that, both have have a connection to and a first-hand appreciation of the battles waged to protect the county from urbanization, in the WDO, measures J and P and the 2007 drafting of the current General Plan. As such, over these last 4 years, as changes to the other 3 seats have pushed the board in an even more development-oriented direction, community groups opposed to that development trajectory have looked to them to be allies and defenders of Napa's rural heritage. Unfortunately, in an age of corporate and plutocratic takeover of the wine industry and the push for tourism development to increase profits, they have not been as supportive as needed for the growing efforts to slow the profit- and wealth-fueled degradation of Napa's rural environment and way of life.
Supervisor Dillon is being challenged by former Farm Bureau Board Member Cio Perez for her seat on the board. In 2016, Sup. Mark Luce was successfully challenged from the right by development interests over his flirtation with the idea of banning further wineries in the AP. Now Sup. Dillon is being challenged from the left for not making an effort to deal with the urbanizing forces that Sup. Luce had recognized. Both Sups. Dillon and Luce, each nitty-gritty policy wonks, have honestly sought compromises with a nod to both conservationists and developers. Unfortunately, in this age of developer supremacy (from the President on down!) which pushes for ever more profitable uses of our natural resources and rural heritage, communities throughout the county have been forced to rise in grass-roots efforts to counter the threat. And they need an advocate on the board for their interests.
Sup. Dillon, often a defender of Napa's rural heritage in comments, has unfortunately voted wth the "growth" majority in most of the damaging development issues in the county in recent years: 2008 revisions to the general plan to equate tourism with agriculture, revisions to the WDO in 2010 to allow more tourism at wineries, Napa Pipe to allow the largest single urban expansion in Napa history, the Syar Expansion to increase construction materials needed for development, Walt Ranch to allow vineyard estate development on 2300 acres of undeveloped woodland, the denial of the APAC recommendations that sought to curtail winery-event center proliferation, the addition of winery tourism to the County's definition of agriculture, and numerous contested winery projects like Woolls Ranch, Girard, Bell, Caymus, being proposed to increase tourism development. All of these projects were opposed by concerned citizens on the basis of the damage they, and the urbanization they will induce, will do to rural character, resources and environment of the county. The decision to support these projects represents a repudiation of the commitment to maintaining a rural, agricultural-based rather than urban, entertainment-based economy. Sup. Dillon, in these decisions, has not protected "the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure" envisioned in the General Plan.
A small hope may exist that Sup. Dillon, if re-elected, will liberate her preservationist roots and be the voice and vote that Napa needs if it is to remain a sustainable rural-agricultural enclave in the Bay Area for the next 50 years. Her appointment to the planing commission, Anne Cottrell, is proving to be a consistent voice for that preservation ethos against the base commercialism of the wine and tourism industries, and gives a glimmer of hope.
But right now, seeing equivocating decisions that tout preservationist bona fides while supporting more development, that's a big if. Unfortunately, needing developer support to fend off a challenge from a more staunchly preservationist challenger on the left may make her future support of conservation issues even less likely.
Cio Perez, with deep farming roots and a long and vocal commitment to support the original ideals of the Ag Preserve to insure that agriculture remains the prime economic engine of the county in the face of tourism and good-life urbanization, now appears to better represent the aggressive defense needed to protect the Ag Preserve ideals against the assault. Cio Perez at this point is a surer choice to fight to preserve Napa's agricultural economy and rural environment which is the source of its renown and the treasure of its citizens.
As you may know, my friend Cio Perez is running for Napa County Supervisor in District 3.
As Cio himself says, Diane Dillon should be applauded for her service. But I agree with Cio that we need someone with ag experience for a change.
So many issues affecting the future of our air and water, and the sustainability of our land and economy have been either kicked down the road or decided upon in favor big wine developers.
Cio believes this is because the Board lacks genuine scientific and agricultural experience. If the board understood the science, Cio believes, it would act with more urgency to protect our natural resources.
As a third-generation St. Helena farmer, Farm Bureau leader and UC Davis-educated Viticulturist and Oenologist, Cio will bring a sorely needed new perspective to the board.
I hope you will join me for Cio's kickoff party Wednesday, April 18th from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Native Sons Hall on 1313 Spring Street in St. Helena.
This is a free event. But if you become as hopeful as I am about Cio's respectful and authentic brand of leadership can make a difference, then I hope you will also join me in making a contribution to his campaign.
In the meantime, please visit www.CioForSupervisor.com to learn more about Cio's campaign, log your support or even make a contribution online.
Sometimes change creeps gradually and we neither notice nor prevent it, until it's too late.
For example, I may not pay much attention to Upvalley traffic---until one day I drive to Napa and find it takes twice as long as it used to.
Likewise: I might not mind if the county approves more visitors to some winery---until I learn the winery is just a hundred busy yards away.
Or: More tourism might seem like an easy fix for a city budget---until we learn we're hooked on it (positively cannot do without it!), and like an addict crave even more of it.
Small changes accumulate till we realize: cumulatively they are large. Increasingly, Napans have awoken to the gradual transformations permitted by government---through perhaps indifference, ignorance, or, let us not think, avarice.
Historically, the accelerated changes were birthed in 2008 when agriculture was redefined to mean not only growing food but also marketing (food-and-wine pairings, etc.). Then the door was opened to the aggressive tourism that now (1) enrichens the industry and (2) pleases governments; and which also crowds the valley, consumes the water, and drives the housing costs beyond the reach of the very workers who labor to sustain the glamor.
The public has deplored these changes, but neither letters to editors, nor public comments at government meetings, nor sign-holding demonstrations have impressed lawmakers. It takes a keen outsider like James Conaway to document the arc in the valley from superb ag to self-congratulatory sybaritism.
The public pleads for a retreat from indulgence. Yet in January the county gave Cuvaison permission to increase visitors 140 percent, to 65,520 per year. For Vine Cliff Winery in Oakville it approved an increase of annual tasting room visitors from 100 to 18,200. Astoundingly, this scale of change is old news. In 2012, 2.9 million visitors came to Napa; only four years later it increased 20 percent to 3.5 million.
Meanwhile, law-abiding vintners compete with wine-industry violators in a county whose feckless idea of rule-enforcement regarding visitors and events is---seriously---self-reporting. (Do you turn yourself in to the CHP if you speed?) County residents suffer cancer rates among the highest in the state. And it's left to the public to initiate common-sense measures like restraints on helicopters, or preservation of woodlands, when government officials will not.
When government officials will not respond to the public's pleas for protection against incursions that slither so seductively they're unnoticed till they devour the very lifestyle that attracted them, it's time for a change in government.
Right now, personally, I think the best opportunity for change is Lucio "Cio" Perez, candidate for the board of supervisors. He's a native of St. Helena, a farmer, active in civic affairs, aware of the changes the county has suffered in recent years, and focused on the health of the valley. Please visit his website cioforsupervisor.com; ask to meet him.
If this valley is to be preserved, then paradoxically something has to change. The change to Cio will be a good start.