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Jul 12, 2018
Napa County Strategic Plan
Following the narrow defeat of Measure C in the June 2018 election, a campaign that acrimoniously divided not only the wine industry from residents in Napa county, but (more importantly) divided the wine industry itself into pro-development and pro-conservation camps, the County Board of Supervisors, perhaps led by its more conservation-minded members, has called for a new process to seek consensus on the issues raised by the Measure. And to continue a process already begun, but interrupted last year, to chart short term development goals and strategies for the county.
The previous process was a group of Strategic Planning Retreats, cut short by a CEO turnover and the October fires. But the roots of that process go back further.
In February of 2014, when the Mountain Peak project first drew us into land use issues, there were already faint rumblings of concern about the number of winery projects being approved at the planning commission, the marketing (tourism) orientation of the use permit requests and changing character that tourism was bringing to the Napa Valley. As more projects came before the commission, community groups throughout the county found their common cause in opposing the development that was beginning to threaten the rural quality of their lives and the rural character that the County government nominally pledged to protect.
In 2015, in response to pushback throughout 2014 against numerous projects at PC meetings and in editorials, over 400 people attended a joint BOS/Planning Commission meeting on Mar 10th to express their concern about winery proliferation and the tourism impacts that it represented. In response the BOS set up a committee, the Agricultural Protection Advisory Commission (APAC) to study the issue.
The Commission got off to a good start with a good faith effort by the Planning Director to propose limits for winery development that had the potential to change to direction of winery development in the county. It became apparent early, however, that the committee members hoping for more development limitations were well outnumbered by wine industry/business interests, and the votes against proposals for any real reform of the status quo began to stack up. In the end very modest recommendations were made and even those were watered down by the BOS. From the standpoint of the community concern that initially caused the creation of APAC, nothing was done to slow building projects in the agricultural areas of the county.
To community members, APAC was an example of the failure of a government-citizen deliberative process to address the impacts of development in a county dominated by business interests. There would be two further major deliberations in the coming year, Walt Ranch and the Syar Expansion, each with extensive community participation, that ended with development projects proceeding and many feeling that government cared more about corporations and plutocrats than about residents. Those three failures, along with numerous individual projects at the planning commission, created a sense that government deliberation was a feeble approach to slow the pace of development, and, directly responding to the issues raised by Walt Ranch, Measure C was born.
Measure C was also unsuccessful. But the margin of the loss was close enough, and the angst at the government level that citizens must circumvent government to have their concerns heard, that a new call for another deliberative process, the Napa Strategic Plan, has been taken up. Will this process begin to address the pace of development that is already threatening the rural, small-town quality of life, preserved through great efforts to halt development over the last 50 years, that makes Napa a unique enclave in the urbanized Bay Area? Let the deliberations begin.
At the January 15th BOS meeting devoted to the Napa Strategic Plan, Supervisor Dillon presented a graph that she had asked staff to prepare to show the imbalance of job and housing creation that is the root of the traffic and housing problems in the Bay Area. The Napa ratio 17:1 is only eclipsed by Marin at 20:1.
Although she didn't propose what the County should do to address the imbalance, and her purpose might be just to show that the imbalance is a problem everywhere (or that Napa's problem is comparatively small in absolute numbers), I had the uneasy feeling that she might be making the case that housing needs to be ramped up to meet the demand. One of the main takeaways from the Strategic Plan questionnaire and from the comments of other Supervisors is the need to increase housing construction ("remove barriers to maximize housing opportunities." in the words of Strategic Plan action item 10.), a concept anathema to the original ag preserve zoning, and that both the wine industry and the Supervisors have heretofore seen as the greatest danger to an agricultural economy.
As was discussed elsewhere on this site, some might have the opposite response to this imbalance: reduce the jobs numbers, or at least put a moratorium on job creation until the housing units already in the pipeline (some 4000 of them) begin to make a dent on the imbalance. With the number of jobs increasing at the current rate, no amount of home building will catch up and the entire county will eventually become a bedroom community trying to accommodate the demand, just as the rest of the Bay Area has.
Sup. Dillon recognizes that it's the municipalities that are creating the bulk of the new jobs in the county and it's up to the County to work with them and encourage them to deal with the problem. But the county has a unilateral responsibility as well. The Mountain Peak Winery project next to me will add 19 new (mostly hospitality) employees for a vanity project in the remote hillsides. Building the project will bring an additional few dozen workers for a couple of years to the county. (Construction, as befits the change from a rural to urban county, is Napa's fastest-growing job creator with hospitality next). Each of the projects being approved every month at the planning commission is adding ever more employees to the top of the white bar in the graph. The number of homes being built will be pitifully small by comparison, and the imbalance and commuter traffic will only increase. The County has the discretion to stop building ever more projects that bring ever more employees needing housing and related development that will only create more pressure to turn its agricultural lands to more profitable use. They should exercise it.
I have to admit that the Napa Strategic Plan has reminded me of our initial experience with Nextdoor, the social media networking site for neighborhoods. In 2014 it seemed like Nextdoor Soda Canyon might be a good organizing platform to confront the development issues that were beginning to change our lives on Soda Canyon Road. But, of course, it proved to be more about finding a missing pet or someone to repair a septic system.
At the beginning of the meeting Sup. Dillon asked the Plan's consultant, Dr. B.J. Bischoff, to make clear the distinction between the General Plan which looks at long term land use issues and the Strategic Plan which looks at all of the county functions in the short term.
I have followed this process thinking that the Strategic Plan was intended to begin addressing the "big picture" impacts of development that were the impetus for the Mar 10th 2015 meeting and APAC and Measure C. Instead it is about the nuts and bolts of making Napa County government a better institution that listens to its citizens, a noble goal to be sure.
But as the NVR article shows, the Strategic Plan is often linked with the angst surrounding Measure C, a long term land use problem, with the Supes scheduling a workshop on Measure C issues as an extension of the Strategic Plan. So a bit of confusion reigns over the Plan's intent.
In public comments, most of the passion revolved around Climate Action (now!!) and the sacrosanct Vine Trail, each group claiming their issue, if Napa acts quickly enough, was going to save humanity from a warming planet.
The wine industry's "data-based decisions" mantra was tediously repeated, an attempt to demonize any opposition to the expansion of vineyards, wineries and tourism in the county, which many citizens see as diminishment in their quality of life, as Trumpian fact-free populism. Loss in the quality of life, developers know, is hard for impacted citizens to quantify.
The report was given, Supervisors had brief comments and 28 members of the public spoke. Staff was directed to digest the day's proceedings, tweak the Plan accordingly and schedule another hearing (probably 1/15/19). Video of the hearing Coalition Napa Valley white paper
Our Vision for the Future
Napa County is an agricultural treasure known for its legendary wines, our small-town character, and sustainable natural resources.
-- Napa Strategic Plan
For those that hoped the Napa Strategic Plan would be a vehicle to address the growth issues that are impacting the quality of life of Napa residents (the issues that led to the Mar 10 2015 joint BOS/PC meeting and the creation of APAC, and Measure C and countless fraught hearings over major projects like Walt Ranch, Syar and individual wineries) the draft report may be a bit too focused on symptoms and palliatives rather than causes and cures. It does not talk about how to slow the stream of development projects that occupy almost every planning commission meeting, adding buildings, visitors, employees, traffic and a demand on resources in an urbanization process that is directly counter to the vision of the Strategic Plan.
The Plan contains 81 action Items that are a bit more aspirational than actionable, and leave a lot of room for interpretation.
Six action items mention traffic/transportation: "Improve and maintain the existing transportation and roads system to accommodate all users" is the essence. Transportation action items are already being looked at in the Update of the General Plan Circulation Element. Unfortunately limits on the growth that is creating the traffic are not seen as part of the solution. (30% of the 1000 questionnaire comments mentioned traffic/transport)
Only one action item mentions wineries: "Work with stakeholders to update and develop sustainable regulations for issues including but not limited to residential development, view shed development, solar facilities, winery compatibility, outdoor winery hospitality, food pairings, and pesticide use." This is the crux of many development concerns. But the County's unwillingness to halt development while these issues are being defined or re-defined, and the APAC experience which essentially ignored residents as "stakeholders" in any decisions, makes one apprehensive. (20% of the questionnaire comments mentioned winery/wineries)
Only one mentions tourism: "Residents want to feel that the County is working for them, rather than catering to tourists, by encouraging more small businesses, family activities, and local services that focus on building community, improving well-being, and making it easier to live and work in the County." Tourist urbanism is the biggest threat to the rural character that residents treasure in the county. The county should get out of tourism development promotion and concentrate on real agriculture. (20% of questionnaire comments mentioned tourist/tourism/hospitality)
Only one mentions growth: "Develop a balanced approach to growth based on data-informed decisions." "Balanced growth" is a bit like the oxymoron "sustainable growth". Unfortunately, balance and sustainability only have a chance to be achieved once the growth is stopped. Also, the industry/government mantra "data-informed decisions" always seems like an excuse to put expert-opinion-justified development interests over resident-centered interests in quality of life. Quality of life is very real but hard to quantify, and expert opinions and reality are often not the same thing. (5% of questionnaire comments mentioned growth although growth is at the heart of other concerns)
As pointed out in the NVR article, one section does deal strictly with the issues raised by Measure C and the action items are rather specific. It is almost as if the only major complaint the BOS had with Measure C was that they didn't write it. The vineyard conversion goals, however, don't change from the current general plan. "Establish a cap on vineyard development through 2030, consistent with the 2008 General Plan Environmental Impact Report (EIR) project description." The 2007 EIR Agriculture chapter posits an additional 12,500 acres on top of the 42,000 acres then in production. Over the last decade about 100 acres of producing vineyards have been added to the county each year. The GP cap for vineyard production allows for 10 times that amount. (Note to County webmaster: Appendix H dealing with vineyard projections, like many of the documents dealing with the 2007 EIR, were lost when the new County website was launched in 2017) This is one of the few concrete proposals but, much like the compliance program, simply reinforces the bloated status quo. (13% of questionnaire comments mentioned vineyards/agriculture).
The Strategic Plan is mostly a declaration of good intentions, and as such is to be commended. "Community" is the most frequent word in the document after "Napa County Strategic Plan". But APAC, likewise, was commissioned with good intentions toward the interests of the community, intentions that were watered down or erased entirely when subjected to industry pushback. We each read what we want to into the intentions, and I can see how they would be the basis for constructive change in dealing with the issues of growth in the county. But, how the action items will actually be interpreted, or modified in ordinances or practice, is a very open question.
The fact that the Plan is nominally concerned with only the next three years still seems a bit odd, a rather short term vision of the future. We are celebrating 50 years of the Ag Preserve. It has been a success. But "growth" has Eden fraying around the edges, with building projects in the vineyards and on the hillsides and with chronic traffic congestion and a tourism economy replacing both the agricultural and residential economy. It is that fraying that was behind APAC, and Measure C and the resident activism that seems to have led to this Strategic Plan. Extrapolate the "growth" that has occurred in the last 20 years and there will be little left of the "agricultural treasure" and "small town character" 50 years from now. We need to begin a Strategic Plan not for the next 3 years but for the next half century. Otherwise there will be nothing to celebrate at the 100th anniversary of the Ag Preserve.
The one aspect of the Strategic Plan that is bothersome is its focus on the next 3 years. The significant outreach to solicit and document input from such wide variety of county "stakeholders" is an effort worthy of loftier goals than just prioritizing the County's short term agenda. The problems of traffic and affordable housing, and the infrastructure and social strains of an expanding population, when looked at in a 3-year time frame, become merely exercises in trying to mitigate the existing impacts of the previous 20 years of urban growth. The 3 year strategic plan lets stakeholders vent about existing problems and lets government commit to do something about them (whether it can or not). The Strategic Plan doesn't, unfortunately, embody proposals that might challenge the trajectory of growth that has created our current problems and will continue to compound them into the future.
The comments of some of the participants do reflect an interest in the bigger picture of land use policy - how does the vision at the heart of the Strategic Plan, the same vision at the heart of the Ag Preserve 50 years ago to retain a small-town, rural place in the midst of an urbanizing world, remain relevant for another 50 years. When looked at in the longer term bolder solutions need to be looked at. And some of the Participants in the Strategic Plan have done that.
So far there are three proposals that have been submitted outlining long term land use strategies:
The County, under CEO Minh Tran's guidance, has made an amazing effort to plumb the feelings of its citizens in trying to chart a path for the next 3 years.
Meetings held over the last 2 months with a couple dozen "stakeholder" groups are catalogued on the County Website here with links to recaps of the meetings. The recap documents give bullet point analysis and solutions to achieve each group's aspirations. The bullet points in their brevity are often ambiguous, but there are real intriguing nuggets that hopefully the County's consultant will pull out. (Like the Wine Growers idea of turning the Trail into a paid "7 mile drive" tourist attraction. [did they mean 17 mile, or 27 mile?], or like the Napa Valley Vintners desire to build more housing in the unincorporated areas, the anthesis of the Ag Preserve!) Just reading the red comments first is helpful in sorting it all out. In only two of the meetings was there a summary of the group presenting their goals in their own words, those of the Vintners and Farmers for Responsible Agriculture and Napa Vision 2050. ( My District 4 meeting is bullet-pointed here.)
The obvious finding seemed to be that we like our quality of life and that we feel it's all downhill from here. Why else would we spend time on a tedious questionnaire but for the hope that our fears are less likely to be realized by doing so.
The responses to the rate-from-most-to-least-important questions were a pain to fill out because one tends not to have strong opinions about everything the county does. And yet most people voted "extremely" or "somewhat important" for everything. Seldom does a question get less than 70% of the total in those two rankings combined.
The most interesting part of the responses to the questionnaire were the comments, 1000 of them. And I was very pleased to see that a good number that dealt with the negative impacts of winery tourism. It is, IMO, the heart of why this process is happening.
The one aspect of the Napa Strategic Plan that I find a bit odd is its 3 year horizon. There are undoubtedly issues that can be addressed in three years. But in terms of land use issues, the next 3 years and beyond have already been determined by the number of projects that have been approved but not yet built. Those projects will deteriorate the county's rural quality of life over the next decade at least, with increased traffic and demand for housing and the need for more taxes for infrastructure and service upgrades required by an increasing population of workers and visitors. The decisions that the County will be making now are for a future beyond the next decade. I would be more than pleased if the county were to stop issuing and expanding use permits tomorrow. And I hope that they do. But that has little to do with changes to our lives that will be happening in the next 3 years.
I hope that the Board of Supervisors’ most recent Strategic Plan process does not end up fitting the definition of insanity: To keep doing the same thing and expect different results.
After Measure C almost passed in the June election, the board has decided to “listen” to the citizens through a series of meetings with a neutral facilitator (the one difference). They will then craft a strategic plan to address the watershed and growth issues that Measure C put before the voters, as well as other issues citizens bring to the table.
We the People have already been through an impotent process in which the governing officials “listened” to us. On March 10, 2015, the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission held a joint hearing at which 475 gathered for a day of public comment, most of us protesting the lack of code enforcement and commercialization of our agriculturally zoned protected lands. The result? Not much came of it. The Agricultural Protect Advisory Committee (APAC) formed was stacked with wine and hospitality interests.
Then came the dirty techniques of the No on C campaign. Even some of our governing officials participated in misleading the public with erroneous statements aimed at confusing voters. Trust in our elected and appointed officials is at an all time low.
Although Measure C did not pass (301 more votes of the approximate 36,000 cast and it would have) the vote reflects the growing concern in our county for our water supply which is integrally connected to our watersheds. That is the good news. One has to ask: Would this strategic plan process have occurred without the almost 50/50 vote in a large voter turnout election? I doubt it.
Will this time be different? Citizens, it depends on We the People.
Only because Measure C, a very modest measure, almost won the vote to protect our watersheds from development did the Board of Supervisors embark on developing a strategic plan to be implemented over the next years. We have to stay on board.
Make sure that you attend the proposed upcoming citizen meetings for each district in the next couple of months. Write letters to your district supervisor. Insist this not be another APAC, in which special interest groups neutralize any movement toward real exploration and protection.
Remind our governing officials that We the People elect them and if they don’t represent our interests, we will elect someone who will. Remind them that We the People have the right of the initiative when they are not doing their job in protecting our water supply and our community and that and we will use it again and when we have to.
From my standpoint Dario Sattui had the quote of the day: "We need to stop all building in the ag areas." Hear! Hear! A moratorium on future development is the only way that the county will ever have the space to deal with the existing traffic, housing and potential water problems created by past development. Of course he was railing principally about homes in the ag areas, and the complaints of homeowners about "noise, dust, night picking, tourists and tasting", nicely summing up the conflation of real agriculture with tourism that is at the heart of resident hostility to the wine industry as it morphs into an entertainment industry. I wasn't sure if he would agree that wineries are buildings and should also be banned.
Several speakers mentioned the Napa County General Plan's vision statement as a starting point for this process. It's worth repeating the first paragraph:
"Today and in the future, unincorporated Napa County will be home to world-famous wines and a residential population smaller than most Bay Area cities and towns. The County's scenic beauty, valuable agricultural resources, and quality of life are reinforced by longstanding commitments to agricultural preservation, resource conservation, and urban-centered growth. While other Bay Area counties have experienced unprecedented development and urban infrastructure expansion over the last four decades, Napa County's citizens have conscientiously preserved the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure."
In recognition of that vision, this process should be about one goal: how best to limit the urban growth of unincorporated Napa County. The point was made by speakers that the county has only limited control over the urbanization and that the municipalities are the principal drivers of increased traffic, housing and infrastructure impacts. The vision that the county is "committed to urban-centered growth" (meaning that growth is the municipalities' problem not the county's problem) is a bit of a fudge unfortunately. Growth in the municipalities is very much a traffic-housing-water problem for the unincorporated areas as well. Without inclusion of representatives from the municipalities this process can only have a modest impact on the county's future.
But the County needs to do what it can. In several meetings, including this one, the point has been made that projections of growth in the 2008 General Plan have actually been greater than actual growth. And yet the problems of that actual growth, in traffic, infrastructure and housing needs are apparent to all right now. This strategic plan process should ask whether or not the projections of growth in the General Plan are appropriate for the future we envision. And if not, what land use strategies can be proposed that will bring those development projections down? Dario Sattui's recommendation to stop building in the ag areas might be a good start.
George Caloyannidis adds this clarification:
"The County's line that growth is driven by our cities is absolutely false. The County is the one which provides the demand and development opportunities in the cities by approving new and enlarged wineries, tasting rooms and event centers. Its policies are what brings in the tourists. The cities simply provide the hotels to accommodate them. If the County stopped creating the market for the hotels, the hotels would stop being built."
At the beginning of the BOS's 7/10/18 meeting, Tax Assessor John Tuteur reported to the Board of Supervisors that since July of 2017 unincorporated Napa County has probably had the largest increase in nonresidential construction in the county's history (or at least since he's been assessor). Although not directly related to the post C discussion over the future direction of Napa development, labeled the Strategic Plan by County CEO Minh Tran, it was an apt "fact" which needs to be brought to the table in a discussion already obsessing over fact-based decision making.
CEO Tran indicated that on July 31st he would begin laying out the parameters of a task force to deal with our post-Measure C trauma and seek consensus on Napa's future development. His outline for the process is here.
The use of the word "stakeholders" in the outline is a bit unsettling since it almost always implies a financial stake in the outcome or in our case the wine and tourism industries and the government. While the citizenry who wish to participate may see some financial impact of new policies, it is, I think, the quality of their lives in Napa County that is at stake and that brings them to the table. As happened in APAC, without significant representation of residents, business stakeholders, and the urbanizing development projects they pursue, will dominate the future of the county.
In public comments:
Vintner Joyce Black Sears criticized the changes made in the definition of agriculture that have encouraged intensification of tourism, traffic and deforestation by catering to the business interests of corporations and the wealthy while ignoring the ordinary people who live here. Reconsider the definition of agriculture, she admonished. Otherwise the continued development will be the final nail in the coffin of Napa's ag heritage.
Former supervisor Ginny Simms described how the agreement between the NVV and the Measure C authors was scuttled after months of cooperative effort: Gallo, Treasury, Hall and others demanded that the agreement end or they would pull out of NVV and not offer wines for the Wine Auction - complete bullying by the major wine corporations. A transcript of her statement is here.
Measure C author Mike Hackett called out Supervisors Pedroza, Ramos, and Gregory for their initial support of Measure C when the NVV supported it and then their vehement opposition to the identical initiative when the NVV, at the insistence of major wine corporations, dropped support. Trust was a casualty of the process. Who do you work for? he asked. In citing the disinformation campaign put out by the No on C campaign and the false campaign arguments signed by Sup. Ramos in the official opposition ballot arguments, Mr. Hackett confronted them. "You lied to the citizens of Napa County. You owe an apology".
"We'd like to see something that is more data-driven." Sarah Sanders on Climate Report, 11/28/18
Lately, the wine industry lobbyists that comment at Planning Commission and BOS meetings will invariably slip in their interest in "fact-based decision making". It was a principal bullet point in the industry's No on C campaign, in trying to make the implication that further protection of the watersheds and their aquifers from over-exploitation for vineyard and winery development was somehow not supported by facts.
The emphasis on "fact-based decisions" and the denigration of the initiative process as a "blunt instrument" by government and industry opponents in the Measure C campaign has seemed to me to be code for industry and government control of the planing process rather than the "emotion-based decision" making by residents that is an inherent part of the initiative process.
The "facts" that industry and government officials tout are conclusions in reports made by technical experts. They are not, in fact, "facts", but are interpretations of quantities of data given certain assumptions. They are expert opinions. As we have seen, where opponents can afford their own experts, as qualified as those hired by the developer, very different opinions often emerge when the data is subjected to different, but no less valid, assumptions. Which opinions are to be used in decisions become the stuff of lawsuits, as the county knows in numerous projects being challenged in court.
Government and developers like "fact-based" decisions. When impacted citizens complain about the harm projects may cause, developers can tout the "fact" that an expert says there will be less-than-significant negative impacts. If you don't agree get your own experts. Experts, of course, cost money. Often lots of money. For the developer they are part of the cost of the project, amortized by the profits to be made. They are tax deductible. For impacted citizens, the cost of hiring experts comes from savings accounts. And they are not tax deductible. And hiring consultants is a complex undertaking they have no experience with, often needing a lawyer to guide the process, an additional expense. The truth is that developers and governments always tout and set the parameters for "fact-based" decisions not because the parameters and opinions are irrefutably true, but because the cost and the effort of refuting them is an enormous burden for any opponents wishing to challenge their projects.
The argument in this post should not be seen as an example of right-wing fact-freedom mongering. We all profess and are committed to making decisions based on reality rather than fantasy. It is an argument only that reality and the opinions of experts are not always the same thing. Were they the same, there would be no disagreement over, say, whether red wine is good for you or bad for you. And unfortunately, as we've seen in dozens of examples - think pesticides, tobacco or global warming - expert opinions often depend on the amounts of money to be made by a particular conclusion. Reality can't be held at bay forever, but it can be ignored or hidden for years with enough money given to the task. And as we've seen over and over, in Napa there is lots of money to prove that development projects, and the reality of the traffic they create, and the affordable housing and infrastructure needs they generate, and the resources they use will have a less-than-significant impact on the future of the County. The reality of those impacts, denied or mitigated away for years in "fact-based" development decisions, are now upon us.
BOS will continue their discussion of Land Use policies on Jul 10, 2018 with input and timelines from staff.
Update 6/19/18In the discussion of land use policies by the BOS in their Jun 19th, 2018 meeting, in the wake of the Measure C election, Sup Wagenknecht led off the discussion, after acknowledging the quadrennial joy of getting to ask for a job back and hearing from his bosses, with a very clear-headed analysis about the importance of Measure C based on listening to voters. The initiative, as he saw it from their standpoint, was not a vote about the somewhat confusing technicalities of the measure. Their yes vote seemed to be saying "I'm upset about all this change that is happening in napa, all this development". It was a plebiscite on the many development issues that have pitted residents against developers, including the winery industry, over the past few years. Yes on C was a proxy for a vote of concern over the pace of that development. And it was a vote about whether residents would have a say in the process to address that concern.
Sup. Dillon proposed a deliberative process be set up to discuss the broader issues that underlay the negativity and anger that were a part of the Measure C campaign. She cited successful community deliberative processes: GRAC, General Plan update, the Flood Control project. She suggested a third party facilitator, with working groups and the use perhaps of something like "Crowdfire" to identify the challenges facing the county and to seek an answer to the question "What is the carrying capacity of Napa County?" A 50-50 spit over the future direction of Napa County is not sustainable. And decisions need to be science based, a refrain that would be heard again and again. (She didn't mention APAC or the Walt Ranch hearings, the two deliberative processes that convinced the citizens of Napa County that change was only possible through the initiative process.)
Sup. Gregory wanted some leadership from the Board before the community commission was convened with a restart of the Board's Strategic Planning Sessions that seemed to go nowhere last year.
Sup Pedroza wanted to know what are the problems to be solved? He doesn't see any data to indicate that the development trajectory of napa county is on the wrong track. Look at con regs and ordinances. Bring us the science. We need "scientific, fact-based" decisions. The board needs a conversation first before a community collaboration. And it needs city partners in the process. Later he added that wanted to see process timelines from the staff.
Sup. Ramos felt that Supes were chosen to make tough decisions, and she was not interested in a deliberative approach that's tries to appeal to emotional concerns rather than factual concerns. The decisions need to be made by Supes and favors the Strategic Planning Sessions rather than public workshops,. No need for another futile APAC process on steroids.
In public comments community reps Eve Kahn, and Gary Margadant, both a bit unprepared because the lack of notification and cryptic staff report on the issue, voiced concern about the ineffective 3-minute-speech format for resident input in the collaborative process. The wine industry "stakeholder" representatives were on hand to express, once again, their need for science, fact-based decision making and faith in the Supervisors as decision makers. "I don't feel I'm limited to 3 minutes, I can call up the supervisors whenever I want. And write longer letters and give them to you.", one of the industry reps said. (Since that's what she's paid to do, it might be a bit easier for her than other citizens with their own lives to lead.)
Dir. Morrison then concluded with "I look forward to the journey we are about to embark on." drawing some chuckles from those knowledgeable about the other journeys he has been on these last few years.
6/18/18On Tues June 19th the BOS will begin (let's hope it is a beginning) to discuss land use policies in the wake of the defeated Measure C initiative.
From the staff letter: "Based on prior policy discussions before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, staff has developed a series of options for discussion to address current challenges and further the County's goals of protecting agriculture, the environment, and the economy."
"We can all be sure that whether Measure C passes or not, these issues are urgent and will drive policy discussion far beyond the election. The real challenge will be to find common ground in the search for solutions to the problems that face us.
Regardless of what happens once the votes are tallied, I am fully committed to do all I can to bring all the stakeholders together to make Napa County a leader in stewardship and sustainability."
It will be interesting to see what Measure C's opponents on the Board have to say. And to see if this effort, like the APAC look at winery proliferation, will be merely an exercise in due diligence or an impetus for change.
Measure C was defeated by a mere 600 or so votes among the 36,000 cast. In the face of an extraordinarily high 47 percent voter participation for a primary election, the issue - far from resolved - is at its tipping point, serious enough for the supervisors to finally pick up the ball so that we don't end up at the ballot box once again.
Sifting through their related statements: Supervisor Pedroza advocates having a "conversation" and Supervisor Ramos proposes having that conversation at the Board of Supervisors' platform, meaning 3-minute comment periods at public hearings. But in the face of the one-sided APAC failed model, the time for conversations is over as it will undoubtedly be perceived as one more delaying tactic.
Given this reality, Supervisor Dillon's view that a resolution may be facilitated only through a "science-based" determination of the "carrying capacity of Napa County" is a good first step towards the big picture. Instead of the Planning Commission doling out new permits for more wine production, visitations and events for the asking as it currently does, a set of carrying capacity metrics would serve the long term health of the Napa Valley well.
But as constructive as a carrying capacity study would be, all factors that affect it must be examined and acceptable standards must be set for each one of them. How many wineries are enough? How many tourists are beneficial? How many woodlands - and not just oaks - must be protected? How much traffic congestion is acceptable?
Should winery and agricultural development be permitted on mile-long hillside roads with no secondary accesses? Should areas in the county be graded according to more, less or no development zones? How can we rectify the enormous damage winery use permit violators have inflicted upon our valley by escaping environmental review? Just to name a few.
Science, of course, can be helpful in setting standards in terms of water availability under extended drought conditions, carbon dioxide emissions, pesticide leaching and sedimentation into our reservoirs, traffic intersection grades, air quality.
Added to the difficulty of setting commonly agreed upon carrying capacity standards is the widening credibility gap between the residents and our county government.
The county has been reassuring the public for too long that it has been applying CEQA mandates effectively and that all developments have been mitigated to "less than significant impacts" until traffic congestion proved how misplaced the public's trust in the supervisors as guardians of the residents' quality of life has been. Other issues are less visible but there are there nonetheless.
The credibility of the Board of Supervisors was further compromised by its choice of the consultant for its 9111 reports on Measures C and D. These reports were not only bias-based but they attributed provisions to the initiatives that were downright false. If this were not enough, none of the supervisors challenged even a single finding in these reports during public hearings; in fact, they precluded answers to questions by the initiatives' drafting attorneys.
Entrusting the supervisors with the choice of widely acceptable consultants or with defining carrying capacity standards is highly problematic at this point and a serious dilemma right from the start.
As difficult as the task may be, it is imperative for such a process to move forward without delay. This is what governing is all about after all. Otherwise, anger and discontent will keep growing beyond its current tipping point with no telling where this may lead. Judging from the national political landscape, when officials remain unresponsive to wide public demands, mistrust grows and results can become irrational. Then the people are left with no choice but to take the law into their own hands by resorting to initiatives.
In the year ahead, I urge the Planning Commission and the supervisors to devote less time on processing single-interest applications and direct the bulk of their efforts on issues which affect the quality of life of all residents. Their policies of the past decade have seen the transformation of an agricultural economy into a tourist economy. The impacts on residents and on the natural environment were never adequately thought out.