Subscribe to the Napa Valley Register Please note that this site relies heavily on the reporting and the letters-to-the-editor in the Napa Valley Register. I would encourage you to subscribe here if you really wish to follow what is going on in Napa County - and to make sense of my blog. The cost is nominal compared to the major dailies, and, unlike them, the Register contains news and views that are simply unavailable elsewhere. (Also note this is not an ad: I'm sure the NVR could care less about sodacanyonroad.org)
Update 10/20/18: Measure CIn 2017 the growing concern over climate change and the pace of vineyard development in the watersheds led community environmental activists to once again propose an initiative, in conjunction with some members of the wine industry, to be placed on the 2018 ballot. The vintners seemed to recognize that vineyard development of Napa's watersheds and woodlands can't go on forever and they wanted to be a part of the effort to draft a long term plan. In the June 2018 primary election Measure C, the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative, failed by 650 votes out of 37,500 votes cast. The contentiousness of the campaign was seen by many as not just a vote on the protection of watersheds but a referendum on the pace of development in the county as a whole. The Supervisors, mindful of the community split that the vote represented, have renewed a Strategic Plan process to seek out a consensus on County priorities over the next three years. Part of that process is an attempt by the Supervisors to get agreement on changes to the conservation regulations, if any and move on.
9/15/16: The Conservation RegulationsIn the 1980's, with the Napa Valley floor almost fully developed in vineyards and a continuing flow of wannabes wishing to fulfill their Napa dreams, vineyard development in the hilly watershed areas surrounding the valley began to take off. Following several vineyard clearing projects in the late 1980's that resulted in land erosion and river sedimentation, Napa county passed Conservation Regulations in 1991 that established stream setbacks and maximum deforestation limits.
By 2002 it was apparent to some that the effectiveness of the 1991 measures were in doubt, given the magnitude of development in the watersheds, unless more protective measures were put in place. A stringent ordinance was proposed by environmentalists in 2002. In 2003 the Board of Supervisors passed a short term stream setback ordinance, banning commercial development within 25-150' from streams. Two measures were placed on the 2004 ballot in response: Measure O, an outgrowth of the 2002 effort, was created with 350-1000' setbacks and limits on deforestation. A counter Measure P, was created by the wine industry in line with the BOS 2003 ordinance. Both measures were defeated after a campaign by "land steward" property rights advocates (who proposed their own law in 2005).
In 2001 the State of California had established an oak woodlands conservation fund to provide funding for the protection of oak woodlands. In 2010 a Voluntary Oak Woodland Management Plan was produced by Napa stakeholders and adopted by the county as a voluntary plan to be used by entities that wanted to tap into the conservation fund. This document serves as the current basis for woodland protection in the county.
Since 1991, vast areas of the watersheds have been deforested and the landscape in the hills, seen on Google Maps, now resembles Vietnam after the war rather than the forests that once defined the hills around the valley. In some areas like the Rector watershed , pictured here, the conversion of natural lands to vineyards is substantial.
In 2016, as an era of global warming begins to impact water sources throughout the state, concern has again heightened over the loss of forest and woodlands that retain and filter surface water for municipal reservoirs, over the depletion of groundwater and toxic runoff from ever more agriculture, and over the urban development of the watersheds for tourism facilities and vineyard estates. The relationship between the deforestation process and GHG emmisions has also become a concern in the county's climate action plan. The threat to the water resources and the rural environment of the county has never been greater. As with the impact of expanding tourism and industrial development on traffic and affordable, small-town community life on the valley floor, the question of the long term viability of the watersheds and the commitment to the sustainable rural community envisioned in the county general plan is now back on the agenda.
In one of the more bizarre examples of the anarchy that citizens are increasingly adopting in dealing with their governments, a vineyard developer has simply said that he doesn't have to play by County rules, that he is above the law. Right-wing tactical politics have arrived in Napa County. There may be some sympathetic judges to the argument government regulation can be an overreach when balanced against public well-being. The California First Appellate District court has expressed some sympathy for the fact that CEQA is exacerbating the state's housing crisis. But it is unlikely that they would conclude that trying to prevent hillsides from washing into creeks by regulating hillside development would be too great a burden to place on the development community.
Our complaint on this site is often that our County government has not done enough enforcement of its own regulations, often providing exemptions, exceptions and forgiveness in order to let developers do what they will. In this case the County has, as they occasionally do against blatent scofflaws, done the right thing. Let's hope that reports of the death of the rule-of-law in America are greatly exagerated..
For all of us fortunate enough to call the Napa Valley home, its apparent that the beauty of our surrounding hillsides is very important to us. It's also a very important reason visitors return to our famous wine-growing region.
We all realize that open space, forests and the natural environment we cherish moves us emotionally and provides that much needed rhythm of life. Did you know that Napa County has the highest density of oak woodlands in all of California? Not the most oaks, because we are small geographically, but the highest concentration.
The oak woodlands provide that much needed connectivity with our eco-system and natural beauty, and free of charge, they provide two-thirds of the water running down into the valley floor, they aid in cooling our climate and provide homes for thousands of species important for biodiversity. Most importantly, is that the oak woodlands combat climate change right here at home.
Although written specifically about blue oaks, Professor David Stahle, University of Arkansas writes: "In a state famous for remarkable forests, the blue oak woodlands must be included among the most exceptional. Blue oak woodlands are a mosaic of forest and savanna on the foothills of the Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada, encircling the Central Valley of California.
"These beautiful woodlands are one of the largest ecosystems in California, but they are imperiled by agricultural development, suburbanization and by the apparent decline in natural regeneration.
"Many of the remaining blue oak woodlands were never systematically logged and still contain canopy-dominant individuals that are 150 to over 600 years old. In fact, that remaining blue oak woodlands may be one of the most extensive old-growth forest types left in California. These ancient woodlands contribute to watershed protection and preserve an important component of the eroding biodiversity of California."
The California Wildlife Foundation/California Oaks proudly state that the window that blue oaks provide into California's hydrological history offers a roadmap for stewardship as the climate warms.
The annual growth rings of blue oaks record the history of California's rainfall, because the trees are an integral part of the watershed.
Oak litter, duff, downed logs, understory and root systems stabilize and enrich soil, regulate run-off, prevent erosion, cool riparian corridors and access groundwater and soil moisture. It is estimated that California's oak woodlands protect the quality of greater than two-thirds of California's drinking water supply. Keeping our old-growth oak forests standing is essential to achieving a secure water future.
The persistence of California's old-growth oak ecosystems through prior climate shifts offers a degree of certainty during uncertain times. In addition to their importance to watersheds, oak ecosystem services include the maintenance of biodiversity and carbon sequestration.
Blue oak ecosystems sequester an estimated 18,783,312 metric tons of above and below ground carbon in live and dead trees. In total, California oak ecosystems are estimated to sequester 675 million metric tons of carbon stored. Soil organic carbon is positively correlated with woody plant cover, and can be quickly degraded and lost upon the removal of oaks.
Enhanced and continued protection of all our oak woodlands is paramount here in Napa. We have the opportunity here in Napa County, to set an example for the world to follow. Preservation of our oaks is not mutually exclusive of the need to manage our forests. Let's do both and help sustain the movement needed to combat our climate crisis.
As part of Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture's discussions related to Napa County's recently passed Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance, this Op-Ed provides perspectives and specifics related to new rules. Amendments recently adopted by the Board of Supervisors will go into effect on May 9.
A study by Amber Manfree, PhD in geography and GIS mapping, determined that newly adopted rules will reduce total developable area by a mere 3 percent, leaving over 28,000 acres of trees on developable land open to deforestation in Napa County.
During the ordinance adoption process, Napa County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commissioners received comments from stakeholders, property rights advocates, subject area experts, and the general public. Numerous calls were made for science-based decision-making. Commenters including Ross Middlemiss on behalf of The Center for Biological Diversity, the California Wildlife Foundation and California Oaks, biologist Jake Ruygt, and others pointed to scientific research that shows conserving Napa's wildlands has tremendous benefits for biodiversity, climate change buffering and adaptation, and water security. Essentially we need to preserve a minimum of 90 percent of our wildlands to maintain a healthy eco-system.
In the late 1900s, Napa Valley saw a shift from prunes, walnuts, and other crops to wine grapes. With the Napa Valley floor effectively planted out, large-scale vineyard developments now typically require removal of forested wildlands. In a time of increasing awareness of the related threats of climate change and biodiversity loss, bulldozing of wildlands is far less socially acceptable than it once was. At the same time, wildland conversion is often the only realistic way for new wine grapegrowers to enter the Napa market. But how much land are we really talking about, and what may the effects of newly adopted rules be?
Most remaining undeveloped land is in the 442,200-acre Agricultural Watershed Zoning District, which encompasses mountainous areas surrounding Napa Valley. There are a total of about 199,300 forested acres in the Agricultural Watershed. About 50 percent of the Agricultural Watershed has slopes over 30 percent, which are rarely permitted for development due to Napa County's Hillside Ordinance and concerns about erosion. Prior to recent amendments, there were about 69,000 acres available for development in the Agricultural Watershed. About half of this developable area, or 34,400 acres, is forested. Over 70 percent of those trees are oaks. The remainder of the non-forested area is covered in grasslands, chaparral, and other land cover types. Changes to existing protections may reduce at-risk forest to 28,700 acres in the Agricultural Watershed. These rules may yield an overall increase of 5,700 acres, or three percent, in protection of Agricultural Watershed forests beyond existing rules. Will a two to three percent reduction in development potential meaningfully slow or prevent wildland conversion in Napa County? It will not.
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.
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.
Update 5/6/18A report commissioned by the Vintners/Growers for Responsible Agriculture on the likely impacts (or lack thereof, since it concluded that impacts would be negligible) of proposed changes to the Conservation Regs was made public recently. It had been presented privately to the supervisors prior to their vote. It was a significant effort to provide the data for data-based decision making that the Supervisors and the wine industry have been demanding since Measure C was a proposed. The Supervisors decided to ignore the data.
Another meeting and a chance to nibble away more protections. It was unfortunate that the wine industry/homebuilder lobby badgered the Supes to throw out the ban on development over 30% at the last hearing. If the rationale was that so little is being done there now that protection is not warranted, then what harm would the protections do. The home builders and estate developers know that as land becomes more scarce, development will move up the slope. The Supervisors continue to refuse to address problems until they become unsolvable. The protection is needed now.
In the most consequential comment of the day, Dir. Morrison itemized the county development on slopes over 30% in the last fifteen years: 5 houses, 4 wineries, 0 vineyards. This, unfortunately, was interpreted by some supervisors as indicating that banning development on slopes over 30% was unnecessary, and the provision was struck from the ordinance, evidence-based decision-making in action. The ban was labeled a solution looking for problem, a charge made by many opponents about the entire ordinance. Of course the counter argument could have also been made: if so few things are developed on slopes greater than 30%, then little financial impact will occur to insure that much land will be conserved into the future.
As usual the Supervisors were waiting until a problem was beyond solving, like ridgeline houses or traffic congestion, or a landscape littered with buildings, before they would agree to consider it. The fact that several realtors made the impassioned argument that the 30% ban would impede their ability to develop homes in the hills seemed to be clear evidence of a potential problem. In fact, one real estate agent cited the necessary zig zag gashes on the steep hillsides of Soda Canyon needed to get to the ridgeline homesites overlooking Stags Leap and the Napa Valley. The Supes didn't see that as a problem and caved to the home builders.
The result of all the fire and fury over Measure C, as happened with Measures O and P a decade and a half ago, were some very modest Supervisorial tweaks to policy. The notion that the now obvious relationship between environmental stewardship and the looming extinction of life on earth would change the calculus in the battle between developers and conservationists, and concentrate minds wonderfully, was, alas, put off for another day.
Little changed from the Supervisors proposed conditions (see here). There were modest tweaks to the very modest proposals that the Supes had sent them. Neither the tree-cutters nor the tree-huggers were happy - which probably means the County in their "sausage making" (Dir. Morrison's term) felt they got it right.
The news here was that a new interest group has come out of the woodlands: the real estate lobby. This new voice was up in arms over the denial of property rights in their desire to develop homes on slopes over 30%. The hills of Berkeley and San Francisco are over 30%, their argument went, and they are loaded with housing. It seemed unlikely that such a development model was going to win over the civic guardians of Napa's rural heritage. And yet the wine industry stakeholders, in worrying about their own property rights, seemed to support the home builders' concern. (My own response to the issue is here)
The property rights lament has been at the heart of land policy opposition since the original Ag Preserve, and a segment of the wine industry, as they did in 1968, again harped on the potential victimhood here. It seemed as though the vintners had forgotten their historical animus against home builders in their fury to fight a bigger enemy: "environmental activists". They also seemed to forget, as they have in other debates over the last few years, that the denial of property rights was the essential element of the Ag Preserve legislation that made it possible for the wine industry to survive into the 21st century.
After Measure C, in which the industry spuriously argued that restrictions on watershed development would lead to more housing in the hills, it was interesting that they now seemed to tacitly support the argument that watershed restrictions would decrease housing development there. Politics makes strange bedfellows.
The ordinance will return for a final decision to the Board of Supervisors on March 26, 2019.
Update 2/8/19County staff has produced a markup of a proposed "Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance" amending and adding sections to the County ordinances governing watershed development, to be submitted to the Planning Commission on 2/20/19. Conservation Regulations Markup Meeting Notice
-- setbacks on slopes < 30% remain the same
-- no planting or building development above 30% slope (some exemptions);
-- 200' setback from municipal reservoirs
-- Federally define wetlands and 50' setback from wetlands
-- streams to include ephemeral class III streams with 35' setback
-- 70% canopy retention in all unincorporated areas (previously 60% in watersheds only)
-- 3:1 canopy replacement (previously 2:1)
-- 40% chaparral retained if no canopy in unincorporated areas
-- easement protection for retained vegetation
-- exempt replanting, fire rebuilding and fire management practices
-- exempt vineyards < 5 acres on hopes < 15%
The title of the ordinance, the "Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance", is a more tactical description than the philosophical "Watershed Protection Ordinance" previously used. The Conservation Regulations that the ordinance will change are principally about land clearing operations and their impact on soil and surface water runoff. They do not deal directly with the equally important function of watersheds in feeding subsurface aquifers that, as springs, add to the surface water supply and that are pumped out to irrigate the increasing number of vines in the watersheds. While canopy retention may be a metric of aquifer contribution, the Conservation Regs are largely silent on the impact of vineyard conversion on the sustenance of the aquifers (beyond one reference to Phase I water availability analysis which, in fact, no longer applies to the watersheds). That issue is now under scrutiny of the County in its Groundwater Sustainability Analysis.
It is doubtful that such modest tweaking of the Con Regs will do much to change the current development trajectory of wild lands in the county. It would be interesting to evaluate Walt Ranch, the county's poster child for the inappropriate conversion of a large chunk of unspoiled natural heritage into a vineyard estate project (and perhaps the genesis of Measure C and this ordinance), to see what impact these changes might have had.
The easements to protect retained vegetation are a good step. Excluding development on slopes between 30% and 50% may save some areas. One wonders how much of the county is already developed on slopes in that range. But, despite the sound and fury some members of the wine industry (IMO more concerned about who is making the decisions rather than the decisions themselves), the modest changes in setbacks, canopy retention or replacement ratios don't seem like they will be the deciding factors in whether or not to develop. And reducing the development of watersheds and woodlands should be the goal of any new regulations.
In the June 2018 primary election, Measure C, the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative, failed by 650 votes out of 37,500 votes cast. The contentiousness of the campaign was seen by many as not just a vote on the protection of watersheds but a referendum on the pace of development in the county as a whole. The supervisors, mindful of the community split that the vote represented, have renewed a Strategic Plan process to seek out a consensus on County priorities over the next three years.
As part of that process, the Supervisors have scheduled a workshop to continue the discussion, or battle, that so divided the County over Measure C, in the hopes that under their leadership a consensus can be arrived at. In fact, a faction of the Napa Valley Vintners help draft the provisions of the Initiative before backing out under pressure from the more aggressive members. A principal complaint by some seemed to be only that it was a citizen initiative rather than the industry-government collaboration that normally leads to new ordinances governing the industry. There should be support from the industry for some changes to the current Watershed Conservation regulations. The potential of another initiative looms if this discussion goes nowhere.
I would like the opportunity to set the record straight about oppositional distortions from those interested in further development on our hillsides. They say:
1. It’s a solution looking for a problem. Measure C was anti-ag.
2. Measure C and the current proposal for a water and tree protection ordinance proposed by the county will be the demise of agriculture here in Napa County.
3. There’s no science behind the environmentalist’s claims.
4. Enhanced watershed protections take away property rights.
5. This idea for more water protections will kill the small farmer.
6. These ideas come from a small minority who have theirs and have deep pockets with selfish motivations.
7. It’s too much to protect 70 percent of our forests.
8. Measure C would have allowed removing 795 acres of forest.
9. The Napa River is much cleaner than it was in the ‘60s.
Response: I call BS on all of that.
1. There’s a much greater threat to agriculture in Napa Valley than sparing our hillsides from deforestation, and that’s running out of water. It’s a finite resource we all share as a community. Two-thirds of the water used for ag on the valley floor comes from our hills.
2. There is a misconception that growth is mandatory if we want a strong wine economy. Absolutely untrue. Most longtime successful wineries are interested in quality (the brand ) not in growth. Growth is necessary only for those needing share prices to rise.
3. If only these people would open a book. It’s ludicrous to think we don’t have a climate crisis. All science points to the need for changing the way we take care of our home.
4. Property rights are limited by the effect on our neighbors. This is a community problem. Our community shares our water. It’s not just for ag, but for the fish in the river, the water in our reservoirs, the habitat in our woodlands and ag.
5. The idea of a small farmer is not real. It’s $200,000 per acre at a minimum to go from bare ground to a producing vineyard; that’s if you already own the land. Actually the vast majority of successful wineries today have no interest in supporting the fantasy of small farmers.
6. The Yes on C constituency is made up of nearly 18,000 voters; that is no small minority. The Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture are selfless individuals from the wine grape growing industry who feel their mission in this is to protect this treasured Napa Valley. They and all the others promoting enhanced protections only care about our future here. They speak from their hearts, not from their wallets.
7. We can take no pride in allowing 30 percent of our forests to be clearcut. The services the trees provide are far reaching: soil retention, certainty for water quality, carbon sequestration, species protections, and water, water, water for all. Let’s take back our water from the self-interested, greedy segment who hide behind distortions of reality.
8. The 795 acres agreed upon after collaboration with the Napa Valley Vintners, was designed to be a “soft landing” for those with projects in the pipeline. It was a compromise that was used against us. If the current proposed ordinance were to pass, there would be nearly 30,000 acres open to deforest in Napa County. The voters didn’t like 795. We cannot take any pride in allowing that level of clearcutting here at home.
9. It’s true, we are not dumping pollutants from the likes of tanneries any more. But our Napa River is listed as impaired by federal standards that are regulated by the state. The river is in a critical stage where way too much sediment and nutrients are pouring in from increasing development. The fish that used to be abundant have left. That is indisputable. Coho salmon and steelhead are tiny in numbers. They are prevented from spawning because the river bottom that should be lined with gravel is covered with sediment. The river is too warm and negatively affected by negative nutrients.
Please write and call your local county representative and tell them we need the very strongest protections available that will help keep our Napa Valley, our community, our forests and streams, and our shared water supply plentiful and for all.
How interesting that all commentators -- whether in the press or during the public hearings -- who blame the lack of science for the proposed watershed regulations come from the wine and farming industry.
By all standards, this is a self interested, conflicted group that has submitted no science itself to support its arguments that existing regulations are sufficient to prevent the downward spiral of all aspects of our environment. It is the all familiar model of financial interests denying the degradation they are inflicting upon it.
But those who have no financial interests to protect, see clearly what actual science tells us about current conditions and on what lies ahead for us all, including them and the very industry's survival. The scientific record submitted in the county file is comprehensive and voluminous on all aspects of the environment. This writing concentrates only on water quality.
Only deniers would argue that the findings of the 2009 San Francisco Bay Are Water Quality Control Board on the alarming degradation of the Napa River water quality are not based on science. Enough so, that the river has been listed as impaired under Section 303(d) of the U.S. Clean Water Act due to pathogens (RWQCB 2008), nutrients (RWCB 2003) and excessive sedimentation (RWCB 2007). This water in the river is our drinking water from stream runoff primarily from the watershed and spilling into and from our reservoirs in the winter.
Any doubters can look at Lake Hennessey's brown water that supplies the city of Napa. Our other reservoirs are in the same sad condition. The steadily declining fish population -- the pitiful few hundred Coho -- knows what the conflicted refuse to acknowledge.
Of the 170,000 tons per year of all man-made river sedimentation, 67,000 tons are directly attributed to vineyards and grazing land, even though they comply with the county's current erosion control measures. According to the 2012 San Francisco Estuary Institute's Napa River Watershed Profile report, these erosion control practices have the "unintended effect of increased runoff without a compensating increase in course sediment supply." The steady increase in fine river (and reservoir) slimy sediment is choking its oxygen regeneration, vital to a healthy fish population and our water quality.
In 2009, the Water Quality Board recognized that we are past the tipping point and set a goal of a 50 percent - yes, a full one half - reduction in fine river sedimentation and 51 percent for one generated by vineyards. The report, was revised in 2018 and found that nine years later we had made no progress. Reasonable people would agree that based on our available science something drastic needs to be done.
The conflicted deniers are guided by an additional motivation to resist change: The Water Board estimated that the goals it has set for Napa County will cost the wine industry $800,000-1.7 million per year for the next 20 years for a total of $16 million-$34 million. And as usual, the bulk of the cost, a staggering $34 million-$68 million to correct the development sins of the past will be borne by the public in the form of grants, meaning taxes.
Sadly, the proposed ordinance, while it will slow the rate of increases, will not even begin to reverse the trajectory towards what is an impending crisis.
On March 6, the Napa County Planning Commission will meet again to take more public comment and make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors on a watershed and tree protection ordinance. This is the result of Measure C’s (Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative) almost passing.
The wine industry showed up in force at the Feb. 20 Planning Commission meeting, asserting that protecting our hillsides and watersheds any further would result in the demise of the wine industry.
Talk about Chicken Little. The truth is, if further protective measures are not put in place, our environment and water supply will suffer, and with it, the wine industry as well.
The wine industry is robust. Limiting its ability of develop our hillsides and watersheds is not going to be the death of it. However, there is a conflict of interest when any industry insists that a governmental body protect its financial interests at the cost of the environment and water supply.
This is why the Environmental Protection Agency was formed in 1970: to separate out the interests of agriculture’s use of pesticides from the needs of the environment. Until then, pesticide usage was governed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), described by Rachel Carson of Silent Spring as a financial “conflict of interest.”
We need the planning commissioners and the Board of Supervisors to act on behalf of the citizens of Napa County in protecting our water supply and our environment.
The assertion from some in the wine industry that only a few individuals are pushing watershed protections similar to those of Measure C is absolutely false. A growing number of citizens, vintners and growers are leading the push to protect our natural resource;. 49.1 percent voted for Measure C in a dirty campaign too often based on the opposition’s false assertions and efforts to confuse the voters.
This current effort for the Board of Supervisors to pass an ordinance to protect our hillsides, oak woodlands, forests and watersheds was spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson. Hopefully another initiative will not be needed, but when a governing body does not govern, in California, we the people have that right.
Please contact your supervisor and planning commissioner to encourage them to act on behalf of the environment, not special interest groups.
Mr. Smith cites the improved water quality in the Napa River as scientific proof that the concurrent proliferation of hillside vineyards is the cause of this improvement. Quite a leap in scientific reasoning, let alone proof.
Second, while Mr. Smith's advantageous comparison of vineyards to Napa Valley forests in terms of propensity to fire is correct, it is unfair because it is one to ill managed - not well managed - forests as Napa's are. Given all the other scientifically proven environmental advantages forests have over hillside vineyards (superior erosion control and carbon sequestration, slower runoff and water table replenishment), the logical course of action is not to replace them with vineyards but rather manage them properly.
In comparison, forest fires in Western Europe, where forests are properly managed are extremely rare.
Third, properly designed firebreaks do not even remotely resemble a patch work of vineyards as Mr. Smith suggests. Their standards include firefighting equipment access roads at prescribed intervals along with accesses to them. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Practice Code 394 and the Fuel Break Guidelines of the Tasmania Fire Service Bushfire Policy are good information starting points. And let's not ignore the visual blight of such deforested patchwork.
The scientific community established that 84 percent of all wildfires are caused by human activity. Vineyards and wineries with their tasting rooms and events in the hillsides invite such activity. The cigarette butts along Soda Canyon Road are enough to convince any doubter how inappropriately dangerous such development is. Mr. Smith failed to include this parameter in his science.
Fourth, Mr. Smith argues that the absence of pesticides in the Napa River (if true) is scientific proof that pesticide use at hillside vineyards is harmless. Yet, scientific inquiry would ask the question that if they are being used, how do they simply disappear? The truth is that they end up in the water table, and from there, in all of us.
Mr. Smithers is being castigated by Mr. Smith as irresponsible -- even demanding that he issue an apology to the wine industry -- for suggesting that the use of pesticides such as Roundup (containing Glyphosate) is responsible for Napa Valley's highest cancer incidents for children and second in adults in California.
I hope Mr. Smith did not hold Bayer AG (Monsanto's parent company) stock. Its price plummeted more that 10 percent in August 2018 following the California Superior Court in San Francisco County $289 million award to a former school groundskeeper for developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma due to his exposure to Roundup.
If Mr. Smith is waiting for chemical cause and effect proof to the link of Glyphosates to cancer, he ought to consider that such chemical link of the use of tobacco to cancer has yet to be established. The link is a statistical one, enough for an eventual call to action -- but only after millions died.
Sadly, proving a chemical link between the use of Roundup and cancer enough to satisfy Mr. Smith will be just as imAccusations without evidencepossible. While we are waiting for the eventual statistical evidence, hundreds of Napa Valley children - millions around the globe - will have their lives shortened. This is what is irresponsible.
But the noose is closing ever tighter around Bayer AG's neck since 2005. The European Union has rescinded its usual 15-year extension to the use of Glyphosates and limited it to three. France has pledged its outright ban in three years, Germany and Italy are considering similar action.
But the Napa Valley remains hostage to the wine industry in spite of all the evidence. Shockingly, Napa is one of the few counties in the state that has no mandated pesticide-free zones around our schools. Shame on it.
We know now that Measure C did not pass. However we feel tremendous appreciation for the hundreds of volunteers that helped raise awareness about this defining environmental issue.
We garnered nearly 50 percent of the votes and those approximately 18,000 citizens believe that our water resources are in jeopardy and that we need to curb vineyard development on our hillsides here in the Napa Valley.
We lost a precious opportunity to show the world that growers and vintners here were willing to show leadership with a sustainable vision for the community’s future. This was lost early on when the Napa Valley Vintners, betrayed the trust we had built up during the collaboration of Measure C, and joined forces with the other wine trade groups, and together spent roughly three quarters of a million dollars to oppose the collaborated agreement we had reached together.
The wine industry has done an incredible amount of harm to its own reputation here. Over the years, the Napa Valley Vintners has given millions of dollars for worthy causes here. During the campaign for Measure C, they allowed a Trump-like campaign that used false and misleading information to be spread to our voters. We are deeply disturbed and saddened that this type of nasty campaign would be utilized here.
One has to wonder: at what cost to their reputation and was it worth it? There are no winners here, only losers. The oak woodlands will continue to be clear cut for vineyards and the wine industry has lost the respect not only of Napa’s citizens, but wine lovers from around the world.
Once again, big money got the most votes, but our citizen’s awareness of the negative campaign will leave a bad taste for a very long time.
We look back to the amazing collaboration we had with the NVV, which culminated in a jointly crafted Initiative which we submitted to the County on Sept. 1, 2017. Their Board of Directors voted unanimously on four occasions to support the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Measure.
However, almost immediately some short-sighted, powerful and greedy winery owners, joined by the corporate wine interests decided to use fear and intimidation to scare the NVV board into reversing their position. The tactics were simple from big boys: pull your support for this environmental issue or we’ll pull out as members and not participate in the Napa Valley Wine Auction.
Evidently, it worked and these same forces allowed the disinformation campaign to distort the facts and confuse the voters. While campaigning, it became evident that many people thought a “no vote” meant no more cutting of trees. One of their campaign flyers called us “crazy.”
We citizens feel like our moral compasses were broken by organizations utilizing campaign tactics designed to get folks to vote against their own best interests.
Looking ahead is difficult at this time. There’s clearly too much power in too few hands here; and it’s all within the wine industry. This one-industry town can celebrate this initial win at the polls, but the awareness that the majority of elected officials are answering to the industry and ignoring the pleas of the majority of citizens here, will mandate we move forward with another measure as soon as possible.
We all remain committed to protecting Napa County’s water, forests, watersheds and quality of life and will remain active until our lands are protected from over development.