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Napa County to Reevaluate Conservation Regulations

by Kerana Todorov
January 16, 2019

Napa County is about to reevaluate conservation regulations that led to an initiative in 2018 that could have limited vineyard development above the Napa Valley floor. The initiative, Measure C, failed to pass in June after a divisive campaign.

The Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a strategic plan for the next three years beginning July 1. The plan – a guide for the county’s 19 departments – includes updating conservation regulations and improving tree preservation rules - issues raised during the Measure C campaign. The Supervisors plan a workshop on these matters on January 29.

“We need to get going,” said Ryan Gregory, chairman of the Napa County Board of Supervisors, as he referred to the implementation of the strategic plan focusing on environmental protection.

He wants to protect both the environment and agriculture. “It’s OK to say the wine business is important and deserves our support,” Gregory said. “But that said I do think we do need to look at our conservation regulations, our tree canopy and our (stream) setbacks”

Measure C sought to protect the watersheds in part by limiting the number of oak trees removed and imposing wider stream buffers in the hills above the Napa Valley floor.

Napa County’s main wine industry trade groups, led by the Napa County Farm Bureau, opposed Measure C, calling it misleading, full of unintended consequences and anti-agriculture.

The strategic plan was adopted Tuesday, 18 months after the process began. The process included dozens of meetings with groups and residents and multiple public hearings before the Board of Supervisors. The last public hearing was in December.

Ryan Klobas, Napa County Farm Bureau’s chief executive officer, on Tuesday offered to immediately lead negotiations with all interested parties to find a compromise.

Klobas wanted to meet with the various parties before Jan. 29 to help the Board of Supervisors.

“I really want to believe that they’re areas we can compromise on,” Klobas said during a break.

But Chairman Ryan Gregory did not seem enthused. “The County is ready to lead on this issue,” Gregory said.

Angwin resident Mike Hackett, co-author of Measure C, thanked Napa County’s Chief Executive Officer Minh Tran for his efforts on the Strategic Plan. He also praised U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, for leading four meetings to discuss issues raised during the Measure C campaign. He now expects the Board of Supervisors to act in the near future on watershed protections.

“In spite of the fact that Ryan Klobas and the Farm Bureau want to take over,” Hackett said, “we’re going to follow the avenue that Mike Thompson paved for us as we go forward.”

“Science is settled. But politics is not. That’s where we’re at here today, isn’t it?” said the retired airline pilot.
Michelle Benvenuto, executive director of Winegrowers of Napa County, strongly opposed Measure C. “The county must protect local wineries,” Benvenuto said.

She had a different takeaway than Hackett’s of Thompson’s meetings. Measure C advocates said they want “far-reaching” regulations and threaten to have another initiative if their demands are not met, Benvenuto told the board.

“This type of all or nothing attitude Is not beneficial to the community and it promotes divisiveness,” Benvenuto said.

“The wine community is open to collaboration,” she said.

After the meeting, Hackett said he’s ready for another initiative - if necessary. “The decision of what we do next rests with the Board of Supervisors,” he said.

A Napa Valley Grapegrowers representative said vineyards in Napa County have increased at a rate of less than 1 percent annually – below what the general plan’s anticipation.

Growers want to be part of a “collaborative, public process,” as the strategic plans is translated into specific actions, said Molly Williams, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers representative.

“We also believe that ag preservation and resource conservation are inherently linked – and that ag land and best farming practices are valuable partners in realizing climate action goals. Vines, in particular, have great capacity to sequester carbon.”

Williams urged Napa County to invite third-party experts such as scientists, foresters, city planners and engineers so that the County can base the next steps on “well-founded science and data.”

Vintner Ryan Waugh said the strategic plan had no reference to wine or the sale of wine. Climate is important, he said. “But the sale of wine is also important. Without it the economy crumbles,” Waugh said.
Most speakers urged the supervisors to address climate change.

“We don’t have any time,” retired teacher Susan Crosby said. “The hope comes from taking action now.”
Margret Smetana, who lost her house in the Atlas Peak fire in 2017, said the extreme weather events such as the unstoppable fire storms are part of climate change. She urged the County to reach out to the cities to address climate change, she said after recalling the terror of having to flee her house in the middle of the night.

“I hope you and the people you care about never have to go through that,” she told the supervisors
Before the vote, Supervisor Diane Dillon showed a graph from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission that illustrated how job additions surpassed new housing creation in the Bay Area between 2010 and 2016. The job-to-housing creation ratio for Napa County was 17:1— the same as San Mateo County’s. Marin County’s was 20:1.

The inability to create housing has led to this “huge transportation problem,” Dillon said, adding vehicle emissions is the single-most damaging element to the environment. The county needs to work with the cities in Napa County and the Town of Yountville to solve this challenge, she said.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday ordered that the Vine Trail, a bike trail project, be incorporated into the strategic plan. They did so after the urging of Chuck McMinn, owner of Vineyard 29 and the founder of the Vine Trail project. The Vine Trail entails the construction of a bike trail from Vallejo to Calistoga, a $50 million project funded with grants and donations. So far, 18.5 miles have been built. McMinn said property owners north of Yountville are willing to grant easements to Napa County to build the trail if Napa County can indemnify the landowners. They want protection from lawsuits a trail user could file if they are injured from farming practices such as spraying.

If a deal is not struck by March, a $6.5 million state grant to build the trail between St. Helena and Calistoga will have to be returned, McMinn said.

Not including the Vine Trail in the strategic plan means the trail is not that important to the County, McMinn said.

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