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It's Official: Napa's Highly Controversial "Oak Woodland Initiative" Placed on June Ballot

The Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to place an initiative on the June ballot, a measure supporters say will protect oak woodlands and watersheds. Wine industry trade groups - including the Napa Valley Vintners, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, the Napa County Farm Bureau and the Winegrowers of Napa County - strongly oppose the initiative.
by Kerana Todorov
February 28, 2018

The Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to place an initiative on the June ballot, a measure supporters say will protect oak woodlands and watersheds.

The initiative had received enough signatures last fall to quality for the ballot. Under state law, the supervisors faced two choices: either ask the voters to weigh in on the initiative, now known as Measure C, or adopt the measure immediately.

Wine industry trade groups, including the Napa Valley Vintners, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, the Napa County Farm Bureau and the Winegrowers of Napa County, strongly oppose the initiative, describing it as anti-agriculture, full legal uncertainties and unintended consequences.

If enacted, the initiative would limit the removal of trees near streams and wetlands in land zone “Agricultural Watershed.” No oak tree could be cut without a county permit once 795 acres of woodlands are removed under a number of conditions, including a number of conditions, including the size of the parcels.

The supervisors on Tuesday voted 5-0 to place the measure on the June 5 ballot after accepting a legal analysis from a county-hired law firm. The firm, Miller Starr Regalia, concluded the initiative may be challenged in court once it is enacted.

The analysis, known as a “9111” report under the California Elections Code, cited a number of issues, including vague and misleading language.

“Overall, there is some risk, if enacted the proposed initiative, or portions of it, would be vulnerable to being legally challenged and invalidated,” attorneys for the law firm, Miller Starr Regalia, stated in the 9111 report.

The Board of Supervisors ordered the study in January after Napa County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur said the “Napa County Watershed and Oak Protection Initiative of 2018” had qualified for the June ballot.

Napa Vision 2050 members, an environmentalist group based in Napa, led the efforts to draft and place the measure on the ballot.

On Tuesday, Robert Perlmutter, an attorney who prepared the initiative on behalf of Napa Vision 2050 members Mike Hackett and Jim Wilson, urged the supervisors to reject the “9111” report. The report, he and other supporters of the initiative said, was not a fair analysis.

“Instead it reads as if it was prepared by the attorney of the opponents of the initiative,” Perlmutter told the supervisors during the two-hour hearing on the initiative.

Measure C is “an opportunity for this county to come together,” Perlmutter said. His clients worked for six months with the leadership of the Napa Valley Vintners, he said. (The Napa Valley Vintners withdrew its support in January after the majority of its members opposed the initiative.)

Perlmutter told the board the initiative increases buffer zones along streams and wetlands in the agricultural watershed. “The science shows that these protections are needed,” Perlmutter said.

It strengthens the existing county oak remediation requirements, Perlmutter also said. The county currently requires that two trees be planted for every tree removed. “We increase that to three trees for everyone removed,” he said. The initiative allows for an additional 10,000 acres of agricultural land before the 795-acre limit is reached, Perlmutter said.

But Wine industry groups on Tuesday urged the board to accept the report and place the matter on the ballot, giving them a chance to educate the public and defeat it. The opponents said the initiative is full of uncertainties, including whether or not the 795-acre threshold was met after the October fires.

Vintner Dario Sattui said Napa County is already one of the most expensive places in the world to plant a vineyard.

“If this initiative passes, I think it will be the beginning of the demise of the wine industry here in Napa County. It’s overly restrictive and it’s inflexible,” Sattui told the board. “We are highly, highly regulated,” Sattui said.

“Our competitors in other counties and other states love for this to happen because they will have a real competitive advantage over us,” he said.

Stuart Smith of Smith-Madrone near St. Helena strongly opposes the initiative, in part because it will no longer make agriculture the highest and best use of the land. On Tuesday, he urged the board to place the measure on the ballot and to publicly oppose it.

For hundred years, well-intentioned but wrong-headed forest management policies have made forests more dangerous and less healthy, he said. They now burn hotter and are more destructive.

“It is indisputable that these forests will use more water and thus release less water into our creeks and streams,” he also said.

Only vineyards can dampen the intensity of wildfires and moderate the ensuing environmental destruction, Smith told the board Tuesday.

“The oak woodland initiative will perpetuate 100 years of misguided and antiquated policies,” Smith said, adding the initiative will result in the exact opposite of what it said it would do.

Harvest Duhig urged the board to accept the “9111” report. “I find the initiative heavily flawed with a lot of confusing, redundant, far-reaching terms that go far beyond what our county’s general plan states already,” she said.

This initiative will encourage other types of development on agricultural lands, she said.

Before their vote, supervisors said they had to accept the 9111 report. Both sides have outline their sand on the initiative, Board of Supervisors Chairman Brad Wagenknecht said. “It will be an interesting process,” he said.

Tuteur said arguments pro and against Measure C are due at 4:40 p.m. March 16.

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