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Celebrating 50 Years of Napa's Ag Preserve

The Board of Supervisors on April 9, 1968, signed Ordinance 274 which established the nation's first agricultural preserve by protecting 26,000 acres in the valley floor from north Napa to Calistoga. There are now nearly 31,610 acres in the agricultural preserve.
by Kerana Todorov
April 11, 2018

The Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday celebrated the 50th anniversary of the county’s agricultural preservation ordinance with speeches, cake, a toast and the introduction of a new mascot, a vine leaf named “Preservin’ Irvin.”

“To Napa and our Ag Preserve. Cheers! said Chairman Brad Wagenknecht as about 70 officials, residents and others gathered in the Board of Supervisors chambers, where people were served non-alcoholic apple cider and cake.

The Board of Supervisors on April 9, 1968, signed Ordinance 274 which established the nation’s first agricultural preserve by protecting 26,000 acres in the valley floor from north Napa to Calistoga. There are now nearly 31,610 acres in the agricultural preserve.

The zoning ordinance created minimum lots of 20 acres. Over time, Napa County implemented other restrictions to protect the land. The minimum parcel size is now 40 acres. In the land zoned agricultural watershed, the minimum lot size is 160 acres.

Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, one of three supervisors who were not born in 1968, and others spoke on what the “Ag Preserve” meant to them.

“We have a responsibility to make sure that the next generation continues to have this unique quality of life,” Pedroza said. “The Ag Preserve means something different to every single one of us But for me, as it is for Supervisor (Belia) Ramos, is to be up here, as supervisors, and know that we had parents that worked in those vineyards, it doesn’t happen everywhere. But It happens in this community,” Pedroza also said.

Pedroza and the other supervisors took turn to read and sign a proclamation to honor the 50th anniversary of the ordinance. (Supervisor Diane Dillon edited the text of the proclamation on the spot so it would read the establishment of minimal parcel sizes under the ordinance “encourages” farming and “inhibits” urbanization instead of “inhibits farming” and “encourages urbanization.”) Dillon and Ramos, both of whom are attorneys, also initialed the document.

Schramsberg president Hugh Davies, whose father, Jack Davies, headed a steering committee that sought community support for the creation an agricultural preserve, also spoke.

“We love living in the valley, right?” Davies said. “Without that zoning, obviously, we wouldn’t have the ag land, we wouldn’t have the product and we wouldn’t have this community that we live in,” he said.

The Jack L Davies Napa Valley Agricultural Land Preservation Fund has undertaken a number of projects to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ag Preserve, including publishing brochures and a web site dedicated to the agricultural preserve. Another project is seeking the green light to plant road signs to mark the northern and southern end of the nation’s first agricultural preserve along Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail.

Warren Winiarski, founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, and other speakers also addressed the need to protect the Agricultural Preserve for future generations. “We should be thinking 50 years of the future and we should remind ourselves that we have a duty, a moral duty to this national treasure.”

Like Jack Davies, Winiarski was a member of the steering committee tasked to gain support from Napa County residents. He then lived in Angwin, home to Pacific Union College, a Seventh-day Adventist college. Winiarski recalled going door to door to gain support from the non-wine drinking community to draw support for the establishment of the “Ag Preserve.” It will help the community by helping the “valley,” he told the residents in 1967.

“And they wanted to be part of it,” Winiarski said of the Angwin residents, as he recalled the campaign before Tuesday’s celebrations began. “It was really very broad support.”

The idea of an “Ag Preserve” was nonetheless controversial, with opponents arguing it would take away property rights. “Two brothers I know never spoke to each other again,” Winiarski said.

Juliann Fontana, of Napa, on Tuesday came to honor the work of her father, Julius George Caiocca Jr, one of four supervisors who voted for the zoning ordinance that created create the agricultural preserve. The morning of the vote in 1968, a man her father knew backed him up against the wall, Fontana said. “This fellow said ‘you will not vote for it,’” Fontana recalled.

Her father had been on the fence on the issue. “My father said ‘that made the decision for me and he voted ‘yes’,” his daughter recalled. “‘No one was going to threaten me with the vote.’”

And her father was very happy to have voted for the ordinance, Fontana said. “He could see the positive outcome of having the Ag Preserve and what it would do for Napa County,” said Fontana, who was in her 20s when the ordinance was passed.

“I’m very proud of what my dad did,” Fontana said. “I wanted to come celebrate and honor his work in this county.”

Land-use controversies endure. Napa County voters in June vote on Measure C, a proposal to restrict the removal of oak trees above the Napa Valley floor, on land zoned agricultural watershed. Industry trade associations strongly oppose the measure, saying the measure is vague and full on unintended consequences while others embrace it, including Winiarski. One argument for Measure C is that, once enacted, it will protect water sources.

“I’m looking forward to the next 50 years of having the preserve,” Winiarski said. “There are some things they have to do to keep it another 50 years. Measure C is one of them,” he added. “The Ag Preserve can’t do without water.”

Over time, Napa County has placed measures to protect the land from urban development. Measure J, passed in 1990, gave voters the power to approve or deny projects in agricultural lands. Measure P in 2008 extended the agricultural land protection for 50 years.

A resolution from the state Legislature signed by Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Currry, D – Winters, and state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and a proclamation signed by US Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, were also presented to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

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