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Changes at the Napa County Farm Bureau

by Kerana Todorov
November 05, 2018
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Policy director Ryan Klobas promoted to chief executive officer, in part to focus on long-term issues.

The Napa County Farm Bureau has been revamped, all in an effort to become the leading political and policy voice for agriculture in the Napa Valley, according to the Napa-based organization.

The organization promoted policy director Ryan Klobas to chief executive officer, in part to focus on long-term issues.

The Farm Bureau wants to focus on policy and advocacy and be involved in all aspects of politics in Napa County, according to Johnnie White, president of the Napa County Farm Bureau’s board of directors. The Farm Bureau, like its counterpart in Sonoma County, endorsed local political candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot.

“We want candidates who understand agriculture,” White said.

The Napa County Farm Bureau continues to work with political consultant Robert Muelrath to develop a political strategy to prepare for the 2020 supervisorial political campaigns. Three supervisors are up for re-election – Alfredo Pedroza, Belia Ramos and Ryan Gregory. All three supervisors opposed Measure C, the watershed and oak woodland initiative, which was narrowly defeated in June. Measure C, had it passed, could have limited vineyard development in the hillside above the Napa Valley floor.

The Napa County Farm Bureau’s political endorsements included candidates on the Nov. 6 ballots: Napa City Council candidates Mary Luros and Bernie Narvaez and American Canyon City Council candidates David Oro and Mark Joseph. The group also supports Mike Thompson’s re-election bid to the U.S. House of Representatives and Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, to the California State Assembly. Both Thompson and Aguiar-Curry are Democrats.

Longtime Farm Bureau member Peter Nissen said the Farm Bureau has to be at the table politically.

“People like to see the vineyards. But they don’t understand what it takes to get there,” said Nissen, president, Nissen Vineyard Services, and treasurer at Napa County Farm Bureau.

Klobas, whose past political experience include being a campaign manager for former U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, helped coordinate the campaign to defeat Measure C. Muelrath served as a consultant.

The Napa Valley Vintners, who first supported the measure, switched positions and opposed the proposition. The Napa Valley Grapegrowers opposed the proposition. Opponents against Measure C cited a number of arguments, including that the initiative was vague, would result in unintended consequences and end up in court.

One of the arguments raised during the “No on C” campaign is that the initiative process bypassed the Board of Supervisors. Proponents said the initiative was necessary to save the watersheds for future generations.

“The board of supervisors has always been and will always be the right venue to address these important land-use issues,” Klobas said.

The Farm Bureau has been involved Napa County’s Strategic Plan to lay out its planning priorities through 2022.

The Farm Bureau wants to avoid another initiative in part by educating the public about farming. “We learned a lot of important lessons during Measure C,” Klobas said. “It’s extremely important to educate the public about everything the industry is doing right.”

A very large component of the Measure C campaign was educating the public on what it takes to plant a vineyard or to farm in Napa County, Klobas said. “A lot of people think that you can go to the county pull a permit and start planting a vineyard tomorrow. It’s not the case,” Klobas said.

Stuart Smith, managing partner at Smith-Madone, strongly opposed Measure C. Smith, who had left the Farm Bureau years ago because it was “not farmers” likes the changes at the organization. “I’m thinking or re-joining,” Smith said recently.

Tawny Tesconi, the new Sonoma County Farm Bureau executive director, said the Sonoma County Farm Bureau is embarking on a strategic planning process to determine how to better serve its members in the area of policy and advocacy. The group financially supported Measure N, a $124 million housing bond measure in Santa Rosa and two candidates through Its PAC, the Family Farm Alliance.

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