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Water, Wine & Weed
Can concerned citizens protect watersheds and groundwater basins from depletion as demand from agriculture and urban development persist?


Napa County is coming down from a heated June 5 election to determine the fate of its wooded hillsides. Proponents of Measure C wanted to ensure protection of the last of the pristine open space in the hills above the fertile valley. The watershed, which promotes clean drinking water, ample biodiversity and natural beauty to the famed wine region, is threatened by encroaching vineyard development.

Likewise, as Sonoma County looks at its water situation, our resident water expert Rue Furch weighs in on the sustainability of the county’s water system as increased wine, cannabis and other agriculture, along with urban development, put increasing pressure on a dwindling resource.

Napa’s Measure C: The Aftermath

The vote was too close to call when polls closed June 5, but after two weeks, Measure C proponents conceded defeat on June 18. The Woodland Watershed and Oak Protection Initiative, known as Measure C, would have established protections for oak woodlands and streams located along Napa’s hillsides by limiting how many acres can be cut for vineyards. It lost by just more than 600 votes (2 percentage points).

Sierra Club Napa Group’s Chris Benz took some time to answer questions about what’s next in the battle to curb vineyard development and protect what’s left of Napa’s precious open space.

Napa’s Measure C: The Aftermath

The vote was too close to call when polls closed June 5, but after two weeks, Measure C proponents conceded defeat on June 18. The Woodland Watershed and Oak Protection Initiative, known as Measure C, would have established protections for oak woodlands and streams located along Napa’s hillsides by limiting how many acres can be cut for vineyards. It lost by just more than 600 votes (2 percentage points).

Sierra Club Napa Group’s Chris Benz took some time to answer questions about what’s next in the battle to curb vineyard development and protect what’s left of Napa’s precious open space.

Measure C lost narrowly: what does that say?

It says voters really do CARE and want to protect Napa County’s trees and watersheds.  The opposition spent three times as much money and tried to confuse voters into thinking a NO vote would protect trees and clouding the issue with a flurry of contrived (sometimes silly) consequences.  We’ve talked with confused voters who said they want to protect trees, but didn’t know which way to vote.

Will the proponents of open space, clean water and woodland/watershed protection move forward from this?

 

Absolutely!  We will continue to educate, advocate, and hold our county supervisors responsible. We were supported by other elected officials, including a formal resolution by the City Council of St. Helena. Sensibility will continue for protection of municipal water sources originating in wooded watersheds.

Was there anything the campaign could have done in your opinion that may have helped garner more support among Napa residents?

One of the energizing aspects of this campaign was how many citizens got involved in the YES on C campaign.  So many people wrote letters to the editor, put up yard signs, wrote postcards to voters, attended public forums, came to our rally, and helped canvass door to door.  It was a true grassroots campaign.

Where do you think the disconnect lies between people wanting to protect the environment where they live and allowing for more growth and expansion that directly impacts and harms the environment?

Voters want to protect Napa’s natural resources—we heard that over and over when we were going door-to-door.  It’s some of our elected officials who keep approving development in the hillsides without looking at the long-term environmental consequences. We think there has already been an energizing effect of Measure C which happened just days after when the Napa City Council, in front of a huge concerned audience rejected a developer’s rezoning denial appeal to cut down many mature native trees on a rural hillside to build high priced mansions.

How will Napa Group work to continue the protection of the pristine open space on the hills that is being threatened by development?

Napa Group ExCom members were very active in the YES on C campaign, engaging in campaign strategy, public speaking, canvassing, outreach to Sierra Club members, and designing mailers and handouts.  Napa Group is currently litigating against the Walt Ranch vineyard development in the county’s eastern hillsides.  We will continue to monitor and comment on other development projects as well as a pending climate action plan and needed general plan updates.  We will also continue to work with other local organizations to protect our open spaces.

To get involved or learn more about Napa Group, please visit: https://www.sierraclub.org/redwood/napa

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