Napa Vision 2050 Editorial: “Which side are you on?”

From the President: Which side are you on?

Dan Mufson, President of Napa Vision 2050

It’s time to vote. Your ballots are coming, you must carefully consider which candidate will lead us towards a sustainable Napa Valley (NV). What do you think NV should look like in 2020, 2050? We started Napa Vision 2050 because we were concerned then, and more so now, about the lack of responsible planning, of the kowtowing to the major industry, and the lack of real leadership by the supervisors to deal with the mounting problems of safe air and water.

We have certainly communicated our thoughts to the current supervisors during public comment sessions over the past year but have not seen any tangible response. Following the epic public meeting held March 10, 2015, when 600 citizens filled the Napa High auditorium to voice their concerns about traffic, event centers, the supervisors pretended to care by establishing the Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee (APAC). But APAC has come and gone and all we have is the Status Quo: Napa is like a company town, what the company wants, it gets. More production, sure; more visitors, sure; anything else you need, sure.

The depth of the lack of meaningful leadership can be found in the supervisors’ policy of forgiveness. When challenged about their constant forgiveness for wineries, the supervisors justify their behavior as required by the Zucker report. This report issued in 1988 was a critique of the structure and operation of the planning department. But a small paragraph suggesting that perhaps the planners could be more helpful in processing permits became policy the following year when enacted by the supervisors. It remained policy until rescinded by the supervisors in 2008.

Yet today they still follow it, as they have not established a new policy!

What are they doing to control the cumulative impacts of ever expanding wineries? 

What are they doing to understand and mitigate our highest cancer rates in the state? 

When did they last hold a meaningful dialog with our cities on a coordinated growth policy–not just have an annual breakfast or lunch?

Ask yourself: what exactly have the supervisors done lately to protect our health, safety or common welfare? 

The answers to these questions suggest that it is time for new leadership.

We need to elect candidates that are not beholden to the wine industry. Napa certainly looks like the company town of old. Although we should support our one major industry, it should not be at the expense of the residents and our environment. We must realize that capitalist institutions will opt to do what is good for them even at the expense of ordinary citizens. They employ lobbyists to make sure that is the way it works. They lobby the supervisors through regular meetings. They lobby us through images of a shared concern for “our Napa Valley.”

Many in the industry are our neighbors and they do care about our common welfare and do support our positions–but they do so privately–while their trade groups unite to speak with one thundering voice to get what they want, whether it’s calling marketing part of the definition of agriculture, or looking the other way when their members blatantly violate the terms of their permits.

With the transition of the family farms to mega-corporate wine production and sales machines, we have reached a critical point in the history of our NV. We are in transition from the family farmers, who were stewards of the land, the air, and the water, to corporate officers, now many in far away places and driven by incessant growth of profits, trading these “assets” with no regard for those who reside here.

Many of us understand that it is time to carefully control the use of natural resources. The cities of Napa and St. Helena have gone on record to ask for increased protections of their watersheds. The county has done nothing.

So it has fallen to the people to assume leadership by drafting a ballot initiative to protect the watersheds, “The Water, Forest, and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative”. As we go to press, the wine trade groups have united in opposition to these protections. 

It is time for the grape growers and vintners who belong to the trade groups to decide “which side are you on?” On the side of those who would cut down 24,000 trees to plant yet more vineyards– or those who say it is time to consider controls to protect our fragile valley in the face of the prolonged drought and weather extremes. 

A student of democracy has pointed out that the policies of the entire county government are dictated by the supervisors. If you want to make change in policy you either convince the supervisors or change the supervisors. It is truly time for change, it is time for us to support candidates for supervisor who will work to protect our health, our safety and our welfare. Your ballot is coming, what are YOU going to do?