Greenbelt Alliance has praise and warnings for Napa County

Greenbelt Alliance has praise and warnings for Napa County

  • BARRY EBERLING   Feb 4, 2017 Updated 20 hrs agoAmong Bay Area counties, Napa County has the lowest amount of land at risk for what the Greenbelt Alliance calls “sprawl” development, though the group also sees cause for concern.The San Francisco-based Greenbelt Alliance released its latest “At Risk: The Bay Area Greenbelt” report last week. It concluded 458 square miles is at risk of sprawl development across the Bay Area over the next 30 years, an area roughly 10 times the size of San Francisco.

    Napa County, by contrast, has 15.7 square miles at risk over 30 years, an area slightly smaller than the city of Napa. Only 1.2 square miles is considered to be at risk over 10 years, an area slightly smaller than Yountville.

    Greenbelt Alliance North Bay Regional Director Teri Shore doesn’t want success to breed complacency.

    “Overall, Napa County has had strong greenbelt and open space protection measures, particularly for the ag land, for many decades,” Shore said. “At the same time, things are changing. There are potential development threats to our land and open space in Napa.”

    She called the At Risk report a report card on how the Bay Area is protecting its greenbelt for the long-term. The report looks at eight Bay Area counties and leaves out the ninth county, San Francisco, because most of its land is either developed or protected.

    Napa County has laws to protect its famous vineyards, among them requiring a two-thirds popular vote to remove land from agriculture, the report said. But the success of the wine industry may be putting land at risk.

    The longstanding threat of large-scale event centers and resorts being built on Napa County farmland has grown “acute,” the report said. They pave land with new buildings and roads and put new demands on groundwater, it said.

    “The county is debating the issue with no resolution in sight,” the report said.

    One thing the report didn’t do is define when a winery becomes an event center. Supervisor Diane Dillon doesn’t think Napa County has crossed that line.

    “I don’t see them as event centers,” Dillon said. “The primary focus is still as wineries. We limit the amount of floor space that is available for marketing. It is not the majority of the building.”

    The ongoing Napa County debate is really about defining the issues, Dillon said. Until that happens, the county can’t work on the resolutions.

    Napa County’s “most alarming threat” is the possibility that 850-acre Skyline Wilderness Park might someday be sold for development, possibly even for mining, the At Risk report said. Skyline Park is located along Imola Avenue southeast of the city of Napa.

    The county leases 850 acres from the state for the park and has an agreement until Feb. 19, 2030. But the state wants the county to repeal a Skyline zoning overlay that removes development potential.

    Dorothy Glaros, president of the Skyline Park Citizens Association, said last week that the park as it exists today could disappear once the lease agreement expires in 13 years.

    Establishing a permanent buffer between the park and Syar quarry would help, Glaros said. Perhaps the best protection would be if the state renews the Skyline lease for another 50 years, she said.

    Bottom of Form

    The At Risk report includes a map of lands it says are at risk for sprawl development. Local proposed projects mentioned by name are the Napa Oaks II hillside subdivision in southwest Napa and the Watson Ranch community in American Canyon.

    Car-dependent sprawl development is not the answer to the region’s affordable housing crisis, the report said.

    “We can accommodate people, housing and jobs within our existing footprints,” Shore said.

    Several local infill housing projects are planned, among them at the former Napa Valley Register building site near downtown Napa. Napa County wants higher-density homes built on its former Health and Human Services Agency site along Old Sonoma Road in Napa.

    The Greenbelt Alliance from time to time takes positions on specific Napa County issues. For example, it endorsed the recent, failed Measure Z open space tax measure and in 2012 endorsed the Napa Pipe development.

    Former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in the forward to “At Risk” praised the Greenbelt Alliance for 59 years of work.

    “This report continues that legacy by taking a closer look at every threat to this region’s magnificent landscapes and providing the kind of information decision-makers need to shape smart policy,” Boxer said.

    Go to to see the At Risk report.