Sierra Club reports: NapaValley continues to grapple with land use (vineyards), conservation

Measure C in Napa County may have lost but changes are being made…..”“The benefit of Measure C gave the [Napa] Board of Supervisors permission from the electorate because it nearly passed, to do something. In taking the more measured approach, they forestalled the potential of a more drastic measure,” said Furch.” Sonoma County, tag you’re it. 

Napa Valley continues to grapple with land use, conservation

Even with the narrow defeat of Measure C, a 2018 ballot initiative to curb open space development in Napa Valley, conservationists are insisting that growth be checked to protect watersheds, riparian habitat and the oak woodlands on the hills lining the famous wine region.

Since that election, the Napa County Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors has grappled with an ordinance to strike a balance between development and conservation. It passed the Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance April 9 in a unanimous 5-0 vote.

Though the ordinance is seen as a compromise, wine industry lobbyists say it is too restricting on new development and property owners’ rights. Meanwhile, conservationists, residents and some growers say it doesn’t go far enough to preserve the biodiversity, watershed health and the rural feeling outside Napa city centers.

“It’s a good first step,” said Napa Group’s Chris Benz, who has been closely involved in this issue. “What I think the [supervisors] did effectively is they walked the line between an initiative for more protection and a referendum to repeal the ordinance by not making it as strong as the protectors wanted and not making it as egregious as the property rights people wanted. I think it will stay in place.”

The ordinance, which was hotly debated during marathon hearings in winter and spring, includes a 70 percent preservation of the existing tree canopy within watershed zones—smaller than conservationists

Clearing woodlands, destroying watersheds for wine grapes in Napa.

would like but larger than originally proposed. The ordinance will also require two or three trees replanted for every tree cut down. For projects that don’t require a permit, the ordinance installs a setback for class 3 streams, which dry up in the summer months, of at least 35 feet. Permitted projects fall under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires requires a 50-foot setback.

The board stopped short of curbing new vineyard development, saying it will maintain the use permit protocol currently in place.

Benz said there were more vocal opponents of the ordinance present at the meetings, and she felt the supervisors did a good job of “not bowing to them,” though they stopped short of halting development on slopes of 30 percent grade or more, which would limit development in very erosive settings.

This ordinance, while a compromise, is perhaps just a stop-gap measure to the ongoing dispute. The wine industry will continue to want to expand, and those who want to protect Napa’s rural and agricultural feeling will push back.

“The real battle is more wineries or no more wineries, that’s the real issue,” Benz said. “But people aren’t talking about that.”

Other counties in Redwood Chapter with the wine, and now cannabis, industry might take note of how this continues to play out.

Rue Furch, a Sonoma County environmental institution in herself and a Chapter executive committee member, said one way to prevent these land wars is to have urban growth boundaries/greenbelts and an open space district that acquires land and protects it or converts it into parkland.

Yet all jurisdictions are different, she added, and the further north one ventures in the region the more difficult it is to win a land-protection issues or put forth a ballot initiative like Measure C.

“The benefit of Measure C gave the [Napa] Board of Supervisors permission from the electorate because it nearly passed, to do something. In taking the more measured approach, they forestalled the potential of a more drastic measure,” said Furch. “Each decision-making body, will weigh the potential for push back within their constituency. Del Norte is not the same as Napa or Lake counties. They are all different.”

Furch added that some county supervisors may prefer the citizenry to put forth a ballot measure rather than having to weigh in on the issue as a governing body.

“It would be wonderful if we could take up something that would be further protective of our open space and waters,” she added. “We’re doing good things, but there’s always more that can be done.”

Benz said the land protection constituency in Napa will be exploring the idea of open space acquisition for further protection, possibly in conjunction with local parks, and looking at making a proposal to come before voters on the 2020 ballot.