It’s official—the watershed and oak woodland protection initiative will be on the June 5 ballot.
The Napa County Board of Supervisors approved the move on Tuesday afternoon, naming the initiative Measure C. The Board was scheduled later in the afternoon to take action on a Blakeley Construction initiative and an initiative to ban new personal use heliports.
Proponents gathered enough signatures from registered, local voters to qualify Measure C for an election. That gave supervisors the choice of adopting it as written or placing it on the ballot.
“I fully support, as I did with every other citizen-driven initiative, putting it on the ballot,” Supervisor Diane Dillon said.
Supervisors heard from 29 speakers over two hours, almost evenly split among Measure C proponents and opponents.
“I think both sides outlined where they are with this initiative and where the battle lines are on it,” Board Chairman Brad Wagenknecht said when the testimony ended.
One point of controversy was a Measure C informational report that the Board of Supervisors on Jan. 30 ordered staff to prepare. The law firm Miller Starr Regalia found possible legal flaws that it said might in varying degrees make the county vulnerable to lawsuits if the initiative passes.
Attorney Robert Perlmutter on behalf of Measure C backers found flaws with the Miller Starr Regalia report. These type of informational reports authorized by state law are supposed to be fair, accurate and impartial, he said.
“It reads as if it was prepared by the opponents of the measure,” Perlmutter said.
He talked about the science behind the proposed stream setbacks and other features of the initiative. He read a press release from Napa Valley Vintners praising the measure, before the wine industry group later reversed itself and opposed it.
Rex Stults of Napa Valley Vintners gave the group’s reasons for the reversal. Napa Valley Vintners held a forum with attorneys arguing both for and against Measure C and decided some points are vague, he said.
Also, Stults said, the October wildfires made a difference. The fires destroyed oaks, making it unclear to the group at what point Measure C’s oak removal limit for new vineyards in the agricultural watershed zoning district might take effect.
Former Supervisor Ginny Simms said the Miller Starr Regalia report listed all the possible negative effects of Measure C and none of the possible positive effects. Simms said protecting watersheds so people have water to drink is a positive.
Dario Sattui said Napa County already has some of the most restrictive rules in the world for planting vineyards.
“If this initiative passes, I think it’s the beginning of the demise of the wine industry in Napa County,” he said.
Grapegrower Yeoryios Apallas spoke in favor of the initiative. He said two supervisors are against it and three haven’t stated their positions.
“Don’t shirk your responsibility because you have a fealty to the wine industry,” Apallas told supervisors. “You have a fealty to the citizens.”
Vintner Stuart Smith said 100 years of accepted fire suppression theory has resulted in overgrown forests with greater fuel loads that burn hotter. Because of housing, fire management can no longer burn forests to keep them open and healthy and logging is unprofitable.
Only vineyards checker-boarding hillsides can dampen wildfire intensity and environmental destruction, as demonstrated in the October wildfires, Smith said. The oak woodland initiative would perpetuate 100 years of misguided policies and result in the opposite of what it intends, he added.
Angwin resident Kellie Anderson responded that a highway doesn’t burn in a fire, but that doesn’t mean hillsides should be checkered with highways.
Also on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors placed Regional Measure 3 on the ballot. This is a Bay Area-wide initiative that would raise bridge tolls on the region’s state-owned bridges by $1 in 2019, $1 in 2022 and $1 in 2025.
Money raised is to pay for various traffic-relieving projects in the Bay Area, with $20 million to be allocated to Highway 29 in south Napa County.
Jack Gray of the Napa County Taxpayers Association criticized the proposed increase. He said it could hurt people who have lower-paying jobs in San Francisco and must commute there, sometimes crossing two bridges.
“I think Regional Measure 3 with the $3 increase will really cause a lot of people a lot of problems,” Gray said.
Voters will decide. County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur said the state legislation authorizing the toll increase ballot measure says the nine Bay Area counties “shall” place it on the ballot.
“I don’t think you have an option,” he told supervisors. “If you don’t do it, it would probably be put on by a judge and cost more money.”
Editor’s note: The quotes from vintner Stuart Smith have been clarified from the original version.