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Malik Ghiden

Born in controversy, Napa County's ag preserve celebrated on its 50th anniversary

Happy 50th birthday, Napa County agricultural preserve.

On April 9, 1968, Napa County supervisors decided to create the preserve widely credited with staving off growth that could have turned Napa Valley into a sprawling city. They decided grapes and other crops would continue to dominate.

“I feel that enactment of this ordinance reflects the wishes of a majority of the people in Napa County,” county Supervisor Jack Ferguson said at that historic Board of Supervisors meeting 50 years ago on Monday.

All of this might seem like an easy decision in 2018, when the agricultural preserve appears to be universally hailed by all. But things were different in 1968, when some loudly deemed creation of the preserve an unwanted turn toward socialism.

Vintner Warren Winiarski is among the few remaining who took part in the agricultural preserve battles, taking the role of a preserve proponent.

“It was a deeply controversial issue for this valley, setting groups in conflict, setting families apart, causing high-temperature conversations, lots of red faces, and two prominent grape-grower brothers who were on opposite ends of this never spoke to each other again,” Winiarski said.

Bob McClenahan photo  

Warren Winiarski

Winiarski around this period was winemaker at the then-new Robert Mondavi Winery. He went on to found Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in 1973. His wine won first place in the historic Paris Wine Tasting, the 1976 competition that became famous as the Judgment of Paris and elevated Napa Valley’s worldwide wine reputation.

Napa County wine county in the 1960s was more low-key than today. The 1968 county crop report recorded 13,836 acres of vineyards, compared to 45,881 acres in 2017. Grapes were the leading cash crop at $6 million, but beef was a close second at $5.9 million. Today, there is no close second.

“Agriculture at that time included not only grapes, but also prunes, walnuts, dairy, grazing and I believe chickens for eggs,” Winiarski said.

Local newspaper stories from the 1960s portray a county girding for urban growth that many thought inevitable. People were flocking to California and the Bay Area. One article predicted a county population of 650,000 by 2020, the equivalent of plopping Fresno down in the Napa Valley.

“You are going to experience in Napa and Solano counties much greater growth than is predicted even now,” Stanley McCaffrey of the Bay Council said at a local 1964 industrial conference. “There is no question in my mind that your area faces a bright future.”

But others viewed Bay Area growth pressures as bad and in 1966 asked the National Park Service to create “Napa Valley National Vineyard.” They wanted the federal government to acquire local development rights.

“Without such action, this beautiful valley is doomed, as others have been through the inevitable process of rising taxes and speculation to become just another subdivision,” said John Sutter, president of Citizens for Regional Recreation and Parks.

Against this backdrop came the battle over the agricultural preserve. The zoning district would limit subdivision of land to a minimum of 40 acres, rather than the one acre allowed at the time.

County Administrator Al Haberger and Assessor George Abate brought the idea to Board of Supervisors. The county held hearings in late 1967 and in early 1968 in different towns throughout the valley.

“It was confrontational,” Winiarski said “It was divisive … some vehemently against it, some vehemently for it, and everything in-between.”

Ag preserve opponents dominated an early meeting by getting to the microphone first. Winiarski said that led to a change in the public speaking rules—supporters lined up on one side of the room, opponents on the other and they alternated in giving their views.

“Democracy was really working in these town hall meeting, these informational meetings where people were able to express their opinions,” Winiarski said. “It wasn’t one big log jam of people for it or against it.”

Supporters had the more difficult job, Winiarski said. Opponents could express dismay about the losing the ability to subdivide their land into one-acre parcels. But supporters couldn’t guarantee Napa Valley would experience the wine success that came in subsequent decades.

“The promises for the future, the hopes for the future, were things that were less immediately tangible,” Winiarski said.

Supervisors faced a politically risky vote on a controversial issue, so supporters decided to give them some help. Winiarski said he was on a pro-preserve committee that vintner Jack Davies chaired. Other members included vintners Louis Martini and Chuck Carpy.

“We took responsibility for getting voters in the towns to approve of the potential creation of the ag preserve,” Winiarski said.

Winiarski went door-to-door in Angwin with a petition in favor of the agricultural preserve, given he lived there at the time.

“I had to sell the idea of vineyards and wineries being good for the valley, as opposed to subdivisions,” he said. “The beauty of the valley was part of that. The hillsides, the open space, the trees – that was all part of the valley. Now think of this covered with subdivisions, rooftops, just what Santa Clara is today.”

The vast majority of the people he talked either signed the petition or favored the idea, Winiarski said.

Grape-grower John Daniel, former owner of Inglenook, expressed the opposition view at a January 1968 county meeting.

“We all want to preserve the valley and its views,” Daniel said. “But this proposal is not a balanced approach. Not only is this approach socialistic in concept, but it is destructive to future land development and business, confiscatory and grossly unfair.”

Everything culminated on April 9, 1968. That’s when the Board of Supervisors decided to enact the agricultural preserve by a 4-0 vote, with one supervisor abstaining. The original version settled on a 20-acre subdivision limit and included about 26,000 acres extending from Calistoga to Oak Knoll.

The Board of Supervisors in 1977 expanded the agricultural preserve to include more land between the city of Napa and Yountville. In 1979, it increased the minimum parcel division size to 40 acres.

Tensions associated with the agricultural preserve have dissipated over 50 years. At 1 p.m. Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors is to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the agricultural preserve in its chamber in the county Administration Building, 1195 Third St. No one is likely to be there protesting.

In preparation for the big day, the county on its website,, created a 50-installment social media presentation on the agricultural preserve. Supervisors created a video in which they each praise the preserve:

Unlike those tumultuous times five decades ago, it’s hard to find an agricultural preserve enemy. But Winiarski doesn’t see the preserve’s ongoing success as assured. Perhaps there won’t be a frontal assault, but the preserve could be nibbled away by small decisions, he said.

“I think what the value will be 50 years from now will depend on what we do now,” he said.

There's more to the Napa Farmers Market than fruits and vegetables

A stream of sunlight slipped through the gray clouds hovering over Napa on Saturday morning to shine its rays on shoppers heading to the Napa Farmers Market opening day festivities.

Typically, Hollywood-like moments such as this are reserved for the silver screens at the Century Napa Valley movie theater at the other end of the South Napa Century Center where the market is located April through November, but shoppers and vendors were pleased that Mother Nature was giving the rain a rest after a soggy Friday evening.

“It’s going to be a great day,” said Cara Mae Wooledge, Napa Farmers Market assistant manager, as she greeted incoming shoppers. “Right at 8:30 a.m., the sun came out like it was welcoming us home. We’re really excited to be back. We have a lot of fun stuff in store this year.”

In addition to a rotating array of produce and artisanal vendors, the Napa Farmers Market will host a regular lineup of live music, cooking demonstrations and activities for children.

To kick off the market’s expanded education station, Wooledge hosted “Krazy About Kale” to teach the market’s youngest visitors about the importance of nutrition. There will be a kid-centric program, including dancing, games, arts and crafts, and, of course, food tastings, each Saturday.

“We want to get kids interested in fruits and vegetables and teach them about sustainable resources and the importance of protecting the environment,” Wooledge said. “We want kids to be just as excited about coming to the farmers market as the adults.”

But the farmers market is more than just a place to get fresh, locally-grown produce. The market also offers opportunities for small business owners to sell their homemade artisanal products.

Sherri Gallagher, a St. Helena resident on the Napa Farmers Market board of directors, sells her handcrafted jewelry at the market.

“I know there are purists who think a farmers market should just be vegetables and fruits and edibles, but a farmers market is a place for community – it’s a place to connect,” Gallagher said. “The market provides small business owners without store fronts a place to share their talents and showcase their products. We’re all small business owners here. It’s like a family.”

Gallagher started making jewelry nearly 20 years ago. A friend suggested she take her creations to the farmers market to get some exposure, and the rest is history.

“All I had was a table cloth over a card table, but I sold a few things, and I was hooked,” Gallagher said. “I love meeting all the people. Everyone is so nice, and the people who live here want to support local businesses, and the farmers market gives people a chance to discover businesses they might not know about otherwise.”

Gallagher said small business craft vendors also help keep the market full and lively while local farmers wait for their harvests to come in.

Shelley Mueller joined the Napa Farmers Market family last summer when she brought her business Stuck on Napa to the market for the first time in July.

Mueller makes wine country inspired gifts such as wooden signs, cloth bags, and car decals. She said she tries to come up with designs that would serve as unique souvenirs for tourists or heartwarming keepsakes for locals, such as her “Love Napa Valley” sign where the “O” in “love” is replaced with a grape cluster.

Mueller lives only a few minutes away from the market’s home on Gasser Drive. She said setting up shop on Saturday mornings is a lot better than her former commute to San Francisco.

“I’ve always loved the farmers market, so to be a vendor here is really fun,” Mueller said. “I love seeing all the people. My favorite is when you see an older gentleman holding his wife’s purse while she shops. He’s looking a little grumpy – maybe he doesn’t want to be out on a Saturday morning. I love when I catch him reading one of my signs, like the “Sip me baby one more time”, and he cracks a smile. That makes me day.”

Frances Padilla Brady has been selling items at the Napa Farmers Market for 10 years. She used to be known for her pottery, but she lost all her supplies and her home in the Atlas Fire last October. Without the resources to continue her pottery business, she’s refocused her talents to make handmade doll dresses via Unique Creations by Frances.

“It’s like I get to have a second childhood,” Brady said of the doll dresses she sews. “I made some for my great-granddaughter’s doll a few years ago, and a friend said I should bring them with me to the farmers market, and people liked them. I lost everything in the fire, so I can’t make my pottery anymore, but I got a new sewing machine and I can make the dresses. It’s a lot of fun. It keeps my hands busy. Keeps my brain going.”

At 87, Brady shows no signs of slowing down. In addition to the doll dresses, she also makes therapeutic neck pads and cold compress pads, which she now sells at the farmers market.

“I’ve sold two of the neck pads already,” Brady said. “A woman bought one for her and her husband. I think that’s what people like about the farmers market. You come thinking you’re going to get some groceries, but you never know what you might find. You’ll find all kinds of things here. It’s a special place.”

The Napa Farmers Market takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the parking lot of the South Napa Century Center, 195 Gasser Drive, Napa. For more information or a schedule of upcoming events, visit

Election 2018
Assemblywoman Aguiar-Curry: Going to bat for Napa County

Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry is virtually assured of representing Napa County for a second two-year term in the state Legislature, given she has no opponent in the June 5 election.

No one from her own Democratic Party stepped forward to challenge her for the 4th Assembly seat. Nor did anyone from another party.

Aguiar-Curry said she had expected a Republican challenge from the more conservative areas of her district in Colusa County, Lake County and Solano County.

“But I made an internal bet with myself that if I worked hard and I did the right things and I represented this district, I was hoping no one would run against me,” she said. “I think I did that. I’m very excited and proud of what I’ve done and my team, because you don’t do this alone.”

She recently sat down for an interview in her local office at the Napa County South Campus. She took on a number of topics, talking as easily as having a chat with a neighbor and stressing her self-appointed role as a voice for rural areas in a Legislature dominated by big-city voices.

Aguiar-Curry won in 2016 as someone relatively unknown in Napa County, given she was the mayor of Winters, a town of 7,000 amid the walnut groves of Yolo County. She succeeded someone extremely well-known locally – native son Bill Dodd, who went on to the state Senate.

Two years later, Aguiar-Curry considered the question of what she has done for Napa County.

She immediately mentioned successfully teaming up with Dodd, D-Napa, on two bills the county sought for farmworker housing. One brought $250,000 annually in state funding and the other allowed vintners to increase an assessment that helps pay for three local farmworker centers.

Aguiar-Curry said she has a good rapport with the Speaker of the House Anthony Rendon and that helped pass the bills. She has a good rapport with Latino colleagues who understand farmworker needs.

She also credits Napa County with helping itself.

“Napa County was at the table,” she added. “They helped support the bill, they had locals support the bill. The wine makers, the wine associations all came and stepped forward and said, ‘We’re here to help our farmworkers.’”

Aguiar-Curry recently introduced a bill that would earmark employee housing rent money from the Veterans Home of California at Yountville for maintenance there, instead of going to the state general fund.

She championed the bill after visiting the veterans’ home. While finding much to praise there, she sees room to keep the facility in better repair.

“These are veterans who have helped our county,” she said. “They should be living in better situations … when I get a phone call that an 85-year old man has no heat in his room or air conditioning, that’s wrong.”

While touring the veterans’ home, she saw a sign that said to turn the water faucet on five minutes before drinking the water.

“It’s like, are you kidding me?” she said. “I was just really disheartened by the fact that, how did we let this go downhill? Granted, for years we’ve built things throughout this state, all infrastructure—dams, reservoirs, whatever -we never put the money in for operations and maintenance, for that followup.”

The Napa County Board of Supervisors recently supported the bill, though it was unknown how much money the rents might bring in for veterans’ home repairs.

Aguiar-Curry talked of speaking up for rural communities. Most legislation is targeted to help urban areas, she said.

“I think before I got there, there wasn’t a voice,” she said. “People say, ‘Oh, yeah, watch Cecilia, she’s going to always ask, ‘What is there for rural communities? And what’s for ag?’ Every single time, I ask that.”

A few other rural representatives have joined her to make a difference, Aguiar-Curry said. As an example, she mentioned last year’s Senate Bill 1 that raised the gas tax 12 cents per gallon to help maintain and improve roads, trails and mass transit.

“I made an approach to the Assembly speaker and I said, ‘I cannot vote for that bill until I get something out of it,’” Aguiar-Curry said. “He asked me what that would be. I said, ‘I think we should make sure rural communities and cities get more money for transportation.’ ”

The amount going to rural communities doubled, she said. Local transportation officials estimate Napa County and its cities will receive $5 million annually for street maintenance, with other Senate Bill 1 money also flowing to the county.

One bill receiving media attention is Senate Bill 827 by San Francisco Sen. Scott Wiener. It would grant the “by right” ability to build multi-story apartments and condos within a quarter mile of high-frequency transit route stops and within a half-mile of major transit stops, if the zoning allows housing.

Napa County’s Vine bus service doesn’t yet have the trip frequency to trigger the proposed SB 827 provisions, a Napa Valley Transportation Authority memo said. But possible express bus service improvements along Highway 29 in Napa Valley and American Canyon could change that situation.

That means a bill allowing by-right multi-story housing along BART and Los Angeles bus lines might also someday apply—should it pass—to the more rural world of Napa.

“It’s a big-city bill,” Aguiar-Curry said. “That’s why we need to have flexibility in these bills, because even in a small town such as Napa, you do have a transit route, buses.”

There will be a line a mile long of groups upset with the bill when it goes to committee, Aguiar-Curry said. But there will also be the new pro-housing element called YIMBY, or Yes in My Backyard. Perhaps such bills could apply to areas with certain populations, she said.

As these and other bills develop, Aguiar-Curry will be one of Napa County’s go-to people. Napa County Board of Supervisors Chair Brad Wagenknecht said she’s been there for the county so far.

“When the fires were going on, it was like she was a Napan and was in Napa regularly,” Wagenknecht said.

Aguiar-Curry worked with the North Bay counties on drafting fire-related legislation. She helped Napa County with the farm worker housing bills. She helped the county on issues with CalPERS, Wagenknecht said.

“She’s done a lot for Napa County,” he said. “She’s been very present. You see her almost as much as you see Dodd, who’s been a native here. That’s a high standard.”

Social Services
Agency that serves Napa and Solano seniors is in turmoil

The future of the agency that helps to provide services to thousands of seniors in Napa and Solano counties is in question due to administrative and financial problems.

The Area Agency on Aging of Napa Solano is facing a number of challenges. A cash crunch has left local vendors with unpaid invoices. Two executive directors have left the Agency in recent months, the nonprofit is currently without a financial officer and a number of employees will be laid off come June 30.

At the same time, there is now talk of the Agency surrendering its official federal designation to coordinate senior services and programs.

To fill the leadership void, Heather Stanton, the president of the volunteer board of directors of the dual-county agency, has stepped in help run things. Staff from the California Department of Aging have visited to make sure vendors have been paid.

The Agency is a conduit for federal, state and local funds to finance a variety of senior-serving programs, including, in Napa County, Molly’s Angels, Meals on Wheels, Stop Falls Napa Valley, the Napa Long Term Care Ombudsman Program and select Collabria Care programs.

Some 70 percent of the Agency’s funding is spent supporting programs and services in Solano County which has larger and poorer senior population.

“We were operating with an inaccurate budget that resulted in expenditures over the budget amount,” Stanton said Friday.

Part of the problem includes some entries for reimbursements from the state were either entered incorrectly or for the wrong amounts, said Stanton. That resulted in unpaid invoices from vendors such as Community Action of Napa Valley (CANV), which operates Meals on Wheels.

Stanton said there had been leadership instability. Leanne Martinsen, a longtime executive director, left the lead job at the end of December. An interim executive director, Bruce Wagstaff, appointed a new executive director, Ruth Clark, who left after just seven days. The agency is also without a financial officer.

While the state reviews the Agency’s finances, Lora Connolly, director of the California Department on Aging, said in an April 5 letter to local service providers that the state “is committed to maintaining the continuity of services to older adults and caregivers in Napa and Solano” counties.

Drene Johnson, CANV executive director, said she’s been keeping an eye on those outstanding invoices. While some have been paid, CANV is still owed an estimated $99,000 for services contracted by the AAoA.

“Everybody is trying to figure out what is going on” with the AAoA, she said. “It’s very, very confusing.”

Although the situation is unresolved, Johnson said there shouldn’t be any impact on Meals on Wheels customers.

“We are doing fine. We can absorb it for now,” she said, with no impact on services.

However, “I’m just really concerned about the future of AAOA,” she said. “What’s the transition plan?” she asked. “What are they all thinking? Is the state going to run it? And can any of us help?”

According to Linda J. Gibson, president and CEO, Collabria Care, her agency receives only a small portion of its annual budget of $15.6 million through AAOA. The family caregiver support service receives $49,483 and older adult information and assistance/case management receives $90,725.

JoAnn Busenbark, an AAOA board member, said that she and the other board members, who are volunteers, are trying to figure out the next steps.

“Our main focus is we want to keeps services going,” said Busenbark. The money from the state and federal government remains available, she said.

“Who’s going to administer it is the question. It could be the same nonprofit. It could be another. We don’t have that piece of information yet or who makes that decision.”

A meeting with the California Department of Aging (CDA) is planned for next week, Busenbark said. The state will help them determine the future of the Agency, she said.

“For the most part seniors don’t have anything to fear in terms of services currently being provided,” Busenbark said. “We’re not deserting the seniors and the commitment to services.”

“This current board is very passionate about doing the right thing for our senior population.”

If the board does decide to surrender its Agency designation, the CDA will continue to pay vendors while creating a new Area Agency on Aging, said Connolly’s letter.