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Napa County is almost finished updating its zoning code definition of agriculture to include marketing and sales, a move some say is merely administrative housekeeping and others say defies the English language.

Everyone involved in the debate agreed that raising crops and livestock is agriculture. But they split over such proposals as including winery marketing efforts, even in a role labeled as “related, incidental and subordinate” and with county approval.

The Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday endorsed revising the zoning code definition of agriculture to add marketing and sales; production and processing of agricultural products -- which in Napa County usually means a winery -- and farmworker housing. It will take a final vote at a future meeting.

“The sky is not falling,” Debra Dommen of Treasury Wine Estates said. “We’ll be operating under the exact same rules we’ve been operating under for the last 10 years.”

But others are wary about the additions, given the county has long worked to protect agriculture through such methods as the agricultural preserve and voter-approved ballot measures. They want to make sure farming isn't overshadowed by wineries with events to attract tourists.

Cio Perez of the Napa County Farm Bureau, while thanking the county for working with the Bureau to refine the definition, is concerned about the outcome. Having things not directly related to farming defined as agriculture will be a problem, he said.

“It will be a problem because it’s graying a line that shouldn’t necessarily be grayed, especially in regards to land use,” Perez said. “For those reasons, we’ve really been attempting to keep the definition of agriculture to its truest sense.”

St. Helena resident Geoff Ellsworth compared the county's agricultural-defining effort to changing the definition of "dogs" to include cats.

“Language is important,” Soda Canyon resident David Hallett told supervisors. “The definition of words is important. I suggest you don’t have the right to alter the meanings of words.”

To others, the change simply reflects the reality of agriculture in Napa County, where growing grapes and making and selling wine fit together.

Vintner Michael Mondavi told supervisors he grew up at Charles Krug winery. In the late 1940s and '50s, his father, mother, aunt and uncle supported the wine business at Krug by hosting events and by welcoming retailers, restaurateurs and the few media people who were interested.

“If they didn’t have the ability starting back then in the '40s or '50s of communicating with their customers and consumers on a regular basis through proper marketing and sales, there’s no way Napa Valley would be recognized in the world today the way it is,” Mondavi said.

Napa Valley Vintners and Winegrowers of Napa County are among those supporting the revised definition.

County staff tried to put the zoning code changes in context. The 1983 Napa County general plan said agriculture includes processing, and that in the case of wineries, processing includes selling wine, tours and tastings.

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In 2008, the Board of Supervisors changed the general plan definition of agriculture to say that:

“The County defines ‘agriculture’ as the raising of crops, trees or livestock; the production and processing of agricultural products; and related marketing, sales and other accessory uses. Agriculture also includes related and necessary support services such as farm management businesses, agricultural employee housing and similar uses.”

But besides having a broad general plan vision,  Napa County also has a zoning code of in-depth regulations to carry out that vision. The zoning code definition of agriculture doesn’t include marketing, processing and farmworker housing.

That led to the current effort of changing the zoning code definition of agriculture to be consistent with the nine-year-old general plan definition – and the ensuing controversy.

Supervisor Diane Dillon sees the county since the 1960s as tightening its agricultural protection rules. The concern voiced in the agricultural definition discussion highlights the need for Napa County to enforce the rules that are in place, she said.

“I don’t see today as changing those rules,” Dillon said. “But I think the concerns we’ve heard expressed should hopefully put a re-emphasis from this board on enforcement and code compliance.”

The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted that it intends to adopt an ordinance with the revised zoning code definition of agriculture. But it could only introduce the ordinance for a first reading and must take a second vote at another meeting to make the adoption official.


Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He was worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield. He is a graduate of UC Sa