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Oak Woodlands

An oak-studded hillside near Old Sonoma Road.

J.L. Sousa, Register

Measure C had its night in the spotlight, with supporters extolling the merits of the watershed and oak protection measure and opponents getting in some words from the wings.

Such speakers as author James Conaway and famed vintner Warren Winiarski added star power to the Monday night forum at the Napa County Library. Winiarski posed a “simple question.”

“Will the Napa Valley be better off if this initiative is approved? I think it will be,” he said to sustained applause.

The county League of Women Voters and Sierra Club – both Measure C endorsers – held the forum in a packed room. Some people watched from the door, holding umbrellas to ward off a light rain.

Measure C is on the June 5 ballot. It would set limits to clearing oak woodlands in the hills for such developments as vineyards and create stronger stream setbacks.

Before the meeting, Michelle Benvenuto of the Winegrowers of Napa County passed out a flier. It told attendees to beware, that the forum was biased and presented only the “pro” side of the argument. Some people in the line to enter the room said they knew and this didn’t bother them.

Napa County’s good laws are being changed or stealthily subverted by corrupt and spineless officials, said Conaway, who recently released “Napa At Last Light,” the third book in his Napa trilogy. A corporate laminate lies over the enterprises of wine and tourism, he said.

Groups such as the Napa County Farm Bureau and Napa Valley Grapegrowers are making a mistake in opposing Measure C, Conaway said.

“This is a chance to show how much they care,” Conaway said. “They don’t have that much to lose; let’s face it, they don’t. The big boys in the organizations are the ones who want access to the hills.”

He sees another possible threat to the hillside oak woodlands besides vineyard development – marijuana crop development.

“Marijuana does not like shade,” Conaway said. “In fact, it likes shade less than vines do and it uses even more water. As we sit here tonight, there are people already out there—you’ve probably already heard about this—devising some kind of regions for growing pot. There’s a lot of money that’s going into it.”

The Napa County Board of Supervisors has yet to decide if it will allow commercial marijuana grows in the unincorporated county and, if so, what the rules will be.

Measure C co-authors Mike Hackett and Jim Wilson explained why they launched Measure C. Hackett said the two met at a county-sponsored growth forum in March 2015.

“I’m not here greedy; I’m just trying to protect the future of the valley for our grandchildren,” Hackett said. “It’s that simple. I want water to be here and air to be clean.”

Winiarski noted some Measure C opponents are predicting the initiative will kill agriculture. Opponents to the formation of the Agricultural Preserve in 1968 said the same thing, he said.

“The oak initiative, Measure C, is not against agriculture,” Winiarski said. “It is for sustainable agriculture. It is for the preservation of the oak woodlands that sustain the whole community and make sustainable agriculture possible.”

Consulting arborist Bill Pramuk talked about rain and how oaks “slow it, spread it, sink it.” The canopies hold the water, splash it outward and let it drip down.

He appraises trees using factors established under law, Pramuk said. A coast live oak with a 12-inch-diameter trunk can under good circumstances be worth $4,000. A 40-inch-diameter oak used as a landscape shade tree appraised at $47,000.

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Tosha Comendant of the Pepperwood Preserve talked about local watersheds feeding Hennessey and Milliken reservoirs serving the city of Napa, Bell Canyon Reservoir serving St. Helena, Rector Reservoir serving Yountville and Kimball Reservoir serving Calistoga.

While most in the audience favored Measure C, a few written questions submitted to the speakers reflected a different attitude. One asked why people should support a measure written in secret without community and county staff input, instead of waiting for a county collaboration.

Winiarski said he knows of no county effort to create collaboration on the issue except for starting a voluntary oak woodlands management program in 2010. He stressed the program’s voluntary nature.

Hackett said the environmentalists collaborated with Napa Valley Vintners on Measure C, though Napa Valley Vintners later decided to oppose it. His impression was that county supervisors supported the effort and later backed away.

“We’re worried about our governance, not just the industry,” Hackett said.

Sierra Club and League of Women Voters representatives made the last presentations.

“The Napa County League believes that Measure C fits all of the policy positions developed for watersheds,” Robyn Orsini said. “We maintain that pristine streams, rivers, wetlands and the watershed are of upmost importance in ensuring reliable water supplies into the future.”

Proponents and opponents both have websites and are looking for volunteers. Go to for the pro-Measure C campaign. Go to for the ant-Measure C campaign.


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