Michael Honig’s recent letter (“Facts about the Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2018,” Sept. 23) is anything but fact and demonstrates that Mr. Honig and certain Napa Valley Vintners Board Members are willing to mislead the public while undercutting a long tradition of grape-growing stakeholders working together to protect both agriculture and our environment.

The grape-growing community’s collaboration on environmental issues dates back more than a half century, beginning with the establishment of the Ag Preserve a generation ago, and more recently, with the “Agricultural Lands Preservation Initiative” in 1990 (Measure J).

Our community came together again with Measure P to extend the provisions of Measure J to 2058. These measures, which prohibit General Plan amendments that would develop or rezone our agricultural, watershed and open space areas without going to the ballot box, were overwhelmingly approved by voters. But this time, it’s different.

NVV’s backroom deal on the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative was made without collaboration or engagement from Napa County’s three leading agricultural groups, including our organization, the Winegrowers of Napa County, nor the Napa Valley Grapegrowers or Napa County Farm Bureau.

Instead, a handful of people concocted a ballot measure even more restrictive than the previous Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2016 and chose not to inform NVV members or outside stakeholders until after the initiative was filed with the county immediately before Labor Day weekend and during harvest.

NVV’s actions are both concerning and confounding. While all of us agree on the need to protect our watersheds, oak woodlands and agricultural resources, the current rendition of the Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative fails to address the merits of agricultural projects on a case-by-case, site-by-site basis. Instead, this initiative applies a one-size-fits-all approach that would, if passed, hinder future agricultural proposals indefinitely, without protecting the watersheds and oak woodlands the initiative’s title leads you to believe.

The stream setback provision of the measure, while applying to agriculture, exempts permanent developments for governmental, residential or recreational uses, so while a large estate could be built within a stream setback area, a vineyard, which involves less paving and fewer permanent improvements, would be prohibited.

The oak woodland protection provision also is discriminatory against agriculture, despite a long precedent of successful agricultural preservation initiatives. The initiative sets an arbitrary cap on how many oaks can be removed for agricultural purposes (even though General Plan policies already require a 2:1 replanting ratio for any removed specimens), yet non-agricultural uses may apply for a use permit once that cap has been reached, further straining agricultural operations who will have no such options available to them at that time.

The narrow, yet discriminatory, approach of the measure won’t protect or enhance the environment for stream and oak woodland areas, but it will detrimentally affect our farming and grape-growing communities.

Although there was no opportunity for communication and collaboration in the drafting of this initiative, we are committed to a fact-based discussion with all stakeholders and the public in the weeks and months ahead about the flaws and unintended consequences of this deceivingly-worded initiative.

While we share a commitment to protect our endangered or imperiled watersheds, heritage oak woodland areas and other local environmental treasures, we do not believe a punishing and restrictive measure against agriculture is a viable nor sustainable solution. Instead, we hope to work toward shared goals of environmental preservation and protection that sustain our county’s rich agricultural heritage.

Chris Indelicato, President

Winegrowers of Napa County Board of Directors

Submitted on behalf of Winegrowers of Napa County

Editor's note: The Register asked the Vintners about the issues raised by the author. The organization released the following statement: "NVV has a long and proud history of collaborating with industry and community stakeholders on many important endeavors. Knowing the industry would face the return of last year’s onerous Napa County Watershed Initiative, in spring 2017 the NVV Board of Directors invited leaders from the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Winegrowers of Napa County and the Watershed Protection Committee to meet. After those initial meetings, the NVV Board of Directors voted to continue discussions with the Watershed Protection Committee, seeking compromise in protecting both agriculture and the environment in Napa County. When that compromise was reached, the NVV Board of Directors voted to support the Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2018, which is a better proposal for our community and our industry."

 

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