Our North Bay communities have been disastrously visited by nature’s wrath. Ironically, permissive county supervision and aggressive marketing have transformed the treasured semi-rural North Bay character, in a different way, even more than the catastrophic fires.
Within memory, Napa and Sonoma rural roads were quiet and uncrowded. The few score wineries offered free tastings. The “wine country” was known as the Redwood Empire. Rusticity was genuine, not manufactured.
Now Napa and Sonoma have a thousand wineries. Millions of visitors a year clog our rural roads. The commitment to agriculture as the “highest and best use of the land” is a memory smothered by event centers, gift shops, and film festivals. Locals’ frequent complaints in newspapers about excessive tourism go unheeded. With county administrations friendly towards development, it is left to citizens’ initiatives to enact even modest measures, like limits on helicopter flights and woodland harvesting, in these supposedly rural regions.
Keeping the county’s semi-rural identity and respect for locals’ quality of life in mind, Napa Vision 2050 supports two propositions on the June ballot. The Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative protects our water supply and hillsides. The Private Heliport Initiative safeguards our peace and quiet. Without them, NV2050 sees the county spinning even further from its agricultural heritage, into a theme-park playground for the affluent.
Napa’s planning commissioners and supervisors have led us down this crowded highway. In the last three years the county approved 58 new wineries and major modifications to existing ones. The permits typically also allow increased production, events, and visitors. The hospitality industry benefited with record sales (up almost 8 percent last year), and an average room rate of $316 in Napa County.
The cities reap handsome revenues from tourist taxes, which comprise a quarter of Napa City’s budget and over half of Yountville’s and Calistoga’s. Locals and visitors alike pay another price: traffic congestion and compromised small-town character.
Full disclosure—-Napa Vision 2050 genuinely admires the dynamic wine industry and the toiling hospitality workers. NV2050 also appreciates and enjoys the county’s delicious agricultural products!
The problem is one of scale (too much of a good thing), and disregard for the county’s fundamental identity. Little by little, encouraged by advertising and permissive county administrators, the development creeps with pernicious cumulative effect, until—-with serpentine suddenness—-the shift from agriculture to tourism devours the semi-rural character of the county.
Sadly, “Napafication” is not a complimentary but a pejorative term. When Napa County is essentially urbanized and Disneyfied (as discerning visitors are beginning to realize), future generations may wonder how we could have permitted its demise. In 2018 Napa Vision 2050 hopes to change that prospect. More information is available at napavision2050.org.