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Letters
Climate and environmental downside of vineyards

Climate and environmental downside of vineyards

I just the read the final installment of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers report titled “Climate benefits of ag land” (Dec. 14).

It is unfortunate the article presented only one side of the story and that the newspaper or the growers were not able to talk about the downside of vineyards in the Napa Valley. Certainly the most significant benefit to vineyards is to limit and restrict urban sprawl. Anyone who has lived in Northern California over the last 40 years can see the negative impacts of urban sprawl.

The article talks up the air quality, carbon sequestration, and watershed benefits of vineyards. However, woodlands and grasslands provide these same benefits without the negative impacts of vineyards of which there are many.

If you live reasonably proximate to a vineyard, your air quality, and likely your water quality, are impacted. Vineyards use tremendous amounts of fertilizers, soil amendments, pesticides, and herbicides. Much of what is applied to the vineyards drifts into the air; we breathe it. I regularly experience the impacts of night-time sulfur dusting and the subsequent off gassing as the weather warms after each application. Sulfur is the easiest to detect due to its smell.

It is obviously harmful given the protective gear worn by those driving the tractors. All the dead weeds under the vine rows are the result of RoundUp (or chemical derivatives). This can’t be healthy or good for us to breathe if it is killing live green plants.

Cultivation places significant fine particulate matters into the air; we breath it. Our houses, outdoor furniture, cars, and solar panels end up covered by dust resulting from cultivation. Just look at the air as a vineyard is cultivated (tilled).

As far as watersheds are concerned, vineyards have very bad impacts on watersheds, streams, and Napa River. Hillside vineyards result in erosion; there is no amount of straw you can lay down or culverts you can build to keep erosion out of our streams and the river. The Napa River is impaired for sediment (erosion), which impacts salmon and steelhead spawning.

There is no denying this. The abundant (actually overuse) of fertilizers make their way to our streams and river resulting in algae, which kills off fish and other habitat as the oxygen is sucked out of the water.

Napa County has the eighth highest (third highest, if age adjusted) cancer rate in the state out of 58 counties.

The point of all this is to provide the other side of the story. Vineyards can beneficially reduce urban sprawl, but there are numerous downsides. Given that vineyards are undeniably the valley’s crop of choice and given all the issues associated with them, we are owed a balanced assessment. Our county supervisors should be protecting its citizens.

Mark Smithers

St. Helena


Editorial
Commentary
Commentary: Lessons from ‘The People’s Governor’ apply to Newsom

In 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger and his team took the helm of the globe’s then-sixth largest economy with more anticipation than most. As his first press secretary, my job was to help tell his story to the state, the nation and the world.

There never was, and never will be, a governor quite like Arnold Schwarzenegger. But as Gavin Newsom takes the reins of power, certain lessons apply, especially related to communications.

Schwarzenegger’s unorthodox path to office, from immigrant, to bodybuilder, to action movie hero, increased the pulse in Sacramento.

Unlike Newsom, Schwarzenegger had no wide public policy record. But he recruited a diverse and experienced team, and he was not beholden to any political party to increase his name ID..

He was “The People’s Governor,” winning office through recall and inaugurated with a wave of promise to promote civic participation and connect government to the needs of working families. Those needs are more pressing now than ever.

By nature, Schwarzenegger was not an incrementalist. He thought big and broke the mold. He prioritized job creation, so he worked on improving the business climate.

He embraced Democratic and Republican leaders, encouraging bipartisanship to make unexpected headway because he knew that fighting the typical ideological battle just meant both sides getting louder.

And he went to the people with initiatives when negotiation showed no progress. Californians were invested in Schwarzenegger’s success and felt a deep core connection as he worked to restore people’s faith in government.

He believed in aiming high and not letting failure change him, and admitted when he made mistakes, a rarity among politicians, though it shouldn’t be. He genuinely likes people. He was post-Trump even pre-Trump.

People were paying attention when Arnold Schwarzenegger was inaugurated. In 2004, we issued 440 press credentials to cover the new governor. They ranged from muscle magazines to Der Spiegel to the Los Angeles Times, and all major television and cable stations.

Major daily papers assigned two reporters to the governor’s beat. We held weekly press briefings and media followed him on his vacations. His first press conferences had to be moved to Sacramento Memorial Auditorium for space.

Getting Californians to pay attention to Sacramento is harder when you aren’t a global megastar. Plus, communications are more complicated because the size of the Capitol press corps has been in decline.

But the media are crucial to building awareness of the impact decisions made by the governor and his appointees will have on Californians. Governors sign legislation, and their appointees impose regulations. If there is no press coverage, people feel the effect without understanding the cause. The distance between government and the governed grows.

From my experience then, and my observations since, the Sacramento press corps has not blurred the line between opinion and hard news like many of their national counterparts. They have credibility borne from institutional knowledge and the ability to have conversations with various interests that lead to better understanding policy and not just better sound bites to get booked as talking heads.

Schwarzenegger had a good relationship with many reporters who covered him and he understood how media coverage aided him by connecting him outside the Sacramento echo chamber.

As the contraction of the media corps corresponded with the retraction of media outreach, more Californians have felt increasingly disconnected from their state government.

Every administration reflects the temperament of its chief executive.

People are highly attuned to cues during the heady early days of a new administration. Even though Gavin Newsom won a decisive victory, there is still an air of mystery around what his governing style will be.

Unsolicited though it may be, here is my advice:

There probably weren’t 440 press credentials issued for Newsom’s inaugural on Monday. But a relevant press corps can hold officials accountable and drive positive public policy.

He and his team must work to connect government to the needs of working families. That’s especially relevant today given too many residents without a college education feel they can’t afford to stay in state.

Diversity of thought to crack tough problems is still a necessary elixir, even in a super-majority state. The new governor should encourage that.

The incoming governor has shown himself to be adept at the ways of social media. That will help him reach Californians. But the person selling the policy is not able to provide the context a seasoned journalist can bring to the story.

So Newsom should build on his digital advocacy and be open to broader engagement with media throughout the state. That would help ensure more Californians know the new administration’s decisions.

For their part, as more Californians feel squeezed, reporters should work to integrate traditionally siloed public policies and relate them directly to residents’ daily lives. Fusing his social media presence while punching up access to state reporters who have policy know-how and local outlets connected to their diverse communities.

That would be courage for a change.


Columnists
Commentary
Thomas D. Elias: We’ll find out if Proposition 13 is still a sacred cow

It’s been almost 41 years since Proposition 13 passed in 1978, lowering property taxes for every home, apartment building, commercial structure, farm and parking lot in California.

Through almost all that time, the initiative sponsored by longtime anti-tax gadflies Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann remained a sacred cow, a third rail that election officials and candidates of every stripe feared to touch for fear of political electrocution.

But now it’s suddenly open season on Prop. 13, often vilified these days for taking money from schools and other public services and for some of the obvious inequities it brought. Because Prop. 13 limits property taxes to 1 percent of the latest purchase price, plus a 2 percent annual increase, neighbors in identical-seeming homes can pay vastly different tax bills each year.

The landmark measure passed largely because property values rose rapidly through the 1970s, with property taxes also skyrocketing even if homeowners had no intention of selling. Conditions threatened to drive tens of thousands out of their longtime homes.

Prop. 13 quickly changed that. Together with insurance price limits imposed by the 1988 Proposition 103, it’s a key factor keeping life in California affordable for longtime residents who pay income and sales taxes higher than the national averages.

But should Prop. 13’s benefits extend to commercial property as they long have? That’s a question often asked by liberal politicians who like the measure’s tax limits on housing, but resent the fact that business also benefits. Many object most strongly to rules passed in 1979 that embellish Prop. 13 and forbid taxes from rising at the time of sale unless a single new owner holds more than a 50 percent interest in a property.

That’s how, for example, the parking lots surrounding Dodger Stadium, still 50 percent owned by former team owner Frank McCourt, have evaded tens of millions of dollars in property taxes since he sold the team and the ballpark itself.

Within a few years of Prop. 13’s passage by a margin of almost 2-1, the late Democratic Assemblyman Tom Hannigan of Fairfield began pushing to split off commercial properties from the measure’s tax limits. Unlike homes, Hannigan said, business property should be taxed based on current values.

Other legislators wouldn’t go near Hannigan’s idea, even though he was for years the state Assembly’s majority leader. But voters will have a chance next year to carry out his plan – best known as the “split roll.” Bet on it being a controversial subject right up until that election just over 21 months from now.

The state’s League of Women Voters has qualified a split roll initiative for that ballot, gathering more than 585,000 voter signatures for its planned constitutional amendment, which leads in very early polling.

Already the heirs of Jarvis and Gann are working to beat this back. Jon Coupal, the longtime head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, sees split roll as a first thrust against the entire Prop. 13. He’s right that it has opened the door to other ideas. For example, some state legislators are toying with eliminating Prop. 13 tax limits when properties of any kind are inherited, instead taxing them based on current values rather than the amount paid for them by parents or others who pass down ownership.

But the often-ambivalent former Gov. Jerry Brown, in one of his last interviews while in office, opined that changing Prop. 13 “isn’t as easy as you think.” Brown, who first opposed the initiative before it passed, but later became a big supporter, noted that “The business community will fight it…we’ll be in a recession by the time (of the 2020 election), so it’s anybody’s guess.”

Meanwhile, new Gov. Gavin Newsom has said Prop. 13 is “on the table” as he considers ways to make the state tax system more fair.

Voters will decide if Prop. 13 is no longer the sacred cow it was for decades, but rather open for discussion like any other concept or policy. If they say yes to split roll, it will be open season on one of the longtime basic underpinnings of California lifestyles.


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