YOUNTVILLE — Sandy Fagan may be retired, but she is far from idle.
Since returning to her native Napa Valley seven years ago, the 68-year-old Yountville resident has devoted her time in service to local libraries, parks and senior programs. At various times of the day or month, Fagan can be found setting up and cashiering at Napa County Library book sales, volunteering at the Napa Valley Museum, ushering at Lucky Penny Productions’ Napa theater or serving on the board of the Yountville Bocce Club.
A diversity of interests is part of what the 69-year-old Fagan says keeps up her enthusiasm to benefit others.
“I think being a woman of a certain age, I’ve acquired an interest in lots of things from sports to arts over the years,” she said last month in a Napa Valley Register interview. “I have broad interests and I didn’t want to get locked into any one single theme – that’s too much like work.”
Raised in Napa, Fagan spent 17 years working for Napa Valley College, before earning a law degree and making a second career in advocacy work. Moving to Tuscon, Arizona, she worked in the University of Arizona’s equal-opportunity office before spending a decade with a fair-housing nonprofit.
Fagan returned to Napa County in 2011 to look after her father during his final years coping with dementia, and the experience soon turned her attention toward helping others in need of a hand up.
“Knowing how my father needed help later in his life, I saw how others need help in their own lives,” she said. “It was a wonderful opportunity to pay it forward for my dad. Especially here in Yountville, we have a sizable population of older adults – people who are my neighbors, my friends. If we live long enough, we all may find ourselves in need of something.
“We have a choice: we can wear out or we can rust out, as the saying goes. We can stay engaged and vital, or we can retreat and isolate. I want to be in the midst of something, doing something.”
The importance of the time volunteering to help others may have sunk in most deeply through Meals on Wheels, the program through which she and others in Yountville deliver hot meals to those too aged or ill to get out regularly. One encounter in November with a Meals on Wheels client revealed how important Fagan’s service was for a woman living thousands of miles away from her relatives.
“I hadn’t talked to her about it, but she talked about what it meant to her family on the East Coast – that someone was checking on her once a day and providing a meal for her,” recalled Fagan. “For me it was like, ‘Wow, that’s wonderful!’ She’s very gentle and kind and appreciative, but when that started rolling off her tongue, I thought, isn’t that wonderful? It was gratifying to hear it expressed so profusely – I was almost embarrassed.”
Other kinds of volunteer work have helped Fagan help a wider range of fellow residents – including her time as chair of the Yountville Parks and Recreation Commission, which has given her insight into the needs and free-time desires of a wide swath of townsfolk.
“It reaches all segments of the community: seniors, kids and everyone in between,” she said, describing public parks as one of a community’s most important yet unsung services. “It’s one of the more far-reaching in terms of the population that gets touched by it. I’ve seen we have such an opportunity to reach into the community, to find out what people’s interests are.”
“You have to connect with opportunities that speak to your values, your interests, the environment that brings out the very best in you,” she advised others hoping to be similarly generous with their time and ability.
“You have a choice: you can wring your hands or you can roll up your sleeves. If I see a need in the community, then rather than wring my hands, I’d rather do something to remedy the issue.”
Napa County in 2018 celebrated the 50th birthday of its landmark agricultural preserve and also had a bitter debate over how the spirit of that law should translate to today.
Board of Supervisors Chair Brad Wagenknecht said as the year began that the United States is divided into red states and blue states. People in the two camps sometimes seem to lack a common purpose to bring them together.
“In Napa, we have one,” Wagenknecht said. “It’s our ag preserve.”
The agricultural preserve prevents land on the Napa Valley floor from being subdivided into parcels less than 40 acres. That is designed to keep the heart of rural, world-famous wine country safe from subdivisions and strip malls.
But some say the modern-day battle is over what they see as runaway vineyard growth in the local hills and mountains. They fear the clear-cutting of oak woodlands for new vineyards will harm water quality in reservoirs that serve local cities.
Rural residents Mike Hackett and Jim Wilson co-authored Measure C on the June ballot to address issues in the agricultural watershed. It sought to cap the amount of oak woodlands that can be removed for vineyards at 795 acres, which Wilson and Hackett said should accommodate expected vineyard growth through 2030. It sought to strengthen stream setbacks.
“The thing we have in common is we both have a spiritual desire to maintain this world that we live in for everyone and for the future of our grandchildren,” Hackett said before the election.
The wine industry disagreed that Measure C was needed, with Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Vintners, Winegrowers of Napa County and Napa Valley Grapegrowers opposing the measure.
“Our issue with this all along has been that ag should be the highest and best use of land, as the general plan states,” said Ryan Klobas of the Napa County Farm Bureau during the campaign.
Measure C opponents said Napa County has some of the strictest conservation laws in the nation. Supporters said they are not strict enough.
The opposition sent out a barrage of mailers claiming such things as Measure C would lead to more winery event centers and more traffic. Measure C supporters were outraged by what they saw as lies.
“That’s an insult to the citizens and voters of Napa Valley,” Hackett said. “They see through this flipped reality. There can only be one reality. There can be lots of opinions, but only one reality.”
Klobas said Measure C had no exemption to its oak-cutting cap for agriculture while still allowing oak removal for homes and event centers.
Into the mix stepped best-selling author James Conaway. He released “Napa at Last Light,” the latest book in his Napa trilogy, early in the year.
Conaway during a March Measure C forum said the county’s good laws were being changed or subverted by corrupt and spineless officials. He said the wine industry was making a mistake by opposing Measure C.
“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.”
Voters had the final word in the June 5 election, with Measure C receiving 50.9 “no” votes and 49.1 “yes” votes for a close defeat.
“It’s hard for me to get past the fact that our opponents ran a campaign that essentially tricked voters into voting against their own best interests,” Hackett said in the election’s wake.
Klobas said the complicated Measure C issues shouldn’t be decided at the ballot box.
“I think that message resonated with people,” Klobas said. “Now that Measure C has been defeated, we can start the work of addressing issues with the Board of Supervisors, where these issues should have been addressed in the first place.”
That left county officials trying to pick up the pieces.
Supervisors launched a strategic effort to look at county priorities for the next three years. It held about 40 meetings on a variety of topics in the fall, including environmental issues.
County Executive Officer Minh Tran said bringing the community together over watershed and oak protection issues is a “Herculean task.”
“We must do this,” he said. “We all will continue to be living in the valley. Nobody is going anywhere. We all have to make it work.”
The Board of Supervisors also worked on its effort to deal with winery scofflaws that do such things as produce too much wine and entertain too many visitors. Critics for years have said that the county doesn’t adequately enforce its laws.
On Dec. 4, the Board passed a new policy. It set March 29 as the deadline for rule-breakers to voluntarily come forward and submit applications to revise their use permits.
If they do so, they can keep operating as they are until the Planning Commission decides their request, except for health and safety violations. After March 29, they must immediately comply with their permit for a year before having a Planning Commission hearing.
Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said the March 29 deadline creates a transition period to the stricter enforcement.
But Hackett called the new rules “a whitewash.” Grapegrower Yeoryios Apallas called them “papal absolution.” A roomful of citizens at the Dec. 4 meeting criticized the approach.
Supervisor Diane Dillon seemed taken aback by the response, given the Board had held several earlier meetings on the topic without the backlash. She also saw much of the criticism as being based on confusion as to what the new rules do.
“How have we gotten this far disconnected?” Dillon said during the meeting.
Trying to make the reconnections on wine country growth and enforcement issues is an effort that will continue into 2019.
A proposed new winery that seems as basic as they come prompted a few questions because of its location next to Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, but won Napa County approval.
Bergman Family Winery will be small by county standards at 8,000 gallons of production annually. At a time when critics are on the lookout for event centers, it will have no visitors or marketing events.
Consultant Donna Oldford, on behalf of the Bergmans, called the project small in scale and simple. And yet it took time to come to fruition.
“It has been like peeling an onion,” she told the Planning Commission on Dec. 19. “We’ve been at this for over two years now. So there is really not much left that has not been visited and vetted.”
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park is 1,900 acres of forests and woodlands along Highway 29 between St. Helena and Calistoga. The southern part of the park near the Bergman’s property is adjacent to tiny Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park, so that the two parks seem to merge.
Letters to the county from the state Department of Parks and Recreation asked the county to do more to make certain the new winery doesn’t impact Bothe-Napa Valley State Park.
“One of the purposes of the state park is to preserve outstanding, natural, scenic and cultural values,” said the letter from Senior Park and Recreation Specialist Laura Wilson.
County officials and the Planning Commission didn’t see an impact for a new winery that will be about a half-mile from the historic Bale mill building. Although the winery will be near the Bothe-Napa Valley park boundary, Oldford stressed that it will not be located in the park.
Commission Chair Anne Cottrell said she worked at the Bothe-Napa Valley State park kiosk. She and other commissioners agreed parks are important to the Napa County community.
“It’s important we ensure that we get this right,” Commissioner Dave Whitmer said.
One issue the commission looked at was the driveway leading to the Bergman’s property. The winery property shares a private lane for about 4,000 feet with Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park and Stony Hill Vineyard.
The road width varies from 10 feet to 22 feet, while the county requires a 20-foot width for a winery. The Bergman’s access easement that crosses part of Bothe-Napa Valley State Park allows for a maximum 16-foot width and Bergman representatives said the state won’t allow anything wider.
Planning Commissioners solved the problem by granting a road standards exception. Besides running afoul of state parks, a wider driveway would require removing trees and grading steep slopes.
The county rejected a suggestion by the state to create a new entrance to the Bergman’s proposed winery from Bea Lane. That would also require removing trees and grading steep slopes, as well as traversing a rural-residential neighborhood, a county report said.
Whitmer said building the winery will mean the Bergmans won’t have to haul grapes from their property to other locations to make wine. Trucks with grapes wouldn’t use the shared driveway with Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park.
Pam Bergman told the commission the winery-to-be’s story. She and her husband Alan started visiting Napa Valley 30 years ago and saw the winery property six years ago.
What started out as a second home became the heart and soul of the family, she said. The property for decades had grown grapes for Joseph Phelps and Cakebread.
“We saw the potential in the site and soil and decided to make our own wine,” Pam Bergman said. “Being surrounded by nature has created a sense of urgency to make this special place really shine to its potential. We have redeveloped all of the infrastructure, the vineyard, the garden and the home with the intention of creating a legacy for our family.”
The Bergman winery was the last of three new wineries approved by the Planning Commission in 2018. That total compares to an 11-year average of 7.5 new winery approvals annually. The commission turned down the proposed Dry Creek-Mount Veeder winery and delayed action on the Mondavi family’s proposed Aloft winery.
The Planning Commission approved 10 new wineries in 2017, 11 in 2016, five in 2015, seven in both 2014 and 2013, five in both 2012 and 2011, 11 in both 2010 and 2009 and eight in 2008.
Also in 2018, the commission approved nine major modifications to existing wineries. That compares to 18 in 2017, eight in 2016 and six in 2015.