For vineyard owners in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds, the path to meeting new erosion control regulations became slightly less uphill this past week.
The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board on Tuesday approved four advisory programs to help grape growers comply with regulations the board passed last year aiming at limiting the amount of sediment that runs off of watershed properties into the Napa River or Sonoma Creek.
The rules call for growers in the watershed with more than 5 acres of vineyard to craft farm plans that meet the new standards for erosion control, a complex and potentially costly process that growers and industry officials say is eased by working through advisory programs.
Two of the four programs are already widely used by growers throughout Napa County to achieve Napa Green Land certification, an accreditation system for the local wine industry. To be Napa Green certified, vineyard owners go through either the Napa County Resource Conservation District (RCD)’s LandSmart program or the California Land Stewardship Institute’s Fish Friendly Farming program.
More than half of the vineyard acreage in Napa County is Napa Green Land certified, said Michelle Novi of the Napa Valley Vintners. Now, Novi said, “Participation in any of the programs is going to make the process of complying with these regulations more cost efficient.”
David Graves, co-founder of Saintsbury winery, agrees. “It’s definitely the case that certification through either of these programs will both achieve these results and make it easier for the landowners to comply.”
The Carneros winery will need an updated farm plan conforming to the Water Board’s new rules, Graves said, and will also seek recertification through Napa Green Land for the growing season ahead.
Saintsbury was the first to adopt an erosion control plan when the county’s erosion ordinances took effect in the early ‘1990s, Graves said. But in bringing the winery’s farm plan and certification up to date, he is eager “to reengage and update our practices to the latest and greatest.”
He also added, “It’s the right thing to do.”
To aid growers who come to them seeking a new or revised farm plan to meet the regulations, Napa RCD, for one, offers a farm plan template and hosts workshops to educate growers about its LandSmart program.
Napa RCD Executive Director Leigh Sharpe said the regulation itself “is quite lengthy and complex to understand.” But by going through LandSmart, or any of the third-party programs, growers can work with staff that know the ins and outs of the new regulations and can apply the measures needed in crafting a farm plan that makes the grade.
Any growers currently certified through the LandSmart program, Sharpe noted, are already in compliance with the new rules. “They have to implement their farm plans and do annual reporting, but it means that they have completed a farm plan, which is one of the things that they have to do under the new regulation.”
Other approved avenues for growers include the Sonoma County RCD’s LandSmart program and California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance’s program.
Affected growers have until July to notify the Water Board that they intend to comply, though the board has extended that deadline by a year for those within the perimeters of the October wildfires.
If you’re cheating on your spouse, you had better watch out. Dawn King just might be onto you.
For the past 14 years King, who lives in Napa, has worked as a licensed private investigator. Her business is called Dawn to Dawn Investigations.
King investigates burglaries, thefts, white-collar crime, worker’s compensation claims, criminal and civil cases and elder abuse — and, of course, cheating spouses.
Whether doing a background check or following someone suspected of infidelity, “I love digging and uncovering things and getting to the truth,” said King. “To me it’s fun. I don’t consider it a job.”
King, one of Napa’s few female private investigators, started her career after leaving her former job as an FBI agent.
Back in the early 1980s, the idea of being a private investigator or in the FBI was not on King’s radar.
She graduated from the University of Idaho with a public relations degree. From there, King moved to Sacramento where she was enjoying a successful sales career.
At the same time, King started dating an FBI agent.
“I loved his FBI stories,” King recalled. She was also studying to get her private pilot’s license, a skill that happens to be especially useful in the FBI.
“I never really thought of myself as being in the FBI but the thought of putting people in jail for bad things is really appealing to me,” she said.
It’s all about justice, she said.
“You do bad things — you have to pay. You victimize people — you suffer the consequences. You need to play by the rules.”
With encouragement from her boyfriend and other agents she met, in 1989 she applied to become an FBI agent.
She didn’t expect to get in, King admitted. Unlike other candidates, she didn’t have a law degree or similar background, she said.
However, “Next thing I know I’m at Quantico,” Virginia, at the FBI Academy.
At that time, women in the FBI were still very much in the minority, King said. Out of 42 in her FBI class, only eight were women.
The training was tough, she said. She recalled one instructor who was a Marine.
“He was brutal,” she said. “He made us do a million push-ups. He was screaming at us, trying to weed out the boys from the men.”
“What the hell have I done?” she wondered. Had she made a big mistake?
But King was determined. “I got so pissed at this guy. He was not going to defeat me,” she said.
In hindsight, King said growing up in Idaho and riding horses helped her get through it.
Whenever she got bucked off a horse, she got back on, she recalled. The same applied to her FBI training.
“That was my mentality. You gotta get back up and ride.”
King persevered and graduated. At age 28, she became an FBI agent, complete with badge and gun. King’s maiden name is Ling, so she became Agent Ling.
Her first FBI assignment was in Portland, Oregon, where she worked for two years on the bank robbery squad.
In late ‘80s, due to a growing heroin problem, Portland was the scene of many bank robberies, King said.
In one case, King and other FBI agents spent days surveilling one particular robbery suspect.
“We were desperate to get him off the street,” she said. But one day, to the agents’ dismay, their suspect disappeared.
After work that same day, King and some of the other FBI agents headed to a local beach to water ski. To their surprise, the bank robber was at the same beach.
Wearing swimsuits, “We arrested him right there,” she said with a laugh.
In the years after that, King also worked on property crimes, flew planes to follow suspects and also worked as an undercover agent on assorted crimes, including drug cases.
King also spent quite a bit of time working undercover to expose Asian crime rings in Portland that were responsible for fencing (buying) stolen property.
“Property crimes are hard to prove,” she said. “But I was determined. We took down two large Asian fences. And they got jail time.”
On a different case, she investigated a large Asian organized crime network that was robbing computer stores.
“It was very complex,” she said. “They were smart criminals and we had to be smart investigators to take them down.”
That included going through the gang’s trash, studying their travel patterns and deciphering the code words they used for their criminal activities.
At one point, she was working on a money laundering case in South Lake Tahoe. To fit the part, “I had a car full of cocaine and $300,000 cash in a bag,” she said with a laugh.
For other investigations, she pretended to be a heroin addict, complete with needle marks on her arm.
During the ‘80s and ‘90s, when King worked for the FBI, there was still as stigma to being a female agent, she recalled.
“You had to work extra hard to prove yourself.” But by doing so, “you started earning the respect of the men,” she said.
In late 1998, after almost 10 years with the FBI, King made the difficult decision to leave the agency.
Her husband, who was now retired, liked living in Lake Tahoe while she was on assignment and wanted to stay there instead of returning to Portland, said King. The couple had a young daughter at the time. Her husband also wanted to travel.
“I did it for him and to be a stay-at-home mom for my daughter,” said King. “In hindsight, I wish I wouldn’t have quit because I did love being an FBI agent. It was really sad for me to leave.”
The couple later divorced and King moved to Napa in 2003.
She knew she needed to work but returning to the FBI wasn’t an option, King said. Instead, she decided to become a private investigator.
Fourteen years later, King has built a successful investigations business working primarily for attorneys in the area.
Her assignments include process serving, following suspects, helping clients find people or property, researching financial histories, employment or other background checks, workers’ compensation surveillance and some personal protection.
Surveillance assignments are a big part of her work.
“I’m really good at following people but it is hard work,” she said. “There is a real art to surveillance and it is not easy to do it without being caught.”
To help, sometimes King’s now-husband will do some of the driving, she said.
Many of her cases involve local people and businesses, she said. “I have followed some bigwigs in this town,” she admitted.
Some of her surveillance involves child custody cases. For example, King may be hired to follow a parent in a child welfare case to make sure a parent isn’t using alcohol or drugs while with a child.
Then, there’s cheating spouses.
“I do a lot of those cases,” King said. In such an assignment, King will follow a spouse and take photos and video to determine if that person is cheating or not.
To avoid being detected “I wear a lot of disguises,” including wigs and other items, she said. “I always look different. I have different cars I drive.”
King uses a number of devices in her investigations such as a tracking device to put on cars, video cameras, still cameras with telephoto lenses, a decibel reader and binoculars. All devices are used legally, said King.
There are some assignments King doesn’t accept.
If a case seems like a dead end or there’s little chance of a client getting what they want, “I won’t take someone’s money,” she said.
For privacy reasons, she also declines cases where a person wants to find an ex-girlfriend or an adoptee wants to find a birth parent. To prevent stalker situations, she said she is careful about the types of “people locating” cases she will take on.
One notorious case King was involved with was the Robert Dahl murder-suicide in Napa in 2015. The case was featured on CBS’ “48 Hours” program on Jan. 6.
Murder victim Emad Tawfilis and his attorney hired King to find money and wine equipment Dahl was reportedly hiding.
“Emad was desperate to get his money back” from Dahl, she said. For months, she was involved in the case, talking to Tawfilis a dozen times a day.
King was out of the country when she heard the shocking news of the murder of Tawfilis and Dahl’s subsequent suicide.
“I could not believe it,” she said.
Unfortunately, that case is a cautionary tale about doing due diligence on business partners, King said.
“Check out their background,” she said. “Past behavior is good indicator of future behavior.”
This past week, King was working on several cases including ongoing surveillance in a child custody case, a background report for a potential business partnership, serving subpoenas and meeting with a local criminal defense attorney about a new case.
King’s typical hourly rate is $100 an hour, but that depends on the project or job. Last year was her best business year to date, King noted.
Her work primarily comes from referrals from attorneys and word of mouth from prior clients.
She’s attributes her success to her work ethic and the reputation she has earned from her years of work.
In the private investigator business, “Your reputation is all you have.”
AMERICAN CANYON — After months of negotiations requiring a mediator, the city of American Canyon has agreed to initial terms with the developer of the stalled Watson Ranch project.
But final approval of the ambitious residential and commercial development — scheduled to take place later this year — may not be forthcoming from one of its biggest supporters on the City Council unless changes are made.
The council on Jan. 16 approved a 21-page “Term Sheet and Project Schedule Agreement” after several months of talks between the city and the developer aided by a third-party mediator, attorney Michael Durkee.
Durkee was brought in after the city stopped working on responses to public comments generated by the project’s draft environmental impact report, which ground to halt last year over a variety of issues stemming from the plan to build more than 1,200 residential units and a commercial center known as the Napa Valley Ruins and Gardens.
Interim City Manager Jason Holley hailed the term sheet, calling it “an important milestone as this development moves forward.”
He described the term sheet as an outline that wasn’t necessarily binding on other key documents still to be hammered out with the lead developer, McGrath Properties, such as a development agreement.
“We’re incredibly excited to be at this point,” said Terrence McGrath, president of McGrath Properties, regarding the term sheet. “We’ve had a very fruitful and cooperative exchange to get to this place.”
But Councilmember Mark Joseph, a longtime self-described booster of Watson Ranch, said he had several concerns with the term sheet’s details, including provisions for new public parks, the extension of Rio Del Mar eastward, and tax sharing.
He warned these conditions may need to change in the development agreement to win his future support.
“I have been a staunch advocate of this project since I got here, and that’s pushing 25 years,” said Joseph. “I want to see this project happen, and I do support the basic outlines of the plan. But I do have a financial background, and I can’t help but look at the numbers and express some concerns” with the terms.
Joseph, a former city manager, referenced a section in the terms stating the city will give the developer 50 percent of all sales and hotel taxes generated from the project’s commercial end.
He said he was concerned with this tax-sharing provision because the city has yet to conduct an updated fiscal analysis of Watson Ranch to know whether such a revenue-sharing plan is prudent for American Canyon.
“From my perspective that [fiscal study] should have been done before we entered into some specificity on these terms,” said Joseph. The financial analysis “may tell us we can’t share as much of the tax revenues that we’re talking about sharing.”
Joseph then looked out at the audience where McGrath was sitting, and remarked: “I need some assurances from all sides that even if it says we’re going to share 50-50 up to a certain dollar amount, we may not when the time comes based on what we figure out between now and then.”
McGrath did not respond or saying anything else during the meeting.
Joseph voted in support of the term sheet, which the council approved 5-0. But he added that his vote was a “conditional yes,” and that if the fiscal terms aren’t changed down the road, “I won’t support the development agreement.”
Holley acknowledged the city must still conduct a new fiscal study of the project. He also said, “There is nothing written in stone, and there’s nothing absolutely binding about this agreement. It is all subject to change.”
The Term Sheet and Project Schedule Agreement also contained a timeline for approving Watson Ranch in 2018.
It calls for completing the environmental review process by June 5, holding project approval hearings by the Planning Commission by June 24 and City Council by Aug. 20.
Napa County’s still-evolving strategy to slash greenhouse gas emissions remains a hot topic that will burn through more time and dollars before being completed.
When finished, the climate action plan will try to make virtually everyone in the unincorporated county a greenhouse gas cutter, from farmers to commuters to residents. They could be by doing everything from recycling more to using more renewable energy.
But first, Napa County must come up with a plan that will pass scientific muster, survive possible court challenges and meet sometimes-conflicting local expectations.
The county Board of Supervisors on Jan. 23 approved spending another $276,000 on the climate action plan effort, bringing the total contract with consultant Ascent Environmental, Inc. to $430,000. The latest schedule calls for adopting a plan late this year.
Napa County released a climate action plan last year and seemed near to completing a two-year effort, with the Planning Commission holding a hearing on July 5. But county officials canceled a follow-up hearing scheduled for Sept. 20.
Instead, public comments and recent court cases convinced the county it had more work do. County Planning Manager Vincent Smith told supervisors the county could be sued if it doesn’t complete an environmental impact report, and that other cities and counties are taking this precaution.
“The handwriting is very clearly on the wall that if we don’t have that, we’re going to be in trouble,” Board of Supervisors Chair Brad Wagenknecht agreed.
A July 2017 letter from Center for Biological Diversity challenged the county’s position that the environmental impact report for the 2008 county general plan can serve as the environmental document for the climate action plan. That same letter mentioned the possibility of seeking legal remedies.
It’s the scientific consensus that human activities are likely causing global climate change, the 2017 version of the county climate action plan said. Changes are needed by mid-century to prevent the most catastrophic effects, it said.
The proposed plan added up current greenhouse gas emissions in the unincorporated county only, given the plan doesn’t apply to local cities. It called for cutting emissions 2 percent below 2014 levels by 2020, 40 percent by 2030 and 77 percent by 2050.
At the plan’s core were 48 steps to achieve the target cuts. Some criticized proposals for going too far, others criticized them for not going far enough.
For example, agricultural groups disliked a proposal requiring farms to convert their stationary diesel or gas-powered irrigation pumps to electric pumps powered by renewable energy. They said pumping frequencies didn’t warrant the cost of bringing PG&E lines to the many properties.
“For many vineyards, power lines don’t run anywhere near existing or operationally possible pump locations,” Napa Valley Vintners wrote to the county.
In response, a revised climate action plan changed the electric pump idea to a voluntary step for existing vineyards, if not necessarily for new ones. Still, the plan assumed all gas and diesel pumps would be converted to electric by 2020.
The Center for Biological Diversity used the voluntary pump conversion policy as an example of weak language instead of a firm commitment to reduce greenhouse gases.
Napa County launched its first attempt to create a climate action plan in 2011. The Planning Commission endorsed a version in 2012, but the Board of Supervisors wanted a greater emphasis on cutting transportation and building-related emissions and didn’t adopt it.
The climate action plan effort then went into limbo, emerging with the latest effort that began in 2015.