Napa County has the controversial water-and-tree protection package just about wrapped up, but must still put the ribbon on it.
The county Board of Supervisors on March 26 endorsed the Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance and are scheduled to take the final vote on Tuesday.
Ordinances are usually passed over two meetings, with the county placing the second reading on the consent calendar. Consent calendar items can be passed quickly and without comment, but that probably won't happen in this case.
“It will likely get pulled from consent for discussion,” Board Chair Ryan Gregory said on Thursday.
Sixty-two people addressed the Board on March 26 prior to the Board delving into the ordinance details. Whether anyone has anything left to say with the main event seemingly over and the matter seemingly decided except for the usually-routine final vote remains to be seen.
Crafting of the ordinance over two months has proven divisive. Some say the county isn’t doing enough to protect reservoir water quality and carbon-sequestering trees. Others fear policies if too tough would needlessly hurt farming, the wine industry and property rights.
Supervisors stated their views as the seven-hour-plus March 26 meeting – not including breaks – neared an end.
“I do want a resilient environment, but I also want a resilient agricultural community,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said. “That’s who we are and both co-exist. I think what we’re doing today, it’s a step in the right direction.”
His priority is tree preservation, Pedroza said.
One provision of the ordinance increases the requirement to preserve 60 percent of the tree canopy in municipal reservoir watersheds to 70 percent. The ordinance also extends the requirement to all agricultural watershed zoning areas – most of the unincorporated county - but not to the agricultural preserve mostly on the Napa Valley floor.
Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht suggested requiring 80 percent tree canopy protection – still short of the 85 percent-to-90 percent that many environmentalists favored. No one seconded the idea.
Another provision increases the mitigation ratio for tree canopy removal in the agricultural watershed zoning district from 2-1 to 3-1. The exception successfully sought by Gregory is a 2-1 ratio for those who provide some sort of public benefit.
As an example, Gregory mentioned landowners who might allow the Bay Area Ridge Trail to go through their properties. The Ridge Trail is to someday run 550 continuous miles through nine counties.
“That means a lot more to me and the community than just a solid 3-1 mitigation,” Gregory said.
About 19 miles of Ridge Trail exist in Napa County, short of the 83 miles planned, with much of the remainder to be on private property. Gregory has made creating more of the trail a priority.
Supervisor Diane Dillon suggested capping how many acres of new vineyards could be created each year. Though she didn’t give a specific number, the acreage would be in line with what is presently being planted.
Napa County from 1991-2017 saw vineyards increase from 29,993 acres to 43,584 acres. That is 523 acres annually or 1.5 percent growth annually. Sixty-six percent of the acreage growth happened in 1999-2000, immediately prior to the county updating its conservation regulations, a county report said.
Dillon said the county hasn’t been approving that much tree loss for new vineyards. She said a letter calling the community “miserably divided” struck home with her and that a cap could relieve a lot of the misery.
“That gives comfort to people who are in the industry, quote-unquote,” Dillon said. “But it’s also a cap that gives comfort to people who think the whole place is about to get clear-cut.”
Dillon’s proposal didn’t end up as part of the ordinance.
Remaining is an existing requirement that development in the municipal reservoir watersheds preserve 40 percent of grasslands and shrubs. But supervisors jettisoned the idea of extending the requirement for shrub - but not grassland - retention throughout the unincorporated county.
Gregory said he wants instead to focus on saving trees.
Also jettisoned was the earlier Board of Supervisors proposal to ban most new vineyard and structure development on slopes greater than 30 percent. The county is sticking with its existing policy of requiring a use permit for most of these developments. Most development remains prohibited from slopes greater than 50 percent.
The ordinance creates a 500-foot buffer around Kimball Reservoir at Calistoga’s request and around Bell Canyon Reservoir at St. Helena’s request. Other reservoirs, such as the city of Napa’s Lake Hennessey and Milliken Reservoir, will have 200-foot buffers because those cities didn’t request anything larger, county officials said.
“I think we ought to respect what they asked for … I don’t think it has to be the same for everyone,” Dillon said, adding the county can strengthen buffers later if the science indicates the need.
Several supervisors said they want to see the data that will be coming from a study that the county is doing with the city of Napa on watershed water quality for Lake Hennessy and Milliken Reservoir. Gregory said water quality sampling at creeks should take place next winter.
Supervisor Belia Ramos said she wants measurable goals that the county can address one at a time to inform its decisions. She wants to have scientific information to be comfortable with sweeping changes.
“There is science that we have a climate problem,” Ramos said. “But what we haven’t had before us is the science and the data that is specific to us and changes that we need to make to ensure our viability as a healthy community and as a sustainable agricultural community.”
Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison tried to sum things up at the end of the session. He pointed to steps supervisors had endorsed to protect trees while still allowing property owners to create defensible space against wildfires.
“We need to step back and recognize, amongst all the compromises and not everybody getting what they want, what we’re accomplishing,” he said.
County Executive Officer Minh Tran also gave a summing up.
“This is the ordinance that serves as incremental change moving toward a direction that hopefully will harmonize the community,” Tran said.
The question is whether the county has achieved any degree of harmony. Supervisors during public comments on Tuesday may receive some reviews on how the Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance has turned out.
The Board of Supervisors meets at 9 a.m. at the county administration building, 1195 Third St. in downtown Napa.