Pacific Union College is ratcheting up legal pressure on the county in the debate over the Angwin urban bubble, claiming a form of religious discrimination if the county changes the status quo.
In a letter from the Seventh-day Adventist Church State Council to Napa County Counsel Robert Westmeyer, Adventist president Alan Reinach said the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act precludes the county from taking legally safe steps to carve out PUC-owned agricultural land from the Angwin urban bubble.
The law, passed in 2000, was designed to provide stronger religious freedoms both in the prison and land-use arenas. It has been used in numerous lawsuits around the country when religious institutions and planners clash over land-use proposals.
There are 12 urban bubbles — areas in the county’s Agricultural Preserve that have been generally set aside for possible urban uses — peppered throughout the county. But the county is proposing to remove agricultural lands from only two, one in Berryessa Estates and one in Angwin.
The county has proposed changing the name of the bubbles to “study areas.”
The county has said it wants to change the shape of the bubble to conform with current land uses. PUC officials have said the change would strip the college of property rights.
In the letter, Reinach wrote that the county’s failure to address all the bubbles at once amounted to unequal treatment under the Religious Land Use law.
The county, PUC and Angwin agricultural preservationists are expected to take up the issue of changing the Angwin urban bubble at a joint meeting of the Napa County Board of Supervisors and the Napa County Planning Commission at 9 a.m. today at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville.
County Counsel Robert Westmeyer said he would give the county an analysis of the federal law cited by the Adventists.
For the past several days, PUC and opponents of development in Angwin have lobbied residents to come to the meeting and support their causes. In a Feb. 24 letter to the editor, PUC President Richard Osborn predicted Angwin “will be quieter than usual” on the day of the joint meeting.
“Protecting our property rights is so critical to our viability that we are encouraging our faculty, staff and students to attend the meeting,” he wrote. “College-owned businesses and services will be open at 1 p.m. that day so employees of those businesses and services may also attend.”
Save Rural Angwin, the agricultural preservationist group that has opposed PUC’s plans for a 380-home Eco-village, is slated to introduce a new zoning plan to the county that involves allowing PUC roughly 220 acres of land to work with for its endowment, but eliminates agricultural and some open space land from the developable bubble.
In fact, the plan seeks to replace the urban bubble and current land use designations with a combination of “institutional” zoning for the college, commercial land for Angwin businesses and residential zoning to allow for 191 new housing units.
“The college could build any affordable housing it needs on these two parcels and sell the rest,” a document outlining the plan reads.
A PUC proposal to develop parts of Angwin calls for 380 homes. The proposal is not on the agenda of the joint meeting today, as environmental studies and other documents are still in progress.
But in past meetings the Eco-village proposal has been hard to separate from the urban bubble dispute. The county’s current proposal would not preclude the current Eco-village plan, but may preclude further options for the college in the future.