Former Napa County Agricultural Commissioner Dave Whitmer will grapple with often controversial rural wine country growth decisions as the newest member of the county Planning Commission.
Supervisor Ryan Gregory chose Whitmer to represent the 2nd Supervisorial District on the Planning Commission, succeeding Michael Basayne. The Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday confirmed the choice.
“I had a long career with the county as agricultural commissioner,” Whitmer said in a phone interview. “This is almost kind of a logical next step. My career as agricultural commissioner was about trying to do the right thing about protecting the agricultural community and ensuring that the local industry was strong.”
The Planning Commission rules on applications for new wineries and for visitation and wine production expansions at existing wineries. It will make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on the update of the county traffic circulation plan.
“I think as we look to the future, we’re looking at a situation that requires some balance,” Whitmer said. “We’ve got to try to figure out how to maintain this industry and keep it strong, but at the same time listen to the concerns we hear from the residents of the county and make decisions that are best for the county long-term.”
He said he looks forward to working with the four other commissioners, whom he views as intelligent and dedicated. He joins Anne Cottrell, Joelle Gallagher, Jeri Hansen and Terry Scott.
Gregory said Whitmer was the only applicant for the vacant Planning Commission position.
“It’s a sign of how hard that job is,” he said.
Whitmer knows about Napa County agriculture and conservation laws, yet is not part of the wine industry. That makes him a “rare find” for the Planning Commission post, Gregory said.
Whitmer, 62, is a Napa County native. He left to earn a degree in biological sciences from Chico State University, then returned for a 33-year career with county government.
He started out as an agricultural biologist, and then became deputy agricultural commissioner. He spent the last 20 years of his local career as agricultural commissioner, retiring in 2013.
His tenure as agricultural commissioner included leading the successful effort to keep the glassy winged sharpshooter out of the county. This invasive insect spreads vineyard-killing Pierce’s disease and devastated vineyards in Southern California. A sharpshooter outbreak happened as close as Vacaville in Solano County.
Before his retirement, Whitmer guided and almost completed the successful effort to eradicate another invasive species, the grape-destroying European grapevine moth that had been found in an Oakville vineyard in 2009.
He has sometimes made political endorsements in his retirement. He backed Gregory in Gregory’s successful 2016 bid to unseat former Supervisor Mark Luce. He is presently endorsing the No on Measure C campaign.
His first Planning Commission meeting was to be on May 16, but the commission canceled the session for lack of business. Instead, Whitmer will be behind the commission dais for the first time on June 6, when the commission is scheduled to discuss proposed changes at the Beaulieu Vineyard winery in Rutherford.
Whitmer doesn’t mind the delay.
“This gives me an opportunity to get in and talk to folks in the planning department,” Whitmer said.