Napa County is searching for ways to approach watershed protection concerns and heal raw feelings following the narrow defeat of Measure C in the June 5 elections.
County Executive Officer Minh Tran on Tuesday told county supervisors his recommended approach. It includes holding community meetings around the county to hear citizen and stakeholder comments prior to the Board of Supervisors adopting a three-year strategic plan in December.
Measure C, which lost 49.1 percent to 50.9 percent, sought to create stronger watershed and oak woodland protections in the county. Wine industry groups claimed the citizen initiative was anti-agriculture. Measure C supporters accused opponents of mounting a disinformation campaign.
The Board of Supervisors will try to pick up the pieces.
Tran said some people want immediate actions to further protect the watershed, others want scientific studies and others want a facilitator to work with the community. He wants Measure C proponents, opponents and others to come together to help decide what happens.
“It is now time to channel the county’s passion, to try to harmonize the community’s interests,” he said.
During public comments, supervisors heard about the lingering raw feelings. Measure C co-author Mike Hackett said trust is difficult to gain and quickly lost.
Napa Valley Vintners initially supported Measure C. So did all five supervisors to varying degrees, the Angwin resident said.
“When Napa Valley Vintners betrayed the trust we had developed with them over a number of months, you all switched to be non-supportive,” Hackett told supervisors. “For who do you work for, Mr. Pedroza, Ramos, Gregory? Who do you work for, the vintners? Because it sure looks like it.”
Supervisors Alfredo Pedroza, Belia Ramos and Ryan Gregory opposed Measure C. Supervisors Diane Dillon and Brad Wagenknecht were neutral.
Regaining trust starts with an apology from supervisors who “lied to citizens of this county” in lending their names to certain “No on Measure C” arguments, he said.
“That would be a nice start,” Hackett said as he left the podium to some applause.
Gregory talked to Hackett during a break in the meeting in a conciliatory manner, though he didn’t say he or any other supervisor had lied. The two men ended by shaking hands, with Gregory saying he wanted to talk further.
Former Supervisor Ginny Simms said Napa Valley Vintners helped craft Measure C with Measure C supporters. Then various, prominent winery owners in a “bullying effort” demanded the group oppose the initiative and spend $200,000 to defeat it. Napa Valley Vintners switched its position.
“That’s it. You check it. As far as I’m concerned, you know now who you are up against,” Simms told supervisors.
Rex Stults of Napa Valley Vintners attended the meeting, but didn’t go to the podium. He later said the group would participate in county post-Measure C efforts to find a consensus on watershed issues.
Resident Charles Slutkin said he opposed Measure C even though he has an environmental background. He advised the county to use the community flood control discussions 20 years ago as a model on how to tackle watershed issues.
“We’re not interested in having five people, either the Board of Supervisors or a secret group that met and wrote the initiative, tell all of us how it should be,” he said.
Vintner Joyce Black Sears, a Measure C supporter, said the county’s decision to include marketing in its definition of agriculture has led to more event centers, wineries, wine restaurants and traffic. As a first step, she wants the supervisors to revisit the matter.
“Otherwise, I believe you as a group put the final nail in the coffin of Napa Valley,” she told supervisors.
Tran during a meeting break 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.”
Tran quoted Albert Einstein as saying that if he had an hour to save the world, he’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and five minutes finding the solution.
“It is best we take the time now to examine and define our problems,” Tran said.
The strategic plan and the meetings to craft it will take in more than watershed issues. All matters under county purview – health and human services, traffic, housing or something else – might be part of the discussions. The plan will have short-term, intermediate and long-term goals.
Supervisors started strategic plan sessions last year, but curtailed them after the former county executive officer left. They will kick off their attempt to revive the effort on July 31, with the Measure C election fall-out as the added ingredient.