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Vineyards and Clouds (copy)

Napa County supervisors launched their effort to heal community rifts over winery tourism, watershed vineyard development and other issues with a barrage of ideas.

The county is crafting a strategic plan. The result due this December is to define priorities and provide steps for the Board of Supervisors to take from July 2019 through June 2022.

“I’m wearing black-and-white – and none of this is black-and-white,” Supervisor Belia Ramos told those in the nearly packed board chamber on Tuesday.

The Board of Supervisors has decisions to make and it won’t be easy. If the plan leaves everybody feeling a little displeased, the county will have succeeded, she said.

Creation of the plan will involve holding community meetings in coming months in all five supervisorial districts, with details to come. Beginning Aug. 24, residents will be able to take an online survey.

This effort comes in the wake of the narrow defeat of Measure C in the June 5 election following a bitter campaign. The citizens initiative would have limited the removal of oak woodlands for new vineyards in the watershed and modified stream setbacks.

Vintner Stuart Smith told supervisors they should call for a 90-day Measure C cooling-off period before starting strategic plan work. Otherwise, he said, he’s afraid the various sides will hunker down and prepare for the coming battle.

“As we all know, Measure C was a real bruiser,” Smith said. “It’s going to take our community some time recover.”

Environmentalist Chris Malan said the county needs to protect the headwaters for streams, reservoirs and the Napa River. The wine industry has taken its vineyard expansion efforts to the watershed.

“I would hope that water security is number one,” Malan told supervisors.

Vintner Charles Wagner said he fears grape growers and vintners will wind up on the short end of the stick. He fears the Board of Supervisors won’t focus on how agriculture can remain the highest and best use of the land.

“Is the Board being one-sided and are we here today to appease the Measure C group?” Wagner said. “Are vintners and growers going to face even more regulations?”

Patricia Damery, a Measure C supporter, said she thinks the No on Measure C campaign was dirty and this damaged trust. Having sustainable agriculture means addressing environmental and climate change issues.

“I would hope that through this there really is a listening,” she told supervisors. “I appreciate you are listening to us.”

Tom Davies of V. Sattui Winery told supervisors that the strategic plan creation is coming at the busiest time of the year for the wine industry. That will make it difficult for industry members to have input.

He questioned the need for the update. The county should be spending time and money on science to find out if water quality issues exist. It already knows that traffic and housing are problems.

“We have to protect agriculture,” he said. “This is so sacrosanct as to what this industry and our valley is about.”

Consultant B.J. Bischoff is the facilitator for the strategic plan update. She asked county supervisors for their thoughts.

Napa County’s 2008 general plan has a growth vision for the rural county through 2030. Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said the plan provides benchmarks for winery and vineyard growth and the county is below these marks.

“Yet the community feels there’s too much development,” Pedroza said. “And that’s a fair question to ask. But then, if the general plan objectives and goals are not the measurements, we need to know what are. How is our community measuring growth and success?”

Ramos said the county has treated agriculture the same, whether in the agricultural preserve or agricultural-watershed zoning districts. She wondered aloud if it’s time to reflect on that approach. The agricultural preserve is for the most part the Napa Valley floor and the ag watershed for the hills, mountains and Carneros areas.

“How do we recognize our diversity, our ecological diversity, to be able to in fact continue with sustainable agriculture?” she said.

Napa County issues use permits to wineries with limits on the number of visitors. Ramos wondered if there are other ways to measure the effects of growth on the quality of life.

“Do you care how many people are in a building or do you care how many cars are in a parking lot?” Ramos said. “With full disclosure, I’m from the south county. I care about the cars on the road.”

Supervisor Ryan Gregory said the public will help define the strategic plan issues.

“I agree there’s a disconnect between our economy and the wine industry and the public that’s formed. It’s fairly new,” Gregory said.

Supervisor Diane Dillon said she heard people say the county needs protections for its hillsides, as if none exist. That’s not true, given the county conservation regulations. Whether the county needs to do more is another matter, she said.

Board Chairman Brad Wagenknecht listed planning issues that go beyond land use, housing and traffic. He also mentioned such things as eliminating child and domestic abuse and having the county library open on Sunday.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to continue its discussion on Oct. 16 and Dec. 18. Go to for more information on the strategic plan.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.